This must be the place: Driving down a corduroy road, Ferris wheel is rusting off in the distance
Yesterday, at the corner of Brown Avenue and Hazelview Drive in Waynesville, this weird feeling washed over me. The thought of getting older, and to a point to where most of the people that knew you (your stories, personality and ethos) would slowly fade into the background of time and place.
It wasn’t a morbid thought. More so, it was about the sincere privilege of growing older, and how that does become a heavy burden to those left behind. Having to attend the funerals, to wipe away the tears, share the laughter, and keep some semblance of a particular person’s memory alive — this blazing torch of a life (hopefully) well-lived, wisdom and adventures passed across the hands of time. Person to person, generation to generation.
Brown Avenue and Hazelview Drive. I was a couple of miles or so into a Monday afternoon jog around downtown. Sunshine with a cool breeze rippling through the mountains. Going for a run has always been my way to process my thoughts and actions. Sweat out the pain, whether physical or emotional. Soak in the beauty of what it truly means to be alive and a participant in life.
Thoughts swirling over a phone call earlier that day from my mother back up in the North Country. She informed me that “they’re taking Brian out of the hospital this week, taking his tubes out and placing him in respite care.” Her words echoed through the speaker phone, my eyes gazing off the front porch and onto the bustling traffic of Russ Avenue. The sounds of a bird in a nearby tree and a lawnmower the next street over.
Brian Power. Aka: “Mr. P.” He and wife have been best friends of my parents for decades. My entire life and then some. And for the last few years, his health has declined drastically, from being housebound to bound to a hospital bed. The other day, the doctors have given him “between one and three weeks” left. Hard words to digest, for any and all.
Mr. P has always been there, whether at Christmas parties or summer barbecues. He was also my ninth-grade English teacher, as well as my track and cross-country coach from seventh to twelfth grade. He assigned me book reports and essay topics, weekend running routines and ways to break two minutes in the (god-awful and character building) 800-meter race. But, most importantly, he’s been a lifelong mentor and dear friend.
Sadly, I’m sure I’ll be writing more about Mr. P in the coming weeks, with his fate ultimately decided as time continues on, with or without those that we love and cherish in our existence and ever-evolving journey of life. But, for now, I find myself in this odd, dreamlike state of being. Memories flooding back. Thoughts of a future that doesn’t include certain beloved faces and places.
At the corner of Brown and Hazelview it also dawned on me that it’d been just about exactly five years to the day since my Uncle Scott passed away unexpectedly. He was 60 years old. Heart attack in his sleep. Never woke up. I got the phone call early in the morning. Once again, it was my mother calling from the North Country. I always dread when my smart phone rings before 8 a.m. Your mind racing as to who is calling and what sort of sad news do they come bearing.
Mr. P and Uncle Scott were fierce rivals for years in the storied realms of running in the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference. Both were coaches and educators at high schools in Clinton County, New York. Uncle Scott at Peru Central School (where my dad went to high school), Mr. P at Northeastern Clinton Central School (my high school, where my mother also worked as an English teacher).
Between the two of them, they pretty much won every single sectional and conference championship for cross-country and track-and-field from the early 1980s through the early 2000s. Numerous runners sent to the state championships, a handful of which winning first place, forever local legends.
It was always wild to see the two of them in action, in the same arena of sport and competition. All of those cross-country races and track meets where NCCS would face Peru. Before the race, Uncle Scott would wander over from his team’s side of the field, asking how my training was going, what my game plan was for the mile and relay races, all while catching up on family matters between lap strategies.
Uncle Scott would leave and head back to Peru’s side. Like clockwork, Mr. P would make his way towards me from the NCCS side of the track. He’d ask how my legs felt after the previous week’s brutal workouts, what my game plan was for the mile and relay races, all while catching up on family matters between lap strategies.
Even back then, I was always in awe of the absurdity of those interactions. My coach and the rival coach. Both pillars of my youth, adolescence and impending adulthood. The same faces pitted against each other, same faces at Christmas dinner and my eventual high school graduation party. One left this earth several years ago, the other facing the end of his path as we speak.
The corner of Brown Avenue and Hazelview Drive. Monday afternoon. The weird feeling washing over me. Thoughts of getting older. People that knew you (your stories, personality and ethos) slowly fading into the background of time and place.
Not a morbid thought. Just the sincere privilege of growing older. The heavy burden to those left behind. Attend the funerals. Wipe away the tears. Share the laughter. Keep some semblance of a particular person’s memory alive. Person to person, generation to generation.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.