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This must be the place: Pass the gravy, and the memories

This must be the place: Pass the gravy, and the memories

It was right around the second beer when I began to settle in.

The warm sunshine and lingering foliage of metropolitan Charlotte was in stark contrast to the chilly air and empty trees of the mountains of Western North Carolina. But, with my aunt and cousin within arm’s reach, and my girlfriend beside me, I immersed myself into the Thanksgiving gathering last week.

As a kid, I remember those frozen, snowy and often icy Thanksgiving get-togethers on the Canadian border. I’d be delegated the all-important responsibility of helping elderly relatives up our slippery driveway and into my cozy and warm childhood farmhouse. After that? Grab some firewood in the barn for the stove, but only do that after putting all the coats on the bed for safe keeping.

There would be a couple dozen of us — give or take — where all my immediate family, and scattered ones from the extended, would sit around the large dining room table, the kiddie table, or whatever chairs were available in the living room. My grandparents would be at the head of the table, always, with my parents running around putting out plates or refilling wine glasses. Laughter. Burps. More laughter. Arms in a frenzy either reaching or receiving, all while a cold northern wind howled against the windows.

Once I was 16 and got my driver’s license, my riff-raff cronies and I would cruise the backroads of the North Country on Turkey Day, bouncing between our separate family gatherings, scavenging whatever food would fit in our hands on our way out the door to destinations unknown, but most likely a bonfire party somewhere way out in the abyss of rural Upstate New York.

College rolled around, and I was one of the few who went to school out-of-state. So, Thanksgiving Break was the first time each new school year that I was finally home for a hot minute, eager to catch up with high school chums, eager to get into whatever mischief would allow us to avoid any sort of adult responsibility for at least one more holiday.

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We’d hole up in some local dive bar, throwing darts, playing pool or shuffleboard, telling tall tales of college escapades, bragging about something that probably never happened, kicking around hopes and dreams for the future, all crammed into that precious time before we all had to be home in time to say grace and dive into the huge spread that awaited us.

Since I’ve lived in Western North Carolina, I’ve been pretty much an orphan during Thanksgiving. Most of my immediate family is over 1,000 miles away in the northeast. Here in Southern Appalachia, some friend’s family would usually take me in, with my publisher and his gracious family taking me in the last couple of years.

That first Thanksgiving here (2012) I’d only been living in Haywood County a short time. I didn’t know anybody, and was too prideful (stubborn?) to mention I had no Thanksgiving plans the week leading up to the day.

My first Thanksgiving in the south was upon me. I bought a 12-pack of cheap beer and a foot-long Subway sandwich with all the dressings. Sitting on my bed in that small apartment, I stared out the window onto the empty streets of Waynesville, wondering if this was the right decision in taking this job and uprooting my entire life back in New York in hopes of something new, something to point me in the right direction.

Luckily, that was the only day like that, where I was completely alone, when I should have been with friends and family, celebrating the mere fact that life is a gift, and as such, we should be aware of that, always sending out love and positivity into the universe, in hopes of it perhaps making a difference (which it does).

So, there I was last week, in Charlotte, with all those memories above rolling around my head, wondering about time and my place in it, just as my cousin is asking for me to pass the gravy, and as I myself kept grabbing for the buttered rolls.

My aunt and cousin moved to Charlotte a couple years ago, after not being able to find sufficient work back home. I’d only been able to see them a handful of times since they relocated below the Mason-Dixon Line. It was nice, and kind of surreal, to be in the presence of familiarity, folks who know you the best and love you the most. It was especially warming to my heart, which is as much a loner as a lover.

My parents, sister and niece, and extended family were soon Skyping us from their Thanksgiving, everyone up there in the North Country, running around my late grandparents’ house in that hometown over a 1,000 miles away. I said hello to all the smiling faces staring back at me through the digital device. We laughed. We burped. We laughed more.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.


Hot picks

1 The final “Art After Dark” of the year will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1, in downtown Waynesville.

2 Local country singer Ryan Perry will host the “Under The Moonshine” single release party from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, at Elevated Mountain Distilling in Maggie Valley.

3 The rapid-fire tap dancing squad Rhythmic Circus will perform a special holiday show “Red and Green” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5, at the Bardo Arts Center in Cullowhee.

4 The Old-Time and Bluegrass Series at Western Carolina University continues with a concert featuring the old-time band the Haywood Ramblers at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, in Cullowhee.

5 The Haywood County Arts Council annual show, “It’s a Small, Small Work,” will be held through Dec. 23 in HCAC Gallery & Gifts in Waynesville.

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