Like clockwork, I get a little quieter around this time of the year. The holiday season always does that to me, and probably to you, too. Another whirlwind year in the cosmos winds down like snowflakes falling from above. All those scattered dots of humanity ricocheting around the world, all in a hurry to sit across the table from those they love the most, who know them better than anyone, for good or ill (but mostly good).
Family. It’s a word and a tangible thing I often ponder, something I try to embrace amid its elusiveness. Being down here in Western North Carolina, over a thousand miles and untold hours from my hometown in Upstate New York, I’m pretty far from my blood and kin. And though I’m aware of the importance of family, I also keep running — a moving target that doesn’t want to be dragged back to the start.
I’ve been out here in the abyss from awhile now. The moment that high school diploma was placed in my hand I took off. Never look back, never apologize for taking to the open road. Back then, I didn’t know what I was searching for. All I knew was if I kept looking for it, it would reveal itself to me in due time.
And being out here, like many other family tree outlaws, we’re all willing to sacrifice whatever it was we left behind in exchange for experiences, opportunity, and, most of all, to never stop dancing in the buzzing light of irresponsible enlightenment. But, for every new friend we make, unknown back road we turn down, sunset we bask in or sunrise we awaken into, there have been innumerable moments alone, in a Motel 6 during a blizzard somewhere in Kansas, an empty bar just outside of Salt Lake City, a midnight sidewalk in Manhattan where all you hear is your own footsteps.
The abyss isn’t for the weak of heart or those lacking in determination. I’m out here for many reasons, known and unknown. The road is long, and arduous, but bountiful to those whose eyes are always aimed forward, whose head is upward, in awe of the stars and the games God seems to play with us. Run, and never stop. Keep moving, and never slow down. And when you do take a moment to lay your head down, on some wooden floor or friend’s couch or bed of a femme fatale, you slide into twilight dreams that contradict the old adage, “You can’t go home again.”
I don’t care what they say, the holidays are tough for us family tree outlaws. I remember that town. Rouses Point — small town America way up on the Canadian border. I remember my father shoving logs into our woodstove, the cold floors of our old farmhouse, and my mother’s voice echoing up the stairs for me to get out of bed. It was my boots crunching in the hard snow of our driveway and the way the sun fell behind the trees way across the silent cornfields as we got into the car and headed for my grandparents.
Stepping into the side porch at my mother’s childhood home, one immediately smelled the small woodstove my grandfather would always be stoking. Up the stairs to the kitchen where my grandmother resembled some Las Vegas plate spinner with the amount of Thanksgiving dishes already made, the amount still left to do and serve to perfection. It was sitting in the living room and watching football with my uncles, making room for my little sister on the couch, and how the cozy nature of what lay inside that house illuminated the darkness that set in when day turned to night, when my grandparents eventually left this earth years later or when my parents sold that old farmhouse my senior year of college. The beauty of it all, and how my little sister will make room this year on the couch for a freewheeling toddler, my niece.
They say you can’t go home again. Maybe not the home you grew up in or in the presence of those who knew and loved you best, but the idea of “home” itself shifts and molds into present day situations amid the endless possibility of what tomorrow just might bring. For me, home is the road these days. It’s the idea that as long as you never forget that small town way up north, then “home” will always be atop your dashboard as you look out at what lies ahead, where the answers to any and all questions sit on the horizon, that glowing dreamlike place where those long lost faces and dusty memories reside.
It’s awfully quiet in here, and I don’t care what they say, the holidays are tough for us family tree outlaws.
1 Tipping Point Brewing (Waynesville) will have a “Pint Night” craft beer release party with Darren Nicholson of Balsam Range (Americana/bluegrass) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3.
2 The final Art After Dark of the year will continue from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, in downtown Waynesville.
3 BearWaters Brewing Company (Waynesville) will have The Dirty Soul Revival (rock/blues) at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5.
4 Award-winning bluegrass band Dailey & Vincent will kick off the holiday show season with their Christmas Show at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.
5 “Appalachian Christmas” at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center will deliver the nostalgic charm of mountain hospitality to visitors on Dec. 11-13.