Tar Heel State! We asked around and were told that there are varying explanations regarding how the state got its nickname. But there was one that was repeated several times. Because of the vast pine forests throughout the state, North Carolina has from its beginning been a large producer of tar, pitch and turpentine. And legend has it that during the Civil War North Carolinian troops were referred to as “tar heels” because of their ability to stick to their guns like tar on their heels!
We have visited North Carolina before, but we’ve really only seen the seashore except for traveling across on the interstate in route to other destinations. So here we are for two months in Raleigh. We’ve visited museums, gone to an NHL game, visited county parks as well as state parks, traveled to nearby towns, strolled through battlefields and made new friends. It’s been a relaxing and interesting eight weeks.
Raleigh is a relatively big city by US standards. Population of the metro area is well over a million but it doesn’t feel that big. It’s an easy city to maneuver. Traffic isn’t bad. (Well, we don’t drive during rush hours and that probably makes a difference.) The couple of times during the week that we’ve gone to a big mall near us we’ve been flabbergasted by the number of people. The mall is huge and it’s always difficult to find a place to park. During the week? When do people work? We thought malls were dying out but perhaps that’s not the case everywhere.
Because we’re here for two months and are both avid readers we decided to check out the local library. (We often get library cards in places where we’re staying for more than a month.) The folks were most accommodating and there was no charge for a temporary card. The reference librarian made it seem like he had absolutely nothing better than to help me locate the subjects I was interested in.
They even have a service where you share with the librarians your interests and they select books for you so you can just pick them up. I think that’s really amazing. Talk about promoting readers! And when the woman behind the check out desk learned that I was returning books for the final time, she said she hoped we had enjoyed our stay in Raleigh and added, “Ya’ll come back and see us sometime, ya hear?”
We found a lovely place to stay in a wooded area outside the city complete with free range chickens!
One thing that sold me on the place was the fact it has a piano in the living room. Not since Galway have I had a piano. In fact that might have been the selling point on this place. It’s a bit more rural than we’re used to but we love how everything has come into bloom during our stay and wherever we turn there are bursts of pinks and whites and reds! On the other hand, we’ve never lived in a place where cars, steps, sidewalks, literally everything is coated with pollen. It’s as though the landscape here has a canvas covering it that has been swept with a light green brush! We even saw on the news that on their weather cam pollen shows up like snow! It’s crazy!
This is an area of parks and we’re often struck that just like the library, parks, including state parks, are free. Raleigh is also home of the Charlotte Hurricanes, an NHL team, so when we learned that shortly after our arrival they were playing my Pittsburgh Penguins we got tickets. The guy next to me, from Pittsburgh, said the Raleigh area has lots of retirees from the north as well as younger northern transplants in general. That combined with the fact that Pittsburgh is less than an eight-hour drive away must have contributed to the fact that nearly half the arena was filled with Penguin fans. What a fun night!
Raleigh is only a short drive from Mt. Airy, the town that the Andy Griffith Show was based on and given that’s probably Bob’s favorite show of all time we definitely had to make a side trip there. Driving into the town was like entering a time warp. It’s easy to forget that this is a fictional place. The downtown has everything from Floyd’s Barber Shop to Wally’s Filling Station. We stopped at The Snappy Lunch and had a hot dog and root beer. It claims to be the “oldest continuous eating establishment serving Surry County (and Mayberry) since 1923” but we were most amazed with their 1950 prices. After lunch we went to the Andy Griffith Museum that houses a lot of memorabilia from the show complete with the jail. We were surprised by how busy the town was on a Saturday in early March; obviously, the show had a huge following! Maybe we’d better go home and watch some reruns on Netflix!
We often associate North Carolina with the Civil War but we were surprised to find out that there were many Revolutionary Battles fought here as well. On our way back from Mt. Airy we stopped in Greensboro and meandered through the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. This is where Green and Cornwallis met up. The British were victorious but lost over 25 percent of their men.
I was most impressed with the statue of Kerenhappuch Norman Turner who lived in Maryland. ( The plaque says she was married to one Maryland’s early settlers, James Turner. Wait a minute! I don’t get it. Wasn’t she one of the early settlers as well?) Anyway, her son and several of her grandsons were fighting in the battle of Guilford Courthouse when she got word that her son, James, had been badly injured in battle. She rode on horseback from Maryland to care for him. Imagine! Then she attached tubs to the rafters of a building and filled them with water from the nearby river. She bore holes in the tubs and the constant dripping of the cool water on to James lying below lowered his fever and saved his life. She then continued to care for other wounded soldiers. After the war, she moved to North Carolina where she lived with her son and her daughter. She continued to ride and hunt but in 1805 she fell from a horse, broke her neck and subsequently died.
We spent the night in Greensboro because we wanted to tour the International Civil Rights Museum the next day. We went down to breakfast and struck up a conversation with the woman, a couple of years older than us, who was staffing the breakfast area. She said she continued to work because one of the perks of the job was that she could stay for free at the hotel chain when she traveled; we concurred that’s a pretty nice benefit. When we told her we were headed to the Civil Rights Museum she began to tell us what she remembered about growing up Black in Raleigh in the 1950’s and 60’s. It was like a history book coming alive. She explained that she could recall her parents often going without food so that she and her siblings could eat. And if it hadn’t been for their farmer neighbors, she said, they would have starved. She explained how as teens they could only sit in the balcony of the theatres (and then added with a smile, that of course, as teens that where they preferred to sit)! She also told how Blacks could only order food to be carried out of places, never allowed to sit and eat at the counter or in the restaurant. She was a junior in a high school in 1960 when the sit-ins occurred. And the amazing thing to me was the gracious way, without rancor, she told these stories that she must have found very humiliating. We chatted with her for nearly half an hour and I wished it could have been much longer!
The museum is housed in the F. W. Woolworth building where in 1960 David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. and Joseph McNeil, all freshmen at North Carolina A & T, an historically Black university, courageously decided to sit at the counter to be served, thus, breaking local laws at the time.
When we got to the museum a tour was just beginning and we were told we could tag along with them. It turned out to be a group of high school students with their two teachers. I found it a really emotional experience to see the artifacts including the original lunch counter, and watch videos retrace events that I could remember…remember like they happened yesterday also knowing that many of the parents and grandparents of these students were directly impacted by these protests. Robin, our guide, did a great job of making the tour interactive and relevant for the students. (Interestingly, just as we were leaving, a group of student wearing CMU shirts entered the museum. I asked one if he were from Central Michigan University, a university about half an hour from Big Rapids, where I used to teach and where my daughter-in-law, Andria, graduated from college. Yes, indeed, they were. According to the museum director, a group from CMU comes every spring break to volunteer at the museum! Again, small world!)
We continued to find more Civil War battlefields in the area. Both Bentonville and Averasboro Battlefields are close by. We encountered two delightful and knowledgeable volunteers at one of the battlefield museums.
We knew that Averasboro Battle had resulted in Sherman’s army defeating the Rebels and had been a prelude to the bigger battle at Bentonville. But I was taken aback as the volunteer explained, “We did our job when we slowed Sherman’s army down just as we were supposed to.” Some people are obviously still fighting the Civil War down here! I wonder if she knew that both General Sherman, from the Union, as well as Johnston, an important general for the South, were pallbearers at Ulysses S Grant’s funeral.
One of the more interesting sights near Averasboro Battlefield is the Lebanon Plantation so named because of the number of cedars on the land. This home was given to Farquhard Smith by his father as a wedding gift in 1824 along with more than 3000 additional acres. During the Civil War the home served as a military hospital. Jane Smith penned a diary that tells of the horrors of war that she experienced while living there. But most amazing is this house has remained the property of the Smith family since its construction and descendants still reside there.
There’s a huge dispute going on right now about whether to move statues of Rebel leaders from various locations around the city to the Bentonville Battlefield. Many are saying these are local heroes and their relatives died fighting the cause. But I don’t get it. To me that’s like saying my German relatives died fighting for the Nazis so we should maintain statues of the Nazi regime holding them in a place of honor. On the other hand, I think it is important to maintain landmarks reminding us of less than honorable times in our American history like the auction market we saw in Fayetteville. Remembering and honoring are two different concepts to my way of thinking.
We took one weekend and drove up to suburban DC to surprise our son Stephen on his birthday. Because of our interest in the Civil War and the fact that I am currently plodding through Ron Chernow’s, Grant, we took the opportunity to stop at the battle field at Petersburg, Virginia, and also at General Grant’s Headquarters at City Point.
Wow! Looking at the land where the fighting actually happened and knowing the horrible conditions they endured is overpowering! We visited one of the first national cemeteries. Many of the parks have apps for our smart phones enabling us to understand the significance of the various events that occurred there. How awful the siege of Petersburg must have been for all involved.
Raleigh also has some beautiful museums. We enjoyed the North Carolina Museum of Art. It is in a lovely location and has a lot of nice exhibits but is small enough that we could view the whole museum in less than three hours. Lots of sculptures as well as paintings. I particularly enjoyed their variety. Among my favorites are the very modern works of Kehinde Wiley and the more traditional works of Auguste Rodin. There are also lovely outside exhibits and trails. We went on Easter Sunday an absolutely beautiful day!
The North Carolina Science Museum was also recommended by several people. And we enjoyed it too. We timed it just as a docent was showing a variety of local animals. She walked among the people (probably about 35 or so) carry various animals and letting us pet them. It was really fun. But we probably only got through half of the museum before we ran out of steam.
As usual we found some great places to eat. We had read about and then someone suggested Moonrunners to us. This saloon was featured on Spike TV’s Bar Rescue in 2013. It’s has a prohibition theme to it, complete with still in the corner of the bar. (It’s functional too!) We had just arrived in Raleigh when we went there and when we shared our peripatetic lifestyle with our waitress, Natalie, she went out of her way to be helpful even calling her mother to get ideas of what we should see and do in the area. And in addition to our charming waitress the food is amazing and their Wednesday night trivia game is fun too!
Another favorite restaurant we found was Irregardless. Yep, that’s the name. As teachers “irregardless” has always made us cringe so to see a restaurant by that name we just had to try it. The menu had lots of vegan as well as other healthy choices. And the restaurant is located in a pretty little neighborhood.
When I inquired, the manager explained that the name came from the owner who is Jewish and whose grandmother always used the word, “irregardless.” She said according to Jewish tradition a way of honoring a deceased relative is by associating their memory with something about them. Thus the name, Irregardless.
When we drove up to DC for the weekend we found another fun place to eat, Uncle Julio’s in Gaithersburg. Instead of a birthday cake, they had a birthday pinata.
There was a hollow chocolate ball in the center and when broken fresh fruit and churros rained down amid the chocolate! Talk about scrumptious!
One of our goals this year is to meet more locals as we travel. We joined Weight Watchers while we were in Palm Springs and found that going to their meetings really helps us get a glimpse into the people who live here (not to mention getting healthier as a side benefit). Folks in the meeting we attend in Garner are absolutely among the friendliest we’ve met anywhere. After just a few moments we’ve felt like we’ve known them for years. And when we walked into our second meeting I was greeted with a hug by a woman I had just met the week before. People call us by our name…even without name tags. Southern hospitality really is something special!
We had thought about taking a side trip to the ocean but decided instead to save that for our trip to Florida where we are going to spend our last month before heading north. So as we leave here we’ll spend a couple of extra days and check out some things still on our list to see. One more trip to the Atlantic; something just keeps drawing us back to that ocean!
Our plan for 2018 has been to spend the better part of the year in the United States. We camped a lot when the kids were young and have also visited them in various locations in recent years. This has enabled us to see much of the country visiting 49 of the 50 states. But even with all these trips there still remains a lot we want to see. We’ve learned a lot during our stay in North Carolina, a place despite its similarities is very different from our home state of Michigan. It’s been a great two months.