Carolina Comfort


Before I roll into Texas and the history palooza this immersion will undoubtedly prompt, I’d just like to tell you why I love North Carolina. I guarandamntee you I will choke up writing this. (Now that we’ve clearly detected a pattern here….)

Life on Cavalier Drive, Winston-Salem, NC

Our house on Cavalier Drive, I was anything but, when I had to leave

It’s because it took care of me. North Carolina took care of me and my children, time and time and time again.

A brief history: I moved to NC in February of 1992, the trailing spouse of husband #2, whom I’ll call Rick. He was in the news biz. We’d just come off a short-lived stint in Washington, D.C., where he dabbled in being a press secretary to a U.S. Senator.

Didn’t work out. We were only there ten months.  The taxpayers lost money on that deal, after moving us all the way from New Mexico.

Anyway, we roll into the next state south, North Carolina. Winston-Salem in particular, home to Wake Forest University, Maya Angelou and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco.

Libby in front of R. J. Reynolds High School

R. J. Reynolds High School, a.k.a, “smoke em’ if you’ve got em’ “

At first I thought it a bit backwater, but by the time I left five years later, I had tied myself to a tree in the front yard.They had to drag me kicking and screaming all the way to St. Louis. Maybe it’s because I knew,  it was the last-chance move, the marriage was going south as fast as our mini van towing the U-haul was headed toward the Midwest.

Things have a way of working out, we did indeed split up just a year later, and thank God and Sinclair Broadcasting I had a good job at the ABC station by then. Fast-forward fourteen years and we still call St. Louis home, our house in Webster Groves, the homestead now. I have lived there longer than any other place in my life and it’s been good to us.

Grant Road Christmas, 2008, St. Louis

Grant Road Christmas, 2008, St. Louis

But back to NC. For years, we have come back here, like lemmings to the sea. Every summer that I could possibly afford it, I’d bring the kids to Wrightsville Beach, near Wilmington, suffice it to say, we have a lot of history here.

Wrightsville Beach, 2009 with the new family addition, Melissa

Wrightsville Beach, 2009 with the new family addition, Melissa

And whenever we could, we always stopped in to see our former neighbors, Mitzi and David. But it had been a while, like nine years, when I called her to tell her I was coming through town. The reaction I got from her on the phone and the way they welcomed me to their house, I will never forget.

“I’ll be there on Saturday,” I said, knowing I’d roll in on Friday, but would need to hole up and write for a day before I started visiting with folks. This is my M.O.

“Can’t you come tonight?” she said. After ten years and she says, “Can’t you come tonight?” This moves me. Just like the next day, when I got David on the phone, giving him an ETA.

“Hi David! How are you?” I said, hearing his voice for the first time in nearly ten years, his soft southern drawl not changed.

“Fine. Waitin’ on you.”

David, heading to work, Monday morning

David, heading to work, Monday morning.

I spent two and a half days with them and it was the best feeling I’ve had on this trip so far. There was something wonderfully comforting about having one thing remain constant in this life. Even though they’ve moved from the old neighborhood, even though, their kids, like mine, are grown, it was still David and Mitzi in their neat-as-a-pin house.

David fixed steak, Mitzi made baked potatoes and salad, and had pound cake with maple glaze for dessert. The next morning, there were homemade muffins for breakfast. I felt like I was in the Waldorf Astoria. Libby worked her magic on David.

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Mitzi traipsed around the dog park with me, humoring me as we got lost in her home town, GPS and all.

Mitzi and Libby Washington Dog Park, Winston-Salem, NC

Mitzi and Libby Washington Dog Park, Winston-Salem, NC.

I sat across from the table from their son Zach and marveled at what a fine young man he’s turned out to be. Zach, who has equal passion for snow skiing and preaching. Whodda thunk?

Zach and Libby

Zach and Libby, late night, Sunday, Winston-Salem.

Zach is going to the Moravian seminary in Pennsylvania, he was back in Winston to do an internship as a Chaplain at Bowman Gray/Baptist Hospital this summer. The last night I was there, I was up late, writing, I hear Tyler playing guitar in the living room. Beautiful, classical guitarist. Tyler, who used to run around my yard in his diapers. Tyler, crestfallen when our family moved away, taking his best friend Sean with him, here was this great young man, playing the guitar. Reminded me of the Joni Mitchell song —

“I was standing on a noisy corner
Waiting for the walking green
Across the street he stood
And he played real good
On his clarinet, for free.”

These things are gifts, my friends. Real good, for free.

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About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. So glad you realized friends are friends for life if they are real and loving.

  2. Such an abundance of shared love, warmth and nurturing. Great post! Enjoy the journey.

  3. leasa roberts says:

    While reading this issue, I couldn’t help but note the similarities between the places that we have both been in the past. My husband is from Webster Groves MO. And we used to live on Wrightsville beach in N.C,! His last name is Oppelt if it rings a bell. I know Webster Groves is a pretty small town.

  4. Stacy Jansen says:

    Sigh…family,friends, and faith…the big three are always good reading! Missing you and wishing you well.

  5. So perfectly put. There are just some friends like that, that are friends forever, no matter how much distance and time comes between you. I’m glad you got to reunite with them and feel that love.

  6. Jean, thanks for forcing me to stop and listen to Tyler play that beautiful guitar piece. It was amazingly refreshing to just sit and focus on the beautiful music. Now I have to go back to work. WAAA!!

  7. yeah, you hit this one out of the park too.

  8. You sure do know how to bring the whole world together.