As the family car traversed the spine of the Appalachian Mountains on Interstate 81 from Augusta County to our eventual destination in Asheville, North Carolina I reflected on the collection of towns and places along our way that have directly impacted my life.
Nearby our first exit from I-64 on to I-81 is Fishburne Military School, in Waynesboro, founded in 1879. It is the oldest and smallest military school for boys in Virginia. I graduated high school there in the mid-1980s.
It has been decades since I marched through of the historic archway of the school as a senior cadet.
I remember my graduation day clearly. At that point in life everything seemed perfect. The trees inside the grass quadrangle were in bloom dropping white blossoms upon our grey uniforms. Our polished brass gleamed, and medals adorned our chests.
Our wills were as strong as our dreams then, yet we had so much to learn. The entire world with all its promise awaited us.
There was also a deep sadness at the end of the day—a realization that classmates and friends would be scattered across the globe. In my heart and mind, they were my brothers. We had grown up within the bricks of this historic school. It was the home of my youth.
As our car rolled by Waynesboro all those memories returned. I smiled as I noticed a lone black bear sitting by a fence scratching its back as we rolled west then south.
The next memory was of a place that defined my late father, the historic Virginia Military Institute. He was a proud member the class of 1966 until his last breath on this earth. It was there that its history, honor code and brotherhood shaped his life. It was there that he met my late mother, a graduate of Greenbrier College. She once told me he had won her heart on a rainy evening. It was there decades later that he found love once again following the passing of my mother when he proposed to my step-mother.
I said a silent prayer for dad and offered a salute as we rolled by Lexington.
The next town holds a special place in my heart. It’s Buchanan, the birthplace of a beloved pet dog named Angus, a black-and-white Border Collie with clumsy feet and a limitless heart. He was a graduation gift to my wife (then girlfriend) and it shared its life with us through the first 11 years of our family. Angus always made us smile.
The next city is Blacksburg, home to Virginia Tech where I dated my wife and graduated. I think about the wonderful education it gave me. I think of days spent on the New River, on campus and at football games. I recall my professors, my first published articles and movies at the Lyric. I am thankful for this place that inspired me to write again.
The final stop on my Thanksgiving trip was Asheville, NC---one of the most interesting and creative cities in the south. My youngest brother’s family lives there—my nephew was born there. It is a natural fit.
It has become our favorite place to gather for Thanksgiving.
Asheville has many charms. It is a city packed with creative people, fantastic breweries, traditional and non-traditional restaurants. It also has amazing graffiti, music and limitless people-watching opportunities. The city is also surrounded by natural beauty. It has misty mountains, the French Broad River, scenic hikes and plenty of winding roads to explore.
On Thanksgiving my family loves to build a fire pit, eat barbeque from 12 Bones and spend time laughing and telling family stories. It just feels right there.
On our long drive home each of these places evokes a unique memory. I smile when I consider that this military kid who once found pride in moving from place-to-place has found a long stretch of towns that evoke such a sense of belonging.
Christmas music floods the radio as we drive home. It’s always tough to think about hanging lights when all you see for miles are red brake lights flickering every few yards.
Drivers picking their noses and a few final rounds of the iPod provide a few last highlights as we leave the mountains and head towards the slow-moving joy of I-95.
I am thankful for all the special places along a long winding road.