Pittsboro: A Love Story [an essay by John]

So you've all heard me rattle on about how much I love where we live... here's John's take. He's so good with words! 


I find most people have a loose disinterest in nostalgia, but it’s a major component of my personality. I can’t help it; I feel compelled to elegize by the tidal circularity of living, and by the inevitable loss of the moments of one’s life that, in the aggregate, compose our existence—the way that existence winds down like a spinning top, our lives, in all their wonder, escaping minute by minute, into the unkeepable, unknowable ether.

It drives my girlfriend crazy—and I suppose I get why. I mean, this mentality occasionally leads to my holding up a piece of discarded wrapping paper I find in a catch-all drawer and gasping, misty eyed, “Rhianna! You wrapped the Ohio State pez dispenser you put in my stocking at Christmas two years ago in this! Awww… remember? That was such a nice Christmas…” Again, I can’t help it; I’m lucky to have a lot of memories I like revisiting, the only negative aspect of this being that, as though in some Melvillian Hallmark card, everything in my life tends to symbolize everything else. So I spend a lot of time allowing the present to carry me into the past through an overwrought network of associations and sentiment.

Now, owing to the above impulses to imbue my past with irrational romanticism, I have always cultivated a vehement sense of home, and keep that idea fiercely as a central tenet of my identity. Morgantown in the autumn, frozen winters in Granville: these are not merely places where I’ve stayed, they are places that have stayed with me, part of my understanding of self, coloring my conceptualization of the world. Because of all this, my sense of home is something like keenly honed, and is deeply important to me. But not just everywhere makes the grade, so to speak, especially when measured against the lovely specters of paradises past.

This had become, to be honest, a real bummer recently. I moved to North Carolina in 2007, and long story short, spent four years homesick: fall was nonexistent, it hardly ever rained, there’s no Stroh’s in NC, and everyone watches NASCAR*. I mean, they really watch it, like they know all the drivers’ names, their numbers, the “team” they’re on, which makes next to no sense to me, owing to NASCAR’s not being a team sport— except in the sponsorship and management of the team, which raises the question of… you know what, forget it, the point is I DON’T GET NASCAR, and people who do almost never get me. And maybe that’s all that needs said: there was home— autumn leaves the color of campfires, greasy spoon diners, the filigree of Christmas lights on a drapery of snow— and then there was North Carolina with its NASCAR. Also, grits. Also, subtle xenophobic isolationist Southernism complete with sentences ending in “these parts,” and Confederate flag bumper stickers—although perhaps this is redundant having already identified the NASCAR contingent.

Now ok, I’m being woefully narrow and unfair to NC, I acknowledge that, but I was tragically out of place: trying and failing to recognize the keystones of home in a foreign environment. Carolina Beach (my first stop in ’07) did, really, exhibit some of the above idiosyncrasies, but Hillsborough was a delight, and Carrboro would have been, if I was an entirely different person (i.e. smoked clove cigarettes). But I wasn’t a different person, and I struggled mightily to find any of myself resonant in my new southern surroundings. Or no, not new— in 2010 it occurred to me, somewhat horrifyingly, that I’d been in NC as long as I’d been in my beloved Morgantown, and as of 2011 I would have lived in North Carolina longer than any other state in my adulthood. Upon this realization my bags were packed. I’d had enough grits, enough 75 degree Decembers, enough of feeling like an outsider. I was headed back home, ready to declare my southern experiment dead. But, as it goes, a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral.

For one, of course, I found Rhi, who changed something like every aspect of my life for the better. And then, serendipitously, we found Pittsboro. Etymologically, the Germanic “boro” means “fort,” soooooooo, I guess the town was like a… pit fort? Or, I guess, many pits? Regardless, I almost instantly adored Pittsboro, finding it devoid of pits—and forts. Aside from the myriad charms of our little red house, the town itself was just full of darling wonders. In fact, this whole essay began as a list of places in our wonderful town. But somewhere along the way, after mentioning the fiddle shop, the coffee spot, the Italian restaurant offering— ready thy loins— complimentary wine, I couldn’t help but feel like I was falling short of doing justice to our new home. As I noted each admirable aspect of the place, I began to understand that I couldn’t really say anything to make anyone love Pittsboro the way Rhi and I do— and I’ve had lots of practice trying to get people to understand and appreciate the unspeakable and innumerable affectations of places I love. But just like Morgantown and Granville before it— like Howard, Ohio, with Frankie’s Pizza and the diviest dive bar in the world, The Derek Inn— Pittsboro is special not because of its many fine establishments, but because it resonates with some ineffable sense of “home-ness.” And it’s hard because I don’t really know what I mean by that, which maybe I should have mentioned at the start of this meandering note. But what is there to say? What makes home feel like home? The truth is, bending to romance, the sky feels different— feels different— in alien places. The crickets sound different. But at home, the breeze floats through the open windows just so, or, the exact same way in central Ohio in the ‘90s as in Morgantown later, and as in Pittsboro, now.

I guess what I’m saying is that for a long time—too long—I was looking north the way one might fawn over certain old photos: reminded of loss. I found myself saying the phrase “back home,” far too often, never meaning anywhere near where I was. Now though, in Pittsboro, with its record shop/used book store, its great brew pub, its co-op grocery—but more importantly its sky, its crickets, its breezes—I’ve found a place that inspires me to stop looking at where I was, stop dreaming of where I might go, and allows me to simply feel, of course, at home. And that, for maybe a long while, is where I am.

*John wanted me to put a disclaimer saying he does not mean to be rude to all people who like Nascar, some people that like Nascar are really rather nice people!  

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