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Southern Hospitality, North Carolina, and Then Some Is the Answer.

What’s the question?

What Does Desiree “Des” love about North Carolina, besides the summers she spent with Grandma Elli-Lou?

Here are a few favorites she couldn't wait to share with you.

Southern Hospitality - “My So-Ho”

This “phrase describes the stereotype of southern residence of the United States as particularly warm, sweet, and welcoming to visitors to their homes, or to the south” in general. From one North Carolina State line to another-from Walmart to the State Fair Grounds, there’s a warm, welcoming, and loving feeling. Talk about a blanket of love-Smother me with all of that sweet-potato, banana pudding, and sweet tea goodness. It’s not one sided-I reciprocate. I promise.

“Bless Your Heart”

Grandma Elli-Lou always said, “A hello never hurt anybody baby.” That southern gal taught us good manners, life lessons, love, and humility. She taught us right. “Bless your heart.” I love this endearing expression-It puts me in a “grandma’s frame of mind.”

While I find that saying engaging, my southern friends helped me to appreciate, it’s not always a positive phrase. It does have the tendency to be sarcastic and sometimes negative. They’re telling the truth. Since I tend to be on the optimistic side, I’ve learned to appreciate and adopt the saying as a wonderful mindset/way of thinking. I embrace this as the nice way of letting things go when you’ve been offended or find yourself annoyed with little things. Let’s try it: Simply say, “No worries. Bless his (her) heart…” But, in order for this “catch phrase” to be effective, believable, or even meaningful, you must start and end the phrase with a smile. This has been tried and proven. It works!

“Tar… Heel… Tar… Heel.” I felt the energy stepping into the Dean Dome and hearing those words at my very first basketball game. My boss gave me free tickets to the game. Mind you, I work with group of amazing people. Prior to game night, I prepared. Lunchtime, I ran out and purchased a tee-shirt specifically for the game that Friday evening. I took a look around the stadium at my fellow Tar Heels. You would never know I was grafted in, by the amazing people I work with. I mingled in with the crowd, representing and wearing my Carolina shirt with pride. I felt right at home. The band played. The fans roared. I didn’t know the school song, because I was there in spirit wearing the right color blue.

I expected the wave to go around the stadium that day. it didn't happen. But, there was an infectious wave of emotions that affected all in attendance: Starting with excitement for the game, to frustration over the first foul called by the ref on the Tar Heel, to keeping my mind distracted during half time, and finally enjoying that winning-feeling of excitement. Only to experience that rush again at the next game.

Don’t take my word for it. The next time you are in the area, drop in and attend a game. Who knows, maybe I’ll see you there. I’ll be the one smiling, while holding the tub of popcorn, and yelling, “Good job Roy!”

During my visits to Little Washington, I looked forward to getting my hands on a “king burger,” and whatever else my family members donated or bottle returns (five cents each back then) would get me. King Chicken’s been around since 1958. On the website, you might notice the phrase “King Chicken drive through.” Back in the day, it probably was a drive through. Now, it’s more of a “stand and lean.” You can stand and lean along the wall or the pole, chatting with old friends and neighbors, while waiting for your order. While patiently waiting, your mouth salivates as you inhale the aroma of good food. If you’re skilled at checkers, you might find a few locals standing around the game board on top of the garbage can. Maybe you can get a game in before the fried chicken is ready. “Who got next?” That could be you.

Now, if you’re in the mood for good hot dog, you can go anywhere. But, if you want the BEST hot dog, take a trip to Mr. Bills, at Washington Square Mall, in Lil Washington, NC. Like Lays potato chips-the rule is, you can’t just eat one! If you like chili on your dog, this is the place for you-their white bean chili sauce is to die for. What are you waiting for? Hurry up before the line forms around the corner. Don’t forget to ask for, “two all the way!”

Chocowinity Skating Rink–now Extreme Action Park

During my teens, I looked forward to music, learning the latest dances, and hanging out with my friends at the skating rink. Sunday evening, was the highlight of my week. The countdown began shortly after Sunday dinner. I dressed to impress-in my short set, waiting for Aunt Patty or others to drop me off in Chocowinity.

Wait a minute. Do you hear that? There’s my jam. I’m lacing up my skates as fast as I can, to get out there and before the song is over. You’ll be surprised to know that most of u didn’t skate! Between the hours of 9-11 p.m. most of us spent a total of forty-five minutes, if that skating. The remainder of the time, we spent walking around, being noticed, dancing, and playing video games. Our supervision consisted of two or three parents, older teens-close to twenty who chaperoned, the DJ, the skate staff, or the person working the snack bar/ concession stands. There were minimal fights; on occasion a jealous girlfriend, or angry boyfriend, which generally end up being resolved. Fortunately for us, big brother was always watching, and we respected him (or her).

“Last song-for couples,” the DJ announced. I remember one of my last few trips to the skating rink, a very nice respectful young man named Frank, wearing glasses and a smile, asked me to skate. BEEP! BEEP! Everyone knew that sound. That was your ride home waiting outside. Like Cinderella, I had left the dance floor and the ball. Aunt Patty wasn't going to blow that horn twice. He wanted my number. I told him I was spoken for. We found out later we were distant cousins. The summer of 83’ held my fondest memories of Chocowinity. I had a wonderful time as I always did at the skatin’ rink (pronounced with a southern drawl).

“The PIT” (affectionately called by me) is listed on Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau website. The “PIT” is my absolute FAVORITE - my new found love for southern comfort and cuisine. I’m a New Yorker at heart and I’ve been doing this thing called life for a little while now. The one thing I’ve come to appreciate, is the “the ability to read and discern people.” Side-bar: I inherited that from dear old dad. Patronizing the PIT for the past five years, I’ve noticed how various ethnic groups come together chatting and collaborating, while waiting on a line that wraps around the building, just to eat Soul Food.

Yes, this place crosses all barriers. Judgement Free Zone here. I’ve never seen Oriental(s) ordering smothered pork chops in a soul food restaurant-let alone Chinese, Hindu, Hispanic, African American and Caucasian, on line conferring, “what’s good?” Have you? That explains it. A Southern Melting Pot-I love it! Real down home southern-fried-cooking. Speaking of which, if you’re ordering anything fried, please inform the server know as soon as you arrive.

“What are you ordering today Ms. Lady?” Tom asked when I arrive.

“Hey Tom. You got any catfish?”

I’ve never been disappointed-only great experiences at the “Pit.”

One Thursday evening, I had a taste for the Pit. I ventured out to get my usual and noticed a gentleman working behind the counter, who caught my attention. I know him. Yes, I inherited dear old dad’s memory as well. But from where? My wheels were turning. I tried to place this familiar face without drawing attention. Too late. He noticed me staring intently. I smiled and kindly stated. “I know you.” He raised an eyebrow.

“You look familiar too,” he responded.

I waited in line with my hand under my chin. It wasn’t a crowded day. I thought long and hard. New York? North Carolina? Where? Still I waited. I needed a name-something to jog my memory.

“Ja-Bo. We’re out of fried chicken. Let everyone on the line know,” the gentlemen called out from the kitchen, then walked over to the cash register.

That name echoed in my head. “Ja-Boooo.” I nodded and smiled at the same time. “I knew it! I knew I recognized you…. It’s me… From Lil’ Washington? So-and-so’s sister. I came from down from NY every year, and-”

His jaw dropped. “Oh my goodness. Yes!” He blurted out from behind the counter waving the tongs. “This is my girl. From New York. We had fun every year that she came home.”

He remembered. We hugged, had a nice reunion, and connected on Facebook. That wonderful gentleman was a childhood friend who ventured bare foot three houses down, to visit me at my grandmother’s home, grew up to be a successful Florist-Ja-Bo, Mr. Javelin if you will. His floral arrangements are Amazing.

Really, there are too many reasons to list why I love North Carolina. Although I will always have a special love for New York. Yonkers. The Yankees. The Giants (with my “half-heart” now divided for the Panthers). Friends and family. And yes, I still smile at the thought of cancelling school for two inches of snow. Oh I'm not complaining, I’m actually smiling while that cup of coffee, snuggled up with a good book.

The south has always been good to me: Family, good people, good friends, and good grub. Ja-Bo was right calling it “home,” it truly is. Maybe that’s why I ended up settling down here. North Carolina is like my favorite blanket. It just feels right.

My heart and prayers go out to those who suffered from the devastation of Florence. North Carolina is similar to New York in the sense that these southerners have a resilience like no other.

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