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Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Importance of Place

We all need a place; somewhere we can call our own; somewhere we can call our home.  My wife and I recently traveled from our home in North Carolina to 5 western states; South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Utah. As a child I had dreamed of traveling to the places that Lewis and Clark had actually stood, or walking on the Custer Battlefield trying to envision the battle; standing on the Oregon Trail where over a half million people either found or lost their dreams; seeing Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument; being close to a buffalo herd in Yellowstone and standing beside Old Faithful as it erupted right on time; seeing the Grand Teton Mountains.  I got to see and do all of these things this summer.

But the entire time I was traveling I never reset my watch to reflect the two hour time difference.  I wanted to be able to look at my wrist and know what time it was in my home state, the place I am from, where the people who know me and love me live. When we met new people on our tour, the first thing we would ask was "Where are you from?"  And they would tell us.  And then we would tell them where we are from.

Everyone needs a place.  A place provides a person with a sense of belonging and a connection with people. It reminds us of a way of life; who we are.

When I travel from my home in Charlotte to my hometown of Rocky Mount, several hours across the state of North Carolina, I return, not to a small town in Eastern NC, but to my childhood where everything has changed but remains familiar.

Over there is a Nursing Home that used to be a vacant lot where we played all-day sandlot football games.  And over there, in the building used to store furniture, is where I went to first grade.  In that field over there is where Rocky Mount Municipal Stadium stood and I would go at night to watch the single A baseball team play.  At one game, the announcer called my name for the wining ticket of 20 dollars worth of free dry cleaning.  But I was only 10 years old at the time, so it was quite a let down.  They tore down the stadium about 20 years ago and replaced it with a practice field for the high school team.

Across the way is the town Library where I checked out my first book. I still remember the smell of the books, and the excitement I felt when I opened the drawers of the card catalogue to find a book. This library is now closed and not far from it is the new, high tech library with computers and an on-line catalogue.

Near the Tar River was the best barbecue restaurant that ever existed.  It not only had a sit down restaurant but it had a drive up where you could sit in your car and eat your pork barbecue sandwich while you heard the sound of pigs being killed in the slaughterhouse.  It was a magical experience. This fine restaurant washed away in the flood of 1999.

But, the best part of going home is actually going home- to the street I lived on growing up and to the house where I was raised.  My mom still lives there and when she sees me drive up, she does not see me as a 62 year old man, but she sees me as her child; still drooling as he gets out of the car.   I am a child once more.

I get to see my brothers while I am there and we talk and we laugh about our days at home.  All of us are story tellers and we accuse the others of embellishing the truth, which we do, and the tales grow taller as the night grows longer.

So, while traveling this summer, when someone asked me where I was from, I wanted to say, "I am from a place that is strange but familiar, a place where people remember me and know me, really know me, who love me and accept me, a place where once I sat on my bicycle as the day ended and the sun began to set over the top of the pines on the first day of summer and felt the thrill of being young and alive."

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