Snow: Raleigh, the Athens of the South?

asnow@newsobserver.comMay 10, 2014 

If you were to ask the question: “Mirror, mirror on the mall, which is the fairest city of all?” don’t be surprised if it answered, “Raleigh, North Carolina, City of Oaks.”

Forbes Magazine recently named Raleigh as “best place to raise a family.” The compliment is only the latest in a series of accolades the city has received in recent years.

There have been so many that the city’s website proudly lists them.

To mention only a few of dozens: one of 10 best cities for a happy marriage; fourth snartest; 10th tastiest in South; most hospitable; one of America’s “coolest” cities; and, according to Esquire, fourth on its list of “Cities that Rock.”

Is it any wonder that newcomers are attracted to Raleigh like squirrels to a bird feeder for sunflower seeds? As a result, Raleigh has gone from a “village” of about 65,000 when I came here in the 1950s to a legitimate city of more than 423,179 today.

When I arrived, Raleigh was a lovable town with “charm and vivacity,” actually more charm than vivacity. Now it is a city of more vivacity and less charm.

During the mid-50s at The Raleigh Times, I worked across the hall from a News & Observer features writer named Florence King. Ms. King had a distinctive style that paved the way for a career as a nationally recognized author, essayist and columnist. Her piercing pen could puncture the most inflated egos.

In one of her books, “Southern Ladies and Gentlemen,” she recalled Raleigh as a place “Where people thought of the South as the womb and the rest of the country as ‘up North.’

“I suppose that has changed now, which makes me rather sad,” she continued. “A Southerner without paranoia is like an egg without salt.”

The local folks were “set on Raleigh becoming the Athens of the South,” she wrote. “They never realized the flaw in the logic. Ancient Athens was not … criss-crossed with pickup trucks containing gun racks driven by good ol’ boys who bragged that they had never gone further than the eighth grade.

“Plato and Aristotle did not punch each other in the ribs and say, ‘Let’s go git some beer’.”

I’m not sure what Florence King would think of Raleigh now. Although we still may not qualify as the Athens of the South, our city comes as close as any other burg in Dixie.

That’s not to say that the City of Oaks is totally free of the gun rack and good ol’ boy mentality described by Ms. King over a half-century ago. But what city is?

Homecoming buzzards

My recent mention of the swallows returning to Capistrano prompted Marvin Abrams of New Bern to update me on an unusual celebration: the return of the buzzards every March 15 to a park near the town of Hinckley, Ohio, where he grew up.

The celebration has its origin in the great Hinckley Hunt of 1818. Pestered by predators that killed their cattle and other farm animals, early settlers organized a great hunt. Marvin said legend has it that they killed 300 deer, 21 bears and 17 wolves, as well as countless other animals.

“The settlers took what they could use and left behind the remains. The remains froze and didn’t thaw out until spring. By then, buzzards were on the lookout for an easy meal.”

For years, the locals have celebrated the return of the buzzards and spring with a well- attended pancake and sausage-biscuit breakfast, games and other events.

But somehow, to me, “When the buzzards come back to Hinckley, Ohio,” is not quite as lyrical as “When the bluebirds come back to Raleigh.”


And today is Mother’s Day.

No gift we give will be adequate for the good mother. What the Good Book says about the virtuous woman, applies equally to a good and loving mother: She is “far more precious than rubies.”

No words can properly honor the miracle that is Mother.

Snow: 919-836-5636 or

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