Hitting the Century Mark
Thomas Wolfe was wrong, you can go home again
By Bill Fields
For those who haven’t viewed my academic transcripts, a confession: I was not a math all-star. In teacher Juliana White’s advanced class during my senior year at Pinecrest High School, I excelled at reading the problems aloud. Solving them was a different story. I was flirting with failure. Mrs. White’s grading kindness, never forgotten, likely allowed me to get into the college I always wanted to attend.
But simple arithmetic I can handle, which matters this month. Unless I’ve tripled-bogeyed the count, you’re reading my 100th. PineStraw column, which I began writing in 2014 when then-editor Jim Dodson invited me to become a regular contributor over lunch at a restaurant on West Pennsylvania Avenue across the street from the offices of PineStraw and The Pilot.
I had recently lost a longtime job at Golf World magazine when its print edition was eliminated and, after nearly a quarter-century in one place, was cobbling together a new professional existence in my mid-50s. Despite having a good track record in golf journalism, it was an uncertain time. I’m grateful for Jim’s confidence in my telling stories about growing up in the Sandhills and to the magazine’s readers for appreciating them.
Although golf — only occasionally my subject matter in the “Hometown” space — still gets most of my attention elsewhere, writing this column is an unanticipated pleasure of late middle age. The same goes for the longer features I’ve written, including articles about pro wrestler André the Giant, who settled in Ellerbe, or coach John Williams, a giant in the lives of so many of us from the 1960s through the 1980s.
Doing a hundred columns has spurred thousands of memories, significant and trivial, about Southern Pines and the surrounding area. If I ever get a memoir finished, the column will have played an important role.
When Arnold Palmer attended a high school reunion in his native Latrobe, in western Pennsylvania, he told classmates that “your hometown is not where you’re from, it’s who you are.”
The golf icon made a great point. Roots matter, whether you savor where you come from or spend your life running away from it. Even though I’ve lived elsewhere longer than I resided in the Sandhills, this area is a big part of who I am. No doubt my strong connection was boosted by the fact that my mother lived to 95 and remained in her home until a couple of years before she passed away, and that I returned for regular visits.
In revisiting my formative years over the last decade for the purpose of this column, I’ve had to come to grips with how much the place has grown since I was a kid living in what I like to call a “sophisticated Mayberry,” or even as a young adult eager to see new horizons. The extent of change in Moore County over the last couple of decades — particularly in the last five to 10 years — has been astounding as more and more people have chosen to live here because of its distinctive, appealing qualities.
One only must spend a day driving through eastern North Carolina to see plenty of tiny towns that have dried up, that are sad vestiges of what they used to be. We’re the opposite of those places, with all the positives and negatives that come with it. I still recognize my hometown, but each time I return its evolution can be jarring to the senses.
When I moved to New York in the 1980s, I was eager to experience a world so different from the one where I’d grown up. At that time, there weren’t national chain stores or so many high-rise condos, and there seemed to be a stationery store on every other block. In my mind, I got to live in “old” New York. But people who had lived in the Big Apple of the 1950s likely thought the 1980s didn’t line up with their memories. When I was a kid, getting a Hardee’s — 15-cent hamburgers! — and seeing the Town and Country Shopping Center open on U.S. 1 in Aberdeen were cool, but I’m sure some longtime locals might have viewed those additions as abominations.
I’m glad I grew up where I did, when I did. And it’s fun to remember. PS
Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.