My Hometown

When you’re raised with a parent in the military, you move around a lot.  As a consequence, you don’t really have a hometown.

Until college, The Kid lived in the same house and had the same bedroom since birth.

By the time I’d moved out of my parents’ home when I married, I’d lived in ten different houses in five different cities.Military brats get to choose their own hometown.  It might be where we were born.  Or maybe the hometown of our parents, normally visited enough to instill both history and familiarity.  For some kids, it’s the place we were living when our parent retired from the military.  Others choose the town where they lived the longest, or went to college, or vacationed as a child.

I chose the place I fell in love.Or rather, I chose the place I fell in love with.

In 1986 Petey and I were living in Elizabeth City.  We’d been married three years, and I had an opportunity to move to the heart of Carolina for a job promotion.  I wanted to come, Duke hired my awesome husband, so we pulled up stakes and moved.

Nationally, the economy was stagnant.  Locally, things were worse.  A huge, historic industry was undergoing massive changes which translated into widespread plant closures and exploding unemployment.Always more lunchbox than three martini lunch, the small city suffered mightily.     Stores and homes went vacant, became boarded up, and fell into decline.  Crime went up, and its reputation, already less than glamorous, plummeted.

But just because everybody from away was writing eulogies, and reading epitaphs, didn’t mean my fellow residents and I were wearing black and picking out coffins.The heartbeat of this town is the rhythm of people from all different races, classes, religions, and philosophies.  Living together, working together, and getting along together.  It wasn’t all Kumbaya all the time, there were disagreements, controversies, and tragedy.But through it all, the citizens of this town kept talking.  Sure, sometimes it was a shout, and sometimes it was through gritted teeth, but there was conversation.  And there was laughter and tears, but they were shared, which magnified one, and minimized the other.Then something happened.

The residents voted in leadership that was passionate about turning the little burg around.  Unlike some politicians, they weren’t in it to amass power and shore up their bank accounts.  Not everything they did worked, and not everything they did made all of the residents happy.

And it took time. But, thirty-two years after we made the move, my hometown is one of the coolest, friendliest, most diverse, and economically viable cities in the South.  My quirky little metropolis has won awards and accolades from all over the world.  But it still keeps that bohemian, working class, wealthy retired, soccer mom, hipster, hi-tech, low-pretension vibe that made me fall in love all those years ago.The other night I walked out of a funky new restaurant into a bustling, revitalized downtown.  The strains of a solitary saxophone floated through the streets like an incandescent ribbon.  I was so proud of my hometown, I almost cried.

And of course, life means change.  Right now, there is real concern that gentrification is altering the balance of the have-a-lots, and the haves-not-so-much.  Real estate has skyrocketed, and both taxes and the cost of living is going up.It’s the very definition of, “Be careful what you wish for.”

But my hometown still has the collective wisdom to choose thoughtful, compassionate leaders who understand and deeply believe that a public servant should actually serve the public.

We should all be so lucky.Thanks for your time.

Transfer Negotiation

Ladies and Gents…welcome to 1973.1973 video

Cathy Ange and I were in love.

It was the spring of 1973, we were in the third grade, and over the moon.

For Donny Osmond.Santa had brought us his album, Crazy Horses.  At the Ange’s house,  Cathy would place the album onto her turntable in a pain-staking ritual that would have us both nearly in tears of impatient frustration.

Then Donny would sing.  Cathy and I rolled around on her bed shrieking like lunatics.  It resembled some type of possession and makes me wonder if the children in Salem were less affected by witchcraft and more by the dulcet tones of that purple-socked Osmond brother.

I couldn’t wait until Marie was my sister-in-law.

Strangely, we never had any jealousy.  If Donny had shown up to take us away from home, family, and Central Elementary School, we’d have shared him.

He’s a Mormon you know—just sayin’.

In the days before the internets, the only ways to be close to one’s idol were infrequent television appearances and print media, aka fan magazines.

There were titles like Tiger Beat, Spec, and my favorite, 16.  That year 16 had a story about Donny which was printed in installments.  Like the 19th century serializations of Charles Dickens’ novels in monthly publications, only with more teeth and less literary value.As school ended for the year I was in clover.  My best friend and potential sister wife, Cathy lived five houses down.  I was once again on my championship softball team, ‘The Stripers’.  I had the run of the neighborhood on my groovy pink Schwinn, and later in the summer, I was going to a sleepaway girl scout summer camp.

Life was good.

Then my parents and the President of the United States ruined it all.  My father had received transfer orders and by early fall we would be living in Puerto Rico.Puerto Rico!  My knowledge of that Caribbean island began and ended at having maybe heard the name, maybe.  It might have been Venus as far as I was concerned.

And the last time we’d moved I had only been five.  I’d loved our home in Mobile, but my world had been much, much smaller there.  This time I was old enough, and integrated enough into my community to know how much I’d miss it.

But there was a much bigger problem.  I would not be able to go.

At the time of the move I would be about seven months in on that eleven-part Donny Osmond magazine serial.  And unless I had an official, notarized guarantee of an uninterrupted flow of 16 Magazines, I was going nowhere.My mom sorted it.  She marched me across the street to her best friend, Miss Judy’s house.  I explained the situation and told her I’d bring her the cost of the mags, along with money to mail them to me.  She agreed.

Crisis averted; move assured.

The move to Puerto Rico was probably my hardest childhood move.  But once we got there I realized how lucky I was.  It was like three years in summer camp.  We hiked and swam in both pools and ocean.  We had our own horses, and rode in horse shows.  And, I discovered, to my delight and my parents’ horror that I am a bit of a risk-taking daredevil.

survival beach for print

That’s me and my little brother Bud, at Survival Beach, which was across the street from our house, and then just a hike down a sheer, slippery coral cliff.  I’ll bet you can’t guess why it was called “Survival”.

I learned about a new culture and discovered Puerto Rican cuisine which is about the best food ever.  We lived on a tiny base, and knew every single person, like Mayberry with palm trees.

So the move I didn’t want to make turned out to be my favorite posting.

But, I’m still waiting for that visit from Donny.Thanks for your time.