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This must be the place: It takes a lifetime to find, a life like the life you had in mind

The Plattsburgh farmhouse. (Garret K. Woodward photo) The Plattsburgh farmhouse. (Garret K. Woodward photo)

It’s a dreary early late fall afternoon here at my folks’ farmhouse, tucked away on a side road, just off Route 22 outside of Plattsburgh, New York. And although the red, orange and yellow leaves on the ground signal November, the odd 70+ degree temperatures say otherwise.

Early this morning, mere minutes before the expected rainstorm rolled in, I hopped into the truck and motored out to nearby Point au Roche State Park, arguably my most favorite spot on the planet to go for a run. I’ve been running the dirt trails along the ancient waters of Lake Champlain since I was in middle school. 

At age 37, the magic of those trails and the canopy of trees throughout the property remains, more so now as an adult who still has retained the childlike wonder of curiosity, exploration, and discovery. Lace up the running shoes, zip up the windbreaker, lock up the truck, and start trotting down the trail. 

As I meander down into the woods, so do the thoughts swirling around my mind. The warmth of early November in the North Country, as I remember growing up here, with Halloween usually the kickoff to a cold, impending wind. Several trick-or-treat campaigns on the Canadian Border with snowflakes fluttering down from above along Smith Street in Rouses Point.

It’s been a while since I’ve been in Clinton County this time of year. But, with Nov 4 being my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, I found myself packing up the truck in front of my Waynesville apartment last Wednesday and making the 1,100-mile trek again above the Mason-Dixon Line. 

A half-century together, how wild, eh? With anything in life lasting that long — love, friendships, careers — there’s always a rollercoaster of experiences, moments, and emotions. The key is how much you’re willing to handle, and willing to put forth in an effort to once again find stable ground, physically and emotionally? Sure, there’s been some tough years in my parents’ marriage, but the good has always outweighed, well, the not-so-good. And, for that, I remain thankful.

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Kathy and Frank married at a church bordering the campus of the State University of New York in Plattsburgh. She was 23, he was 30. They had been dating for a short period before taking the plunge. It wasn’t really a traditional wedding beyond the church setting, which was to please their respective parental units. 

My mother, a flower child of the 1960s, wanted everything simple. No wedding dress or tuxedo. No frills. No wedding rings, either. My father, a blue-collar working class man, was just along for the ride. He didn’t care what the wedding looked like, as long as my mom was happy and content with what would unfold on Nov. 4, 1972. 

Back then, my mother had just started her career as a special education teacher, my father a corrections officer at a prison a couple towns over from Plattsburgh. They first met at The Bistro, a now long-gone bar in the city. A fiercely independent bachelor who bought a new Ford Mustang each year, Frank had no interest in dating or marriage. 

But, that was until a mutual friend dragged my father away from the pool table at The Bistro and introduced him to Kathy. Once they sealed their nuptials, my folks bought a house, acquired some dogs and cats (and rescued a horse), and started to build a life together on Smith Street in Rouses Point. 

One of eight kids, who pretty much raised all his younger siblings for most of his formative years, Frank had no interest in having children of his own. One of five siblings, Kathy still wanted kids of her own, but it wasn’t in the cards, at least not until 13 years later when I came into the world in 1985. Though I was planned, my little sister was not a couple years thereafter.

In the years and decades since, Kathy and Frank have traveled the globe together, never once meeting a stranger, with each interaction of connectivity and new friendship always filled with laughter and curiosity. Instead of possessions, my parents viewed their time and money as smartly spent on experiences, fine dining, good wine, and even better company — something not lost on me as I make my way along the journey of life, continually stopping to smell the roses and take notice of one’s surroundings of people, places, and things.

And, I think of those countless moments with Kathy and Frank over the years, where I consider myself lucky to not only get along with my parents, I also look forward to hanging out with them. Memories of adventures in Irelands, Maine, Montana, New York City, Canada and, over the last 10 years, numerous nights of beautiful mischief amid Waynesville and greater Western North Carolina when they swing in to visit me.

Thus, last Friday evening, we gathered at Irises Café & Wine Bar in downtown Plattsburgh to raise a toast to 50 years of Kathy and Frank. Also in attendance, my little sister and brother-in-law with their three kids, and my Aunt Cheryl and Uncle Craig. Simple and to the point. Nothing crazy, just good wine and fine dining, the celebrated couple surrounded by those who know them the best and love them the most.

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

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