Saturday, May 26, 2012

Connections

Our first day on the road got me thinking about the connections we make and attempt to maintain throughout our lives.  Admittedly, I've struggled with this concept both as a kid and an adult.  I rarely think about elementary school or middle school friends, and the five friends I made in high school chose different paths that fortunately cross every once in a while.  However, it wasn't until I made what I felt were real connections in college that I began to care rather fiercely about keeping those friends and re-embracing those old friendships.  I realized I needed these incredible individuals to be a part of my life.  This was also at a time when my personal life philosophy evolved.  I abandoned the tiny, insecure teenager (who narrowly survived the ever-oppressive emo/loner phase) I used to be in favor of the still tiny but distinctly outgoing, involved person I always envied.  I noticed this mild transformation the summer after my junior year of college; I made two incredible friends, got myself involved on campus, experimented with hard drugs, and read a lot of literary theory.  Actually, the literary nerd in me wants to credit E.M. Forster and his words "only connect" with this happy change, but the decent human in me knows I really owe it to my father.  


This is after he death-squeezed a bottle of Sweet BBQ onto his smoked turkey sandwich like the Incredible Hulk.  

If you know my dad, you're already well aware that he knows how to connect with people.  Customers, old acquaintances, waiters, business associates...anyone.  He's almost like a con artist, only it's purely genuine and even charming.  While it's an amazing trait, it hasn't earned him many accolades in my immediate family.  In fact, I loathed his easy ability to communicate with strangers when I was young.  I remember sitting in a JiffyLube or Valvoline waiting for his car to be serviced once (this had to be 10 years ago), and during that 20-30 minute time-span, he managed to exchange his entire life story with another man in the waiting area.  I was mortified.  Who knows why; I was a stupid kid.  It must have been something about his incessant need to know strangers.  I mean, they're strangers because they're strange, right?  Why make an effort to unstrangify them (yeah, I coined it).  Well, that stupid kid is just as chatty and friendly and open as his father now, and that newfound openness and interest in other lives, other stories, other experiences has only grown.  

That's why the first leg of our road trip was so perfect.  We travelled through Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia to arrive in Abingdon, VA for a brief sojourn with Terry and Kathy Walker.  My dad and Terry go back 50-plus years; they used to play basketball together before school every morning at Friends School of Baltimore.  What's even more amazing to me about the longevity of their friendship is how easy it is for them to pick up old stories, discuss fellow classmates, and seamlessly blend in conversations about their modern lives as adults with grown children and extended families.  As the youngster in the group, it was nice for me to just sit back and listen and occasionally answer a question or ask another.  After a chat in the Walker's breezy outdoor porch, our generous hosts took us to Parks Mill BBQ for a taste of the local flavor and some sightseeing:


The mill was built around 1780. You can learn more about it here: http://www.appalachianghostwalks.com/smoky-mountains-tennessee-vacations/abingdon-parks-mill.html


Sorry about the horrific blue eyesore in the back!


 I've decided old barn doorknobs and locks are my American Beauty plastic bag.


I suppose the heart of this overlong post goes back to the theme: "only connect."  Connection is key.  It's what allows these valuable reunions between friends; it's what allows opportunities to exchange knowledge and beliefs; it's what allows us to continue to meet on a human level.  All too often I watch my students typing away on their phones during class, and while I fantasize that they will later become Youtube sensations when a mall security camera captures them nailing the shallow floors of a water fountain because they were too busy texting to realize the immense amount of pain headed their way, I also hope that they will eventually turn to their classmates and introduce themselves without my interference.  I hope that they will make connections, stay in contact, arrange meetings at their future homes, and happily show the friends of their youth the towns they have grown to love and cherish.  That's what we were able to experience today with the Walkers.


Psyched for what's to come in New Orleans tomorrow!

7 comments:

  1. Matt, you describe dad perfectly!

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    1. Haha! You're signed in to my gmail, mom! But I'll take the compliment from phantom Matt.

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    2. I think I am out now.

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  2. Matt, I love reading your updates!this sounds like the perfect place for you to start your trip. Eat some crawfish & jambalaya for both of us! Apparently, there is a famous streetcar that takes you in three different areas to view the city. You can catch it in the French Quarter, I believe. Check it out. Good Luck!

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  3. Nice! Agreed about barn doors and locks...

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  4. Thank you for your kind words regarding your visit with us Matt. It was good to meet you as well as see your Dad again.

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  5. I read all of your posts, but I think this one is my favorite. I think you can imagine why. Let's get together soon, talk about life, your adventures, and how when I've moved my life to the other side of the world, you'll come visit me with your kids.

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