By Robert Stanhope
I was born on Summer Street in The Sunshine Town of Newport, New Hampshire in the month of May. To southerners, I was born a Yankee.
I was briefly moved to other Norman Rockwell-esque towns in the Granite State and the Green Mountain State of Vermont. Returning to Newport in the second grade, I began school at the red brick building rising on the hill. I was home.
I was home, where I played marbles in the dirt near the aluminum slide and the swing set with black rubber seats. I was home, where a classmate strummed a guitar and sang Peter Paul & Mary’s Puff the Magic Dragon one hundred miles from the sea. I was home, where I kissed a blonde schoolgirl under cover of a concrete pipe converted to playground equipment. I was home, where I could walk the streets from one end of town to the other in under a half hour. I was home, where I could buy a Coronis Market ham grinder that is often imitated, but never duplicated. I was home, where a barber named Spunky cut my hair once my bangs covered my eyes. I was home, where I went to school dances at The Rec, sat in a metal folding chair along a cinder block wall before working up the nerve to slow dance to Total Eclipse of the Heart, socially distanced arm’s length apart, hands on the waist per blunt instruction from parent chaperones. I was home, where one teacher taught me to appreciate art, another taught me to be a storyteller, and another told me not to swap spit in his classroom. I was home, where I couldn’t breathe when my future wife took my breath away when she walked into my homeroom in tenth grade. I was home, where I graduated a year early because home wasn’t where I was meant to be.
Home wasn’t southern New Hampshire for college. Home wasn’t the cities or the small towns where I lived in apartments, or where I bought homes, and raised a family.
The signs were all there from birth. Summer Street. The Sunshine Town. Newport was a town for my proper upbringing. It’s a small town perfect for some. I could count on neighbors for a lending hand. I could count on thin walls and a gossip train too. I could count on brutally cold and snowy winters up to six months of the year. The winters were how I knew Newport, New Hampshire, New England, wasn’t my final home. It took me a better part of forty years to come to this realization.
I’m a southern soul. Yes, Yankee at my core. I’m a Yankee that needs warm weather twelve months a year. I need a home with sandy beaches and palm trees. I need a home where my feet can be bare and my pants can be shorts. I need a home where the music is a little trop rock, a little blues, a little swamp rock, or any genre I choose. I need a home where the seafood is same-day fresh and the sweet tea is ice cold. I need a home where I’m inspired to create by the locals and the transplants.
Much like me, the transplants have realized their southern soul.
I went to my favorite doctor today, you know, the dentist. The staff is quite friendly, all smiles. The dentist then greets me with a needle and a, "Good morning!" As the treatment progressed and my entire face numbed, I thought I was quite special when he paused and said, "Excuse me for a moment, I need to get a diamond. Of course, that spoils the surprise. And honestly, being a taken man, I wouldn't accept his proposal. Being crowned is quite enough and what I was expecting. But, I had no choice in the matter. Before I knew it, the diamond was in my mouth. Wait! What? Diamond and gold? "We need to smooth things out before we can place the temporary crown," says the dentist.
I guess my royalty is in question. I get a trial run to see if I'm worthy of a permanent crown? His assistant then leaves me with these parting instructions, "Nothing sticky, chewy, or crunchy." They must be optimistic. They want me to look good when I get my permanent crown. Though, I didn't know there'd be such pomp and circumstance. I hope my insurance provider is covering the cost of such celebration. I wonder if it's proper to invite guests.
One of my most vivid memories, one that makes me tear up every time, is the day you were born. You see, we bonded from that very moment you opened your eyes, you took my breath away and locked onto my heart forever. I smiled and held your hand, and a nurse looked at me and said, "Oh my, she's definitely a Daddy's Girl." She was right.
We've shared laughs and we've shared tears, happy times, sad times, and differences of opinions. Through it all, I've given you space to grow, to learn, to struggle, to fail. But, no matter what, you've always known that I'm here for you. Here to listen, here for a hug, here for a shoulder to cry on, here to give you advice, and if you need it, here for shelter, to reset, to focus again on those days of happiness that you know are there, at your fingertips.
I know that you never want more than happiness and perhaps that's because I've preached for years that happiness is all that matters. When you are happy, I see your heart shine, I feel it. I've always seen that beacon in you, casting light in the night, protecting those you love, yet not always thinking about the light that should shine on you. I raised you not to be selfish, to share happiness and love, to give more than you take. You have always done exactly that.
Now that I have more experience as a Dad since that morning you were born, and you have grown to be a beautiful lady, adulting, giving your life every effort to be happy, I want you to be selfish for just a little while. I want you to look in the mirror and smile. I want you to wear that smile, to share it, to be contagious, to spread the joy of life. I want you to live your dreams and to be loved by those of us that share your dreams.
I want you to laugh and sing like we did that one summer afternoon on the way to the beach. Man, we nailed it that day! I want you to experience the freedom you felt when I pushed you on a swing and you dropped your head back and your blonde haired flowed in the wind. I want you to walk tall with pride like I saw you do each and every time you took to the mats in cheerleading and shout to the world that you are confident and that there's no challenge that can stop you.
Most of all, I just want to continue to share the relationship we have, the one where you can call me and we can talk about anything, or nothing, but I'll be happy to hear from you and you from me. I want to continue that relationship where I miss you every day and I think about the next time we'll get a chance to share a meal, or sit on the couch and binge watch some show I have no interest in, but because you are next to me, I'll be happy because you'll be happy, or we get back in that car for an encore performance to the beach.
You see my daughter, life is about singing and listening to the music the world has to offer. It's our life song and it plays now and it plays forever. Each day, we must dance to this song, and if you get tired, know that you can always dance on my toes, and I'll carry us both to the melody that hasn't stopped since the day that you came into my world as my baby girl.
Writer and photographer.