I am sorry for those who never had the experience of going over the river and through the woods to grandfather's house. You don't need a sleigh to do it; a car is fine, but you still need the destination.
Our destination was pretty much described in the song. The house with its fenced lawn and flower garden was on our right as we came down the lane; the tall windmill was just beyond the house, the high barn was ahead and to the left… I could easily relate the song to what I saw; a boy something like me would spot his grandfather's cap in that farmyard, and the pumpkin pie would be cooling in the kitchen of that house.
The first trip I remember coherently was in an unheated car, around 1941, with me and four older brothers crammed in the back seat. I was tucked between the legs of my oldest brother so I wouldn't take up hip room, and my legs were too short to require leg room. It took four hours to go just a little more than a hundred miles. Somewhere along the way Dad had to fix a flat, but that was routine. There were no restaurant stops, of course; Mom had baked an unfrosted chocolate cake for us to eat on the way, which was an okay supper for five boys.
I remember the welcome when we arrived—the hot soup, the large rolled sugar cookies, the pleasant smells of the country kitchen, the bucket and dipper that subbed for a sink and faucet. It would be ten years or so before the house had indoor plumbing. What it had in 1941 was a windmill and an outhouse, still standard equipment in rural Nebraska in those days.
My grandfather had come from Scotland as a teenager with his parents to this place in the 1880's, some sixty years before I saw it. During my childhood and youth, and into my middle age, it belonged to my mother's sister and her husband. It was in the family for over a hundred years.
Since we moved a great deal in my childhood--my father and mother did not own a home of their own until I was in my last years of college—the old home place, where my mother and her father had both come to maturity, was the fixed point in my personal universe.
Many other trips followed that first one. The last trip with my parents was on Memorial Day immediately following my college graduation. We visited the cemetery where my grandparents were buried (my parents are there now too), and the old Welsh cemetery where my grandmother's parents and grandparents were buried. My grandmother remembered that her first home back in the 1870's was a "dugout" in the side of a hill, in a land where trees were rare.
There were more visits to come after my marriage and our own children were small, but in the 1980's, at advanced ages, my aunt and uncle went to a nursing home and strangers moved in.
In one sense, the old home place was never my home; it t was never my address. Home was where my parents were, and now for nearly fifty years, where my wife is. But those who think beyond their own generation will understand when I say that, in another sense, it was always home.