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Home for the holidays

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In the continuing saga of the relocated Yankee, the holidays can be a perplexing time. There are large distances to consider, wintry nostalgias to suppress (remember, shoveling snow still sucks) and, more often than not, old identity issues to confront as I pass yet another year below the Mason-Dixon line.

One by one and two by two, everyone on both sides of my family has made their way south to live in North Carolina. For over 20 years, my relatives have packed up their respective cars, driven to the New York State Thruway and headed straight down I-95 until they arrived blinking and befuddled in the hot sun of their new home. Some of us manage to hold out longer than others. Eventually though, the momentum of family migration joins forces with our state's many virtues to fashion a persuasive argument no relative of mine has been able to resist.

Except for my father. In the 1980s, Dad withstood the pull of my mother's family to the Raleigh area. In the '90s, as his siblings drifted toward the North Carolina mountains and his son enrolled at N.C. State, he remained implacable. And when my grandmother finally traded her 100-year-old house in Catskill, N.Y., for a small apartment in Murphy, my father stayed among the haunted and lovely mountains of his childhood and mine.

He says he is coming. Soon, he says, but right now there are loose ends to attend to, money to be saved. Next spring, he says, or maybe fall. But as his plans are quietly relegated to the eternal future, I see in him the same gentle obstinacy that I know in myself--a reluctance to forfeit a place and a culture known all of one's life to leap into a foreign future knowing that, family or no family, everything is going to change.

So is North Carolina that different from what my father is used to? In many ways, no. But though he may seem an anachronism to those of us who've taken the plunge, I will not pressure him to move before he is ready. It takes a long time to understand a new place, to work with it and become a part of it.

After 20 years in Raleigh, my uncle Joe has officially transferred his loyalty from the Yankees to the Braves. I'm not there yet, but I know that as I make the family rounds this holiday season, driving back to Raleigh from my wife's quintessentially Southern family on the coast and then on to the mountains, I will not feel displaced from my home. I know that in this brief period of effortless identity, I will not be paying attention to memories of New York but to the dispersed pockets of people who make up my family, and to the places filling the distances between them, as we move along 40 West under the soft sky of my ninth Carolina winter.

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