Last week at a gathering of storytellers at TheatreNow I heard many different stories of Wilmington. There were sad tales of heartache, violence and sickness. There were also tales of triumph, of coming together, of community. Every person’s story was different from one another’s and my own but the distinct traits of our city connected all.
I never wanted to move back to North Carolina. I grew up in Winston-Salem feeling very much an outsider. I wasn’t outgoing, athletic, religious, or conservative. Living in Winston meant feeling trapped and alone. My four years in Asheville were a relief but I knew I wasn’t in the real world- just a tiny hippie bubble in the backwoods. And even on my most nature loving days, I’m not a great hippie either.
I traveled to Australia, Wyoming and Texas before I found my way back to North Carolina- here for a man of course. My husband could pick any coastal city in continental US and he finds a job in Wilmington. I’d visited here a dozen times and never really known it.
I remembered Airlie Gardens where my sister got married and Wrightsville Beach where we’d vacationed a couple times. Sweet and Savory stood out as a place my parents loved to eat. I knew where to find a few key Dawson’s Creek scenes. What more had I ever needed to know?
How about that Front Street Books is more community center than used book store? Or that Wilmington struggles with racism, poverty, and a dark, complicated history? I hate passing every Daughters of the Confederacy statue but I love hearing our mayor come out against HB2. All the same, Wilmington does not struggle with generosity. There is more community action and non-profit pride than you would ever expect to see in a sleepy coastal town.
There are times (again, HB2) when I wish we didn’t live here. I wish we lived some place that aligned with my values and beliefs. Some place you could describe as progressive. We could live in Oregon or Washington and have major concerns about “too many damn hipsters” and which overpriced farmers market to go to. But when it comes down to it I don’t want to live in a bubble with a lot of people who agreed with me. How will I keep myself in check, how will I prove what I believe if no one ever questions it? How will I know what I believe if I never have to really live it?
Beyond all of that, this is my North Carolina. Mine and yours. I am invested in this soil because I was born to it and because I know it is the dogwood tree that cradled me and rose me up and it is the blue ridge mountains that made seek out what was beyond them and it is bluegrass music that keeps me dancing. It is waving to strangers on every sidewalk and an understanding that everyone’s favorite room in the house is the porch. It is talking to strangers in line at the grocery store because when we are all together we are a community. And I, for one, am here to stay.