This is an excerpt from “27 Views of Durham: The Bull City in Prose and Poetry.”
I am the first member of my family to be born and raised in Durham, North Carolina. My parents are Yankees, but most people wouldn’t be able to tell. My mother’s Southern cooking is too good, and a drawl has gradually crept into my father’s voice like pollen in spring. My two older siblings were both born in Texas, where my dad was working in the early Eighties. He was a talented and ambitious young architect. By 1983, he had attracted the interest of a Triangle architecture firm. He bundled his family up with his blueprints and sketchbooks, and moved them to Durham.
Around the same time, Dr. Charles Harris was also starting a new job in Durham. He and his colleague, Dr. Ira Smith, founded Harris and Smith Ob-Gyn, and my parents were two of their first clients. Dr. Harris delivered me at Durham Regional Hospital that December. Twenty-five years later, by coincidence or fate, the same Dr. Harris would deliver my son, Justice, at the same hospital. In addition to sharing a genetic signature, we share the same signature on our birth certificates.
How cool is that? We also share the fact that we are the only homegrown Durham boys in our family – and we’re proud of it.
Watching Justice navigate Durham triggers flashbacks of my childhood. When I took him to the Museum of Life + Science for the first time, I found myself more engrossed in the experience than he was. I hadn’t been there in over a decade, and as he bounced from exhibit to exhibit, I recalled looking at rockets while eating freeze-dried astronaut ice cream. I remembered believing, with all of my heart, that the mechanical dinosaurs nestled between plastic ferns and boulders were real – especially the ancient brontosaurs which peeked out at me from the wooded canopy on Murray Avenue. Everything from the tornado simulator to the sound garden to Loblolly Park with its handpumps and leaky faucets flooded my mind with fond memories of Durham past.
I wondered how Justice was perceiving the museum and if it would have the same lasting impact on him. I wanted to tell him to appreciate it – to soak in the vibe and relish it because there was no place else like Durham in the world. But I didn’t push it. After all, Justice was only three and I was caught between the rock of nostalgia and the hard place of melodrama.
Pierce Freelon is an award-winning musician, writer and artist-activist who has taught music, African-American studies and political science at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. Central University. He is front man of the genre-bending band The Beast. A lifelong Durham resident, he does not plan on moving, ever.
Courtesy of Eno Publishers.