AWAI Writing Challenge Winning Entry:
“The Ancient City” – aka … My Hometown

I guess it has something to do with the fabled “Fountain of Youth” flowing right in the midst of this place they call, “The Ancient City.”

No other place in the USA can simultaneously boast of being the oldest continuously occupied community of European origin and a wellspring of youthful activity, including a college campus that has a gilded-age, Tiffany-inspired former ballroom as a dining hall. That has sober-faced archeologists performing digs in centuries old native American and colonial Spanish village sites, and a few miles away tanned and trim twenty-somethings thrusting themselves into the Atlantic surf, looking for that perfect crest-riding experience.

This is a place that draws folks by the millions each year to its environs, and yet enjoys abundant quiet intervals where life is distinctively Southern in its pace, and yet upscale in its numerous museums and places of interest open year round.

This is the kind of place I used to dream about as I labored in my former mid-Atlantic home, with that long damp chill in the winter prompting earnest timeshare requests for a place that would bring life back into my bones.

And now, I live here. While not really retired yet, I can’t exactly call it a permanent vacation – there IS work to be done, after all, even in Paradise. But even in Paradise Adam had to tend the vines, and pleasant was the task, at least until the thorns and thistles later came along.

And while there are some thorns and thistles here, principally of our own doing (well, OK, one does also have to dodge the jellyfish at times), I cannot honestly think of a more satisfying place in which I have resided, or even to which I have visited, in my nearly six decades of life.

Being here is the kind of place where you know you’ll always be for the Holidays – and where everyone back from wherever will want to come calling. Those little twinkly lights in palm trees? Some may consider it tacky, frankly I love it! Always being within minutes, if not seconds, from one of the best beaches along the East Coast. Which, of course, also means grilling up fresh seafood every night if that’s your thing; or heading out to outstanding restaurants that will do the honors for you.

And if one could try to sum it all up, somehow – what might be the single “best thing” about this place? Too many words come to mind, language is ultimately a poor mediator of feeling and impression. But to use a certain overworked word, I’ll just have to invoke it here: “Charm.” A charm, of course, that invites and demands investigation. Investigate my wife and I did some fifteen years ago as first time visitors. Walking along a cobblestoned “old town” with little shops that exuded charm. Or along the stone bay front promenade with horse drawn carriages along the avenue below and an old Spanish fort owned by the National Park Service. And something just stuck in the back of my mind – I just knew I’d be returning someday. We trekked through a lot of real estate and interstates in the years that followed, but the charm of the place remained as a steady glow somewhere inside.

And then the day and opportunity came to make that move – it took a clear sense of release from former responsibilities to enable me to justify calling Paradise home, but once released I knew to where I was called to spend some of the best years of my life.

So there you have it. I guess the topper for my wife and I was when our newly minted attorney daughter came visiting for the first time, and we walked together along that promenade with lovely B&Bs across the way, and she – perfection demanding Bostonian that she had become – gave us the highest accolade regarding our new home any parent could hear: “You did good, parents!” (Yea, she talks like that when she wants to convey her highest tone of authority).

We did good, indeed. For anyone who would want to visit, I can only say, “Welcome to my World; and I hope you can slow down enough to enjoy Paradise for as long as you can!”

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Published: October 13, 2009

5 Responses to “AWAI Writing Challenge Winning Entry: “The Ancient City” – aka … My Hometown”

  1. Congrats! Well done. You have a great ability to paint attractive word pictures. Assuming guys like me would automatically know where you were without naming it was my only dislike.

    Lee Schwarz Black Lion Marketing

  2. Interesting, this is a complement and don't take this wrong, I didn't look at the authors name I just read the artical, I thought it was a woman who had written the artical.

    Sometimes men don't express passion as well as women, but it came across in the writeing, Kudos to you Nicholas


  3. Nice essay! The "fountain of youth" as I remember from history class was thought to be in Florida, and the mention of lights in a "palm" tree points in that direction as well. A little google of "the ancient city", and bam! You're talking about St. Augustine, a beautiful town, indeed. Now if I could just win a prize for top notch research...:-)


  4. Nice essay, but sort of like a mystery carrot being dangled in front of a puzzle solver! The "fountain of youth" as I remember from history class, was always thought to be in Florida. The comment about the "palm" tree decorated in lights points to Florida as well... A little google search for "the ancient city", and Bam!I think we're talking about St. Augustine, a beautiful city indeed...:-)


  5. Nick... nice story. I visited your hometown once back in the 70's. It is a wonderful place. Thanks for telling your story.

    John Wiggill

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