Living it up Longleaf Pine style

Mar. 29, 2014 @ 09:29 PM

There’s a new book out that Tar Heels will be talking about for awhile. “Talkin’ Tar Heel: How Our Voices Tell the Story of North Carolina” landed on our Books desk Friday. In true Southern fashion, I will soon go off on a tangent, telling stories on the side.

“Talkin’ Tar Heel” is published by UNC Press and written by Walt Wolfram, the William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of English at UNC Chapel Hill, and Jeffrey Reaser, associate professor of English at N.C. State University. The book includes the findings of more than 20 years of research by the North Carolina Language and Life Project at N.C. State. Duke University wasn’t part of it because – insert Yankee joke here. But actually, Northern accents contribute as much to the sound of our voices here as Southern ones. As Wolfram and Reaser write in the first chapter: “The voices of North Carolinians reflect the diversity of its people.”
The authors also write about how much North Carolinians like their state. On the way to work Friday, I was behind a car that had a bumper sticker shaped like the state of North Carolina and the word inside was simply: “home.” Immediately I wondered where I could get such a sticker. But why? Our license plates show where we live (First in Flight! Back off, Ohio.) I want that state sticker declaring the Old North State my home, the home of the Longleaf Pine, too. Was I born here? No. Was I raised here? In first and second grades, yes. Did I stay here? Nope. Did I come back? Yes, but not until I was 30.
Why did I come back? Well, Wolfram and Reaser, in “Talkin’ Tar Heel” interviewed thousands of North Carolinians and came up with this. You’ll find it right there on page one:
“We are surprised by how many people we encounter who decided to move to North Carolina without any previous connection to the state – and even without a destination job – simply because it seemed like a good place to live.”
I did have connections, though not a job yet. And the connections were temporary. My sister had just received her Ph.D. from UNC Chapel Hill, but she warned that she would probably move. She did, but not until after I was her best woman in her wedding in the Coker Arboretum at UNC, and not until after my son was born. And I think she’ll make her way back down here soon enough, or at least I hope so. Because North Carolina, for all its shortcomings, is a great place to call home.
Those two years in the early 1980s when I lived in the idyllic childhood playground that is Fort Bragg also brought home my best memories. The large Army post was filled with children to play with, fields to run around on, Magnolia trees to climb and a sense of security. My parents were married in the post chapel in 1968, when my grandfather was stationed there. You know, I started writing this about how distant I was to North Carolina but perhaps I was never distant at all. Generations of family moved away before – my in-laws from Durham two generations ago and my own from Old Salem three generations ago. Maybe North Cackalacky had always been calling me back. Maybe I just didn’t hear it in the right accent. So why did you move here?
Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563. Follow on Twitter: @dawnbvaughan.