While I was in the States, I stayed with my folks the entire time and it was really nice. One of the things that I did was spend the day with my dad, going to revisit the places where he grew up. Had he asked me to do this probably any time prior to this visit, I would’ve made a number of grumbling and groaning sounds and told him he was crazy. That I think I had fingernails I would rather pull out. This request has been made to, I think, all of his kids and grandkids and, knowing my family, I imagine that everyone met this opportunity with this type of response.
But I really wanted to. My dad is getting up in age (78 now) and while I’ve always heard him tell the stories, I really wanted to go with him and see it and hear it together and spend some time with him. I was born into an entirely different set of circumstances than he was. When I was born, it was in Saudi Arabia, and my father was steadily climbing the ladder to be one of the top execs for THE largest oil-producing company in the world. By contrast, he was born into a dirt-poor family of tenant farmers; his father wasn’t climbing any ladders, he was only trying to survive. Anyway, it was a long day of driving through the country in North and South Carolina. So we left Charlotte, North Carolina (where my parents now live) and drove to his childhood home, Lumberton, North Carolina.
By the way, I can’t tell you how relieved I was that there wasn’t a quiz at the end of this. I get my ability to ramble on and on from my father. So ten hours on the road with him… there was a LOT of talking. Mostly by him.
The Carolinas are mostly rural and so farms fill the land. About 30 minutes into our trip, we stopped at a little ice cream/fresh produce shop. These type of stores dot the country roads of the Carolinas. I remember when I was in college there was one store that I would always stop at for boiled peanuts on the back roads to the beach. It was the only time I would get them as I generally dislike boiled peanuts. Our stop to get ice cream was without discussion so I imagined this place to be something similar: a comfort spot.
As I mentioned, my dad was born into a poor family in the farming community of Lumberton, North Carolina. They were tenant farmers, not owning the land, but living on it and working it. In those days, they farmed tobacco and cotton, some of the hardest farming a person can do. It wasn’t an easy life, but the luxury of money was replaced by the comforts of family, friends, and community.
On the drive down, as I was listening to some of the history of his early years, I stopped him to point out the fundamental difference in our lives. What my father had is something that his children didn’t have. My sisters and I grew up without any of the sense of family that was such a natural part of life for him and for so many from his generation. And even later generations to the present day. We grew up overseas, 8,000 miles away, completely removed from extended family, seeing them only when we’d come to the states on vacation sometimes. They were as foreign to us as anyone else. The term relative was just that: a term. It didn’t hold anything of meaning to us.
Over the years, my middle sister has developed stronger familial bonds than my older sister and I have and I attribute that to her remaining in the region, in addition to her being a middle child. My father was telling me how his father would sometimes hook up the mule and they would all ride into town in the afternoon and stay the night with a family member, returning the next morning. Nothing about this notion can I relate to. I understand it and I appreciate it for the many aspects of wonderful there are to it. But I have never had a connection to family in that regard. At all.
Our first stop in Lumberton was actually to get food. We stopped at Cassie’s Diner which is owned by family friends and which my Dad had heralded as having the best hot dogs around. So of course I had the hot dog. And it was, in fact, good. The best one I had all day. The only one, but still.
As a point of interest, while sitting there on two of the three fold-out chairs, a man in his late-twenties to early-thirties came in. Of course, my dad talks to everyone so it only took a matter of minutes to realize that my father knew one of his relatives from about forty miles away. The rural communities and small towns throughout the Carolinas are like that. Generations of families establish themselves within the area.
After lunch, the tour proper began. First up was the land they first lived on and farmed. Well, actually, there were other roadside sights to see but some were on private property and some were of places that so-and-so lived. The land where they had farmed tobacco and cotton was now serving as a strawberry and blueberry farm. Interestingly, the brother of the owner of the farm pulled up as we sat parked there and my dad and he connected about the land and about residents in the area. The house where my father lived has long since been destroyed.
I’m not going to bother going into all of the details of the trip or the relevance since the details are only of any interest to anyone within my family, but here are a few other photos from the day.
All of the photos from the trip can be found here. When I post part 2, I’ll update the gallery with the remaining photos.