Monday, December 10, 2007

Wrap-up of my trip to North Carolina

It was mid-afternoon when I left Harkers Island. Driving south, parallel to the coast, I go through Beaufort and by the state port at Morehead City, through Jacksonville, passing the tattoo parlors and topless bars that line the highway which skirts Camp Lejeune, then down Highway 17 to Wilmington. When we first moved to the coast, this was a two-lane road. Then, about the time I got my driver’s license, they updated the road to a three-lane highway, the center being a passing lane shared by each side. There were some head-on wrecks and at the time, my dad wondered if it had been designed by an Undertaker. Today, it’s four-lanes and mostly a divided highway with cars speeding in both directions. That’s not the only changes. Gone are the old rusty tin shacks where, in years passed, you could buy fresh shrimp, oysters or collard greens. Gone are the little gas stations at crossroads, with their Coca-Cola chest coolers and screen doors advertising Sunbeam Bread. Now, multi-colored convenient stores with shaded gas pumps dot the highway. Also gone are the large sections of forest. The pines that exist are now in plantations, which grow a hybrid version instead of the traditional long-leaf pines. The remaining long-leafs now stand sentinel around colonial-styled homes. The few ancient live oaks left, with their beards of Spanish moss, serve as decorations for entrances to housing developments. There’s been a lot of change since I was a kid.

I stop and pick up some barbeque for dinner, along with cole slaw and hushpuppies, and arrive home a little after dark. I relieve my brother and for the next three days am responsible for Mom. It’s a role that I’m not use to and I immediately find out that no only will I have to take care of her, I will also have to watch over her dog that appears to have the runs. The little mutt (he’s actually some special bred) is named Prince… He doesn’t look like a Prince, but the last dog my parents have had (a collie) was named Prince and my father thought that keeping a dog of the same name would help my mom. But when I ask Mom about the other Prince, she doesn’t remember the dog even though at the time he’d gotten out of the fenced backyard and was struck by a car in front of their house, my mother called me balling over the phone. I cleaned up the dog’s mess, washed my hands, and then we ate dinner.

The next morning we’d planned to go to Pinehurst to see my grandmother (father’s side), who still lives by herself and also to give my mother a chance to see her sister. Getting ready was a challenge as I tried to make sure my mom had everything she needed for the overnight stay. I asked her to get a change of clothes; she came back with a dressy suit. I told her that we weren’t going formal, so she came back with a sweatshirt. I told her that was probably too hot. She came back with a blouse that seemed more appropriate. I sent her back for slacks. It was weird realizing that she wasn’t quite sure what was going on, and I felt like I was dealing with my daughter when she was about five or six.

We loaded up the car, putting the dog in his carrier, and I drove the familiar way, through town and across the river and up along the south banks of the Cape Fear, through Brunswick, Columbus, Bladen, Robinson, Hoke and finally Moore County. Most of this use to be tobacco and peanut country, but every time I make the trip, there are fewer and fewer curing barns and those are the newer bulk barns. Much of the tobacco land is now planted in cotton (or in corn by farmers hoping to cash in on the ethanol boom). Along the way, I was hoping to find some boiled peanuts, which are only available during and right after the harvest. After making several stops, I finally found an old gas station in the town of Dublin that had a few bags left in their drink cooker. Boiled peanuts are wonderful and I brought a three pound bag, heating up a few in their microwave to eat on the drive.

We got to my grandma’s early in the afternoon. She’d fixed dinner: pork chops, cornbread, collard greens, homemade apple sauce, three-bean salad (my grandmother forgot that I’m the one who hates green beans) and left-over pumpkin pie. It was all very good after I picked the green beans out of my salad. We spent the night at grandma’s, watching antique shows on TV before bed.

I offered to make breakfast the next morning. Grandma agreed, and then started showing me where things were at. She got out eggs and sausage and canned biscuits from the refrigerator.

“What?” I asked, “Canned biscuits?”

“They’re pretty good,” my grandmother insisted.

I refused to have anything to do with it. “I’ll make biscuits,” I volunteer, thinking that breakfast at grandmas had to have homemade biscuits.

“When did you learn how to make biscuits?” my grandmother asked.

“I learned from you, when I was about 14,” I told her.

“We’ll that’s good, ‘cause I don’t make ‘em from scratch anymore.”

So I got busy and made a pan of biscuits, fixed eggs, sausage, grits and coffee. We had us a real southern breakfast.

Later that morning, I walked down behind her house to Joe’s Fork, a small creek. When I was a kid, the beavers had dammed up the creek in several places, creating nice ponds for fishing. I love this country—the Sandhills. Tall long-leaf pines, interspersed with blackjack oaks, their leaves looking like mittens for a giant. (see photo) There’s American holly and red cedar and growing high in the trees along the creek are clumps of mistletoe. I couldn’t find any beaver, but was surprised to see a golf course maybe 100 feet from the creek on the other side. I’m sure the ground-keepers kept the beavers out of the creek, as the last thing they’d want would be an unexpected water trap.

We later visited my aunt and cousin, then drove back to Wilmington. The next day we drove out to the beach and did a bit of shopping. My sister came down to take over, and on Thursday morning she and my mom dropped me off at the airport.

It was good to be back in the South and back home for a few days. But every time I go I get a sense of loss. I’m sure this is heightened by my mothers deteriorating condition.

Other stories from this trip:
Catchin' Blues
Camping on Cape Lookout


  1. Isn't it amazing how our childhood home changes over time? Positives and negatives I'm sure, but it is sad to see the scenery disappear in the name of progress.

    Prayers for you mother and family.

  2. I am sorry about your mom, Sage. I know that the deterioration levels seem harsh, since you don't see her that often. I love all the areas of the state that you mentioned, though, so I hope you enjoyed that drive. I DO want you to make breakfast for me sometime!!

  3. I just want to give you big hugs. It must be so hard on you. But I am amused that you insisted on making your grandmother's scratch biscuits.

  4. The home of a school friend recently was recently demolished to make way for a Walgreens. It's weird for me to imagine one's home changing like that and remembering the sleepovers that she had there. I can't imagine what it will be like when/if she ever notices it.

    I've never had a boiled peanut. Is it actually boiled?

  5. I've actually heard of one good use for tube biscuits. They are a wonderful way to have a food fight at home. They are soft so they don't hurt too much and don't break anything yet can be thrown with wonderful accuracy and actually stick to what it hits.

  6. Thanks Kontan, and prayers for you to during this difficult season of loss

    Kenju, I should invite you down to the Sandhills next time I'm there--don't you have kids living in that area?

    Jay, one difference between my grandma's biscuits and mine is that I refuse to use self-rising flour and I always use butter milk, which I surprised my grandma by making some via adding a teaspoon of lemon juice to a cup of milk and letting it sit for a minute.

    Murf, yes, they're boiled. Check it out:

  7. Ed, you can have your can biscuits, I'll take my rolled out biscuits and will have approximately 2x the ammo!

  8. I'm with you, bisquits from scratch are the only way to go. But in a food fight, I would have tossed approximately 30 cans of tube bisquits at you before you got your first batch of ammo rolled!

  9. I know nothing about biscuits canned or scratch--but scratch sound wonderful

    Sorry about your mom. Even if you lived with her these are changes you can't miss and are horrible

    It's great that you and your siblings can give your dad a break like that--and the fishing trip sounds wonderful.

    So did the changes in the drive--well not now but the old one

    It was a wonderful post Sage made more so because of how you recounted your visit with your mom

  10. Kudos to you for making those biscuits! And way more than kudos to you for taking care of your mom!

    Here, we have signs on the road that read "Boilt Peanuts." My boss on the grant is always outrageously amused by this, and all the northerners take turns trying to pronouce "boilt." I eventually help them out, but they always forget how it goes the next time we see such a sign. This is all worsened when we encounter a sign for something with a Native American name. Somtimes it's easier to just let them say it their way than to explain how the locals say "Chauga." =o)

  11. Homemade biscuits?? Is there such a thing? My childhood breakfast consisted of potato and Spanish sausage omelet, café con leche and if it was after 10 am, a glass of red wine. That was my grandfather's special and I had it until I turned 7.

    Sounds like your trip was bittersweet. Thanks for taking us along to the Sandhills. That was a nice pic of the creek.

  12. There is something exciting and yet sad about seeing your hometown change. I went to my home town a year ago and could not believe how it has grown.

    The woods that I played in as a child are now no more. On that land now sits a movie theater, several restaurants, a Bass Pro Shop, and a huge baseball stadium (as well as many other additions. Exciting...yet sad.

  13. What a cute doggie. Sorry i've been absent lately. Life has been crazy.

  14. Deana at Friday Night Fish FryThursday, December 13, 2007 8:56:00 PM

    When you talk about all the little stores and shrimp shacks and things that used to be it makes me sad too. Things sure have changed. I still can't believe Myrtle Beach tore down the Pavillion...everything is all 4 lanes and condos.

    I am so sorry about your would just have to be really really hard and I just feel for you, I do.

    A great post and recap of your trip down to these parts (almost)...we sure have been having some fantastic weather!

  15. I think Prince is a Maltese and next time I'll keep him! :)

  16. Oh that dog is such a darling! I'm pretty sure it's a Bichon and they're considered to be very smart and with a gentle temperament. I'd love to have one, runs or not!
    Thanks for coming by for a visit and Happy New Year!