Just outside of Vermontville was a quaint, cozy farmhouse on a small remote pond, now frozen this time of year. That’s where my high school sweetheart lived. And her family pulled up another chair for me at their dinner table. Being a notoriously late person, I rushed up Route 3, only to pulled over by a New York State Trooper going 55 in a 45 mile-per-hour zone. When the trooper asked for my license, I couldn’t find it (a day later I found it under my seat). Thus, she gave me a ticket and said in leaving, “Have a great Thanksgiving.” “Thanks a lot,” I muttered.
But, even in that moment, I remember thinking it wasn’t as bad as the previous Thanksgiving. The year prior, at age 15, I ran in the annual Turkey Trot, a 3.1-mile race around my father’s hometown of Peru, New York. The starting line was at Peru High School. My father and I drove down to run it with my Uncle Scott. I ended up winning the race, and also a large frozen turkey as a prize.
After everybody said their goodbyes and such, I walked out to where my dad’s minivan was supposed to be. It was gone. I sat and waited on the steps of the high school, in the freezing cold North Country wind, in my running shorts and long-sleeve t-shirt. A handful of snowflakes started to fall, but my father was nowhere to be found. Nobody was around. I was alone.
This was 2000, before most of us even had cell-phones. I sat there, cold and shivering, for almost two hours before a NYS Trooper swung in and picked me up. He brought me to my Uncle Scott’s house on the other side of town. I called my mother. She flipped out on my father who had thought I caught a ride with some friends and simply left me behind. To this day, I know of no one who could clock a faster time driving the 30 miles from my hometown of Rouses Point to Peru than my old man did that day to retrieve me.
For the most part, Thanksgiving growing up was simply about a day off from school and eating as much of my grandmother’s legendary stuffing (covered in homemade gravy) before it was all gone until next year.
But, as you get older, and everything in your daily life seems to speed up, Thanksgiving takes on a whole new meaning. It’s more about actual quality time with friends and family, many of which you may never see the rest of the year.
This will be my seventh Thanksgiving as a resident of Western North Carolina. And in that time, I’ve only made it home for one of those holidays. Either due to weather or finances — and with a focus on being home for Christmas, which I try to make happen — I’m usually an “orphan” when Thanksgiving appears on the calendar.
That first Thanksgiving living in Waynesville, in 2012, I actually spent it alone. With a cheap six-pack in the fridge and a turkey sandwich in my hand, I gazed out my living-room window onto Walnut Street, wondering what the hell I was doing with my life, and if my decision to pull up deep stakes in New York and head to Carolina was a smart one.
But, then I would get invited to Thanksgiving gatherings by friends that have become family in Southern Appalachia. Two years were spent in Knoxville, another in Sylva, and one time in Asheville.
Last year, I ended up in Charlotte with my (now ex-) girlfriend. My aunt and cousin had relocated from New York to Charlotte. It was a nice to spend the holiday with faces familiar and beloved from my youth. And also, to spend it with someone I loved, a significant other who made up for all those lonely holidays in years past.
So, here we are. Thanksgiving 2018. The girl is long gone. Dearly loved and missed, but the memories of her smile and laugh remain. Reflecting on the year, I do have a lot to be thankful for. In terms of work, things are wild and bountiful, with lots of incredible projects on the horizon. No complaints on that front.
In terms of my personal mindset and emotional state? It’s been scattered and shattered, zig-zagging between sporadic moments of happiness and sadness seemingly on a daily basis. And, for a lot of this year, I’ve disappeared or avoided friends and family — geographically and emotionally.
I’ve hit the road, run away across the country, into the backwoods, into the depths of a metropolitan city, into hours of my headphones on with my favorite music, into my passion for the written word. I’ve felt kind of like a wounded animal hiding out in the woods. At least, that’s how I honestly feel. I’ve spent months working through all of these thoughts and emotions.
Luckily, I have writing, live music and, most importantly, dear friends and loved ones I can reach out to either at noon or midnight — the true meaning of Thanksgiving.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The Balsam Range “Art of Music Festival” will run Nov. 27-Dec. 1 around Haywood County.
2 The Water’n Hole Bar & Grill (Waynesville) will host “Black Friday” w/Humps & The Blackouts (psychobilly) at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23.
3 Acclaimed country singer John Berry will host a special Christmas performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.
4 Boojum Brewing Company (Waynesville) will host Joey Fortner & The Universal Sound at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23.
5 The twin sons of the late iconic actor/singer Ricky Nelson, Gunnar and Matthew will host a special performance “Christmas with the Nelsons” at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, at the Highlands Performing Arts Center.