Down East

It was a return-to-my-roots kind of weekend: family reunion Down East. (If you weren’t born in North Carolina, “Down East” means anything east of I-95.) Turns out, both sides of my family have been Down East since my Mom’s family drifted south from Jamestown, and my Dad’s family clung to the coast. Best I can tell, the family is kind of evenly split between “gentleman farmers” and pirates, at least to hear some folks tell it.

My dad’s mother was one of ten children, born and raised down in New Bern.   Yesterday, all of the cousins and their extended families got together for barbeque, out on a farm just beyond the city.

We haven’t seen much of that side of the family since my grandmother died when I was little; I wasn’t sure I’d know anyone at all, other than my aunt and uncle.  I was a little nervous.  Which was ridiculous, because as it turns out, it’s family, and you know them whether or not you’ve ever met them before.

These two sweethearts are my dad’s favorite aunts.  Marjorie looks just like my grandmother, and when she opened her mouth to speak, she of course had my grandmother’s beautiful Hoi Toide accent.  I was suddenly eight years old again.

 

There were all kinds of cousins; a couple of designers, and a rocket scientist, and a fiddle player, and a builder, and a forester, and just about anything else you could name.  I heard stories nobody’s ever told me before, like how my Dad was labeled the wild one of the family because of all the radical music he listened to.  Turns out, the radical music was Bob Dylan; Dad had every album.  I never knew.  One of the cousins, whom I have never met, brought me a present he’s been saving for me for three years.  It was an old tin sign from a turn-of-the-century clothing store, which shared my dad’s name.  He suspected it gave someone an idea, years later, what to name the new baby boy.

After all the barbeque and story telling, my Aunt Saundra and Uncle Sam (yes, it’s really Uncle Sam) took me on a tour around town.  I’d never seen the house where my dad and Aunt Saundra were born before:


and for that matter, nobody had ever told me they were born at home.  We saw about six other houses where the family lived; one in which they hunkered down and rode out Hurricane Hugo, and one historic home that was full of sand fleas, and one where they missed a lighting strike on the porch swing by a matter of seconds, and lived right next to the train tracks.  They moved around quite a bit; as it happens, my granddad was a well-respected and well-loved man, but a terrible businessman.  Hence all the house hopping.

We went by the cemetery where my great-grandparents, Journey and Letha, are buried.  This wall is made out of seashells, and it actually weeps; it’s spooky and peaceful under the spanish moss.

It was a lovely day, and I drove out of New Bern with tears rimming my eyes, because I didn’t know quite what to make of it all.  There’s so much we don’t know about the generations of people that came before us.  But then you look into the faces of family and see your parents there, and your brothers and sisters, and more than a little bit of yourself, and start to put it all together.  We are part nurture, and quite a lot nature, and our history stays with us.

It’s kind of exhausting to think about.  But it’s important.  So I took the long way out, and detoured through Beaufort, and stopped at my favorite dive bar to process it all:

And then I had a Down East shrimp burger, and headed for a night at the river.

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