Brief visits home strengthen ties, create lasting memories

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at

She called it a “Mama Attack.”

With grown children of her own, she’d flown in to visit her mother and joined her at church one Sunday morning.

“How long are you here?” my father had asked.

“I flew in late Friday night and I am leaving today on the 1:50 plane,” she said.

“What did you come for, a match?” my father joked. Our relatives from the hills of North Carolina used that comment when we would visit briefly, harking back to colonial days when matches were scarce and people would travel long distances just for a match and then hurry home to start their fires.

“No,” she said. “I just had a ‘Mama Attack’ and had to see my mother.”

Mama Attack. I like that term and understand exactly what she meant, especially now, 20 years after the incident happened.

It’s that feeling of getting back to your roots for a few brief moments, touching the past, and sensing life when responsibilities were small and the “buck didn’t stop” with you. There were others — older, wiser, who knew and cared about you from birth on — who buffered you from whatever pressures were too much. The return home provided a safe haven for shelter for whatever life storm was brewing.

And now, as a parent with grown and growing children, I realize I am the provider that safe haven — a daunting, but joyful challenge.

As a teenager, I remember my father calling my siblings and me to the family room for no apparent reason.

“What do you want, Dad?” we would ask.

“Oh, nothing. I wanted to be around you — just to smell you,” he’d say with that teasing grin of his.

And we’d shake our heads and smile and bring whatever we were doing into the room.

Maybe he was having a “Children Attack.”

I understand that better now, too.

When the kids come back, a background buzz settles in, transforming my home. It may be the sound of warfare from my son’s Call of Duty Black Ops game, or one end of my daughter’s animated cell phone conversation, or the dryer straining from that extra load of towels. My home comes alive with new activities — and new messes.

But the clamor and clutter are worth it.

With each holiday, I dive deep into my memory bank to recall the details of what made that family time so special. Was it the recipes? The conversations? Or was it just being together, smelling each other and letting the sounds of family knit us closer?

Although Mama (and Daddy) Attacks are no longer possible since my parents’ passing in recent years, those memories sustain me. In stressful moments, I can still hear their counsel. Their comfort still surfaces and bathes me in a love that families feel even without speaking it.

Now may be a good time to dust off and cherish our precious memories and embrace the opportunities we have, however brief, to do the same for those we love.