It was already dark when Bob and I first walked across West Street. It was Election Day November 6, 2007. Earlier, we had driven up from Florida and checked into our room at The Rosemary House. On the other side of the street, Bob opened a glass door and stood aside. I took a deep breath and stepped inside the General Store Cafe to begin earning the goodwill and trust of the locals.
If you had asked me even a year before could I see myself living in the American South, I would have shaken my head. If pressed, I would have laughed and said, “I grew up in New York!”
Pittsboro, North Carolina is the county seat of Chatham County. It’s one of those towns with a cutesy courthouse clock that plays a tune on the hour and then bongs out the time. I like to count along and when I hear them all it makes me feel like everything in life adds up.
There are little more than 4,000 people in Pittsboro, small enough for people we don’t know by name to look familiar. In Pittsboro, we open the Post Office door for each other and I can’t go to town without getting into at least one conversation.
Small doesn’t mean drama-free. Last year the county commissioners removed a confederate statue, prompting the Virginia Flaggers to erect monstrous confederate battle flags around town and igniting months of protests and counter-protests around the courthouse. But most of the time we are polite in that syrupy, Southern way, choosing to put aside our polarized views. When a southerner thinks you are out of your mind, they smile and say, “Well, bless your heart.”
Things had pretty much died down when George Floyd’s murder sparked a revival of the Black Lives Matter movement. In addition to weekend courthouse dustups, battles are fought under the table. One enterprising coalition posted “Black Lives Matter” on a billboard, dwarfing the adjacent battle flag. When an unsolicited political sign showed up on their property, Lisa and Dave at Small B&B wrapped it with their own message.
Centrally-located St. Bart’s Episcopal Church demonstrates Southern Hospitality with their free Thursday Community Lunch. We wandered the grounds on a Sunday morning, the church silent pending a virus vaccine, admiring the art and stonework in and around their tree-shaded cemetery.
Like many American towns, Pittsboro has installed a “Never Forget” 911 memorial, designed as far as I’m concerned, to justify eternal war. The benches surrounding the twisted twin tower beam are usually empty.
One bench is engraved with the words,”444 Miles to Ground Zero,” an epitaph which only serves to remind me how far I am from my liberal roots.
The only saving grace at this garish memorial is the crepe myrtle that blooms in deep, dusky red, a color I covet. Our house came with bubble gum pink crepe myrtles which are pretty, but not eye-catching.
Rumor has it Pittsboro Town will one day finish the walking trail that follows the sewer line to Jordan Lake. For now, it runs from the main drag east to the cement plant.
Two years after our arrival, we bought a house south of Pittsboro. A couple of days before the closing, I was driving past French Connections when I saw something I had to have. I told Bob and we paid for it the next day: a googly-eyed zebra made in Mexico from milk cans that we had delivered after we moved in.
We’d been here for a couple of years when Bob startled me by asking me if Pittsboro felt like home. Surely it was beginning to feel familiar, but I lacked the enviable connection to the land so many around me take for granted. I said, ”No, not really,” and he said he felt the same.
For my sixteenth birthday, my parents threw me a big party so I could say goodbye to my friends. We had lived in one place for nearly seven years. In all the places I’ve been since then, close to forty more moves, I had yet to stay in any one house for anything close to seven years.
December 2021 will mark seven consecutive years in our home since we moved back from Ghana. The memories we’ve shared in this town lurk around every corner, and it’s a pleasant surprise running into them. Only time will tell if we’ll one day feel truly at home in our little town.