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After Work: Ole Times There Are Not Forgotten

...It’s been over a decade since I visited North Carolina and a couple of years since I was in Georgia, yet I was whisked back to the South of my childhood in the space of a few hours.

The soft cadences of their voices, the knowing nods, the little sidelong glances drew me back. Once again I was a little girl tucked into a corner, past my bedtime, hearing the stories, but this time I understood the nuances...

Dona Gibbs pays a return visit to North Carolina. But did novelist Thomas Wolfe, who was also born in that southern state, get it right in a book title - You Can't Go Home Again?

“You can’t go home again,” so Thomas Wolfe titled one of his voluminous works of fiction.

And, so far, I’ve taken that sentiment to heart.

I, like Thomas Wolfe, hail from North Carolina. Recently, I had the chance to explore my Southern heritage, delve into my Southern pride as it were. Ever-Enthusiastic Husband and I were guests abroad a luxurious sailboat, built to scrupulous specifications by a hospitable Bostonian transplanted to the South and his wife, a native Georgian to her meticulously pedicured toes. On board were a passel of good ole boys and gals. The kind of people I grew up with.

They welcomed us with open arms – and that’s literally. We came bouncing up in a stiff breeze over the harbor’s chop. They heaved us aboard, sat us down and proceeded to swamp us with hospitality, which means no glass should go unfilled, no plate should be empty.

Then we got down to serious business: story-telling. Stories are the way Southerners converse. They’re a series of monologues that establish one’s place in the scheme of things. A well-told tale will reveal what the storyteller does for a living, where he grew up, where he went to school, where his daddy’s from and his mother’s maiden name. It’ll all be twined into an amusing tale – often with the storyteller’s being the butt of a hilarious rural-flavored joke.

Family figures prominently when Southerners talk – and I’m not talking about the cute doings of grandchildren. What I’m speaking about is Family with a Capital F.

You see, we care about kinfolk. Many of us are related. Maybe too many of us. During colonial times many people who settled the mountains of Virginia and the Carolinas and who migrated into the hills of Tennessee, Virginian and Georgia came from Ulster. They called themselves Scotch-Irish. They didn’t care much for the Crown or for authority in general. These doughty citizens who tucked themselves into the hills and hollows were fiercely independent small farmers and handy at distilling their own liquor – but I digress. However, stills, moonshine and ill effects of both figured prominently in several stories.

Anyway, old Southerners are always terribly interested into where you might fit into their extensive family trees. One of the women offered up this one-liner from a Southern comic, “I’m so Southern, I’m my own first cousin.”

It’s been over a decade since I visited North Carolina and a couple of years since I was in Georgia, yet I was whisked back to the South of my childhood in the space of a few hours.

The soft cadences of their voices, the knowing nods, the little sidelong glances drew me back. Once again I was a little girl tucked into a corner, past my bedtime, hearing the stories, but this time I understood the nuances.

After dinner, there was singing. That’s right --singing. Old songs.” Daisy, Daisy” “She’ll be Comin‘Round the Mountain”, “Goin’ Down That Road,” “Down by the Riverside.”

There was no sense of irony, only joy of out-of-tune voices and a wobbly grasp of lyrics.

Now Ever-Enthusiastic Husband is a New Yorker through and through. And while he has mastered the University of Florida “Gator Clap”, he’ll never be a Southerner. And thank goodness. That’s exactly why I married this straightforward but charming man, but the singing and the story telling had me a little homesick.

“You fit right in,” said Ever-Enthusiastic Husband in a bemused tone.

So it was to nurture my little fantasy that I began to explore the real estate ads in the New York Times. In the “Escapes” section there are lots of ads for North Carolina properties.

Oh yes, we could have a wonderful mountain home with access to Mt. Pisgah National Forest. Or we could head east to the Atlantic coast. There’s golf, golf and more golf in the Tar Heel State ever since Boston soda fountain magnate James Walker Tufts developed Pine Hurst in North Carolina’s sand hills in 1895. And now you can choose a gated community in the mountains or on the coast. And yes, there are probably gated communities where I grew up in the center of the state: the Piedmont. The developers have just about gated off the entire state.

It wouldn’t be an off-the-wall move from a second home in Florida to one in North Carolina. It happens so much that Southerners, never at a loss for the pithy phrase, call these wanderers “Half-backs,” because in the Southern way of thinking these folks are just half back home to where they should be, above the Mason-Dixon Line.

Fact is, I couldn’t wait to leave North Carolina. Oh, I loved my parents. I loved the farm. I loved home, but I grew up in a strict gated community even then. Lots of rules. And an stern homeowners association: my parents. It was the 100- acre family farm. And behind those gates were a grumpy cocker spaniel, a horse, three sheep, two geese, 23 Hereford cows, one perplexed Shorthorn bull and me. And I was planning to jump the fence.

For all the stories in the world, for all the old songs in the world –I’ll take Manhattan because what’s apparent from the realtors’ ads is another old truism: I wouldn’t know the place.



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