I thought for a few moments about how right he was, about how it’s so easy to take for granted the place one calls home. I’ve been a mountain resident for 28 years — actually 33 if you count the five years in Boone as a college student — but I also have strong ties to the central and eastern parts of the state. I’ve lived in North Carolina since I was 10, when my dad retired from the Navy.
The driver’s comments shook loose a recollection from, I think, the 1970s. It was a tourism jingle for the state whose chorus was: “I like calling North Carolina home.” I searched and found the song on You Tube — of course — and it brought back memories to hear it again. I couldn’t, however, find a link to the part where someone at the end of the song said, “It’s like living in a poem.” “Poem” in the commercial, rhymed with “home.” As a kid I found that line just too funny and would always blurt it out when someone talked about how much they liked North Carolina: “It’s live living in a pome.”
And just like that Lyft driver this past weekend, tourism folks way back then were touting North Carolina “from the mountain to the coast” as a great place to live or visit. To symbolize the different landscapes and all the places in between, people started using the phrase “from Murphy to Manteo” — 547 miles — to refer to the diversity and beauty of the state’s landscapes. Prior to Interstate 40 construction you could do that entire trip along U.S. 64.
And so we found ourselves over the Thanksgiving weekend rolling all the way across this great state from Waynesville to New Bern, one of the most beautiful coastal river towns you’ll ever visit. My wife’s father keeps his sailboat in Duck Creek, just across the Neuse River from New Bern, and with our daughter Hannah and her friend we spent a couple nights on the boat and on the water. We had gorgeous weather and favorable winds, a sailor’s dream.
Then our other daughter Megan and her husband came down — we all COVID tested prior to the trip — and the kids stayed in a riverfront airbnb where we made meals while Lori and I kept returning to the boat to sleep.
New Bern is my mom’s hometown, and so every time we visit I dredge up memories of visiting my grandmother in her small apartment, stories of my grandfather’s love of fishing, me and my brothers on the playground at a park along the Trent River where my uncle would take us to get us away from the apartment.
On the way to New Bern we visited friends who own a farm in Kinston. Chris and I met in college and have remained close. He returned to Kinston after a few years of working in different cities to build a house with his wife, Susan, on the family farm. Kinston — also on the Neuse River but inland — is one of those coastal plains farming communities that fell on hard times after tobacco, but has since made a nice comeback.
We didn’t visit any of these places on this trip because of the pandemic, but the downtown is bustling and has a great brewery called Mother Earth; a growing culinary scene as the hometown of PBS Chef Vivian Howard and her restaurant, Chef and the Farmer; and a replica of a Civil War ironclad, the CSS Neuse, along with an interpretive center/museum.
We enjoyed a fantastic dinner at their home and in the morning took a long walk around the property, which has been in Chris’ family for generations. It is unreal to spend time with people who have that kind of kinship to a piece of land, and you can feel the depth of that relationship as Chris and Susan talk about their cows, harvesting and storing hay, hunting, rebuilding earthen dams for their ponds, and more.
On the way home we stopped in Raleigh for a visit with Lori’s father and his wife. We bought deli sandwiches, and since it was 60 degrees were able to have a socially distanced lunch on their back porch, tall pine trees all around. It was the first time we’ve got to spend time with them since the pandemic, and though it was short we thoroughly enjoyed those moments.
As we headed home, I thought about the North Carolina coast, its coastal plain, the piedmont and the mountains. Rolling down I-40 just past Morganton, the peaks started coming into view, and that jingle was once again rolling around in my head. True that.