Sitting in The Gem, the basement taproom at Boojum Brewing in downtown Waynesville, this past Monday evening, my parents and I retold tall tales and absurd stories from our past, a time that seems so much closer in our memories that what the calendar may say.
My mother, Kathy, will turn 70 in January, while my father, Frank, will celebrate his 77th birthday come March. They still live up in the North Country of Upstate New York, mainly because they want to be wherever my niece is. At 4 years old, it’s Lucy’s world, we merely live in it. She’s an incredibly smart and captivating kid, and my folks spend as much time as they can with her, especially when my little sister is at work and needs a babysitter.
Ever since I rolled into Waynesville, my parents visit here about twice a year — in the spring en route to their winter escape in Florida, and during the fall foliage. It’s hard for me to get home, let alone get a chance to spend quality time with them, so it means a lot that they make the trip to our neck of the woods. They’ll rent a bungalow in the hills of Lake Junaluska, meet me for breakfast, motor over to Asheville to wander around, and usually have dinner at one of our fine Waynesville establishments.
What’s been interesting, perhaps surreal, is to see my parents grow older. Heck, I see more and more grey in my hair and beard in the mirror each morning. Though they’re starting to slow down a tad, their spirits are as jovial and adventurous as ever. They’re game for anything, and still have never, ever met a stranger, as seen by their interactions with my friends and co-workers we cross paths with on a stroll around town.
I’ve always appreciated my parents, even during some rocky times when I was a teenager. They were older parents when I was born. Remember, I’m the oldest child, and I’m 33. They were in their late 30s and mid-40s — already married 12 years — when I came into this world.
Even to this day, Kathy & Frank are about spending money on experiences rather than material possessions. We were a basic middle-class family. She was a high school teacher, he worked as an immigration officer for the government on the Canadian border. My sister and I never went without, for which I’m grateful, but whatever excess funds we may have had was spent on fine dining and travel. As a family, we never cared about a new TV or nice car — let’s go camping or try that new restaurant.
And, as I stated above, they’ve never met a stranger. My folks start a conversation with literally anyone. My mother may simply talk up someone in line at a coffee shop or at the next dining table. Anytime my father sees an old veteran or elderly couple, he’ll immediately ask them about their lives, where they’re from, where they served, or just to know about what life was like for them “back then.”
I’d be lying if I said that my parents didn’t directly influence not only who I became as a person, but also my career path a journalist. If I didn’t interview and interact with strangers for a living, I’d still do it every single day of my life.
What’s the fun of not getting to know a new person whenever you get the chance to do so? Live a little, spark a conversation. You’ll always surprise yourself at the cosmic connections you can make with another human being by simply asking them how their day is going. In an era when face-to-face communication is a lost art, reaching out and making a connection is a rare and beautiful thing.
So, there we were — my folks and I — in The Gem, trading stories back and forth, some friends of mine also in attendance, all wide-eyed at the situations being rehashed through laughter and haphazard mannerisms. Tales of holiday gatherings gone awry, college shenanigans, times where my father faced danger as a border officer, road trip mishaps — you get the picture, eh?
It’s in moments like that where my folks really shine, and I’m right next to them, witnessing their essence. It’s a pretty special transition in life when your parents go from authoritarians to best friends and companions. Luckily, I went through that transition early on, where I look forward to my time with them, where we continue to run around this great big world, our souls overflowing with curiosity and goodwill.
As I’m currently writing this column, it’s Tuesday morning. I’ll soon be heading over to my parents’ place for breakfast, all before they hop onto a plane tomorrow back to Upstate New York, back to an impending cold and snowy winter. But, more importantly, back to my little sister and my niece.
Each time it gets harder to say goodbye to them, but plans are already in the works for a surprise trip back home for Christmas. There ain’t nothing like a North Country Christmas, especially in the company of my family.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The Smoky Mountain Roller Girls will take on the Chattanooga Roller Girls' Ruby Regulators starting at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at the Swain County Rec Park in Bryson City.
2 The Water’n Hole Bar & Grill (Waynesville) will host Humps & The Blackouts (psycho-billy) at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26.
3 “The Bad Seed” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26-27 and Nov. 2, 3 and at 2 p.m. Oct. 28 and Nov. 4, at the Haywood Arts RegionalTheatre in Waynesville.
4 Western Carolina University will welcome Clare Twomey for a lecture, “Producing Production: Craft as an Action,” at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31, at the WCU Bardo Arts Center.
5 Frog Level Brewing (Waynesville) will host Stone Crazy Band (pop/rock) at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27.