Archived Arts & Entertainment

This must be the place: ‘Sweetness, innocence gone away, how I miss them good old days’

Graham Swamp Trail, Florida. Garret K. Woodward photo Graham Swamp Trail, Florida. Garret K. Woodward photo

Hello from Lemon Street on the outskirts of downtown St. Augustine, Florida. It’s about 62 degrees and sunny. Slight breeze. Blue skies. Early Monday afternoon and the only plan at the moment is to wander down to the beach on Anastasia Island within the hour.

Each March, for the better part of the last decade, I’ve found myself on Lemon Street for a few days to visit my parents who leave the frozen depths of Upstate New York for an entire month of fun in the sun. Hop into the truck in Waynesville and motor on down to the “Sunshine State,” onward along Route A1A.

However, this year was a different. As per usual, my folks swung into Haywood County on their way to Florida at the end of February. But, all the while, my Uncle Bobby (dad’s younger brother) was not doing well back up in the VA Hospital in Albany, New York. He had been in declining health for many years, and it seemed we were nearing the end this go-round.

About a week or so into their Florida excursion, my folks received a late-night phone call and found out my uncle had finally succumbed to his illness back up north. By the next morning, they packed up the car and immediately drove back to Plattsburgh, New York — just about 1,300 miles door-to-door — to make preparations for the funeral and to get his affairs in order.

And as they made the trek back above the Mason-Dixon Line, there was another Nor’easter storm rolling through the northeast. Several inches of fresh snow amid temperatures dropping below 20 degrees (as the high for the day). A stark contrast from the hot sun and toes in the sand of St. Augustine and the Atlantic Ocean.

No matter, the family once again came together to celebrate the life, legend and lore of Robert “Bobby” Woodward. Immediate family and extended relatives from all branches of our tree descended upon the small football town of Peru, New York, for the services. Military honors for his 17 years in the Navy. Family memories shared at the podium. 

Related Items

For myself, I had agreed to prior journalistic assignments down here in Florida. And, after much thought and sincere contemplation, I decided to forego the extended trip back to the North Country. The intent within was to make peace with Uncle Bobby’s passing — our memories and moments together over the years — in my own time and fashion. 

You see, I’m currently roaming this section of my mind and subconscious that I’ve somewhat avoided for most of my adult life. It’s that forbidden landscape where all the darkness, sadness, and sorrow resides. As a lifelong eternal optimist, I tend to wander elsewhere in my thoughts, to the lighter side of things, that place of peace and serenity — remember tomorrow is a new day, so keep your head up.

But, as I’ve gotten older and found new and profound ways in dealing with the sad stuff, I’ve also found a deep sense of peace and genuine serenity by not avoiding a look into the rearview mirror of my existence. In essence, I want to provoke the chaos, but also with a vibrancy of respect and appreciation, for everything is one thing, you know? 

The good, the bad, and the ugly is what makes you and I, well, “us.” Embrace the darkness, sadness, and sorrow. Make sense of the past and why bad things happen to good people. But, don’t dwell in those choppy waters. Navigate the past to the best of your ability, and seek safe harbor when need be — don’t drop the anchor, cut the anchor and float gently.

If the last three years of worldwide confusion and uncertainty have taught me anything of value, it’s that the mind itself is this vast closet, one where we don’t really ever clean out or throw anything away. The closet of the conscious and subconscious is this abyss where everything is tossed in, either in any effort to clean up our appearance and demeanor in the general public or simply kick the can down the road in “dealing with things.”

Sweep it all under the rug. Toss that heavy box of memories and mementos into the back of the closet. Shut the door and forget about it, usually at least until something triggers you to remember just what you forgot was in your internal storage unit. 

Open that damn door. Open those heavy boxes. See what’s inside. And toss out whatever doesn’t serve you in the “here and now,” in the present moment of love and beauty that you seek out or are currently learning to embrace. Know your worth. That, and the only real currency in this universe is love, compassion, and friendship. That’s it.

Am I rambling? Perhaps. Actually, most likely. But, whatever. My mind is a constant whirlwind of thoughts and actions, or lack of action in times of rest and respite. The beach is now in the crosshairs. It’ll be my girlfriend and I, as well as my Aunt Chrissy and my mom, who decided to fly back to St. Augustine to spend a little more time in search of clarity and peace of mind under a warm, nurturing sun.

Once I hit that sandy beach on Anastasia Island, I’m going to lace up my running shoes and take off for the horizon. There’s lots on the mind, and with several miles of shoreline to clear the head. Thoughts of my late Uncle Bobby and our time together. Thoughts of this juncture of life, and of who currently surrounds me. Thoughts of endless words and those who read this here publication. Onward.

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

Leave a comment

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.