Sunday, September 16, 2012

Home is Where Your Heart Is (rewrite)

Welcome to downtown Goldsboro.
Photo by David Crain.
At 6 a.m., I get the call from my Dad. Mom has fallen and broken her hip, and it doesn't look good. 

Mom is 85, and she is so resilient. She has already had both knees replaced as well as her shoulder, and now this. My Dad had back surgery last year, and he couldn't even help her get up after her fall. I can hear the frustration and worry in his voice. 

Driving east along Highway 70, my mind drifts to thoughts of my childhood. 

Movies and literature have given us the image of small towns as the epitome of perfection in America. The people are friendly, good-natured and sincere. Everything is perfectly maintained and everything looks beautiful. 

While Goldsboro, NC, my hometown, is not the mythical American small town with
perfect houses and white picket fences, it is a great place to grow up. 

Being born and raised in Goldsboro was like living in a cocoon, supported and loved until it was time to fly away to college. 

Goldsboro is a small town located
just 50 miles from Raleigh
and 90 miles from the Atlantic Ocean

And while Goldsboro is just one of
many little-known small towns on the
way from 
Raleigh to the beach, it holds
a special place in the hearts of those of us
who live 
or have lived there.

A Tight-Knit Neighborhood

 Prince Ave. lined with trees and childhood memories
The street I grew up on in Goldsboro was lined with old oak trees and was traveled more by kids on bikes than adults in cars. We moved into our house on Prince Avenue when I was 5.

The Gibson family lived across the street
and their house was the place where all the neighborhood kids hung out.

Mr. Gibson was a pharmacist and was at
work all day. Mrs. Gibson was a nurse at the hospital; she worked the night shift and slept all day. 

They had a housekeeper, Mamie, who had no hope of maintaining order and discipline among the 10-plus kids who were there every afternoon. For the neighborhood kids, it was the perfect place to play. We played kick the can, watched R-rated movies before we were old enough, slid down the stairs on an old mattress and ate junk food. 

Aside from the time when Tom Gibson put his little brother Ben in the clothes dryer and turned it on, we had lots of harmless fun and nothing that would cause long-term damage.

Deeply Rooted in the Community

My sister Kate and I grew up surrounded by family. My Mom’s parents, Grandma Lib and Daddy Bill, lived just three blocks away on Linwood Avenue. 

Daddy Bill was a tall military man with beautiful white hair, green eyes and a deep, rich voice. He wore silver wire frame glasses and a blue seersucker suit. Grandma Lib was five feet tall with kind brown eyes and a generous laugh that felt like a hug. She loved watching game shows and frequently quizzed us on our homework. 

Daddy Bill taught me to climb trees on the giant sycamore in their front yard. Grandma Lib shared tips for growing roses and tricks for playing duplicate bridge. 

My parents believed that living in a town means you serve that town and as such you contribute to its success. 

My Mom was a first-grade teacher; Dad created WAGES a community action agency dedicated to helping people improve their quality of life. Both served on the library board, arts council and countless other community groups. 

Their visibility in the community had another effect; it kept me and my sister in line. When everyone knows who you are, or more specifically who your parents are, it becomes next to impossible to get away with mischief.

Connecting in the Kitchen

Mom is a great cook; she prepared a delicious meal every night. I remember sitting on a stool next to the stove and helping her with dinner. Well, more realistically I got to stir the pot on the stove, and sometimes I even chopped a vegetable or two. 

We talked and laughed and tasted together, and I loved every minute of it. She taught me how to make her famous biscuits, Grandma Lib’s fried chicken, and my favorite, peach cobbler; all lessons I use to this day. We still call each other and discuss recipes, and fixes for cooking mistakes. My love affair with cooking, and eating, is something I got from my Mom. 

Last year, Mom and I produced this cookbook with
some of our favorite family recipes and photos 
As I near the city limits, I instinctively turn off the “circulate the cabin air” button so that I can take in a deep breath as I pass the Franklin Bakery. To this day, the smell of baked goods takes me back to my childhood. 

I pull into the hospital and there’s my Dad. 

His eyes are red from lack of sleep and he has my mom’s blood all over his shirt sleeves. The smell of industrial disinfectant mixes with the aroma of Dad’s coffee, and I’m nauseous. He opens his arms to hug me and says” She’s gonna be ok; she’s a fighter.” 

Relief washes over me.

Special, to Me

Goldsboro, N.C. is best known as the home of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, but equally important are a revitalized downtown and Wilber's BBQ.

How is Goldsboro different from other small towns in North Carolina or anywhere in the United States for that matter? Aside from being the home of Wilber's BBQ, the logical answer is that in most ways Goldsboro isn’t very different. Sure people are friendly in Goldsboro and there’s definitely a small town charm of seeing people you know wherever you go. There are wonderful places to eat and worship and play.

But what makes this sleepy little town special to me is its role in the memories of my childhood. Those memories and Goldsboro are forever intertwined in me. 


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