This must be the place: Don’t look too far, right where you are, that’s where I am
Coming to a stop at the end of the off-ramp of Exit 40 along Interstate 87 last Saturday evening, I turned right and headed down the Spellman Road. Entering the small hamlet of Beekmantown, New York, it’s a few miles from the off-ramp to my parents’ farmhouse.
The road is lonely and desolate, more so at night when you’re the only vehicle rolling through the endless cornfields of rural Clinton County. With 104.7 FM on the dial, a faint signal from the Vermont station was picked up by the pickup truck. Lana Del Rey’s “Mariners Apartment Complex” echoed out the speakers, my foot steady on the gas. I wasn’t in a hurry to be anywhere. Who is anymore, eh?
The melody ricocheted around the truck and out the open windows. The cool night air swirling around me, just like the restless thoughts in my mind, whether it be about the matters of the day, or any day for that matter.
Pulling into the farmhouse driveway, the song wasn’t over. The truck sat idle, radio blasting. My eyes aimed forward, beyond the dashboard and into the unknown abyss of time and place.
Turning the truck off, I reached for the six-pack of Labatt Blue from the passenger’s seat. It was purchased at the gas station in my hometown several hours after the funeral, not long after the reception at the local American Legion post, a few minutes after I left the home of my little sister.
Entering the farmhouse, my father was sitting in his recliner and reading next to the roaring fireplace (gets chilly at night in April in the North Country). My mother in the living room, sipping a glass of wine and watching reruns.
I felt too tired to put the six-pack of Canadian pilsner in the refrigerator, so I placed it on the stairwell and headed upstairs to my old bedroom, throwing myself onto the bed, shoes still on.
A few hours later, I awoke. It was now early Sunday morning. My folks were fast asleep on the other side of the farmhouse. The fire tamed down and quickly fading in the iron stove. On my way downstairs, I grabbed the six-pack and threw it in the fridge.
Pouring myself a glass of milk, I sipped the soothing beverage and looked at my reflection in the kitchen window. In need of a haircut, but still in pretty good shape for age 36, considering.
Earlier on Saturday, I returned to my hometown of Rouses Point, New York, a tiny community on the Canadian Border, along the shores of Lake Champlain. I found myself there in my role as a pallbearer at a funeral for someone who was many important things in my life: high school English teacher, running coach, lifelong friend, cherished mentor.
Walking into St. Patrick’s Church on Lake Street, I started thinking about all those Sunday masses when I was a kid within those walls, those weddings and funerals that I’d attended there, too. The last one being my grandfather’s in 2007, right before I left Upstate New York and headed west to Idaho to start my first reporting gig after college.
One by one, all these familiar faces entered the church. Former classmates and teammates, some of which also asked to be pallbearers. Faces that I used to compete with, used to sit with at lunch, in the classroom, on the school bus, onstage at our graduation. I even ran into my 10th grade girlfriend, still as vivacious and sarcastic as ever.
Soon, several old teachers of mine sauntered in and grabbed a seat in a socially-distanced pew. There was Mr. McManus, 12th grade social studies. Mr. Howard, 10th grade technology. Mr. Landry, 11th grade math. Mr. Stone, 10th grade English. And so on.
More white hair on their heads these days, but the faces, expressions and mannerisms were the exact same. Funny enough, I even referred to them still as “Mr.” when I pulled my mask down for a hot second so they could identify the friendly voice saying hello.
The mass culminated. Time for the reception. Over to the American Legion a few streets away for a small buffet and drinks held high, foggy stories rehashed and forgotten friendships rekindled — in search of some semblance of familiarity in a modern world often confusing and at arm’s length in one’s daily interactions and reactions.
Leaving the reception, I stopped by little sister’s humble abode in town to see her, my nieces and brother-in-law. Sunset beers and catching up, all while figuring out plans to hang out together when I will hopefully return in a couple months for the Fourth of July.
Before it got too dark out, I jumped into the truck and took the long way back to my parents’ farmhouse. Down the backroads of the North Country, eventually turning onto Hayford Road.
The old dirt farm road is not far from my childhood home. I used to jog down Hayford when I was training for cross-country and track in middle/high school and college. I also used to wander down it with my old cronies, all in the name of irresponsible enlightenment and midnight shenanigans.
Meandering down Hayford, a flood of memories dancing across the dashboard. Windows rolled down. The cool night air. Stereo humming with some Zeppelin melody. Mind full of restless thoughts. Once blurry moments seemingly vivid when physically standing in the scene where it all transpired. A heavy heart.
A small town I’m once again leaving, a place only felt and relived nowadays in the dreams of deep Carolina slumbers. Foot steady on the gas pedal. I wasn’t in a hurry to be anywhere. Who is anymore, eh?
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.