The other day someone commented to us that the state where they were born was a good place “to be from.” The implication was that their home state was not a good place to live. Somehow those of us who were born in North Carolina have never had to worry about that.
When you are young, you spend very little time worrying about where you were born. Just about all my world was North Carolina and I thought about little else. In the summer when we vacationed, we either went to the North Carolina mountains or to the North Carolina beaches.
I cannot remember meeting anyone from outside the state in those early years. I do have vague memories of one of my teachers not being from our state but I think she went to college here. I can remember a few students moving to school but if they were from outside the state, that did not stick with me.
I can remember going for a vacation once at Virginia Beach and another time at Folly Beach in South Carolina. Both trips just reminded us how lucky we were to be living in North Carolina. Sometime after I was ten years old, I remember visiting Gatlinburg, Tennessee. At the time it was a quiet, small town in the Smoky Mountains, and my mother developed a fondness for it. Even at that early age, North Carolina’s Outer Banks still had my heart.
I loved to go to the beaches. My mother would fill her 1952 Ford with my teenage cousins and off we would go with a picnic basket and thoughts of sand and surf. Visiting the beach for those of us from rural North Carolina and in the fifties and sixties that covered just about the whole state was a magical journey.
It was so different from the rest of our summer that its impact stayed with us for a long time. Our lives in North Carolina’s Piedmont were not bad by any means, but they were lives defined by small towns. In Lewisville, North Carolina, where I spent my early years, the town had a feed mill, two general stores, a hardware, a post office, a doctor who made house calls, eventually a small grocery store, and a tiny restaurant. We did have a lot of churches. Everyone went to church. In the summer, we wandered the woods, fished if we could find a spot, and dreamed of going to the beach.
Only when I turned twelve did we find a Boy Scout troop to join. It was several miles away but in a year or so we started our own troop in Lewisville. Being a Boy Scout was a wonderful thing for the boys that found their way to the troop. You got to go off to summer camp. If you added summer camp to a beach vacation of a couple of weeks, and some swimming lessons via the old activity bus at school, you ended up with a pretty nice summer. Sunday afternoons were always for visiting relatives and mine who were centered in Yadkin County always seemed to have homemade ice cream or watermelon for us to enjoy under the shade trees. That we had a friend who used to bring us some of his vinegar-based barbecue from Kernersville to sample just completes the picture.
It was a North Carolina life which kept me from being worried about others having a better life. We had lots of fried chicken on Sunday, plenty of summer tomato sandwiches and home-canned green beans all through the winter. That others might be living a different way was of no concern.
When I got sent off to military school in Tennessee at the ripe old age of thirteen, the whole experience reinforced my love of North Carolina. In North Carolina after school in the fall we put shotguns on our shoulders and walked the woods and fields looking for small game. On the weekends we often went camping with other Boy Scouts. In Tennessee, I marched with a M1 on my shoulder and we only got to leave campus on Saturday afternoon for a little fun and then again on Sunday morning for church.
For reasons I still do not understand, I ended up in college in Cambridge which somehow led me to a life in Canada. That I married a North Carolina girl is no surprise. The first time that we vacationed with our children on a North Carolina beach, I suspect the seeds were planted for us to come back to North Carolina and eventually live near the beaches.
That our state has changed a lot in the last fifty years is unquestionable. I take some degree of pride in the fact that one of my college roommates from Massachusetts now lives in North Carolina. In those early years he sometimes kidded me about being from North Carolina. Now he is learning to appreciate our great state. Going to college in the Northeast from the South in the sixties meant you were one of a very few from our state who made it into what had been almost private clubs for many students from the Northeast.
While some might have challenged my birth state, I do not think I was ever ashamed of being born in North Carolina. That I once ran barefooted on red dirt roads is something that I remember with pride. I can still hear the shouts of fun as we played capture the flag at night with fireflies all around us. I remember the cold mountain waters that we swam in as Boy Scouts. Most of all I remember the smell of the salt air and the warm ocean waters on my feet as we wandered the beaches.
North Carolina has changed but in a sense it still has much of the charm that it had in my youth. Perhaps youngsters can no longer roam the woods after school like we did, but they can still walk North Carolina’s wonderful beaches and still camp in its magnificent mountain parks.
I am proud that it is still possible to have a wonderful vacation on North Carolina’s coast. I might even argue that you can even have a vacation reminiscent of those we had in the fifties and sixties if you leave the smartphone and iPods at home.
To me, that it is the real miracle of North Carolina. Fifty years of transformation have not destroyed the beauty of our state. It is still a good place to be born and a great place to live. I hope that does not change.
As for those beach vacation of my youth, do not miss the free download days, May 1 & 2, for our new A Week at the Beach – The 2013 Emerald Isle Travel Guide. It is a beach lover’s guide to loving the beach.