It still feels like home

By Bill Fields

Not long ago, to go with an application and prove that I am who I said I am, I had to retrieve my birth certificate. There are no surprises on it, mind you. I was born at what was then called Moore Memorial
Hospital on a May morning much longer ago than seems possible. But my birth year isn’t as jarring as my footprints on the reverse side, which are so tiny they can’t possibly belong to someone who has gotten his money’s worth on shoe leather since high school.

Although the legal paperwork of my coming into the world clearly notes that it happened in Pinehurst, sometimes I don’t know where I’m from. 

Let me explain. I have lived nearly six decades telling folks:

“I was born in Pinehurst.”

“I was born in Pinehurst but grew up about five miles away.”

“I was born in Pinehurst and grew up in Southern Pines.”

“I grew up in Southern Pines.”

“I grew up around Pinehurst.”

“I come from a town about 70 miles south of Raleigh.”

“Moore County.”

“Between the mountains and the beach.”

I suspect I’m not the only person to go through this geographical twister because what is a hometown? Is it where you were born? Where you were raised? Where you currently live? The tagline for this monthly column states that I am a native of Southern Pines, but am I really? 

My first days were in the 28374 not the 28387 and, for six months after graduating from college, I rented above what is now Dugan’s Pub a small apartment with factory-office carpeting and radiators that hissed an angry song on cold nights. A few years later, I lived in a cottage in Aberdeen that was lovely notwithstanding the electrical fire that started late on a November Saturday night and made me nostalgic for the vocal — but safe — heat in my $150-a-month home above the bar. 

If I am talking to golfers about my roots, “Pinehurst” is my go-to because they know where it is. Occasionally I elaborate and say I was born a couple of par-5s away from Course No. 2. But until I entered my teens, Pinehurst might as well have been Pittsburgh, so rarely did I visit. The village was what we skirted en route to my grandmother’s house in Jackson Springs on Sunday afternoons, an opponent for the Southern Pines Blue Knights and a bit of a mystery to someone who rarely ventured farther west than Knollwood Fairways on Midland Road.   

Pinehurst felt a little less foreign when I found out about “Fields Road,” a street named for a family with some connections to my dad. The road sign would have been a great backdrop for a selfie if there had been such a thing back then, but discovering it didn’t shake my identity as a kid from Southern Pines.

Arriving at Pinecrest reinforced how cloistered each town in the southern part of the county was. In those early weeks of sophomore year, I met — and became friends with — students who lived only a handful of miles from me: farm-strong football players from West End; Pinehurst folks who knew the quiet of a locals-only summer; a boy who had been the “Red Devil” mascot for Aberdeen High. 

The way the area has grown over the last couple of decades, town-limit markers don’t mean much on the commercial strips as franchise yields to franchise where U.S. 1 turned the corner onto Highway 15-501 and so much development seemed to follow. The core areas of the distinct dots on a map remain, certainly changed but recognizable, like the passport photos over one’s lifetime. 

For the last three decades, during which New England has been home but not home, I have an out when it comes to an explanation: “I live in Connecticut but am originally from North Carolina.”

Many times, though, I can’t resist making the finer distinction as well, pointing out that where I was born is not where I was raised. I didn’t need my name on my street to know it was mine.   PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

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