That’s not a plantation, it’s a damn swamp…

October 24, 2006

Pardon my extended absence, friends. It has been a long October, and I have been busy going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it with a good old friend of mine, of whom some of you might also have knowledge. 😉

Exploring a little bit of the life outside of Rabbit Hill, you might say. Just last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a beautiful wedding in the town of Southport, enjoying both the union of two good friends and the gathering of many old chums on the banks of ye olde Cape Fear River.

Soon after the deed was done, we settled into a small banquet hall for the reception dinner. I sat at a round table with my good friend The Growler and his lovely lady, a young couple from Raleigh, and three middle-aged locals, friends of the bride’s mother. Of these three, the one who sat at my side was a slender lady of perhaps sixty-five, a floral arranger by trade. I made small talk with this one as the line for the buffet fanned out into the main hall.

“I told them,” my new acquaintance said, gesturing toward her two neighbors, “those St. James people would be the first ones in line for food, and sure enough they are.”

“Are all those St. James people?” I asked.

“The ones at the front,” she said.

For a moment I sat in silence, studying the St. James people as they filled their plates with boiled shrimp, mashed potatoes, asparagus, chicken, beef, and slices of exotic fruits drizzled with chocolate. I could determine no familial resemblance between them. They were, as far as I could tell, about as genetically and ethically diverse a group as you’re likely to find in line at a wedding reception buffet in Southport. And while they crowded the table for certain, they seemed well-mannered enough, making liberal use of serving spoons and ladles, refraining from sneezing over the roast beef, each waiting patiently in his turn for a chance at the coveted shrimp bowl. I wondered at the hungry people of St. James, and what manner of man and woman they might truly be.

“Who,” I asked finally, “are the St. James people?”

The woman cut her eyes at me as if to indicate that I was painfully out of the loop, but that she would in this case labor to provide me at least enough enlightenment so as to mak econversation with me less of a chore. “They live in the St. James plantation, a development out on highway 211 –”

“They’re from Jersey,” her friend interrupted. “New Jersey, Mostly.” This one’s husband, a portly, silent fellow with a great white beard, nodded in disgust.

“Oh,” I said, finally catching her drift. The area around Southport has recently become a favorite retirement spot, being scenic, close to the ocean, and only half as far from the bitter industrial north as Florida, which as a retirement venue has apparently fallen out of favor with your hip elder transients, being — let’s face it — full of old people, not to mention the increased risk of being struck by lightening, bitten by an alligator, or choking on a hanging chad. No wonder, then, these long time residents of Olde Brunswicke resented their new carpetbagging neighbors and their buffet-jumping ways.

“What do I have to do,” my new friend said above the din, “to get a glass of water around here?” She said it loud enough that conversation around the table ceased. the Growler, previously engaged in deep intercourse with the young Raleigh builder on the relative merits of metal roofing vis a vis conventional shingles, cocked a heavy eyebrow in our direction.

I took advantage of the distracted moment to sip my domestic beer and wink at the builder’s pretty girlfriend. A harmless, innocent, friendly gesture intended only to rescue the honey-lipped lass, if only for a brief moment, from what must be the drudgery of life with her young, flashy, successful, but no doubt dull beau.

“You must be a native,” I said to my disillusioned dinner companion. “Were you reared in Southport proper? Shallotte? An unincorporated area, perhaps?”

“No,” she said. “I’m a North Carolina native, though.”

“Ah, and what part of the state?”

“Raleigh,” she said. “Raleigh and Winston-Salem, mostly.”

“I lived in Winston-Salem for a while myself,” I said. “Lovely territory.”

“It never felt like home,” she said. “Fourteen years. But it was too far from the beach.”

“Farther than Raleigh,” I agreed. “So tell me, how long have you been in Brunswick County? A long time, I bet.”

The woman stiffened visibly. “Almost three years,” she said, rattling the remaining ice in her glass at a nearby waitress.



Now this lady’s friend, a larger woman with a friendly face and the quietly bearded husband, had been keeping up with our conversation in a kind of a sideways manner, and soon interjected herself into the mix.

“Used to be,” she said, “if you were driving one way on Highway 211, and you saw somebody you knew, you could just stop right there on the road and talk to them. Try that now, though.”

“You’ll get run over,” my three-year veteran said. “By a Hummer.”

“I met this woman from Pennsylvania the other day,” the more friendly local began, “who said ‘I told my husband I would not leave the north unless I could move into a plantation. And sure enough, he found a plantation.”

“St. James plantation,” echoed my Raleigh native.

“I told her St. James is not a plantation. It’s a swamp. All they did was drain a swamp and build some houses on it. She was not happy.”

Well, I am not one to miss an opporunity to extoll the virtues of my old home town. And while I would not wish the blight of a fancy housing development like the St. James Plantation on my own bucolic home, I dare say we could find housing for a few beleaguered refugees from the immediate coast, if things had indeed gotten as bad as they described.

“I know a place,” I told them, “where you can still stop on any state-maintained highway, hard-top or dirt, and converse with anyone you please, without once risking encounter with a Hummer. “

“Really,” one of them said, hopefully.

“I do,” I answered. “My own Dear Rabit Hill. Why, in Rabbit Hill, any obstacle on the road — whether it be a friendly conversation, livestock, even a washed-out bridge — is met with only the gentlest toot on the car’s horn.”

“Rabbit Hill,” one mused, her face darkening slightly.

“That’s right,” I said. “It’s not close to the ocean, but it’s closer than Raleigh. It lies just a little ways up this same broad river on whose banks we recline.” I felt a twinge of civic pride in my chest, and a tear welled in the corner of my eye. “Of course the effluvium from the hog slaughtering plant is a little more concentrated on that stretch of river,” I admitted. “Just get your fish from the Piggly Wiggly instead.”

“At least you don’t have all those Yankees around,” my lady friend asserted.

“We’ve got one,” I said, in the spirit of full disclosure. “But he’s quiet. Keeps to himself. He’s actually pretty handy with bicycle repair and whatnot. There’s no St. James Plantation, just acres and acres of prime farm land. That, and one of the largest swamp systems in the southeast coastal plains.”

The three locals gave me silent, quizzical looks. I’m sure I had planted a seed, though at their ages the prospect of uprooting themselves once again, no matter how greener the pastures awaiting them, must have been just overwhelming. Oh well, I figured, these three might not relocate to Rabbit Hill after all. Maybe they’d just come visit sometime, stand on the low-water bridge, sniff the mossy sweet air of the swamp, and remember the olden times.



  1. I rather did like Larry’s beard. He looked as though he might at once either drop dead of nerves or jump screaming from his seat to hack at the wedding cake with a crazed gusto.

    What does one “have to do to get water,” indeed.

  2. duck

    did you ask those pretentious dirt sacks why the hell they want to live on a plantation? Where there any black people in the room? Not likely, I guess. Weird. But I love your goddam prose. Please write that Rabbit Hill Memoir (as ironic as a memoir in a fictional setting may sound).


  3. Those folks sound like a bunch of sad sacks. There’s no room for them in Bladen County.

    It’s funny though I was in my dear momma and daddy’s neck of the woods in the Kingdom of Callaway County recently. I took my wife’s conveyance to Zemp’s Tire to have the oil changed. Jelly grudgingly said he would take care of her pretty quick. He’s a good ole boy who collects license plates from around these United States. He proudly showed me his latest plate from Maine. I gave him my NC plates when we moved back here. Well, he changed the oil in 15 minutes as they weren’t busy. Anyhoo, Jelly recognized me from awhile back and remembered that I had moved here from NC. I told him we were living in Columbia now (bout the size of Wilmington) and he said, “That’s one F.in rat race over there.” I assured him I’d been forced to move to the big city under duress.



  4. Bush is forever saying that democracies do not invade other countries and start wars. Well, he did just that. He invaded Iraq, started a war, and killed people. What do you think? What is he doing to us, and what is he doing to the world?
    If ever there was ever a time in our nation’s history that called for a change, this is it!
    We have lost friends and influenced no one. No wonder most of the world thinks we suck. Thanks to what george bush has done to our country during the past three years, we do!

  5. is that you, eli?

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