I want to tell you about my friends Doug and Mona.
It’s easy for us here in Durham to get really frustrated with the rest of North Carolina. How did we end up with this right-wing legislature? Why do we need the intervention of the federal courts to protect us from severe voter suppression and policies that discriminate against our LGBTQ friends? How can North Carolina be a swing state? (There’s probably some swinging going on around here, but it’s not the political kind).
We’d look around Durham, and we’d see all these yard-signs and bumper stickers for Bernie Sanders, and we’d think, “No way Trump can win North Carolina!” But, then, we didn’t know a single person who was voting for Amendment One, and we still lost that battle, and we have to face up to the fact that, in the context of the rest of the state, we’re a bunch of weirdos.
We can look at a place like Vance County, which voted 70 percent in favor of Amendment One, and think, “Can’t you people just live and let live?”
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This is why I want to tell you about Doug and Mona Addington. They’re people of faith, the kind that give of themselves in joy, hope and love, not the kind that try to control other people. They’re some of Durham’s biggest boosters, and they live in Henderson, in Vance County. Commuting 45 minutes each way a few times a week, Doug and Mona not only patronize everything Durham has to offer but build real and lasting friendships with the business owners and employees.
A few weeks back they invited Julie and me up to watch the sunset at Kerr Lake, but a thunderstorm sent us racing across Henderson to the shelter of their screen porch. There, they introduced me to a brilliant confection of local peaches and The Brothers Vilgalys Krupnikas spiced honey liqueur, courtesy of the East Durham Pie Company, which at that point I had never even heard of. Last week had Doug sharing with me his devotion to Mama’s Hot Chicken outside Fullsteam. It’s like this constantly: Doug and Mona drive all the way down from Henderson and make me aware of what’s happening in my own backyard.
It doesn’t just happen with food either. I first took notice of Durham native and blues-rock singer Nikki Hill because the Addingtons posted video of her recent Motorco show on Instagram. I don’t want to keep mentioning Durham County Beer & Hymns in these columns, but it’s such a big part of my life now, and it started almost two years ago at Fullsteam in part because Doug was sitting there at the bar one night chatting with the weekend manager Elliott Koppelberger about much fun it would be to have a rowdy sing-along in that space.
Honestly, a few weeks before that I was just about ready to put music on the back-burner and retreat into full-time journalism again because the musical life can be so frustrating. (Yeah, in 2016, journalism is stable compared to music; it’s all relative, right?).
But Doug was there for me, like he has been for so many musicians from near and far, really with not much more than a listening ear. And that was enough, and I’ve kept going, in no small part thanks to the fact that Doug and Mona keep showing up at Fullsteam once or twice a month to sing with us. Doug does so inconspicuously, but Mona will raise a fist, close her eyes, tilt her head back, and her voice will raise some old melody toward the heavens.
The Addingtons give and receive energy in the way they encourage and support people in their gifts, whether it’s out-of-town musicians trying to set-up a house show in town or a new food-truck vendor trying to get some traction. It seems to me that Doug and Mona represent the kind of economic development we need. Durham is their destination. They haven’t felt the need to “own” it, to tear it down, to rebuild it, to go in and change a neighborhood so it better suits them. They’re just some humble people attracted to our many sparks of creativity. They come and sample it and let it be whatever it is.
Jesse James DeConto is an author, journalist and musician in Durham. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org