Seeing as we’re putting together this issue in your hands a day early, as to hopefully (maybe?) having a day off to enjoy the 4th, here we all are — journalists, graphic designers, advertising folks and publisher — bouncing around our newsroom, piecing together another edition of The Smoky Mountain News like some 56-page puzzle.
As a kid, I was pretty lucky to grow up in the town I did. Rouses Point, New York. Population: 2,100. It is (or was?) the quintessential “All-American” town, along the shores of Lake Champlain. And, regardless of current economic conditions, there still is no bigger day in my hometown than the Fourth of July. It’s the one day of the year that the entire town emerges and gathers, cold Labatt Blue beers hoisted high, hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, fireworks exploding from seemingly every backyard.
I can’t stress how picturesque the 4th is in Rouses Point. It’s like something out of a classic film, this “Pleasantville” feel to it, and it still has that magic dust sprinkled over the community whenever that day rolls around.
Usually, during my childhood, the day would start with a bike ride down my street to round up my cronies. We’d bike less than a mile to my grandparent’s camp (aka “lake house”) and go swimming for most of the morning. Then, bike into town for lunch and youthful shenanigans. Shoot up and down Lake Street. Watch the never-ending parade, then find some prime real estate on the lakeshore to sit underneath the massive firework display at dusk.
By college, it was all about closing down the local watering holes on the 4th. Home for the summer, seeing all your old high school friends, everyone full of piss and vinegar, catching up amid the background noise of some cover band blasting some Tragically Hip or April Wine song. Come 2 a.m. we’d wander down to the camp and do some twilight swimming, maybe have a small fire and a nightcap on the beach.
These days, I rarely get back home, let alone actually be there when the 4th rolls around. The last one that really sticks out was the summer of 2012, exactly one month before I moved to Waynesville. At that time, I was in cahoots with my publisher, Scott McLeod, doing back and forth phone interviews to see if I was “the man for the job” of arts and entertainment editor.
And while I was throwing down some Labatt Blues amid my peers, I remember mulling over the idea of me relocating to Southern Appalachia. I needed to make a move, and make one soon, in terms of my “career,” and all signs seemed to point to Western North Carolina.
There was this girl I had just started to “see” as the summer of 2012 kicked off. And, by the time the 4th rolled around, we were hanging out pretty regularly. There definitely was some chemistry between us, but I found myself growing distant, especially during the 4th, as the writing on the wall became as clear as my intentions to leave the area, in search of that “something else” beyond the horizon. It’s like those lines in “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers), “I dig you baby, but I got to keep movin’ on, keep movin’ n… I feel summer creepin’ in and I’m tired of this town again … Well, I don’t know, but I’ve been told, you never slow down, you never grow old, I’m tired of screwin’ up, tired of going down, tired of myself, tired of this town …”
It’s exactly 1,024 miles from Waynesville, North Carolina, to Rouses Point, New York. And yet, it feels so much farther in my memories. I remember that town, and all those people, faces that were pillars of my childhood and early adulthood. A lot are six feet below, with the vast majority sporting more grey hair and well-earned wrinkles these days (myself included).
Every single one of us has a “hometown,” and it probably looked and felt very similar to mine, in this kind of “Wonder Years” nostalgia that strikes you on some lonely drive from Point A to Point B, so far away from you physically, but so close as images play across the dashboard, all as you continue to push ahead, into the knowns and unknowns of tomorrow.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 Popular Australian hard rock act October Rage will perform at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, July 8, at the Water’n Hole Bar & Grill in Waynesville.
2 The “An Appalachian Evening” summer concert series will continue with 2014 IBMA “Entertainer of the Year” Balsam Range at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 8, at the Stecoah Valley Center.
3 The annual “Week of Rock” celebration will continue through July 8 at Nantahala Brewing in Bryson City.
4 Concerts on the Creek will host Darren Nicholson Band (country/Americana) at 7 p.m. Friday, July 7, at Bridge Park in downtown Sylva.
5 “Art After Dark” will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, July 7, in downtown Waynesville.