A year-and-a-half ago, the start-up company I was working for in New York crapped out. I kicked around the city for a bit, staying at my girlfriend’s apartment. I paid my rent in time spent over the stove and in the laundry room. Once nothing on the job front panned out, Labor Day saw me buying a one-way ticket back to Denver. And back to my mom’s basement.
This isn’t the first time I’ve lived at home since college. In 2010, I grew tired of New York, quit my job at Time Out magazine, and drove around the country for a few months. I resettled back in Denver and found myself at mom’s for about a year. Whether you’re 27 or 32, it’s an odd arrangement that gets put under the microscope around the holidays.
My immediate family has always been small: I’m an only child, so it was me, my mom, and my dad. Growing up, my father’s parents lived a few blocks away, and holiday gatherings in Denver centered around them. My dad is one of nine children, so Christmases could get big and messy. It was wonderful: too much wine, a Belgian grandmother chef, and a joke-telling society nicknamed “The 311 Club” after my grandparent’s address. Often, the three of us would board a Christmas morning flight due for Cleveland and do it all over again — the Dempseys preferred whiskey over wine — on Lake Erie.
But, one-by-one, my grandparents passed away and both families splintered. It’s nothing too antagonistic — aunts and uncles just happen to live all over the map, from England to San Francisco. Without their parents pulling them together, we don’t get together as much. My mother’s mother used to come to Denver for Christmas, but she was the last one to go: a couple of years ago. Since then — my dad is hit-or-miss on holiday appearances — it’s often just me and my mom.
Living at home takes away what I’d call that “front door experience.” There’s no exciting flight back, talking to a stranger about your upcoming plans over a couple of beers. There’s no hug at the airport or catch-up ride back: “How’s the weather been? They’re doing what to downtown?” And, then, there’s the door and opening it to the familiar scent of home: I’m already here. I’m breathing that scent every day.
My room, itself, is my own little time machine. Coming back from college or my days living in New York, I’d spy knickknacks and souvenirs that would make memories wash over me: a Radiohead concert ticket, say, or a copy of Lord of the Flies. Now, I live amongst the detritus of years gone by. I sleep in a twin bed next to Heidi Klum and Jimi Hendrix, posters I picked out when I was half the age I am now. All of it is somehow who I used to be, but has become a part of who I am today.
I’d love for family gatherings around the holidays to be larger than they are now. When I hear my girlfriend’s Thanksgiving in New York has all of 40 family members, I get jealous. But, there are advantages to a small crew. There’s no liquored-up, xenophobic great uncle espousing Trump’s cogency. There’s no anxious rush to deliver as the family gourmand. In short, there’s no pressure.
About a decade ago — when my father moved to Chicago — my mom and I embarked unto our own Thanksgiving tradition. We go out to eat every fourth Thursday of November. Usually it’s to the Fort, in Morrison, Colorado, where we eat Rocky Mountain Oysters and game meats, drink prickly pear margaritas, and hang out with badass dudes dressed up in frontier garb. It’s fantastic.
Surely, I’d rather not be living at home these days. I’d rather have a full-time job, a robust bank account, and a place of my own. The holidays can make my current situation all the more embarrassing. “Where are you living these days?” someone will inevitably ask during the Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving bacchanal at the Cherry Cricket, the local watering hole. “My mom’s basement,” the 32-year-old me will say, earnestly with a touch of a smirk and a bit of shame — all of the emotions jostling for a bigger slice of my internal pie chart, depending on how much Jack Daniel’s I’ve had.
Still, I believe I’ll look back on these times fondly, mostly for one reason: my mom. She’s a wonderful woman — I guess all sons say that, but I mean it more than almost anything else — full of idiosyncrasies and Midwestern sensibilities. Sometimes, I’ll come home after she gets back from work. I’ll see her head through the front window, knowing she’s sipping on iced chardonnay and watching the local news or CNN. I’m glad to walk through that front door. And I’m even happier to be home.Photos via Colin St. John