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Photo title: In Bloom
Duke Gardens, Durham, North Carolina.
Quote of the day: “Forget those who have forgotten you when you really needed them and remember those who have made you smile when you were down” — Anonymous
Christine making me laugh
The homeless guys sitting in the river drinking beer, waving at me and telling me it was paradise
Icy cold water in the middle of the night
I went to the dentist today.
I don’t like going to the dentist, but I’ve been going to this dentist for 27 years, which means he must be tolerable. Besides, you don’t really see the actual dentist. You see a hygienist. The dentist just makes a cameo appearance every other visit.
As a child, we were religious about going to the dentist – more religious than we were about religion, certainly. Every six months, there we were, in the little three-story red brick building on South Duke Street, just down the road from where Brightleaf Square is now.
Our dentist was Dr. Kim Griffin, and his trusty hygienist was his maiden (read spinster) sister, Doris. The office was down one flight of linoleum-tiled stairs and had a particular smell to it that I’ve only smelled once since I left home. I can’t remember where I caught that familiar whiff, but it took me immediately back in time and space.
Down the stairs, and you were facing the receptionist’s office, with her big glass sliding window and her room full of files. A few steps to the right and you opened the door to the waiting room, which rang with a sort of chiming, bing-bonging sound. The waiting room was dark, with floor lamps and wood panelling – it always made me think of a fishing lodge. There were oodles of Reader’s Digest magazines, with a few Highlights thrown in for the kids. I prefered the Reader’s Digests because they had those true stories about people being eaten by sharks or falling off volcanoes and surviving.
At some point, the receptionist would slide open a little window and call the next
victim patient. I would head in bravely, telling my Mother she didn’t need to come with me, but she always did come with me, which made me glad, although in that stoic way of two people who are acknowledging that their mutual weaknesses are strangely compatible, we never discussed it.
The lighting was dim, almost setting a romantic mood, and the chair was…pink. A sort of Pepto-Bismol pink which didn’t help if going to the dentist made you queasy, but at least you were sitting in it and not looking at it. It had one of those eternally running spit sinks next to it. I LOVED the spit sink. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
Doris was ever gentle and patient. I just loved her. She always seemed excited to see me and answered my garbled questions about anything. Dr. Griffin (and we always called him “DOCTOR Griffin” and her just “Doris”) would come in with his soft Southern drawl and say “Well, helloo there, little lady, how are you doin’ today?” and sit down and do his little exam. Also very gentle. I never had a cavity. I did have to have a few teeth pulled, and that was an experience never to be forgotten. Kelsea can tell you all about it, because, in my typical fashion, when she needed to have a tooth pulled and was worried and asked me what it was like, I told her. I told her that the needle to numb your mouth was huge and painful and tasted nasty, but then you didn’t feel any pain really – but that the horrible cracking sound when they tore your tooth out of your mouth was really quite disturbing. Perhaps I should have told her something different, but I’m not inclined to lie.
At the end of every visit, you could go into this little treasure chest at the reception area and pick out something – I think that somewhere I still have my all-time favorite reward – a blue glass diamond solitaire ring – so beautiful.
When I moved away from home and started looking for my own dentist, a hygienist was my top criteria. Not every dentist had one back in those days; there was a trend for a dentist to do everything himself, or to just have an assistant do cleanings, not a bona fide hygienist. So when my soon-to-be-brother-in-law told me about his dentist, I gave the practice a try. And was instantly sold on it. Do you know why? Because they had an old-fashioned spit sink.
So, I’m still there, same dentist, different year. The office has changed sooo radically. It now has four different bays all facing out to Boulder Creek in floor-to-ceiling-glass windows. The spit sink is gone, replaced by sucking utensils.
One of the things I like about the office is that the dentist is always trying different things and training his hygienists on different techniques. We’ve gone through headphones, massage chairs, sonic washes, different polishers, some weird computerized tooth density tester, and on and on. But they have blankets with which to cover me, and they give me nitrous oxide for my cleanings. This is wise for us all because I discovered, after leaving the care of gentle Doris, that I had a tendency to bite hygienists if they were doing things I didn’t like. I didn’t do it to be mean. It was a reflex. And I started warning them as soon as I sat down after the very first time it happened. Hence, the nitrous. It helps me relax. It helps them relax, too.
The hygienist now is special – her name is Diana. She’s been with me for ten years, since my last hygienist and I had a falling out over religion (yes, you read right.) Diana and I have seen each other through her daughter’s marriage, the arrival of two grandkids, my divorce, job loss, heartbreak, you name it. When she asked me this morning how my new year was going, I honestly told her, “Crappy.” And she knew the rest would be revealed in due time as she had her fingers and utensils in my mouth. It’s amazing how much she can understand when I’m basically saying, “ya o i bffff mf mf js bgr grstmz, n mu hog etz brgn.” She is such a positive, helpful woman, and she has a wicked little sense of humor that I love. She’s the best thing about going to the dentist, and I told her so today.
The dentist did make his cameo appearance today, peeked around in there, and told me there was nothing he had to do. Then he said “Give my best to T,” T being my former brother-in-law. Unfortunately, I was already pretty deeply in the nitrous haze and I said, “Oh, T’s gone.” All the blood drained from his face, and he just stared at me. My dimly lit brain said, “perhaps you need to explain that statement”. So I followed up with, “Not gone gone. I mean not dead gone. Gone like bought a fifth-wheeler and drove away gone.” The color slowly flowed back into his skin and he said, “Thanks, my heart can beat again now. We’re at that age where, when someone says that, it usually means dead.” “Yea, sorry about that,” I smiled, drifting away on fluffy little nitrous clouds. I restrained myself from staying, “k, back off from my groove now, man.”
My teeth are sparkling and squeaky clean now, and I’ll go back in four months (while I still have insurance). Hopefully, they won’t have to gag me with x-ray devices like they did today. If they do, I think I’ll ask Diana for the nitrous early – a lesson learned for today.
We moved from Asheville to Durham yesterday via the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was an emotional rollercoaster for me, going back to Durham, as I hadn’t been here since my Mother’s funeral. And I haven’t been on the Blue Ridge Parkway since my childhood, which is a rollercoaster road itself.
So I was weepy, full of self-doubt, feeling all ages, having that sense of tiredness of spirit that has been so familiar off and on since the loss of my parents, my best friend, my marriage. Feeling like I have everything ahead of me, and like I am not the same person I was two years ago, feeling like I’ve lost my confidence in my self, like I apologize for living, like I take responsibility for everything, regardless of whether or not its my fault. And my not-so-little girl held my hand and just quietly let me feel what I needed to feel.
We stopped at a couple of beautiful scenic overlooks – at one, there were so many butterflies that they simply flew into our faces. In fact, the Blue Ridge Parkway has very little roadkill, except for the suicidal butterflies. We took a quick hike up to Linville Falls.
Kelsea had the rare opportunity stand in a tree and sit on a tree on the same hike.
Otherwise, our trip through the mountains to the Piedmont was uneventful, with the exception of the car in front of us running off the road onto the grassy median doing 75 mph – I was sure he was going to flip, as he was fishtailing and spitting dirt, but he regained control and stopped.
Arriving at the King’s Daughter’s Inn in Durham was a dream come true for me.
I’d always wanted to live there when I retired (it used to be a home for little old ladies). The innkeepers have turned it into a lovely retreat, and have made a point of keeping a lot of the original character of the house. The solarium is a soothing haven of green.
The kitchen is separated from the breakfast room by heavy green velvet poitiers, and the bathroom door had a lock on it like the one in my bathroom growing up. And funny thing, I discovered I could still lock myself in and have great difficulty getting out. I almost had to call Kelsea on her cell phone to come open the bathroom door.
We walked around East Campus last night, and I told her tales of growing up there; we sat on one of the fraternity benches watching some ultimate players until the biting flies drove us half mad.
We took a sunset drive downtown for more tale-telling about my restaurant days, and headed back to the Inn to snuggle up in our cushy bed.
This morning after breakfast, we said goodbye to the King’s Daughters Inn and her stressed-out owners, who were preparing for a house full of wedding party guests. With a day to devote to Durham, we started out by finding the house I lived in the summer before I moved to Colorado – a very faded blue two-story on Lynch Street that we who lived there named the “L.O.P.S.I.D.E.D. P.E.N.G.U.I.N.”. I can’t remember what it stood for, but I’m sure it’s buried in a journal from those days.
We then circled around Northgate (I described the luxurious experience of buying shoes in the early 1960s in great detail), and parked by the house I grew up in. I was only a little weepy looking around the backyard and the front yard. Kelsea was amazed at how much I could tell her about our neighbors from 40 years ago.
We went by my old friend Harriet’s house at 6 Sylvan Place, and I told her about what that great friendship was like. We then headed onto West Campus and spent some time in Duke Chapel, meditating, remembering. I left a single tear behind.
Our next stop was the Divinity School Library and where we said hello to the librarian who took my Dad’s place, and wandered around the stacks looking at old books that my Dad acquired during his almost-50 years there. So much had changed, but a few things were still the same, and that made me feel loved.
And there’s still a fainting couch in the downstairs ladies restroom.
We walked down to the Biology building to say hello to the petrified wood. The big green hill that was perfect for rolling down, and the huge willow tree are gone, replaced by a building (as were some streets that I used to drive through). But there is the delightful addition of the Man and Camel Statue.
Having restocked on sweatshirts and water in the Student Union, we drove off for a tour of my lower/middle school campus at Durham Academy, which was also remarkably unchanged, a drive-by of my friend Martha’s house in Hope Valley, and then back to my old High School campus. Kelsea was delighted by the tale of Mrs. Schuster driving the school van through the wall of the gymnasium.
We felt a bit out of place checking into the Washington Duke – we’re much more like the doorman than the other guests. But we’ll survive the interesting combination of posh and preppie. Starving, we went on a foodquest.
Ninth Street in Durham has been revitalized since I was little, and is now a happening street full of shops and restaurants – we had dinner at Dain’s Diner, which was featured on the Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food”‘s Durham episode, then bought a couple of presents at my favorite store ever, Vaguely Reminiscent, and the ever-popular Regulator Bookstore.
We are now embedded in the Washington Duke again – and by the way, the beds are made up as tight as straightjackets. Kelsea had to unmake hers prior to getting in.
Tomorrow, we end Cycle 1 of the EAR by finally making it to Topsail – 10 days in the Beach House will be bliss before we hit the road again. We have alternated between never wanting our EAR to end and being ready to stop driving for a little while.
The past two days have left me contemplative. You can’t go home again, but then again, the part of you that called a place home can discover that it has never truly left, and that the place has not truly changed. It’s amazing how many memories are stored in your head, how many emotions. As I have said before, I believe that in your spirit, you are still every age you have ever been. Today, the touch of a window latch, the sight of a cardinal in flight, the cool of the trees enveloping us as we drove the old route to school, just confirmed it.
Tobacco is the second largest cash crop in North Carolina. (Marijuana is the first – similar growing conditions.) My home state is the largest producer of tobacco in the USA. Brightleaf tobacco, sweeter and milder than other available tobaccos, was a favorite of Civil War soldiers. In fact, its popularity was a major contributing factor in the growth and development of the city of Durham, where I was born, with the Bull Durham Tobacco Factory being the first major factory in town in 1874.
Bull Durham was a consolidation of rival tobacco producers, with the merger being initiated by the Duke family. (Yes, THAT Duke family.) This company morphed into American Tobacco, which was split by federal anti-trust laws into five separate companies in 1911. By the time I came along, three were surviving and thriving in Durham: American Tobacco, Liggett & Myers, and R.J. Reynolds.
When I was very small, my parents took me to the tobacco auction. I think we went for two years in a row – I must have been two or three for the first one. I don’t recall that first auction at all, but my Mother told me that they put me up to sit on one of the high bales, and I cried because I was afraid I was going to get cancer from the tobacco. Now, how bizarre is that, that a child of three would know that tobacco is a cause of cancer? The second time we went, I remember enjoying myself, and I remember how strong the smell was. I always wanted to go back, but it seemed we couldn’t after that. I don’t know if they stopped holding the auctions or if they just stopped being open to the public. It’s funny to see the black and white photos, because my memories of the auction are in color. Everything seemed sepia-tinged, the color of teeth stained from smoking for fifty years.
Driving to the beach, we would pass miles and miles of tobacco fields. The leaves were indeed bright and lush and seemed as if they went on forever. I was always amazed at the endless rows, stretching to the horizon. I never saw anyone working the fields and wondered how they were tended, how they were harvested. Tobacco was the first crop I could identify by sight.
In downtown Durham, that scent of tobacco was amazingly rich. Pungent, sweet, smokey, fresh, it smelled like the color of spring green in the Crayola crayon box. The yellow-green color of the tobacco in the fields was the color of the smell. Driving under the L&M bridge walkway on Main Street, there were days when I would hold my nose until the smell was gone. However, as a teenager, I found I loved the smell, practically basked in it when I was driving to work at the restaurant.
Most of the tobacco factories closed down before I left town. American Tobacco was still open, and when I headed downtown for work after school, I had to be sure to avoid one particular street during shift change at the factory – so many people were crossing that it delayed me for ten minutes.
That factory closed in the late 1980s, and was redesigned into offices and shops. From a distance, I lamented the passing of this industry that gave birth to the town. On the positive side, several organizations in Durham (and several developers – pardon me while I spit) have been dedicated to keeping the historic facades of the factories and warehouses alive, so that the character of certain parts of downtown have remained the same for nearly a century. Old Liggett and Myers warehouses were turned into trendy condos, and old American Tobacco warehouses have been developed into Brightleaf Square, a mixed-use complex.
The South’s devotion to retaining its architectural history is both impressive and pleasing. Unlike many other areas of the county (the West in particular), the fact that a building is old does not necessarily mean that it needs to be torn down and replaced with something new. No where else in the country have I seen so many hand-hewn barns and sheds, some canted crazily to one side or another, unused except as a support for rampant kudzu, but still revered for the significance of their past.
(I suppose some could argue that the owners are just too lazy to tear them down, but I choose not to subscribe to that theory – I like my own better.)
I was living in Colorado by the time the movie “Bull Durham” came out, and I loved it. I watched wistfully as Kevin Costner walked down Morgan Street in the dark, past the old tobacco barns turned into condos. Parts of the movie were filmed at the old Durham Bulls Ballpark, which I’ll write about someday. Talk about a ballpark with character.
Although it seemed as if almost everyone smoked in North Carolina, my parents didn’t. Well, that’s not entirely true. My Mother did for a short while before she met my Father, and again during a stressful period when she was in graduate school. I never saw her smoke, but I discovered cigarettes in her purse one day when I was looking for change or gum or kleenex or something. I felt as if I had discovered a betraying secret and it disturbed me terribly, so I had to ask her about it. She wasn’t angry – she was open, but I think she asked me not to tell anyone. It had been drilled into us that smoking was bad for you and a stupid idea.
I didn’t have my first cigarette until the night I graduated from college. I smoked a couple of Marlboros as a peace-offering with a woman who had been cheating with my boyfriend. I actually liked the taste, but I never felt the addictive elements. (E-Bro is the same way. He likes the taste, but could take or leave the whole smoking thing. No nicotine addiction. I wonder why?) After that, I would have an occasional bummed cigarette when I was out in a bar. I only bought one pack in my entire life and my cheating boyfriend smoked most of that. I still have a pack that I found unopened at a catering event some 10 years ago. Pat was a respiratory therapist in his youth, and so was an avid anti-smoker, but he would, on very rare occasions, have a puff of a cigarette to cure a severe case of the hiccups. I have found that a teaspoon of sugar is a better and tastier cure.
(I did smoke herbal cigarettes in college for a month or so, until I discovered that they were worse for you than regular cigarettes and I was asked to leave the student union because they thought I was smoking pot.)
I can’t remember the last time I smoked a cigarette. Maybe it was a hit off of Bubba Sue’s a year or two ago. But my last whole one? Long, long before Kelsea was born. I don’t miss it. The Captain smoked, but that scent was just part of who he was, and I was never tempted when I was with him.
Now, the occasional cigar…well, it’s been a long time since I had one of those either – mostly because I didn’t like tasting it for two days. But in my business travelling days, Davidoff was my favorite brand, and I could only find them in a little cigar shop near Rockefeller Center in New York City. I remember my first cigar. But that too is a story for another time.
I’ve had North Carolina and Durham at the forefront of my mind lately, so I expect I’ll be writing more about growing up Southern. It feels good. And I like things that feel good these days.