Enjoy these Front Porch Moments from Bill and share your favorites with your family and friends. He'd love to meet you at Front Porch ice cream events. Oh, and by the way, his favorite flavor is Sweetie Tea.
Carolina In My Mind
Not too long ago I was exiled in Philadelphia for four days on a business trip. I was reminded of that visit this past Sunday when the preacher at my church said we were all going to hell without God’s intervention. I thought that would certainly be a short trip from Philadelphia.
The main thing I remember about that trip to Pennsylvania was I got homesick; something that hardly ever happens to me after all the years of traveling. It only took a couple of days for me to figure out why I was so homesick.
Just down the street from my hotel was a fast-food place that had a big sign in the window advertising “Sweetened Ice Tea”. I should have known there would be a difference between “sweetened” and “sweet” tea. I tried it. It wasn’t North Carolina sweet tea. That just started a whole bunch of yearnings.
On the last night of my visit I lay awake in my bed in the hotel room awash in homesickness. I began to think of the specific things I would like to see. Inevitably, a James Taylor song came to me. So I started to go to Carolina in my mind.
In my mind I drove down a two-lane road where the asphalt had turned grey with the passage of time and pickup truck tires and trailers loaded with tobacco had worn shallow ruts where the summer heat softened the asphalt. The broken white line down the middle of the road was intercepted periodically by black patches of tar just recently put down. Heat shimmering on the black tar looked like snakes crossing the road.
I passed by tobacco barns, pieces of the rusted tin roof flapping in the wind and the barn sheds leaning precariously over the weeds growing in patches underneath.
I saw a produce stand advertising “local corn and tomatoes” and a big plywood sign leaning against two sticks embedded in the shoulder of the road. It said in big red, hand-painted letters, “HOT BOIL (sic) PEANUTS”.
I slowed the car almost to a stop to go across a railroad track. The railroad bed was so much higher than the road I felt the back bumper hit the rails as we crossed over.
On the right side of the road I saw a big chain-link fence section with a sign at the top that said “Welcome to Your Hometown” and there were civic club emblems attached to the wire. Kudzu formed a frame around the fence and spread like a carpet on the ground before it.
Just on the other side of the railroad was an old depot now converted to a meeting facility; flowers planted beside the loading dock and the brick walkways put down in a herringbone pattern led the way to the freight doors. Diagonal parking spaces lined both sides of the track.
All through town and on down the road the aroma of real barbeque cooking over oak coals mingled with the smell of pine trees as I passed a small café tucked back in the woods and the distant lights of the high school athletic field lent a glow to the night sky.
As evening fell I heard church bells ring and passed small churches, cars parked outside under old trees. “Rock of Ages” drifted across the fields of corn and soybeans and
came to rest on the wide porches where people sat actually talking to each other.
I turned on the car radio and a voice with an accent as familiar as the beating of my heart said, “A big hello to all ya’ll out there shaggin’ to the sound of your favorite beach station. Let’s keep it goin’now with the great Drifters, 'More Than a Number in My Little Red Book'. Shaggin’ on the strand sand!!”
“More than a number in my little red book, more than a one night stand. All I had to take me was just one look…..”
For just a little while I was transported from that Philadelphia hotel room back to North Carolina. All that reminiscing that started from a craving for a good glass of sweet iced tea had grown into a real desire to get back home. As soon as I could the day after my reverie, I did head back home hoping the dream was real.
About Bill Thompson
For over 40 years, Bill Thompson has traveled the Carolinas delighting folks with his commentary on Southern staples: food, farming, music, family and neighbors. He's been the master of ceremonies for hundreds of events celebrating the things that make the South special - from the Hollering Contest in Spivey's Corner to the Wolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, the Grits Festival in South Carolina, and he's even judged a sweet tea contest in Georgia. In the process, he's had the chance to meet some fine Southerners and hear their own stories. He's authored three books, one named, "Sweet Tea, Fried Chicken and Lazy Dogs: A Reflection of North Carolina Life."