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As a former ballet and modern dancer, I am no stranger to broken toes. The first one – the right “piggy that stayed home” – was broken in high school as I twirled off stage during a class, misjudging and running into the red velvet stage curtain. And the metal flagpole behind it. The second one, also in high school, was broken during a performance at UNC-Chapel Hill. I performed a leap and landed smack on the tip-top of the left “piggy that stayed home”. The show must go on, so dipping offstage as part of the planned choreography, I gasped to a fellow dancer “I think I just broke my toe,” and then went back on stage. Sure enough, x-rays the next day proved that I had split the bone smack down the center. That one took a bit longer to heal. That’s also when I discovered that, no matter how bad the toe break, as long as it’s not a compound fracture, all they do is tape the toe to its neighbor toe and let it heal up on its own.
In other words, doctors are often a waste of time and money.
Moving ahead a year to college, the right pinky toe was the next victim. In that case, the perpetrator was not myself, a wood floor, or a metal pole, but a rather large woman in very spikey heels who took an unfortunate lurch back onto said toe with said heel spike while we were crammed together in the subway. I can still remember the pain, my sharp exhalation, and her titter of “Oh, sorry.” Poor little pinky toe. I believe that was in the Fall of freshman year, because I still danced on it.
That spring, I broke the right little piggy that went to market. I have no idea how. I believe it was a stress fracture from class. As soon as it healed, I broke the left one in the same way. My early demise of my dancing days was starting its slow approach. Both healed, and I danced on through another two years or so, but finally a torn back muscle, and knowing that I just wasn’t good enough, made me hang up my slippers with a few regrets and lots of happy and proud memories.
Last week after work, my big toe hurt. I didn’t really think anything of it, because I’m at that point where things just hurt inexplicably. Perhaps the weather was changing. Maybe I had caught it in the sheets while I slept and sprained it, Who knew? It felt mostly better for the rest of the week. Then I went to work on Saturday, and by Sunday, I knew it was broken. Another stress fracture. Bruised, swollen, tender, and exquisitely painful, particularly when moved or touched in certain ways.
Having learned how useless doctors and x-rays are in these scenarios, I lathered it was BF&C, taped it to its neighbor, and am letting it heal. Note the charming mustache duct tape. In the absence of paper tape commonly used for such medical procedures, this was all I had. My other option was duct tape with flames, but I found this more amusing.
So here’s to all the toes out there. They do an awful lot of hard work for as small and fragile as they actually are. Let’s hope that the next time I share them with you, they’ll be dug in the white sand or somewhere like this.
Marina Cay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
Quote of the day: We begin so aware and grateful. The sun somehow hangs there in the sky. The little bird sings. The miracle of life just happens. Then we stub our toe, and in that moment of pain, the whole world is reduced to our poor little toe. Now, for a day or two, it is difficult to walk. With every step, we are reminded of our poor little toe. Our vigilance becomes: Which defines our day—the pinch we feel in walking on a bruised toe, or the miracle still happening?” — Mark Nepo
The sound of rain on the woodstove pipe
Feeling happily tired
It has been one month since Kelsea flew 1399.9 miles away to the west to go to college. It feels like much longer to me.
I was imagining that with the plethora of communications channels these days, we would be in touch more often. When I was in college, my parents sent me letters, and I called them once a week. Back in those days of yore, we still had long distance charges, so it was always after 8:00 in the evenings, usually on a Sunday night. After all, my father would always call his mother on Sunday nights after the rates went down, something he did until the day she moved in with my parents. Even at the beach, he would walk down to the telephone booth by Mr. Godwin’s to call her at the same time every week.
Today, with email, Skype, Facebook, Instagram, text messages, twitter, snapchat, and probably lots of other things I don’t know about, as I say, I assumed Kelsea and I would be in semi-constant communication. However, my daughter is the exception to the rule of her age, and is not a fan of social media or spending hours on the computer. As she pointed out to me, I should think this is a good thing – she is spending her time reading, studying (I hope), playing ultimate, making friends, and exploring her new self, surroundings, and independence.
In an ironic twist of fate, I find that I am communicating with her via the occasional letter (though my first and favorite letter did not make it through the mails) and phone calls. She tends to call me on Sundays, a sweet coincidence, since I never told her about my father’s phone calls. I love to hear about her new life, though I find little to tell her about mine just now, which is okay. I do send her texts once in a while, but don’t want to encroach on her new life. I wasn’t a helicopter parent when she was here, and I won’t become one now that she’s gone. We Skype on occasion, and I’ve been lucky enough to see her space and meet some of her friends through Skype – I do have to be conscious of being dressed in something other than a bedsheet when I answer her Skype calls, since I never know if it will be just the two of us, or me, her, and roomful of others.
It’s hard to find the balance, to know what the balance is. I know she misses me, and I also know that she needs to learn how to manage that feeling. I know I miss her, and I suppose I have to learn to manage that feeling too. I do send her a message every single day – some funny or sweet animal picture – just so she knows I am out here and thinking about her. Parents have gone through this challenge for decades, if not centuries, when their children leave home. We are lucky to have the open channels available to us that we do, a little luxury that parents long ago didn’t have. I do know one thing though: she is happy. And that’s all that matters.
Quote of the day: “Now I understand that one of the important reasons for going to college and getting an education is to learn that the things you’ve believed in all your life aren’t true, and that nothing is what it appears to be.” — Daniel Keyes
A Broncos win (after a near heart attack)
A talk with my daughter
Petey’s new rear end
Beautiful Colorado days
Today was one of those blue days when I just want to crawl into the spiral of a shell and stay there until my spirits lift. But that’s not the way life – or depression – works. On these days. sometimes, my mind wanders to things that made me bluer, and then I have to shift my perspective on those things to see the blessings inside them. They’re in there, just like a conch is nestled within the spirals of its shell.
Quote of the day: “For a moment the image before us is frozen: our world, our lives, reduced to a handful broken stars half lost in uncharted space.” — Annie Kaufman
That my mother used to let me eat frozen peas in the summer when it was hot. They were so good and sweet, one at a time.
That I could afford to pay Kelsea’s first quarter college tuition today
The “golden hours” even when I don’t have my camera
The art collages on my bedroom walls
Watching “Catfish” with Kelsea – it’s her favorite show
I want to remember a wonderful day, a happy day, and so, the horses of Shackleford Banks in North Carolina, on the day last year that Kelsea and I went on one of our adventures.
The Bad Day:
– continuing to nip the identity theft in the bud
– being lied to and cheated by someone once dear to me
– having two spots being biopsied for skin cancer
– Mr. Man deciding the mud room is his litter box
– Mr. Man catching a mouse and putting it in the bed
– spraining my thumb trying to get said cat/mouse out of the bed/house
I’m working hard to find the lesson and blessing in today.
Quote of the Day: “Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.” – Rumi
Anne of Green Gables
Late-blooming irises the color of violets
The little painting that Kelsea brought me from a street vendor in Paris
It was cold walking downtown today.
The snapdragons and the zinnias and the sweet potato vines were still blooming, but so were the red holly berries, starkly brilliant against their dark green leaves.
I felt…confused and unexpected. I had forgotten what wind chill was.
I felt 18 again.
But my trenchcoat is the wrong color.
My pockets were empty. Where were my gloves? The lady passing me had big black-and-white herringbone patterned gloves, and I complimented her on how fun they were. She smiled.
Tears spring to my eyes. From the wind or the pretty spindrift of prose in my head or the memory of being 18.
At 18, I walked another city’s streets in thin, soft Indian-print dresses and bohemian shirts, like the one I wear today.
The coolie shoes that I wore then, regardless of the weather, have been replaced by cowboy boots, as befits this city.
I remember the endless Dr. Who-like scarf that I gave to my boyfriend at Christmas, a find from a Cambridge thrift-store now long gone.
As is the boyfriend.
And probably the scarf.
I like the direction my life is taking now. Despite the approaching winter, I am happy.
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.
As we know, according to my Mother, I was born asking where the next bus was. I’ve never been content in this incarnation, this body, much less in being settled in one place. In my head, I’ve been planning my journey around the world for years. I’ve been longing for a life on a tropical island since I was eight years old.
My Mother’s mother went from home to home in the South and Midwest with my grandfather, who would buy land, build a house, live in it, teach school, farm, then sell the place, buy land somewhere, build a house, live in it…you get the picture. I suppose my grandmother was content with this lifestyle – I never thought to ask. But I know that at some point, late in her life, she had some kind of epiphany, which resulted in my Mother receiving a letter that started with, “By the time you read this, I will be in Yugoslavia.” I think she had the wanderlust in her as well. I have two mental images of my grandmother – one is of her sitting in a chair in The Barn, the last house my grandfather remodeled. She’s wearing a plaid shirt, her glasses, looking away, looking peaceful. The other is of her in a trenchcoat, her head covered by a white scarf, walking on a hill at the Acropolis. Such a contrast, both so lovely. Both so her.
My Mother was very like my grandmother – practical, peaceful. On one of our last days together, we talked about the wanderlust thread that runs through the women in our family. She had it too, always happy moving from house to house, always wanting to go to Europe, to see the Grand Canyon. Her burning desire for most of her life was to go to India. She never told me about that until that conversation. My father was never happier than when at home, and so her dreams of journeying were thwarted. She never resented it. But after he died – in fact, while we were still in the room following his memorial service, she turned to her friend Jane and started discussing going on a Caribbean cruise. (She felt a little bad about that, but she had no reason to.)
She did go on her Caribbean cruise that Fall, and I met her in Tortola and took her and her best friend around the island. It was wonderful for all of us. But she never got to see the Grand Canyon. I suppose now she’s able to see it all, and that’s a nice thought.
Then there’s me. Always planning, sometimes going. I am learning that having the right place to call home is a good complement to traveling. It changes the wandering from an escape, a search for something, to pure adventure and peaceful exploration.
Kelsea daily says to me, “You know what I want? I want to go to Ireland.” She fell in love with Ireland, even moreso than she loves Wales, when she went to Europe last summer. I told her that I never even got on a plane until I was 14, and here she’s been to Europe twice. She can now say, in an annoyingly blase manner, “I didn’t care for Paris. I much preferred London.” To which I snarl, “I’ve never SEEN Paris.”
She says this is all my fault. I’m the one who put travel posters (one, ironically, of the Eiffel Tower) on the walls of her nursery. I’m the one who showed her pictures of exotic places around the world from the time she could sit in my lap. I’m the one who sent her to Europe to experience other cultures. And all of that is true. But it’s not my fault.
It’s something in our bloodline, something that runs through the women just like the shine does, a spark that makes us want to see the world, while having a true home to which to return. A longing for a life that is a perpetual Grand Tour. A desire to meditate with Buddhist monks in Tibet, to beachcomb on deserted islands off the coast of Brazil, to watch breaching whales in Alaska’s waters, and swim with seals in the Galapagos. To see lava creep down a Caribbean volcano in Montserrat, the moonlight on the Taj Mahal, and the sun shine through the ceiling of the Pantheon. To climb the hills of Bray, and count each sheep in Wales.
Homer said, “There is nothing worse for mortals than a wandering life.” I heartily disagree. My thinking is more in line with Robert Louis Stevenson’s: “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” (Stevenson died and is buried on an island in the South Pacific.)
In my eyes, our women’s wanderlust is a true blessing. My mother and my grandmother are smiling.
My niece graduated from college yesterday. It is a strange feeling to see someone whom you held in your arms when she was only hours old make this giant step into the world of adulthood. It makes you feel your own age most acutely. Especially since she is graduating from the same university from which I graduated 26 years ago.
Watching her ceremony made me remember my own graduation day, which had its tribulations and triumphs. Of course, hers did as well. It was held in an intimate outdoor amphitheatre, which, weather-wise, is a fairly safe bet in Colorado in May. But this year, our weather has been exceptional – cold and rainy even now, when usually we’re basking in the 80s. Sure enough, just before the ceremony started, so did the chilly rain, pouring down necks and backs in rivers. The family had been smart enough to bring a few umbrellas to loan out. Kelsea, in her ongoing efforts to acclimate to the climate of Wales and Ireland, just decided to get wet, until someone forced a makeshift rain hat on her head, constructed out of plastic that formerly covered an orchid corsage.
The speakers were unable to have microphones due to the rain, and it was hard to hear them over the thump of raindrops on dozens of umbrellas. While most students dressed for the occasion, I was amazed to see some in untucked T-Shirts, baseball caps and ratty blue jeans. I’d think the event called for a bit more effort. And some of the skirts were so short that they came all the way up to the “zatch”, as my Mother used to say. I kept waiting for someone to turn an ankle in their 3- and 4-inch heels as they negotiated the stairs, the stage and the stairs.
The Director of Student Services hugged every single graduate, which was a nice touch, but had I been her, I wouldn’t have been chewing gum the entire time. I guess propriety is dead and buried in an unmarked roadside grave.
Walking back through campus to the truck, I felt myself 21 again. I have spent so much time on college campuses in my life that they feel like home. Since I always worked so much in my junior and senior years, I didn’t spend any time just hanging out in the quad – I don’t think I ever lay on the grass in the sun and studied.
So my memories of my time on this particular campus are thin and few. I regret that. I wish I had embraced the college culture more. But I didn’t have the time to play. I just had time to work and to study. Until now, that’s about all I’ve ever had time to do. Now, I have a chance to embrace life. Just like my niece does. In our own ways, we’re both starting new chapters in our lives.
One of the humorous, questionable advantages of having an older brother is that he always remembers your “classic” moments. E-Bro loves to recount the tale of how, one summer morning when I was in my early teens, I asked him how to boil water. I don’t think he’s stopped laughing yet.
But it’s true. Although I admit that I learned a lot about how to make bacon and eggs that summer, a dish which became my signature breakfast through senior year of high school, I couldn’t cook anything else. The kitchen was my Mother’s for dinner and my Father’s for baking. Mother wasn’t a gourmet cook. Her cooking was basic, normal, pretty good. Nothing she was particularly proud of – it was a have-to-do, not a want-to-do. The repertoire included such things as Spam, pot roast, chicken and dumplings, creamed chipped beef on toast, county-style steak, the ubiquitous canned/frozen veggie, and a hunk of iceberg lettuce with carrots, olives, etc. for salad. When she wanted to drive me out of the house, she would make sauerkraut and sausages, naturally one of E-Bro’s favorites.
The irony of my first job being that of cook in a restaurant was not lost on me. I worked the grill/deli side of the restaurant, occasionally venturing into the salad station downstairs in the fancy French part when the need was dire. But as a grill cook, I learned to make a few things well: grilled cheese, pastrami sandwiches, cole slaw, chicken salad – nothing complicated, but enough to survive on. And I sliced my hand to the bone on my 18th birthday, while demonstrating (most impressively as it turned out) what NOT to do when the meat slicer was running.
Moving onto college, my first important college boyfriend still stands by his accusation that my chicken-in-wine (one of my Mother’s special recipes) gave him food poisoning. That was the first time I ever tried cooking for a boyfriend. Come to think of it, I didn’t risk it again for probably six years. Really.
I still stayed in the restaurant world for work. After two and a half years in a pizzeria, I can make a mean pie. And I toss a mean dough. Always a useful skill. (I also severely burned my arm on the inside top of the pizza oven during one lunch rush.) I basically survived on pizza, as I had convinced myself that I couldn’t cook. At my apartment, I managed to boil artichokes, and eat peanuts out of the shell in bed. That was pretty much how it was when I met Pat.
Once we moved in together, he tried to help me understand that I COULD cook, I just WASN’T cooking. He actually taught me a lot about things like not measuring and not following a recipe exactly. I guess he taught me to relax in the kitchen, and in our pre-kid years, we enjoyed cooking together. While I did have some notable failures, such as forgetting the baking soda in the banana bread, I reached a point where I felt confident in the kitchen. (Though never with baking.)
But after Kelsea was born, and I was working so much, the kitchen became Pat’s domain. In one of those many bizarre power plays that contributed to the downfall of our marriage, I let him convince me that I was an incompetent cook. Any confidence that I had gained in the kitchen vanished, along with any joy in cooking. It was just more work to me, and I didn’t like it. I still experimented sometimes when things were still okay in our marriage, but the worse our marriage got, the less I wanted to be in the kitchen. Maybe I’ll take that to the Red Couch for analysis sometime.
Then, I moved out. And in my own little kitchen, with the basic implements that I remember my Mother having, I am pretty clueless. I still love my cooking magazines and cookbooks – I like the idea of cooking. I have limited counter space. I still lack confidence, even though I now have time. Being on the Atkins Diet (still working well, by the way), limits my culinary options fairly significantly – perhaps simplifies them would be a better term. But I do try.
Honestly, it’s a joke with Kelsea and me. We reached a peak of lowness last weekend, when I attempted to broil pork chops while boiling water for crab legs. Sounds like two simple and distinct actions, doesn’t it? Well, the cottage is equipped with high ceilings and a smoke detector as sensitive as a bipolar woman with severe PMS. Between some kind of grease build up on the broiler unit (from roasting chicken – and don’t tell me to clean the oven, because the last time I did that, I got a chemical burn on a very delicate body part, and so am gun-shy about repeating the process without body armour) and the steam from the crab legs, the smoke detector went off. Permanently. We opened the window in the kitchen, with Kelsea fanning the smoke away from the smoke detector with a full-size flag of Ireland. We also opened the kitchen door, accidentally loosening the Mexican porcelain sculpture suspended from the kitchen ceiling, which fell with a splendid shattering crash to the tile entryway, spewing little pieces into the lawn. Kelsea’s arms gave out, just as smoke started belching from the burners on the stove, so I turned everything off, and waved my sweater in front of the smoke detector until it stopped. The pork chops and crab legs were overdone and Kelsea and I were done in.
I’m not ready to figuratively throw in the towel, but clearly my current strategy is not working. Wait, I don’t even know what my current strategy is. But tonight, as the chicken is roasting away, I have defeated one nemesis. I took the battery out of the smoke detector. Talk about living dangerously.
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.