Not "From Charlotte"

Charlotte skyline as seen from near the intersection of South Boulevard and East Boulevard (Image: Patrick Bradey)

Charlotte skyline as seen from near the intersection of South Boulevard and East Boulevard (Image: Patrick Bradey)

My favorite part of the drive back home to Charlotte is the short stretch of interstate that runs right along the western edge of the city’s center. The skyline gleams off to the east, each skyscraper another point in the Queen City’s crown, and to know that I call that city home gives me more pride than I should take in something the universe decided for me.

At first glance, too much hometown pride may seem unhealthy. It’s often blamed for breeding a localism that will only sharpen deepening divides between urban and rural areas. If such a divide exists -- which it seems to, quite palpably, here in North Carolina -- why then do many people from rural communities seem to locate their hometowns in reference to the nearest big city?

As a nation, we generally don’t like to discuss our differences. We prefer to gloss over variations in thoughts, beliefs, and experiences in favor of an easier, simpler conversation. This tendency rings evermore true in a region steeped in the Southern tradition of social propriety. Local origin is the latest in a string of personal variables that we seem to have decided it’s easier to not mention anymore.

While it may seem a simple difference, where we are from makes a profound impact on how we perceive the world around us. I can’t quite put my finger on how Charlotte helped mold me, nor do I think I particularly care to. To know exactly the ways in which my home shaped my life would take some of the magic out of it; it would erode some of that intangible quality that makes it home. I do know, however, that to say I was from somewhere else would negate the contributions that the city has made to my own person, and it hurts me to see others so freely forgo the acknowledgement of their own homes for the sake of conversational convenience. To date, I’ve only met one person who takes as much ownership in his hometown as I do in mine.

Hailing from Clyde, North Carolina, about 45 minutes west of Asheville, the life he led at home seems so different from my own as to practically be a world away. It’s a place where the farmers’ market is for actual farmers, selling livestock and agricultural equipment instead of cut flowers and pottery.

His experience growing up in a town with a population smaller than that of my high school stands in stark contrast to my own upbringing. The differences in how we first experienced the world, though, in many ways bring us together, and he has helped me to better understand a part of the state that had until now existed as an embarrassing gulf in my own awareness.

A cotton field in Union County, NC (image: Patrick Bradey)

A cotton field in Union County, NC (image: Patrick Bradey)

Even still, I struggle to understand the life and livelihood of a rural locality in the same way that he can. But if we can’t even bring ourselves to discuss the differences in something as simple as our farmers’ markets, how can we talk about the challenges facing our communities that require a nuanced conversation about the differences in our experiences, so that we might construct more sustainable and effective solutions for everyone?

Another favorite part of my drive home is crossing the line into Randolph County, where a sign proudly welcomes all who pass to “the Heart of North Carolina.” Near as I can tell, this moniker refers to Randolph County’s location in the rough geographic center of North Carolina, but more than that, the county itself, and Clyde, and areas like it that really are the heart of our state: bulwarks of the trades and traditions that have carried the state for the past three hundred years, and the open country on which so much of North Carolina’s history has already been written and on which its legacy continues to be built.

Traveling the interstate, the arteries that tie this state together, one is reminded of how much space separates us, both in geography and philosophy. But instead of continuing to treat this space as an insurmountable gulf, we ought to confront it head-on. This starts with each of us embracing the places that will always hold the honor of being our first homes, the places we took our first steps into what would become the full experiences of the lives we have lived. If not for pride, then at least we should always be determined to give those homes a place in the dialogue of our statewide identity and local diversities, for the sake of moving us all forward. It is this dialogue, after all, that is the lifeblood of our state.