Left to my own preferences, I can’t imagine how I would ever have broken through the borders of North Carolina. More than once, NC and any number of states that claimed to be a part of the Confederacy have threatened to secede from the Union, and I have been more than willing to offer whatever aid I could provide to help them do it. I’ve never been aware of any value that group has added to states above the Mason-Dixon Line.
Things, however, become a lot different when it becomes personal, when family is involved. There is a major change in perspective.
Accordingly, I took a quick trip to the area last weekend to lend a small amount of support to my dad, who continues to work the necessary evils of age, which recalls the caution – I believe, of Bette Davis — “Growing old is not for sissies.” In this case, that support took me to North Carolina on the occasion of yet another session in a hospital for a man who has already gone past 96. For those not aware, Dad shipped off to North Carolina about a year and a half ago and moved into an assisted care facility, which he thinks is marvelous. My brothers and I tend to agree.
Then again, it is North Carolina, home to mosquitoes the size of sparrows. In particular, we’re thinking about the town of Lumberton, which does not, I’m told, make reference to a town that was once awash in trees, long since prey to various saws and axes. It has to do, it turns out, to the name of the river that flows through it, the Lumber, which derives from the name of an Indian tribe that still inhabits the area.
Equally important if you’re movie buff, Lumberton was the scene from a film from a number of years ago entitled “Blue Velvet,” which starred Dennis Hopper in one of the most lethal roles I’ve ever seen. But there it was in the opening scene, a pastoral shot from the Lumber River that gave no indication of the mayhem to follow.
Basically, Lumberton and environs are not entirely my style, given that I’ve lived in massive Los Angeles for more than four decades. There’s really something to be said for being able to get a quart of milk in the middle of the night, as well as access to really good restaurants less than a dozen blocks from the front door. (Different story, of course, if you’re obliged to share the freeways five days a week with tens of thousands of other cars that are driven by homicidal maniacs, so you do have to find means of avoiding that.)
Still, my older brother lives in Lumberton, and that’s a good thing, plus my kid brother is a couple of hours down the road in Charlotte, and that also is a positive, both providing family which Dad did not have in the later years back in California.
And there really is more to redeem a town of maybe 20,000.
Yes, fine dining is expressed by dinner out at the local Cracker Barrel, a southern-based chain where the menu is starch and more starch. But once you get back from the Interstate that severs the town, and drive down Chestnut Street in the middle of town, you begin to see what the locals treasure: lush trees and borderless properties that surround brick houses, most of which were probably built 60 and 70 years ago.
And, unless I missed it, stress is nearly non-existent, with the whining of truck tires on the Interstate the sole reminder of an outside world.
More than that, it seems to be just what the doctors ordered for a man moving toward a full century on the planet.