Born and raised in the tiny town of Rouses Point, New York (population: 2,209), Canada was always a mile north, with Vermont a mile east over the bridge across Lake Champlain. RP was the main town along the final stretch of U.S. Route 11, a 319-mile two-lane thoroughfare that starts way down in Binghamton and circles the western side of the enormous Adirondack Park, only to come to a screeching halt at the one intersection in my hometown.
An 1820 limestone farmhouse, my childhood home sat on the edge of town, where residential properties transitioned into endless cornfields and open meadows. Silent, cold winters and curious, freewheelin’ summers. To this day, I’m (and I say this proudly) automatically transported back home anytime I drive past a farm and the smell of cow manure hits my nose.
The town itself was something to behold, a lost art of community, friends and family, as if directly sketched from some Norman Rockwell portrait. Kids riding their bicycles down the sidewalk as dogs chase after them. Dads drinking a cold Labatt Blue and grilling out, moms sitting on the porch and discussing the upcoming school year. We swam in the lake when it was hot out and ice-skated on it when it was freezing.
It was watching “Hockey Night In Canada” on the CBC every Saturday (and commenting on Don Cherry’s one-in-a-million sport coats). It was sneaking some beers from the garage fridge and heading down to the lake to meet up with your cronies. It was driving around aimlessly on backroads as a teenager, cranking up the radio and figuring out what to do, whether it was tracking down a house party or ending up at the local bowling alley (which happened more times than not).
Our eyes were always aimed ahead, past the diner, grocery store, marina, streetlights and stop signs of our neighborhoods. We figured this town didn’t know who we were, let alone could ever know what we wanted or desired. We were going to play college basketball, join the military, become an MTV VJ or fashion designer, perhaps a doctor or racecar driver. All was possible in the minds of frustrated and determined youth.
I remember those faces, all of them. Starry-eyed and bushy-tailed. We’ve all moved on with our lives, some figuratively, others literally. And thus comes all those things with growing up — marriage, kids, divorce, bills, 401k, etc.
I rarely get home anymore. But when I do, I tend to come across all those faces I remember. Whether it be at the gas station fueling up, in the produce aisle of the grocery store or saddling up next to me at the local watering hole. There are well-earned wrinkles, financial worries and personal insecurities on both sides of the conversation. And yet, the spark remains. I see it in their eyes. That spark that glowed so brightly when we jumped into an old Chevy Lumina headed for destinations unknown, some long lost Saturday night during high school that resembled the most ubiquitous of John Mellencamp melodies.
Those faces and that town know you the best, even if you beg to differ. Sometimes they speak deeper truths than what is seen in the mirror or felt when you’re sitting alone in a room, thousands of miles from where it all began, thousands of miles from where you thought stability was and how “if this spot could remain still, then I’d be happy forever.”
But, nothing remains still. Just when you think you have a grip on some semblance of a “normal” life is usually when it slips through your fingers. The key is to ride that flow, to roll with the punches, for none of us make it out of this world alive, so beauty is found in the depths of the unknown night and sacred morning dew.
The sun will rise tomorrow. And when daily life seems like some tornado blowing through your immediate existence, just take a step back from it all and reflect on the journey to this point. Remember that town you grew up in, those people who were there next to you in beginning, amid midnight shenanigans and teenage indiscretions. Remember that sense of who you really are, and what you’re really made of. Childlike wonder doesn’t just go out the window when you enter the “real world,” for the real world has always been your essence since the day you were born.
There’s only one hometown, your own. And there’s only one home, which is wherever you lay your head down peacefully at night, ready and willing to take on tomorrow. Take no prisoners. Take no slack, jack. Understand the power of you and yours.
And if the going gets tough, phone a friend (a childhood friend), as they used to say on that television show way back when. The fiery glow hasn’t left your eyes, you just haven’t taken the time to stoke the coals.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 Tipping Point Brewing (Waynesville) will have its 5th anniversary party with Ian Moore & Co. during the day on Saturday, Dec. 19.
2 The Western Carolina Civic Orchestra will hold its annual Community Christmas Concert at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17, at the Jackson County Public Library in Sylva.
3 “Holiday Family Night” will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, at the Haywood County Fairgrounds in Lake Junaluska.
4 “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” will be screened at 7 p.m. Dec. 16-18, 4 and 7 p.m. Dec. 19, 2 and 4 p.m. Dec. 20, and 7 p.m. Dec. 21-23 at The Strand at 38 Main in Waynesville.
5 Soul Infusion Tea House & Bistro (Sylva) will have an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party with members of Porch 40 playing as a jazz trio at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19.