The other night, I was looking through photographs from the past year when I came across a picture of something I’d completely forgotten, taken in March 2020. It was a snapshot I’d taken one Saturday morning at the Piggy Wiggly, of a package of country livermush — yes, you read that right — on sale for just $3.29. You see, that was back in the middle of the run on grocery stores, when not a drop of Clorox, not a roll of toilet paper, and not many packages of meat could be found.

Back on that Saturday in March, I text messaged the photo to my family asking — mostly joking — if they wanted me to bring the livermush home, as it was the only meat left on the shelf. They politely declined, perhaps alarmed by the “pork jowls” listed among the ingredients. The family found some ground beef in the freezer and we had a very normal, pork-jowls-free baked ziti for supper that night.

Strangely enough, it wasn’t until I saw that photograph of livermush again that I realized how much time I spent with my family in 2020. 2019, like most other recent years, found me more often out with friends for dinner, or at the bar for happy hour, or at church for choir practice, or even on an airplane headed somewhere new and unfamiliar. All of last year, I longed for and missed all of those familiar habits.

But earlier this week, I drove back into town after a couple of weeks tucked away at my parents’ house, where I quietly rang in this new year, so unlike new year’s celebrations of the past. And I have to tell you, that drive home — from their house to mine — seems to be getting longer every time.

When I was still a child, I started keeping a journal so that I’d have more room for my own thoughts and feelings. When I was a teenager, there were times I’d get on my bicycle and ride around the neighborhood just to have some time on my own, all by myself, without the thoughts or opinions or questions that flow so freely in your parents’ home. As a college student, I remember the sheer delight of returning to campus to follow a more independent routine after a holiday break at home. Last year, something changed.

Maybe so many unexpected events happened last year that I just needed to be a little closer to my parents to hear what they had to say about it. Maybe I couldn’t travel, and their house was just a nice change of scenery. Maybe the bars were closed, and Friday nights with my sister and brother and their families filled that space nicely.

Whatever it was, my heart was filled last year in a particular way. Long, lazy suppers together on the screened porch replaced busy evenings away from one another. Walks around the neighborhood replaced trips up and down the East coast. When last spring the news seemed to change by the hour, we served as a constant in one another’s days, which were hemmed in only by that golden-red Carolina sun rising and falling in the sky like bookends to the mysterious story of life.

In retrospect, I wouldn’t change all of those long days together for anything in the world — not even all of the plans I’d made for the year that never came to be. I know last year was a very hard one for many families, and I feel tremendously grateful to have shared the year with a healthy family that turned over each new day with a particular and special kind of wonder. I still don’t crave livermush for supper, but I hope I’ll think about it differently for a very long time.

Brooks lives in Greenwood. Find her on Instagram, @laurabethbrooks, or Let her know if your bar is featuring a new drink or your band is playing next weekend.