“Well, hey there, Tony,” I said. “It’s been a long time, brother.”
And it really had been a while, probably around 12 years since we’d seen each other. Though we both had aged and specks of grey were noticed in our beards, we were still the same teenagers who ran crosscountry and track against each other in high school. Our mutual friends are too many to name, with memories of home spilling out between every laugh and connection made.
Accompanying Tony was his wife and a friend of theirs. Great people. Turned out the threesome was in town to catch a show at The Grey Eagle. It also turned out that Tony was a journalist, too, and worked in nearby Johnson City, Tenn.
“What a small world, eh?” I remarked as we saluted the fading sunset behind the Great Smoky Mountains to the west.
I grew up in the small Canadian border town of Rouses Point, population 2,209 residents. Positioned along the enormous Lake Champlain, the town was the gateway to unrelenting miles of cornfields, cows and countless inches of snow in the winter. It was a quiet, comfortable childhood, almost like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
And yet, I wanted more. So, I took off for college 300 miles away in Connecticut. The school became a springboard for a curious jaunt to Europe and career aspirations in the West (Idaho/Wyoming) and, now, Western North Carolina. Though I always knew wandering and grasping for my dreams was what I was doing, it was (and still is in some ways) a lonely road.
All of the faces, names, places, sounds, smells, sights and foods I was familiar with for the first 18 years of my life have, for better or worse, become dusty memories in the back of my mental closet, a box of images and interactions I refuse to throw out.
With that said, running into someone from your backyard, out in the chaos of the cosmos, is an exciting and relaxing feeling. It’s almost like exploring outer space and coming into contact with another astronaut. That person is a direct link to your past, a physical and emotional connection to a world and existence that seems oddly foreign to you when you finally make that long, cathartic trek home for the holidays.
Then you run into those people who you didn’t even know growing up, but they were there, somehow, in some capacity. For instance, I was up in Bryson City doing a feature article on The Filling Station Deli. The owners, Barry and Helene Tetrault, sat down with me for an interview.
After the dots of conversation were connected, we soon discovered that Barry was originally from the North Country and went to high school and played sports with my uncles. To make things more interesting, Helene was from Hamden, Conn. (where I went to college), and I lived in a house my senior year on the street she grew up on. What the heck, you know?
I guess the point of this week’s column is the utter fascination I have with the simple notion that the further and farther you push out into the world, the closer you get to your hometown, your past and yourself. Those sporadic encounters put this full circle spin on what it means to be part of this great big universe that we barely know anything about, but our thirst to know more never ceases.
And as I bid goodbye to Tony, I got into my truck, started up the engine and headed back for Waynesville, back towards that western horizon line that I continue to chase with a reckless abandon. A smile emerged, ear to ear, as I shook my head in awe of all of us, all of us billions of tiny dots scattering about, bumping into each other, sometimes by chance, sometimes by accident.
But we’re always grateful for the sentiment that we aren’t alone out here in the world, that somewhere, maybe around the nearest corner, you’ll run into your past, and it’ll all make sense, all of your life’s choices, as if you’re awakening from a foggy dream and clarity now possesses you.
1: Hard rock/blues act The Hooten Hallers will perform at 9 p.m. May 18 at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva.
2: The Whole Bloomin’ Thing festival will be held all day Saturday, May 10, in the Frog Level district of Waynesville.
3: Folk/rock band Pierce Edens & The Dirty Work will perform at 8 p.m. May 9 at BearWaters Brewing Company in Waynesville.
4: The comic/drama “Painting Churches” hits the stage at 7:30 p.m. May 9-11, 16-19 at the Smoky Mountain Community Theatre in Bryson City.
5: A bluegrass festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 17, at the Stecoah Valley Center in Robbinsville.