Goin' to Carolina in my Mind

Durham, North Carolina is where my father was born and was raised, and where he left to seek his fortune in New York City as a young, handsome man. With more dreams than a dying, industrial, southern city could fulfill.

Durham, North Carolina is where my father was born and was raised, and where he left to seek his fortune in New York City as a young, handsome man. With more dreams than a dying, industrial, southern city could fulfill. He found a good position in a New York ad agency. There, he met my mother, fell in love, and married her in short order (a month...wow!) In just enough months to make it legitimate, they had me.

My earliest memories involve plane trips down to Grandma's house. On Eastern Airlines, if anyone remembers Eastern Airlines. Out of LaGuardia. We'd go two or three times a year. Remember dressing up for plane rides? Aunt Babs, my father's sister, would come in from Greensboro for the duration. There are memories of my grandmother's house that will fill more than one story after this one.

The repeating wallpaper pattern with the little trees. She painted all the porch furniture green. And footstools. And a couple of doors. My father used to tell me, "Don't fall asleep around your grandma, or you'll wake up painted green!"

The wooden staircase with the hidden compartment. All those splinters. It would take three adults to hold me down while my father "sterilized" the needle with his lighter (perhaps if he hadn't done that in front of me, I wouldn't have been in such a blind panic...) before poking around in my heel to get the sucker out. "Now, be sure to keep your shoes on!" I was always admonished after the dust had settled and I had stopped begging for mercy. "OK!" I'd always say. And five minutes later....another splinter, of course.

Grandma's food, oh, the food...fried chicken, country ham, waldorf salad...biscuits...fried cornbread! The barbeque from Bullock's. Pulled-pork bbq, eastern Carolina style, with the vinegar sauce. On a hamburger bun with cole slaw on top. I could almost drive down there right now thinking about it.

The neighbor's german shepard, Princess, whom I loathed leaving every time because I was afraid I'd never see her again. Dogs don't live forever, y'know.

Her garden. Grandma was a serious gardener. Practically her entire backyard was a garden. She had all manner of beans and greens and fruit trees. She had a blackberry bush all the way in the back, where I could run out in my pajamas in the morning and pick a bowlful for breakfast. She even had a little patch of corn in there, maybe six by eight feet. I got lost in it once, cried, and was more than a little annoyed that the grown-ups found it so funny.

The big medical dictionary from the turn-of-the-century, with the red leather cover. There was a scary photo of the author in the front. Bald, with big white sideburns and eyebrows. Mean looking. Grandma had been a nurse, and she kept that book on a table on the stairway landing. I couldn't keep myself from opening that front cover almost every time I passed it, turning the first page to see that face, and scaring myself. Can you say "compulsive?"

I don't have too many memories of Grandpa. He died when I was four. I do remember he took me for a ride once in his giant (weren't cars just huge back in the 60s?) light blue Oldsmobile. I can barely tell you what kind of car I drive today, but I can tell you that Grandpa had an Oldsmobile.

I don't remember where we had been, but we were on our way back. I was clambering around on that big bench front seat. Unencumbered by seatbelts; who used seatbelts way back then? There were no laws, nor even public service announcements warning about seatbelt safety back in those days. I was a little city girl, not used to riding in any cars other than the occasional yellow taxi. Not used to the movement of the "family car" and the discomfort it could cause to the uninitiated. So, inevitably, I threw up all over the front seat. I was mortified. At least, as much as a four year old is capable of being. I remember worrying on the way back that, even though I couldn't have felt better, post-puke, Mom and Grandma were going to put me to bed when we returned. What's worse to a four year-old than being confined to bed for the entirety of an afternoon when they aren't feeling sick? Despite my Grandpa's prostestations upon our return ("Oh, she's just fine, for heaven's sake!) I was summarily assigned to nap for the duration of the afternoon. The women-folk just didn't listen to him.

From my jail-cell bedroom, I could look out over the side yard. The side yard sloped down from Driver Street, down past the side porch of the house, over which my bedroom window was situated. At the bottom was a big magnolia tree, one which, years later, my little sister climbed up at my encouragement...and got stuck. Uh oh. I left her up there, despite her cries. I guess I hoped that in our rush to get to our flight back to New York that afternoon, no one would miss her. I misjudged. They did. I paid dearly.

But I digress....I remember looking out the window at Grandpa, in his lounge chair on that slope, reading the Durham Daily Herald in his bermuda shorts and black socks and dress shoes. Wishing I could be out there with him. Thinking to myself that if I were to sneak out there to him, he would never tell on me.....

I made it out there. I blank on how I did it. It couldn't have involved too much subtrifuge, getting out there. I was only four, for goodness' sake. There was probably some soap opera watching going on in the living room that acted as an adequate enough cover for a little lightweight kid to sneak out. I made it out to Grandpa, crept up to him on my hands and knees. He was glad to see me, but suggested all the same that we "keep quiet" so that "no one would find us and spoil our fun."

And there's where it cuts off, my Grandpa memory. I'm sorry. I know it's annoying; it bothers me, too. It's like a silent-era movie with a lost reel. A lot of old memories are. You have to satify yourself with what you have, and fill in the gaps with your imagination.


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