Road Trip VIII, Days 28-31, Durham, N.C.: The Five Things I Miss About My Hometown

Spending a full week in Durham and Chapel Hill has me reflecting on the answer I give to folks who ask me what I miss, since leaving the South 27 years ago. It’s a short but sweet list.

1. My family. Officially, all that’s left here are my amazing parents—Mom shown here with a salad containing the last of the Traveling Avocados that ripened as we crossed the country.

Mama knows what’s good for you

Unofficially, our “family” now includes friends the Mate and I have known in some cases longer than we’ve known each other. But that’s another category. I do know, as a 56 year-old, how incredibly lucky I am to still have both healthy parents living in the same house where they raised me.

Mom in her truck, pulling her horse trailer

My dad’s collection of shoes reveals his active life better than anything.

2. Friends—both tribal and non-tribal. I’ll explain that in #5.

Respect the oak.

3. Oak trees. I’m not talking those scruffy things they have out West. With a few exceptions—talking to you, Laytonville, CA—those oaks are piddly, short things with prickly leaves. But the white oaks of the east? They have GRANDEUR. And their dead leave smell like life.

The next generation of red oak—so vibrant

4. North Carolina-style pulled pork BBQ and Mama Dip’s fried chicken. With fried okra, and hush puppies, and greens. Sweet tea optional.

I’ve blogged enough about soul food—I’ll just leave it at this.

5. Tarheel basketball. With the Tribe—a.k.a. a bunch of over-educated lefty lawyers, professors and administrators, and retired ditto—who gather once a year to eat #4, above, and scream at 20 year-old guys tossing around an orange ball. I didn’t want to violate my friends’ privacy by posting their picture, so here’s a shot of a Chapel Hill fire truck—just to give you some idea of the grip Tarheelism has on this town.

Even the paramedics bleed Carolina blue

Last year our team won the National Championship, but they did so in April, when we were already back home in the northwest…where nobody cares, except to inquire, “What IS a Tarheel, anyway?” So, yeah—I miss that.

Go Heels!

If you are someone who no longer lives in your hometown, what are your five things? Take your time and think about it.

Road-Tripping: Tough Job, But Somebody’s Gotta…Nah, I Just Love Road-Tripping.

Serial blizzards in New England. Roller coaster temperatures across the South. And here in the Pacific Northwest, week after week of mid-50s days that are so nice most of us are getting nervous. Someone has to get to the bottom of this continental climate weirdness.

I volunteer. Starting February 21, I vow to drive (with The Mate) across this great country of ours until we a) solve the climate mystery, or b) watch a series of Tarheel basketball games while stuffing our faces with BBQ…whichever comes first.

Kidding. Of course. It’s time for ROAD TRIP V, that’s all! Who needs an excuse?

An explanation, however, might be useful for those of you new to Wing’s World. Here’s what I wrote a year ago about the roots of our annual pilgrimage:

I’ll start with my husband. Former professor at the University of North Carolina, therefore HUGE Tarheel basketball fan. When we moved to the Pacific Northwest 23 years ago, he continued to fly back every March to watch the ACC tournament with his fellow crazed fans friends.

During our sabbatical in New Zealand…yup. You got it. He still flew back. And when the underdog Tarheels WON that year, my husband became a legend among fans.

But he always hated the hassle of flying. So when he retired in 2010, he declared, “That’s it. From now on, I’m driving to Chapel Hill.” Then he uttered the fateful words: “You’ll come too, won’t you?”

And thus was born the Great Annual Cross-Country Road Trip. We are now about to begin our fourth. Along the way to NC and back, we’ll catch up with family members and long-lost friends, visit some national parks, and discover byways we never knew existed in places like, I don’t know, Oklahoma.

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What awaits the Wings this year? All I can tell you is this: I’m an inveterate planner who feels happiest knowing exactly where I’ll be and when I’ll be there, months in advance. The Mate is enjoying, in retirement, a period of spontaneous freedom so unfettered I hate to even ask him his plans for the day not. If there’s one thing these Road Trips have taught us, it’s how to find a balance between our styles.

Luckily for The Mate, traveling in Feb-March means staying flexible. So…our route? I’ll keep you posted!

I wonder: who’s more like me, who’s more like my Mate? Are you a trip-planner, or do you prefer to trip fantastically lightly through your trips? 


R.I.P. Dean Smith: Why You Will Love Reading About This Man Even If You Don’t Care Beans About Basketball

I’ll start with the Litany of Impressive Facts, for those of you who don’t follow men’s college basketball. 36 seasons at Carolina. 11 Final Four appearances. Two national championships. 96% graduation rate. Coaching Hall of Fame. Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Mate and I are Tarheels, so I’d be lying if I said those facts weren’t a large part of why we admired Coach Smith. And we have a lot of company

Basketball fans in general can thank Coach Smith for the 35-second clock, which was developed in response to his game-slowing Four Corners defense. But they can also thank Coach for that gesture players make after scoring, pointing to the player who passed them the ball to share the glory.  Coach Smith started that tradition, along with starting all seniors (including non-scholarship walk-ons) at their last home game, and having the entire bench stand up when a starter comes out.

That’s not basketball–that’s kindness, honor, decency. And fans of a certain kind of decency will appreciate that Coach Smith never, ever cursed, and did not allow his players to use foul language in his presence either.

We loved Coach Smith’s obvious love and care for his players. Michael Jordan said, 

Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. He was more than a coach – he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it.”

Other former UNC players–a galaxy of NBA stars, but non-scholarship players as well–are now chiming in with stories of how Coach Smith helped them negotiate the world as they left Carolina, how Coach remembered their mom’s name and asked about her, how Coach would call to check on them if they’d sustained an injury. The man cared.

(Ellen Ozier, Reuters)

(Ellen Ozier, Reuters)

But here’s why I think anyone–not just basketball fans–should want to know about this man. Dean Smith never let his role as a highly-paid, political figure (don’t tell me Div. I basketball coaches aren’t political figures!) keep him from following his conscience. He participated in desegregating restaurants in the early 1960s. In 1966 he was the first coach to offer an African American  player a scholarship at UNC, when white players and fans were still spitting on Black players. He protested, with his church, not only the Vietnam War and nuclear proliferation, but the death penalty. He even took his players to visit Death Row inmates in Raleigh. In later years, through his church, he supported gay rights.

Remember: we are talking about a MEN’S BASKETBALL COACH. In the SOUTH.

So, you can see why there are many reasons we truly loved Dean Smith. Now here’s one for you to add your admiration.NPR quotes sports writer John Feinstein, a Duke alum who was working on a book about Coach Smith, in the most telling example of Smith’s character:

To me, his legacy is summed up in something that happened that I was involved in peripherally, years and years ago when I first learned about his involvement in desegregating the restaurants in Chapel Hill. And I asked him about it ’cause it was his minister who told me the story.

And he said, I wish Reverend Seymour hadn’t told you that. And I said, Dean, why? Why would you want that? You should be proud of being involved in something like that. And he looked at me, and he said, John, you should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing.

I’m going to repeat that last part, just to let it reverberate: “You should never be proud of the doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing.”

Now aren’t you glad you took the time to read about this man? Rest in Peace, Coach–and thank you.