The first person that came to my door when I moved to North Carolina introduced himself as “Cornbread.” Now moving from Mississippi, that’s no culture shock like it might be for the Northeastern transplants, but it was a little something out of an Andy Griffith episode. “Cornbread” talked about everything he needed to fix and what he would do for us. My wife had just started a job at Campbell University, so we lived in campus housing. I’m pretty sure I never saw “Cornbread” again, but I’ve long since romanticized those early days in the state.
All three of my boys are North Carolina natives. All were born in Johnston County. One was born just over a week ago in Smithfield. Many people will say you have to have your baby in Raleigh or the big city, but I don’t think you will ever meet any nicer nurses than many of them down in Smithfield at the Women’s Pavilion. Salt-of-the-earth type of people who will go the extra mile for you and the baby.
The owner of Zack’s Char-Grill in Smithfield bought my lunch when I walked in and he saw my hospital wristband. The food there is also great; everybody knows everybody else inside, and even the small talk carries a legitimate concern for the well-being of friends and family members. If it’s not already, Zack’s should be a state landmark. I’m saying that after only one visit, but that’s the kind of impression it made.
I was reminded that my boys are natives when we took videos of the two older ones buck dancing — some call it clogging — on our coffee table to the sounds of the banjo played clawhammer style. They’re naturals.
I love bluegrass and old time mountain music. It has a raw honesty to it. My best friend at Ole Miss is from Virginia, and he introduced me to the music and my favorite artist — Ralph Stanley. I was immediately hooked. I’ve been to some festivals way out in the “sticks” of North Carolina, where I’m certainly eyed as a city slicker, but everybody is always extremely friendly and overly welcoming.
Cities often get most of the attention, but rural North Carolina is special. Many small towns still thrive here, and I hope that continues. Anybody who drives across the U.S. can easily see the death and heartbreaking desolation of small town America.
One of the first ads I remember when I moved to the state was the “Meet Megan” ad. The commercial extols the virtues and the need of North Carolina hog farmers. The ad ends with, “I’m Megan Spence, and I’m a North Carolina hog farmer.” Now that’s something to be proud of these days. Protecting and supporting our farmers in this state should always be a top priority.
It’s a given to say that North Carolina is one of the prettiest states in the Union. Almost everybody here knows it, but it’s worth repeating. I’ve lived all over the world in places like Hawaii, New England, Egypt, Kentucky, to name just a few places known for their exceptional beauty. North Carolina holds up well. The Outer Banks and the mountains out west are national treasures.
When I moved here, Anna Beavon Gravely helped me find a better job than the remote job that I had at the time. From that introduction, I met and worked with Drew Elliot in Raleigh, who taught me how to pronounce all the unusual-sounding town names so I would no longer sound like an idiot or outsider. They are still friends, and I’ve picked up a few more even though I’m not a very good friend because of my devotion to books and home.
I’m not writing this piece because I’m leaving this state. Although, maybe one day I’ll leave, or maybe I’ll be buried here. I’m just thankful to be here. North Carolina is now the third longest place I’ve ever lived. That’s a big deal for somebody whose dad was an Air Force pilot and moved around every few years.
I love that North Carolina’s state motto Esse quam videri exudes authenticity amidst the very inauthentic age we dwell in now. Those words remind us to be real, and that’s the best advice for writing as it is for life.
Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor and Second Amendment research fellow at the John Locke Foundation.