“The morning star always gets wonderful bright the minute before it has to go doesn’t it.”
“Our Town” – Thornton Wilder
We’ve been in Wilmington long enough to get a pretty good feeling about our new town. Still aren’t accustomed to how close everything is. We always show up at least ten minutes early. Having lived in Casper, Wyoming which is farther away from everything than anywhere else, it’s nice to be in a small town, especially one so close to the beach and the Cape Fear River.
But I have to admit, driving around it strikes me that Wilmington can’t quite make up its mind what it wants to be; beach town with all the kitsch and strip malls you would expect to find; hipster paradise where college students and the cool kids can hang out downtown “where stars sit at bars and decide what they’re drinking,” stirring jealousy in the hearts of old farts like me; a vibrant and burgeoning artistic community embracing painters, sculptors, screen writers, playwrights, novelists, actors and filmmakers; and an elegant past standing proudly on guard slowing down the pace of time.
The pine trees here, the ones the money grubbers haven’t gotten to yet, stand tall and majestic in the older parts of the Forest Hills suburb, developed after automobiles became more common. The tall pines were, and remain, an important part of the North Carolina economy. (These are loblolly, I think.) Not the wood so much but the tree’s by products of tar, pitch and rosin, hence the Tar Heel State.
As you pass by the stately mansions you know you’re in the south. And folks are friendly. As I was taking these pictures one of the owners pulled up, gave me its history and invited me in to come in and take a look at the crown moldings.
We don’t live far away, but definitely on the other side of the tracks. What did Rosanne say, “We’re your worst nightmare, white trash with money.”
Thing is, less than a mile away, as the crow flies, there are used car lots, pawn shops, tattoo parlors, fast food, a whole bunch of ambulance chasing trial lawyers, and one law firm calling themselves proctors of Admiralty, and of course the local Hooters. It is a college town. There are also war fighters here, and pilots whose jets appear out of no where skimming the tops of the pine trees as they do their hook-and-runs then blast away.
It doesn’t take long to read the local newspaper the Star News. The newspaper is perfect for a small town, the weather and high school football are more important than the daily pitch and pull we left behind in Washington. Although we’re not used to the extremely conservative state politics. Probably never will be.
The Star News includes family life tributes to the dearly departed on page four of the main section. Families pay for final words from the stories they want to be remembered. Never saw that before. Port City is that kind of place, young and vigorous, side by side with folks living their final chapter. So I guess it makes sense that funeral parlors and crematoriums advertise on local TV.
No reason to go into local TV news, featuring crime and crime and more crime and murders. I think it makes a lot of white people nervous. And that’s because unless you live in one of the gated communities you are likely in a house rather close to folks living in economic distress, where the crime is. You don’t have to be an anthropologist to figure that out.
It is worth noting that Wilmington was the scene of unspeakable crimes against African Americans after the Civil War. In the “Wilmington Insurrection of 1898,” white supremacists, called the Red Shirts, used violence and intimidation to suppress black voting. What a novel idea. Thank God nothing like that happens anymore in America.
They burned down a black owned newspaper and ran off duly elected local officials at gun point, replacing them with members of the Red Shirts. After a few days of upheaval they spurred riots killing as many as 100 African Americans. The subject of a new documentary entitled, “Wilmington on Fire,” the white supremacist’s riot has been called the only successful coup d’ etat in American history.*
Wow. That sure puts a damper on the old beach party.
History is always there. You can try to ignore it, like a dim shadow on a cloudy day, but it never goes away.
That was a long time ago. The Red Shirts are gone and I think this is a peaceful town where people do their best to get along in life and with each other.
And since we can all use a little help and support in life, I encourage my fellow residents to drive south on 17th street and look to the left just as you approach Market street. Do it at least once a day.
Wilmington on Fire will be featured at next week’s Cucalorus Festival, a noted film festival “supporting innovative artists and encouraging creative exchange. The festival features screenings of 150 films around the world.”