A few weeks ago, I got an invitation from a high school friend. I was cordially invited to attend a weekend away with an assortment of friends in Snyder County, PA. A reunion weekend with the boys.
These days, it is not too often I’m able to get away (for a dentist appointment let alone 72 hours). I can get the occasional work Visa to run errands to the Giant or to pick up dinner, but no matter how slow I drive home, those trips are short-lived, at best. But I’ve gotten used to and I am happy with my self-imposed agoraphobia. Running around like I did when I was younger may seem like fun in theory, in reality, I’m more interested in my life now…as a husband and a father. But that being said, the thought of spending the weekend with friends, most of whom I have only been able to see via Facebook over the years, was too much of a temptation to pass up. I had decided I would be attending the reunion (and by “I”, I mean when my wife said it would be okay).
So last Friday, I packed a pair of shorts, a few t-shirts, and my delicates (sorry, I live with three girls, I’m surprised I didn’t refer to my t-shirts as blouses) into a duffel bag and made my way to York, PA. I was going to meet, perhaps a friend who I’ve known longer than any other (our first meeting was the AM/PM Kindergarten picnic), Ben, at his house and we were going to drive to Snyder County together.
A remote region in Pennsylvania that some might refer to as ‘God’s country’, Snyder County was the location of our reunion. Others might refer to it as the ‘middle of freaking nowhere’. A region shielded from cell phone reception, mouths lacking teeth, and nary a mall in sight. We were headed to a place all of us had affectionately referred to, for as long as I can remember, as the Farm.
The Farm is owned and operated by Ben’s family. The Farm is located at the end of a gravel road that was more of a tunnel of overgrown botanical life that was thick enough to block out the sun. But at the end, the overgrowth clears and your eyes have a moment to adjust to the sunlight again, there is the Farm. A two story log house made from wood Abraham Lincoln probably carved his initials in to, was the center piece to the multi-acre Farm. The original house was surrounded on all sides by fields, or mountains, or lake, or forest. An above ground pool sat off to the side of the house and down from the deer pen that lined the base of the mountain.
I was a 19 year old grungy college student, who was unshaven, wore the same clothing for far longer than I should have and reeked of alcohol and irresponsibility, when I had last visited the Farm. During my time as an adolescent, my friends and I had made the Farm our sanctuary. It was our Spring Break destination. It was our summer vacation spot. It was our Labor Day weekend locale. It was the only place I know of where you could win a glass with one dime and fill it with a viscous drool everyone claimed was Bean soup with another. We traded bikinis, sand, and sun for bonfires, above ground swimming pools, mountain hikes, and absolute isolation. We slept in one of the dozen or so beds set up for us on the second floor of the house. Or we sat by the fire all night long. Or we got in to some spirits and slept wherever we fell. And we loved every minute of it. At the risk of sounding horrendously philosophical, the Farm allowed us to be us. To laugh. To lounge. To talk. To tempt. To be the teens we weren’t allowed to be in the suburbs (or according to local authorities).
The last time I left there, I talked to my friend about how much fun it was going to be when we met to go to the Farm again next summer.
That was fifteen years ago.
Since that fall of 1995, I have graduated from college, got a job (many actually), married, had kids, and washed that lingering smell of alcohol and irresponsibility off of myself (though I have yet to shave). Now…I was about to get the chance to do it all over again.
Last Friday, I kissed my family goodbye and headed to York. I hoped they wouldn’t miss me too much. My excitement for the weekend translated it’s way to the gas pedal because I made it to York, which should normally be a little over an hour away from my house to, let’s just say, for fear of legal ramifications, in less than that. I met Ben at his house, transferred my duffel bag to his trunk and he and I jumped in to his Honda and headed to the Farm. We laughed. Reminisced. Grew more excited as the mile markers waned down. We were having as much fun in the car as we suspected the Farm was going to be.
As we got closer, our excitement and my nostalgia hit a crescendo. I began remembering being 17 years old again and in the back of Henry’s Ford Ranger cab with six of my friends making our way down the gravel road. We rolled down the road but instead of going to the house I knew, we made a right and went towards the lake (think of it as a big pond more so than a lake) and to a new house. A lot had changed in the fifteen years since I had been there. A new house was put up at the lake and the original house was occupied by one man, a family friend, and used as a hostile, whenever visitors came. On the wrap around deck of the house sat a dozen of our friends who began to get up from their chairs to greet us after we parked. Ben and I were welcomed with handshakes, pats on your back/don’t make a full embrace hug only guys know how to do, and cold beer.
In that instant, I forgot remembering being 17 and was 17. We spent the rest of the night picking up right where we left off 15 years earlier, laughing, drinking, talking, drinking some more, telling stories about the Farm, drinking a little more, and eventually sleeping wherever we fell.
The next day we stumbled out from whatever proverbial rock we crawled under to sleep and congregated back at the house. And despite a splitting headache and breath so bad it could have killed cancer, it felt good to believe my illusion of youth was real. All fifteen of us were more than prepared to do it all over again too. We planned a Beirut tournament. Went in to town to buy more beer. And started with late morning Budweiser cocktails to begin our day. It didn’t take to many redneck cocktails for most of us to be reminded by our body’s and the Farm, we were no longer in ‘Animal House’ like shape and really were all a bunch of mid-30’s guys.
So we just were that Saturday. We swam. We fished. We napped. We ate. We searched for lost dogs (long story). We drank (less than the night before…for instance, I wasn’t blind by the end of the night). Our talk tracks went from old girlfriends and minor scholastic athletic accomplishments to our kids, work, and our significant others.
By 10:30 I had traded the High Life for Ginger Ale and it didn’t matter, because the Farm, like fifteen years earlier, just let us be us. As much fun as I was having, my family crept in to my thoughts. I missed them (I found out once I got home, the kids barely knew I was gone…so much for them missing me). Unlike fifteen years ago when I went home, Sunday I was going to be going home to them and all the responsibilities that orbit my life. I was ready. I was ready to be daddy again. Ready to take the dog for a walk, give baths, have a conversation with my wife, put the kids to bed, and to take out the garbage. I was ready to be back in my self-imposed agoraphobia.
I thanked Ben’s family for letting me come back up again and said goodbye to the friends that had not already left, the old house and above ground pool, and the isolation. On the way home, Ben and I talked about how much fun we had, how great it was to see everyone again, how it was the perfect weekend away, how it was just enough time away, and how he and I both felt the same way about getting back to our families. It was a great respite from the normal bedlam of our lives but now it was time to welcome back the grind.
After getting back to Ben’s house, I would drive home with the same excitement in the throttle as I did coming to York, but before I left his house, I talked to my friend about how much fun it was going to be when we met to go to the Farm again…next summer.