Kid Up a Tree
Because of a father who loved the Old North State
By Jim Dodson
Half a century ago, my dad was on a creative team from a High Point–based ad agency that produced perhaps the state of North Carolina’s most iconic travel and tourism campaign.
It declared the Old North State to be “Variety Vacationland” and featured beauty shots of our blessed land from the Outer Banks to the Blue Ridge Mountains, along with a catchy theme song that sounded like a college fight song sung by the Fred Waring Singers.
It was called the “North Carolina Vacation Song.”
North Car-o-lina, friendly mountain breezes,
North Car-o-lina, with its sandy beaches,
Wonderland of Variety . . .
Coast to mountains it’s great to be
Right here in North Car-o-lina
Love the pines around in North Car-o-lina,
Get your cares behind you
Livin’ is right in ho-li-day bright
If you’ve reached a certain threshold of age, you probably know this classic and clever jingle word for word. In fact, you probably can’t get the dang thing out of your head six decades later. It’s stuck in there playing on an endless loop with Speedy Alka-Seltzer (“Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, Oh what a relief it is . . .”) and Mighty Mouse pitching Colgate toothpaste as he battles Mr. Tooth Decay.
My old man couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but he was a whiz at writing witty light verse, clever limericks and jingles in the style of Ogden Nash, the poet laureate of Light Verse, one of his literary heroes, the author of such timeless gems as:
My garden will never make me famous,
I’m a horticultural ignoramus,
I can’t tell a string bean from a soybean,
Or even a girl bean from a boy bean.
Or for you First Amendment Fans:
Senator Smoot is an institute
Not to be bribed with pelf;
He guards our homes from erotic tomes
By reading them all himself.
And lastly, a reassuring post-holiday ditty for those anxious about the post-nuclear age in which we reside:
At Christmas in olden times,
The sky was full of happy chimes.
But now the skies above us whistle,
With supersonic guided missiles.
This Christmas I’ll be modern, so
Here comes my guided mistletoe.
I suspect my clever papa had something to do with the lyrics of North Carolina’s wickedly infectious “Vacation Song” because he wrote lots of other memorable copy and commercials — print and television — that prompted large agencies in Chicago and Atlanta to try to lure him their way.
He always politely listened to their pitches, but in the end stayed at home, his home, in North Carolina. Some of his favorite subjects, in fact, were rural counties he promoted with spots that illustrated their timeless qualities of life. My brother and I both wound up being models for a couple of these promotions. Brother Richard, circa 1964, is shown bird hunting with his “father” in a harvested cornfield on a beautiful autumn afternoon, revealing the rustic charms of Stanly County.
Yours truly, roundabout age 10, wearing jeans, sneakers and a buzz worthy of a Parris Island recruit, is shown sitting on a large tree limb staring dreamily off into the firmament over the green hills of Old Catawba, an ad for Olin Paper Company that found its way into several national magazines. I worked cheap; the sneakers were brand new, though I’m still waiting for my residuals.
Most of all, our ditty-loving daddy, a product of the Great Depression who never finished college but went off to war and steeped himself in poetry and literature and history for the rest of his days, believed that effective advertising had to be both honest and true, which are not always the same thing. He worked on Terry Sanford’s gubernatorial campaign, for example, largely because of Sanford’s strong commitment to higher education, but turned down several other politicians he sensed were “too smooth to be believable,” as he liked to say.
I spent much of this past year thinking about (and sorely missing) my old man’s infectious good humor and belief in the power of humility, honest words and decent language — something that seems quaintly out of fashion in the time of a President who tweets insults on the hour, grades himself superior to Abe Lincoln and seems to have only a passing acquaintance with the truth.
As a new and hopeful year dawns, and I wish my dad were still around to pick me up with one of his funny verses about the worrisome state of affairs, perhaps his muse Ogden Nash will have to suffice:
The American people,
With grins jocose,
Always survive the fatal dose.
And though our systems are slightly wobbly,
We’ll fool the doctor this time, probly.
But wait — stop the presses!
On an even brighter note, my daughter Maggie, who turns 30 this month and actually works as a senior copywriter for one of those large ad agencies that tried to lure her grandfather to the big city half a century ago, just sent her old man the pick-me-up he needed — three clever video spots she wrote for, of all things, Keebler Crackers.
Her “other” life is writing beautiful short stories, screenplays and a witty newsletter for her Book Drunk Book Club. But as her cracker videos clearly prove, genius skips a generation.
Judge for yourself.
Somewhere off in the firmament over the state he dearly loved, I’m guessing my old man might be grinning. Maybe his friend Ogden Nash is, too.
In any case, so you’ll never get it out of your head, I shall leave you with the rest of the famous vacation song. You can Google it, too.
North Car-o-lina, would you like to roll along scenic highways?
Let your travels bring you,
Face to face with history,
For new excitement . . . you’ll agree!
It’s all in North Car-o-lina
Bigger land of pleasure,
Life can be fine-er,
You’ll discover treasure
Where the moon shines through tall green pines in . . .
Contact Editor Jim Dodson at firstname.lastname@example.org.