A few weeks ago we had some friends invite us to summer with them in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Okay, not actually summer. I recently heard of someone using summer as a verb and wanted to try it out myself. Turns out, that’s a really expensive verb, and we don’t have the ca$h money for such word choice. Road trip. They invited us on a road trip to the Outer Banks. It would have been fun, but we ended up declining the offer. The stars weren’t aligning—in fact, the stars looked like a line of first graders at the zoo. Anyway, one of those unruly stars was my opinion of North Carolina.
On a traditional atlas, the state of North Carolina reaches from roughly 75° W to 85° W. On the Aaron Taylor Map of the United States, however, the state of North Carolina spans about half that distance—the western half, to be precise. North Carolina is not sandy beaches and ocean breezes. North Carolina is loping foothills and smoking mountains. Pardon me, Smoky Mountains.
North Carolina is not splashing through briny surf; it’s romping through shady woods. You don’t run into the ghosts of aviators; you run into the ghosts of Cherokee chiefs. North Carolina doesn’t smell of seafood; Essence de la Caroline du Nord is a mixture of fresh rainfall and the pages of old books. North Carolina doesn’t have lighthouses. North Carolina has creaky bridges over creeky creeks. There is no algae in North Carolina; there are blackberry bushes and poison ivy, reminders that the land is still sweet and still wild. There are no dune buggies, only Cadillacs from the Eighties. And there is a dog named Magic.
So we declined the invitation to the Outer Banks. We spent Easter weekend, however, in North Carolina.
Rachel and I got off work early on Friday so that we could spend the afternoon driving down. Fueled by dried mangoes and the audiobook version of Born to Run (an excellent book about ultra-running), we made our way westward through the Shenandoahs and down across the state line. The scenery of the drive came straight out of The Red Badge of Courage, except that we were flanked on both sides by purple wildflowers instead of Civil War infantry. We stopped for gas shortly after crossing the state line, and upon opening the car door I immediately recognized the scent of North Carolina, as distinct as anything.
Our first stop was Steven and Janet’s home. I hadn’t seen Steven in over a decade, so I was happy to be reunited with him. It was also my pleasure to meet Janet for the first time. They have a lovely home and I felt very welcome there. As we were sitting and talking, I realized that Rachel and I were not just sitting at Steven and Janet’s piano—we were sitting at Grandfather and Grandma’s piano! The bench cover gave it away. We adjourned to play a card game later in the evening, and I found myself sitting at another familiar piece of furniture—Grandfather and Grandma’s dining table! It was a nice touch and made me smile.
After the card game was done, we left for Aunt Becky and Uncle Dave’s house, where we’d stay for the remainder of the trip.
We pulled into the Melonakos garage, and again, on opening the car door I was bowled over by the nostalgic smells of the garage—cut grass, mechanics, old sports equipment. One thing I love about going back to the Melonakos home is that things don’t change. The lawnmower was parked where the lawnmower has always been parked. The shoes were where the shoes have always sat. The home layout and furnishings have remained almost exactly as they’ve always been. Walking through the house again was like walking back in time. Just the sound and smell of the stairwell was enough to bring tears to my eyes, and as I approached the main floor and glanced over the banister at the living room, I fully expected to see six or seven little boys crowded around a small television in the corner by the fireplace, furiously smashing buttons on their SNES controllers and calling for next. They weren’t there, and the game system and television were gone.
Rachel and I stayed in Laura’s room. The first thing I noticed was the set of scriptures on the nightstand. A quad with “Dr. Keith T. Stephens” inscribed on the front. I smiled, remembering how important the “Dr.” was to Grandfather. I slept on the side of the bed next to the bookcase, and couldn’t help but marvel at the books I saw. Treasures from my childhood. These were the very books I had read for summer reading programs past. Not just the titles—the physical copies. It was another happy reunion.
Unfortunately, the sky rained all Saturday, so we weren’t able to enjoy the outdoors like we would have hoped, but we enjoyed our time indoors. We played with Amy, Katherine, Michael, and Lindsey. I sorted through some family history records. We watched some playoff basketball with Steven and Janet. We practiced a choir song for Sunday. We played cribbage and Abstracts. And the popcorn was delicious.
We woke up to a beautiful Easter morning. I mean, gorgeous. I mean, breathtaking. I mean, glorious. Rachel, Uncle Dave, Aunt Becky, and I left early for choir practice. Rachel and I fell in love with how spaced out the properties were. While I can’t really see us settling in North Carolina, I did resolve to buy a small cabin there someday. I want my children to know North Carolina, at least a little bit. The ward was very welcoming to Rachel and I. I received many compliments on my bow tie, and an older woman name Roberta approached me between meetings and asked if I was Karen’s oldest son. I was pleasantly surprised that someone would remember my mom, and proudly replied that no, I’m Karen’s second oldest son. I would have chatted with her more, but I had to take some Easter pictures outside for Laura in Brazil.
Easter dinner—lunch—was excellent. We had turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, rolls, asparagus, and salad. I know, it sounds like Thanksgiving. If you think about it, though, Easter is about giving thanks for the Atonement and Resurrection of our Lord. I was stuffed. Shortly after eating we all went outside for the kids’ Easter egg hunt. We loved watching the kids darting around on the grass snatching up the eggs. We particularly enjoyed watching Lindsey, a little unsure of herself (she doesn’t have a lot of experience yet), but nonetheless excited about the goings-on.
The conclusion of the hunt signaled our time to leave. We said our goodbyes, took some pictures, and began the long drive back to ol’ Virginny. Rachel was attacked by a stomach ache, so I drove us just about the entire way.
We left North Carolina wishing we could stay; but then, that’s how it always is. We felt blessed.