I put the word vacation in quotation marks because when you’re going home it’s never really is a “vacation,” but more of a cluttered array of family obligations and chaotic travel moments. Don’t get me wrong, I truly love and appreciate my parents, sister and relatives. It’s just that I find I return to Western North Carolina from Upstate New York more exhausted than I felt leaving work for a week.
I took off from my hometown (pop: 2,200) on the Canadian border when I graduated from high school. All you out there who read our paper are well aware of my wanderings and constant need to see what’s around every corner, where I’ve never met a stranger and I always find that the best societal encounters are those by happenstance.
And yet, I always find it such an awkward feeling to head home, back to the landscape I spent the first full 18 years of my life living in. It’s that odd feeling, almost like when you go grocery shopping by yourself or you’re sitting alone and observing people at an airport (like I am now). It’s a feeling where you’re well aware of what’s going on around you, but you somehow feel disconnected, and more observant, to the situation than an actual participant. Maybe it’s my journalistic side saying that, but I find these sentiments always emerge when I make a dash for the northern side of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Being from a rural community, Memorial Day weekend is a huge deal. When there isn’t much to do you’ll find any excuse to fire up the barbecue, slide a little closer to that cute local girl and pop open a cold one. Isn’t that what country songs are all about?
With this recent jaunt home, I have three agenda items: attend a friend’s wedding, see my pregnant sister (who I really haven’t seen at all since she told me the good news) and open up the tailgate for “Happy Pike,” which is my hometown’s Memorial Day booze fest. This trio of events will kill more birds with one stone than if I rolled a boulder down the riverbanks of Lake Junaluska.
I suppose the point of my rambling this week is to share the notion of feeling like a foreigner in my hometown. The longer I stay away (and live away) from there, the more disconnected I get, which is why those few moments I get sporadically throughout the years are that much more valuable. You can take the boy out of North Country, but you can’t take the North Country out of the boy.
There is something to be said about walking into a familiar establishment or down a street you only see in dreams now, and crossing paths with a face that knows everything about you — who you are, what you are and where you want to go. Those faces and places and things find me like a magnet, to which I engage them and connect the dots even further in a world where face-to-face communication and a sense of individual self is a lost art.
And so, as I finish the last sip of this red ale, my flight to Albany ready to board shortly, I find myself relaxing finally into the idea of coming back home. It may only be a few days, but those few days linger, as if a constant mirror were following you, asking if what you see in the reflection is what you hoped for when you got that high school diploma and headed for the horizon line to destinations unknown.
I think we all need to venture home once in a while. I think we all need that mirror to follow us once in a while. The truth doesn’t hurt — it’s merely a reference point for change or stability in an already promising existence.
1: The Trail Magic Ale No. 8 release party will be June 6-7 at Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City.
2: Blind Lemon Phillips will perform at Groovin’ on the Green at 6:30 p.m. May 30 at the Village Commons in Cashiers.
3: A landscape-painting workshop by Doreyl Ammons Cain will be held at 2 p.m. June 7 at a local farmstead in Tuckasegee.
4: The Caribbean Cowboys will be performing during a luau from 3 to 7 p.m. May 31 at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva.
5: A cornhole tournament by Women of Waynesville to benefit Big Brothers, Big Sisters will be at 10 a.m. June 7 at BearWaters Brewing in Waynesville.