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This must be the place: Where will you take me? What will we do?

Parked along the Hayford Road. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) Parked along the Hayford Road. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

Pulling off Interstate 87 onto Route 9, the fading sun lowered itself behind the cornfields and open meadows of the Champlain Valley. It has been a while since I’d found myself crossing into the village limits of Rouses Point, New York, a place where I spent the first 18 years of my life.

A town of around 2,000 folks, I cruised along its streets and by its quaint homes with many folks from my past, long forgotten and dusty memories of a place and a time that sits quietly on the shelves of my mind. 

Once that high school diploma was in my hand it was off to college in Connecticut, some 300 miles and six hours away from all that was once familiar and loved. Onward to the Wild West post-college for my first journalism gig. Roaming the country for several years before winding up in Western North Carolina, its ancient mountains I’ve called home since 2012.

Motoring along Lake Street in Rouses Point, it seemed many new homes have appeared on once vacant lots, all while many old homes I’d visit during Halloween in search of candy had new cars in the driveway, new dogs in the front yard, new faces behind lawn mowers and laying out in the sunshine of the side patio. 

These days, my little sister returned to our hometown and now lives there in an apartment with my five-year-old niece: a personality of youthful exuberance that radiates such joy, one wonders when and where did we all lose that childlike wonder we swore we’d never let go of, and how do we get it back in the midst of grey hair, mounting bills and a sincere lack of play time?

Dinner was a plate of Michigans at my request. A legendary hot dog concoction native to the North Country, it is spicy meat sauce layered with onions and mustard. No, not a Coney Dog. Nor is it a chili dog. It’s just, well, a Michigan, something you have to experience on your own. 

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I bit into the steaming hot dog, my taste buds conjuring memories of getting countless Michigans with my family at Claire & Carl’s, a roadside culinary delight that’s simply a rundown building with car hops that attach trays of hot dogs and soda to the driver’s side window. Oh, and don’t forget a side of onion rings, too. 

Hopping back into my pickup truck, I headed south back towards Plattsburgh, a city my parents have resided in since 2007. But, not before taking a detour off Route 9 and into the backroads of Clinton County. 

Turning onto the Leggett Road, the blazing sun illuminated the endless cornfields that will soon be harvested. Not a car or soul in sight. Just one old truck with a native son gliding along the aged pavement. At the intersection of Leggett and Hayford, I went left onto the farm road, the pavement transitioning to dirt and mud.

When I was in middle and high school, I’d run down this lonely road, getting in shape for the upcoming cross-country or track season. Back then, I’d go for 10-mile runs, not a care in the world, just thinking about how our team could win the conference that season or what time I should call my high school sweetheart to discuss our date that weekend. 

In college, I’d only find myself home on holidays or for spring break. My old high school cronies and I would gather up and crack some beers while parked way out on the Hayford Road, gazing out over the vast landscape, musing about nothing and everything as 20-somethings tend to do to pass the time until responsibilities come knocking.

And always looming in the distance was, and remains, Lyon Mountain: a 3,820-foot peak (highest point in the county) and town of the same name (population: 423) where my father grew up in a row house in the 1940s. At that time, his father was an iron ore miner heading into that same mountain for work — the constant thought in the back of your mind that one day all could go wrong and you may never see daylight again. 

The truck trudged along the muddy road, the wheels kicking up dirt all over the sides of the 4x4, the idea of washing it later on never once entering my mind. No need, the mud is a badge of honor, reminding me of home when I meander back down the highway towards Carolina, towards my dream writing gig, my beloved Southern friends, my musty apartment filled with books, vinyl records and trinkets from my travels to and from the North Country. 

The memories, the ghosts of my past, all floated through the rolled down windows, the stereo echoing songs of my youth. Nothing is the same, everything is the same. I remain. We all do. The road has been long, and remains even longer as we all push forth into the unknown. The journey continues. I remain optimistic. 

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

 

Hot picks

1 Beloved bluegrass/Americana act The Steeldrivers will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.

2 The smash Broadway hit “Mamma Mia!” at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 5-7, 12-14, and 2 p.m. Sept. 8 and 15 at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville.

3 The Fines Creek Heritage Fair & Music Festival will be held Sept. 6-8 at the Fines Creek Community Center.

4 The Western NC Civil War Roundtable will host a presentation and open discussion on General Ulysses S. Grant, which will begin at 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9, at The Waynesville Inn Golf Resort and Spa.

5 “Art After Dark” will continue from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, in downtown Waynesville.

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