By RAHN ADAMS
I don’t say this often—because prayer should be private, not publicized—but my thoughts tonight are with my old friends on the N.C. coast. I hope to God that Hurricane Matthew loops out to sea before hitting my favorite place on earth.
In the fall of 1981, I visited the Wilmington, N.C., area for the first time and fell in love with it. My best friend then, who was a student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, had been telling me for a couple of years that “God is alive and well, and lives at Wrightsville Beach.” He was right.
After returning home from that weekend trip, I wrote a column about it for The Valdese News. The article was later reprinted by my favorite “big-city” newspaper, the Wilmington Morning Star. I love that name—Morning Star—partly because my favorite philosopher used it in the final sentence of Walden, my favorite book.
“Only that day dawns to which we are awake,” writes Henry Thoreau. “There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.” He’s talking about the wonder of our world and how we should look at it in that wondrous light each new day.
During the 10 years that Timberley and I lived in the South Brunswick Islands, Sunday mornings weren’t complete without the Sunday Star-News. When we lived in Calabash, we bought our paper at Tony Belk’s convenience store on NC 179. At Ocean Isle Beach, we visited the row of coin-operated boxes outside Beach Mart on 1st Street until we eventually had our own Morning Star box outside our house on Fairmont Street.
Keep your Charlotte Observer and your Raleigh News and Observer. The oldest newspaper in the state—and the best one, for my money—is the Star-News, if for no other reason than that Ben Steelman, my favorite living newspaperman, film critic and Facebook page host, works there. Really, buy it sometime when you’re at the beach and see if I’m not right—like my friend who said God lives at Wrightsville Beach.
What I didn’t like, though, about the Star-News reprinting my article back then was that its editor had decided not to use the last sentence in my original column, which as you might have noticed, is usually the kicker or punchline—or as my favorite dead newspaperman Mark Twain would call it, the nub—of the essays I write even now.
That’s my style, which I had learned from reading the syndicated column of Lewis Grizzard since childhood. I think of my favorite dead columnist every time we drive south on Interstate 85 through Atlanta, where he had worked for the Journal-Constitution, and then past Moreland, Ga., where he had grown up and where his museum now stands.
Whether I succeed or not, I try to grab the reader’s attention in the opening sentence or two, then use free association to ramble around for 10-20 paragraphs hopefully with funny or thought-provoking observations, and finally leave the reader with something amusing or heart-warming or, if I’m really lucky, something at least slightly profound at the end that relates to the beginning. I try to go full-circle.
So the Star-News cutting my closing sentence was kind of like a comedian refusing to answer the “Boo who?” question in that oldest of knock-knock jokes. But the rest of my column was there, and that made me happy. There I was, working for the weekly newspaper in tiny Valdese and hoping that I’d get promoted to the parent paper in Morganton—The News Herald, a small, weekday daily—when a big paper with a Sunday edition deemed my writing good enough to grace its pages.
Yeah, I know. I was awfully naïve. And in some ways I still am.
What I didn’t say in that little article of mine—and was afraid to even hint at—was that my first trip to Wilmington had also been my first weekend road trip with Timberley after we had started dating. Now, before any of our relatives, fundamentalist Christian friends, or ministers at our non-fundamentalist but very Methodist church get the wrong idea, I stayed both nights at my buddy’s apartment near campus, while Timberley roomed elsewhere with another college girl from Morganton.
We did, however, take a romantic moonlit stroll on the beach, the walk that’s mentioned in the column that was reprinted in the Star-News. And maybe that was one reason I fell in love with the N.C. coast, because I also fell in love there with the woman who would become my wife and new best friend, and remain both to this day.
After our wedding in 1982, we lived in Valdese and then Morganton for five years before I accepted a job at The Brunswick Beacon in Shallotte. Eventually, Timberley also worked there as an advertising representative. We initially rented a condo in Calabash—technically, Carolina Shores—before renting an old beach house for eight years on a natural canal on Ocean Isle Beach.
During that period, our island was evacuated for four hurricanes that I remember. The first and most memorable evacuation was for Hurricane Hugo in September 1989. We packed both our cars with the few possessions we cherished most and then were among the last residents to leave the island before the high-rise Odell Williamson Bridge closed to traffic. I remember the scene like yesterday.
As we turned from 2nd Street onto the Causeway, I saw Mr. Odell himself standing outside his Ocean Isle Realty office and looking southward at the roiling ocean beyond the dunes and pier. I didn’t stop to take a picture, though I should have—a black-and-white image of the man who had rebuilt the island after Hurricane Hazel in 1954, as he watched the approach of yet another storm that threatened to destroy the castles he had built there in the sands on Long Bay.
Friends always asked us if we were ever going to buy a house in the South Brunswick Islands. My answer was always the same: “We will when we can afford to lose it.” So we never owned a home in Brunswick County, not even one in Makatoka Swamp like the farmhouse where our big old cat spent the night of Hugo’s landfall.
Folks back home in the foothills would also ask how it felt to leave most of our possessions behind in an evacuation. I’d always say that a coastal resident—or, at least, one who can see the ocean from his front deck, as we could—can’t be too materialistic. He must be prepared to lose almost everything.
When we crossed Mr. Odell’s bridge onto the mainland, everything was still in God’s hands as it had always been, however one defines God—as the Supreme Being, Universal Being, Over-Soul, Trinity, Creator, Preserver, Destroyer or all of the above. Or as Nature herself.
That’s where the last line of my column that the Star-News cut comes in—you know, from my essay about God being alive and well at Wrightsville Beach?
But as I sit here looking out my apartment window at the brick wall of the next building, I know that God lives wherever I let Him.
As Hurricane Matthew approaches people we love, that’s our prayer—that the grace of an ever-present God is with them.