After dropping Sofie off at Camp Kesem yesterday, I went on an adventure with someone else that had grown up in my hometown, Eden, N.C. We didn't know each other then because when I was a freshman, she was a senior and we lived on different sides of town. Now, she happens to be one of Sofie's teachers. Small world it is.
For those who know nothing of "The Wonderful Land of Eden," you're not missing much. Even in it's heyday...if there ever was one...it was a small town that's livelihood centered around textile mills. 40 years ago, before it was incorporated, Eden was known by the three separate towns of Leaksville, Spray and Draper. We're talking small town USA. The population back in 1967, after the consolidation was approximately 18,000 residents...today it's less than 14,000. Not typically the way you see growth occurring. Many small Southern towns have experienced extreme change with the closures of the textile, tobacco and other manufacturing plants, Eden is sadly no different.
As Susan and I drove around looking at the houses and neighborhoods I grew up in, I noticed how small and uninteresting most of the communities were. As we discussed all the places we built our class floats for homecoming , the store front logos of those buildings seemed to fade right before our eyes. Paint chipping away, foundations crumbling and building bulldozed. That was the sites we saw over and over. Houses were worse than that. Many yards overgrown, For Sale signs dotted the landscape or once thriving neighborhoods had really gone downhill. Different parts of town were worse than others. Spray and Draper, where the mostly blue collar mill workers lived, seemed hardest hit. Leaksville and the Central area, where more white collar or professionals raised their families seemed to be doing okay. I just felt an incredible sadness as we drove around.
We lived in Eden for 15 years. My dad was stationed there right after he finished the NC Highway Patrol Academy. I was 2...I left town the day I graduated from High School and I've never really looked back. I have no family there, so there was really no pressing reason to visit. I've visited a handful of times since leaving, mostly to visit my best friend in high school's parents. She was my 7th grade math teacher and a surrogate parent when I was having hard times with my own parents. Yesterday's visit was no different. After tooling about town for a few hours, Susan and I stopped for a visit with the Sharrows.
I asked them, "What do people *do* here now?" "Commute to Danville, VA or Greensboro, NC," they said. Apparently Eden is trying to become a tourist area. Eden is now known as, "The land of two rivers." Funny, when I was in High School we were known as the "River Rats" to our neighboring rivals from Reidsville, the "Tobacco Worms!" I guess now Eden is owning is river rat status and starting Outdoor Adventure type companies. More power to 'em I say. However, if they really want to open up and become a tourist town, they're really going to have to take down the anti-abortion signs and the "prepare to meet god" signs that grace way too many lawns in the area. Eden is full of churches...none of them liberal(well, maybe the Episcopal church, but they're all damn yankees anyway!)
I sit in amazement wondering how in the hell I got out, virtually unscathed. A free thinking, left leaning, open-minded lesbian. No visible scars to mention from years of living in an oppressive community like this. Probably because my parents were free thinkers and let me have my own opinions. Most of my friends escaped, too. Some are still there. I have no idea why or what they're doing with their lives. I just know that I'm grateful EVERY day for the fact that I got out when I did...and as healthy as I did. Other's weren't so lucky. Sad, indeed.