“Country Roads to Times Past”, column, May 1, 2012

In 10 days, I traveled to five states (six, if you count Nevada, where I live) in three time zones, to speak at five, count ’em, separate events. For some people _ politicians and touring musicians and wanted felons on the lam _ this might seem purely routine. I am not one of those people. Nor do I know any of them personally. But I will say this: Whoever they are, wherever they roam, I hope they remember to carry change for vending machines. Late at night, when things close up tighter than last year’s stretch pants, quarters are your best friends.
I spoke first in Bristol, Tenn., at an awards ceremony for community volunteers, and the next day, at the public library in Bristol, Va. It was 34 degrees, with snow flurries, and I had not taken a jacket. Or socks.
In Abilene, Tex., I spoke at the 25th anniversary of Disability Resources, Inc., a wonderful organization that provides housing and other services for developmentally disabled adults. It was 103 degrees, and I was wearing wool.
Finally, I spoke in my home state of North Carolina, at a pair of fundraisers for literacy and other programs sponsored by the Mocksville Woman’s Club.
It was chilly and overcast, so much so that people in the audiences (who had read my last column about traveling a little too light) presented me with umbrellas and socks.
I am not making that up. Talk about Southern hospitality. At one event, someone posed a question that stumped me. I’d been talking about the way things were when I was growing up, how folks went to church, families gathered for dinner and children played tag instead of texting on cell phones.
The question, in effect, was this: What can we do to ensure that the lives of our children and grandchildren will be enriched, not diminished, by technology?
The best answer I could think of was a story I’d heard about a woman who insisted that cell phones and other gadgets had to be dropped in a basket at the door until dinner was over.
I liked that idea a lot. But it seemed a rather small answer for such a big question.
Sunday morning, I put on all my new socks, packed up my umbrellas, checked out of the hotel and began driving south from Mocksville to Landrum, S.C., to spend a week visiting my sister and other family.
To drive down I-85 would’ve taken three hours, more or less, but I’d had my fill of freeways. So I got off the big-rig beaten path and picked my way over winding, country roads.
I wish you could’ve ridden with me. Carolina is green most all year ’round, but in spring, it turns a paler shade with buds of new growth, offset by bursts of creamy white dogwoods and neon pink azaleas.
I saw a dozen or so churches where parking lots were filled and men stood on the steps smoking and joking.
I passed countless houses in which families had apparently gathered for Sunday dinner, spilling over onto porches and into yards, where children ran laughing, chasing each other.
I was tempted to stop, just to say hello, but I had family of my own awaiting my arrival.
I took a few wrong turns (quite a few, really) but on the whole I felt a lot more found than lost.
What can we do to ensure that the lives of our children and grandchildren will be enriched, not diminished, by technology?
I still don’t know the answer. But I do have a little more hope.


  1. Monica Alfonsi says

    Love your columns! I wish I had known you were speaking in Mocksville. Since I live in Salisbury, I could have attended.

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