Home Towns & Alma Maters… Some of you won’t agree with me today, and that is OK. Don’t feel disloyal to tell me so. This may be something you’ve always taken for granted. I did. I don’t any more.
Home Towns & Alma Maters are two somethings most (but not all) have in our past. If you were “an army brat” or dad was a corporate nomad, maybe you never had a town to say “I’m from _____”.
I am forever from Kinston, North Carolina. So are jazz great Maceo Parker, Hollywood ingénue Jaime Pressley, the late (and amphibious) Charles Shackleford and assorted other notable, notorious and just regular folks. Heavy on the “just regular folks”.
I grew up a middle class white kid in a semi-rural Southern town of 20,000 plus/minus. My formative years were the early/mid 60s. I had no say-so where or when I “grew up”. None of us do.
After I left in 1965 “to go to college” until now, I did have a say so in where I lived and not all those choices were as fortuitous as “where I grew up”.
Both my parents also “grew up” in Kinston. My dad fought in both WWI and WWII, but always came back “home” where he built a business and became “a city father”.
I have always liked Kinston and cannot recall EVER putting it down or decrying its small towness or its lack of anything “big cities” have.
“Small” is relative. To folks in LaGrange, Pink Hill, and Grifton Kinston was the ominous “big city” to avoid with all its crime and traffic. ???
I grew up in Beaver Cleaver / Richie Cunningham fashion. I had more “friends” then than I have now which is a story for another day. I still claim pretty much all those friends to this day which affects my lifelong affection for “my home town”.
Kinston has suffered economically as have most small towns across America. Population demographics have changed. The tobacco business fell sharply and fewer and fewer kids who went off to college chose to come back to live there.
We sold “the home place” I lived in from age four until “going to college” and my Mom lived in until she passed away fifteen years ago. I never met the buyer and have only driven by it twice but all my memories are positive. Allowing that “growing up” has its moments. I “ran away” once but never made it off the front porch.
Enough of the Kinston I knew remains for me to feel at home when I revisit for reunions or stop for lunch on the way to “da beach”.
I never claim Kinston was “The Best”. There were many similar towns just in Eastern NC… and I’m sure all across the country. I just say I’m glad I grew up in “a Kinston”.
There have been many “roads dividing into yellow woods” since I left in 1965. I’ve made right turns and a few wrong turns. I credit my home town for the “right ones”. The other ones are on me.
I was a B student. I made friends with people from all sorts of places. Some I have maintained… others faded away. I was not in a fraternity per se, but I had a fraternity of sorts within UNC Athletics. I was “zookeeper”of The Football Dorm. No traumatic experiences involving drugs or alcohol or wicked wimmen. Some exciting times with Dean Smith’s first “really good teams” – Larry Miller, Rusty Clark, Dick Grubar, Charlie Scott et al.
My parents paid my tuition which was probably $1,500 or so. My work in Athletics supplied my room & board. We paid for my college education which UNC supplied. I left with a diploma, no debt and some lifelong memories… and moved on.
I have since described “going to college” as running a gauntlet between “home” and “on my own”. Being 100 miles from “home” I could get into all sorts of trouble if I was so inclined. I wasn’t / I didn’t.
I would touch a few hot stoves and some “wet paint” while chasing corporate rainbows, but nothing to brag about. OK, there were those six months in Mexico at the seaside resort where “10” was filmed. Other than THAT just the usual life stuff.
I jumped from Kinston to Chapel Hill to Columbia Missouri to Atlanta to Charlotte to West Virginia… Kansas City… Dallas… San Antonio… Boston… and finally back to NC and Raleigh. “Chasing corporate rainbows” is another form of lifelong education.
Several of those career stops had, IMO, more impact on me than college had.
If there is a point to all this… it is that I never felt any great affection / attachment for my alma mater. It was “where I went to college”. It was “fine”. If I had it to do over I might have gone to a smaller school. Maybe William & Mary or Wake Forest but I’m not sure why.
I’ve told this story before. March 1982… I was living in Dallas and Michael Jordan “hit the jumper”. Like a tree falling in the woods, I yelled but no one heard me. No one in my Dallas World cared.
I realized in my twelve years of wandering in corporate America since leaving UNC, no one at any of my stop-overs had cared if Carolina won or lost in sports or who the Chancellor was or what foolishness was going on on-campus.
This was well before UNCCH decided to become Berkley Southeast. I was politically agnostic back then anyway.
No one in my Dallas World cared… and I no longer cared. I had moved on and it felt just fine.
I moved back “here” in 1988. Back to Ground Zero where pretty much EVERYBODY “cared” about UNC one way or another. I tried to rekindle the spirit. I tried to “hark the sound” but my heart wasn’t in it.
I had by then become “politically aware” and very much aware that I had nothing whatsoever in common with what UNCCH had morphed into. The alumni magazine derided “people like me” but the alumni office kept asking me for $$$. That never sat well.
I started this website in 1999 and sorta kinda pretended to “care” for a while because… I’m not sure why.
An old college friend “Burly John” Bunting came back. Maybe THAT would “wake up the echoes”? Nope. NADA.
Then, of course, Young Marvin tweeted… The Butcher & Blake… and The Martin / Wainstein Reports… and TGU… and blah blah yadda yadda…
None of TGU ever surprised me. I had seen “how the sausage was made” decades earlier. I never bought in to the “holier than thou” BS and I wasn’t about to when TGU hit.
Now when I meet someone and they ask “who are you?” I say…
“I’m BobLee The Internet Legend. I grew up in Kinston. I have this website with incredibly insightful commentaries. You oughta check it out.”
No one ever asks “what is your alma mater?” It’s not “who I am”. It never was.