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This must be the place: But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay

Garret and Frank. (photo: Kathy Woodward, aka: ‘Mom’) Garret and Frank. (photo: Kathy Woodward, aka: ‘Mom’)

By the time you read this, my folks will be motoring through Southwestern Virginia, probably deciding whether to just keep driving back to their native Upstate New York via Interstate 81 or maybe east onto I-64 and Charlottesville to visit Monticello again. 

It’s been about a year since my parents have been in Waynesville. They usually swing by in March (for a few days) en route to Florida for the month of March (those North Country winters are unforgiving) or in October (for a few days) to soak in the last of the foliage on the Eastern Seaboard. 

Mom is 73. Dad will be turning 80 by the time they return to Florida. Married some 49 years this Nov. 4. Some of the most interesting, engaging and intelligent souls I’ve ever come across. And this is with all personal bias aside. I just got lucky to have folks like them. I don’t take it for granted. Never have, thankfully.

I’ve always had a pretty stellar relationship with Frank and Kathy. We get along well. All of us constantly on the go. Travel and new experiences are of the most importance. Enjoy fine dining. Striking up conversations with strangers at the drop of a hat. Good wine is a must. Great live music (especially jazz and swing) a top priority. And so forth. 

My little sister doesn’t necessarily have the same relationship with them like I do, sadly. She looks at them as mom and dad, or as grandma and grandpa these days with my seven-year-old and eight-month-old nieces back up in New York. 

Me? I look at them as equals and as dear friends who just so happen to be my parents. Maybe it’s the old soul in me. Maybe it’s the mere fact I was a little kid raised in an older family (I’m the oldest child of two, with my dad 43 when I arrived). Heck, they’d already been married 12 years by the time I made an appearance. 

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Saying “I do” in November 1972, they were 30 and 23, respectively. Instead of settling down, they traveled the world and built a life together through my mother’s teaching career and father’s law enforcement pursuits. By the time they circled back to maybe starting a family, it was already a few years into the 1980s.

Regardless, here we stand in 2021. It’s odd for myself these days. Truth? My mother hasn’t aged a day in years (more so decades). Still her jovial self, physically and emotionally. Still down to go dancing. Never shying away from dinner with friends (new and old) or a glass of wine when the sun gets low. 

But, the old man is, well, starting to live up to the name. This lifelong brickhouse of swagger and of a stoic nature in how he carried himself now reduced to a head of curly white hair and slow shuffling along the sidewalk. Too tired to want to do anything besides head to the diner in the morning and the golf course in the afternoon. And yet, it’s at his own pace, you know? To each their own, I say. Alas, it is what it is. 

Again, I don’t take any of it for granted. I know so many close friends who don’t have their parents around anymore to sit down to eat with, to sip a beer with, to spend the holidays with, to ask for advice, to hear about stories of their past (for the hundredth time), or to simply call up, well, just because. 

Thus, it was such a treat to have Frank and Kathy back in Haywood County and greater Western North Carolina this past weekend. A handful of days wandering around the same haunts we chase down when we’re all together: The Sweet Onion, 5 Walnut Wine Bar, Mast General Store, diner around the corner, whatever golf course is available for a last-minute tee time. 

This time, they showed up Saturday morning at my downtown Waynesville apartment right as I was jumping into my truck to head to the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds to be the stage emcee for the inaugural Smoky Mountain Bluegrass Festival. And with that, they immersed themselves in a day of the “high, lonesome sound” at the hands of Balsam Range, Unspoken Tradition, and The Kruger Brothers. 

Come Monday afternoon, they hopped in the truck and we headed for Max Patch. Crazy how in all the years I’ve lived here that I’ve never taken them there. I figured they’d be able to see some incredible panoramic views of the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge mountain ranges. Besides, it wasn’t the weekend, either, so it’d be an ideal to make our way up there due to most of tourists being already gone. 

The Southern Appalachian sunshine streaked across the orange, yellow and red trees above the truck pushing along the winding dirt roads. Parking at Max Patch, it was only a short trek to the summit. I pointed to where the summit was, telling my folks I’d circle back to that spot once I finished a few miles along the nearby Appalachian Trail. 

By the time I circled back to the summit, a slight rainstorm quickly swept in, thick clouds overtaking the bald peak and completely obscuring the view. I didn’t see Frank and Kathy, so I trotted down the trail back to the parking lot. Around the first curve, I saw my dad moving slowly, a walking stick in hand taller than him. My mom was already several yards ahead. 

“It’s tough to get old,” my dad huffed, his once powerful legs that ran thousands of road races (and the Boston Marathon 12 times, 80 marathons total) now shuttering at the notion of 0.3 miles back to the truck on a slight downhill.

“It might be tough, but it’s beat the alternative. Getting older is a privilege. Besides, what’s the fun in not having you around, eh?” I said. 

He chuckled, his breath visible in the cold mountain air, his arm reaching for mine for balance as we made our way back to the truck, back to Waynesville, eventually back home to the North County. 

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

Leave a comment

1 comment

  • Beautifully written. Thanks for the reminder that life is a gift.

    posted by Jeannine Tornese

    Monday, 11/01/2021

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