A.C. Snow

Snow: Seeing our state as others see it

As the HB2 brouhaha grinds on, the words of Scottish poet Robert Burns surfaces.

“O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.” (“O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.”)

In a recent column, I wondered what North Carolina’s image is beyond its borders.

I know that for too long Southerners in general suffered the stereotype of uneducated, if not downright stupid, folks who dip snuff, live on grits, go barefoot year-round and marry their first cousins.

As our stream of newcomers have discovered, we don’t keep our women barefoot and pregnant. We don’t ALL eat grits. Most of us wear shoes and never, never say “y’all” when referring to one person.

Here are a few preconceptions of our state from some of our non-natives.

Lewis Beale grew up in Philadelphia but lived in Los Angeles, Detroit, D.C. and New York City before moving to North Carolina.

“My image of N.C. before I moved down? Never thought about it much,” he wrote. “If I did, it was about college basketball and Senator Jesse Helms.”

Beale, who had visited the state earlier on several business trips, added, “Other than that, I knew about the state’s physical beauty, which is considerable.”

“My first impressions back in 1968 of North Carolina were not good,” said reader Jon Larson. “I flew down to what I remember as a one room building that was the RDU air terminal and had to go outside to get my baggage. I drove my rental car to the Velvet Cloak Inn, which was pretty much it in those days. I got out of the air conditioned car and my glasses fogged over in the humidity.

“The next morning at breakfast, when the waitress asked me if I wished grits with my breakfast, I asked, ‘What are grits?’ and she answered, ‘They taste like dirt.’ and I said, ‘I’ll have some.’ (I now love grits).

“The visionary leadership in this state really transformed this area over time. The RTP was a huge success. A visit to the N.C. Museum of Art was an eye opener. Here in the Bible Belt was a museum with an incredible display of Judaica. The state zoo was one of the finest I’d ever visited. The museums in Raleigh are really good and reflect a real interest in the fine arts, science and history. The growth in Raleigh and in Durham of cultural scenes is awesome.”

One of Bill May’s preconceptions of North Carolina was “that the winters here were more Florida-like than they really are, and that they were much less disagreeable than in my native Indiana.

“Also, in the nearly ten years that we have lived here, we have noticed that almost every decision by any government board or official is criticized and usually controversial,” he noted.

Due to a job reassignment in 1995, Marge Edwards relocated from Richmond, Calif., to Wilson.

She wrote that she immediately fell in love with the people and ended up marrying a man from Wilson. But she said she was stunned and heartbroken when some people labeled her as “stuck up” just because she came from California.

“I thought I’d never get over that,” she said. “Then, I thought that maybe a lot of people here watched ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ and assumed that we’re all rich, just like people out there watched ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ and thought everyone (in North Carolina) lived in Mayberry and sounded like Barney.”

Way back in 1585, Ralph Lane, one of Sir Walter Raleigh’s lieutenants, after visiting North Carolina, penned a letter to a friend back in Britain in which he labeled the state as “the goodliest soile under the cope of Heaven.”

I doubt that the unique tempest over which public toilet Tar Heel residents should use will permanently tarnish Mr. Lane’s apt image of our state.

Colorful writing

I have come across a compliment that novelist Katherine Anne Porter once paid the writing of the famous Gertrude Stein: “Some of her stories are as pretty and innocent as lizards running across tombstones on a hot day in Maryland.”

Snow: 919-836-5636; asnow@newsobserver.com