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by Katrina Parker Williams

I work in a city where magnificent older homes with verandas, high ceilings and huge sprawling lawns graced two-way streets lined with large beautiful oak trees; where maple trees blossomed every year with their colorful fall foliage; where old ladies sat on front porches in aprons, shelling butterbeans and black-eyed peas, peeling apples, pears, and peaches, and shucking corn; where young ladies scrubbed on washboards the day’s wash and hung pristine white sheets cleansed in lye soap on metal wire strung from light pole to light pole and pinned with wooden clothespins to air out in the brisk country air; where children believed hanks hung low in the branches of trees late at night and waited to pounce on them at their least expected moment; where women worked hard in the cotton fields, tobacco fields, and on potato farms by day and gave birth to the next generation’s future leaders by night; where hog-killings at the first frost were occasion for indulging in real pig slow-cooked over searing-hot coals for twenty-four hours, the flavor enhanced by oak and hickory hardwood; where the meat was moist and cooked thoroughly until falling off the bone, its succulent juices and smoky flavor creating a magical sensation on taste buds; where Eastern North Carolina-style barbecue and Western North Carolina-style barbecue both were as much a part of the regional heritage as they were cultural icons.

This was a city where Bible-verse spewing Jehovah Witnesses walked the neighborhood, casting their nets for souls; where young men smoked cigarettes rolled in paper; where old men chewed molasses-soaked tobacco leaves and spewed spittle from the corners of their mouths; where at one time the city was the hub of commerce, the seat of prosperity, a tobacco-processing town, which slowly divided itself between the east side and west side of the train tracks, with more people living without than with; where men thought hard, played often, and loved many in a town where slowly their livelihoods uprooted and moved overseas; where men settled arguments and disagreements with fists and foul language, or for the more reputable gentlemen of the day, duels, their choice of weapons, leaving one defending the death of the other.

Life was hard, real, meaningful. Families strived to stay together, creating familiar extended units that redefined nuclear families -- Grandma Esther, Great Aunt Ruth, and Jake, a second cousin once removed, all under one household.

This was a city where American Indians inhabited the region centuries before the migration of Europeans and Africans; where those Indians lived in the region now known as Wilson long before it became the city of beautiful trees; where life was the way it was supposed to be; where black people knew their place and stayed in it; where white people referenced black people as “Gal” or “Hey, you,” and they answered, not out of a genuine sense of respect but out of a contrite existence fueled by buried anger and hatred which often masked a false sense of community; where klansmen marched in hooded sheets with police escorts, warning old blacks and young blacks to stay home or die; where old blacks wanted to just leave it be; where young blacks couldn’t let it be and retaliated, deference and humility taking a backseat to black pride and civil unrest.

This was a city where wealthy whites came from old money, those die-hard Lincoln Towne Car owners, American-made only, their mantra. From the hands of the generations-old plantation owners to their descendents, they passed down the family-owned and operated businesses to the proprietors of new money, college-educated, Starbucks coffee-drinking, Saab-driving newbies, their money burning holes in their pockets.

The wealthy blacks ascended the social ladder slowly and infrequently, believing they had finally arrived because they were the few allowed to join the country club, the private school and the nondenominational church, and their admittance to these once-segregated institutions meant they had somehow collected on the generations-old debt to their black counterparts for the injustices enacted upon their ancestors, believing they were the restitution for years of slavery for other members of their race.

This was a city situated about twenty miles south of Gold Rock, the mid-point between New York and Florida, surrounded by nothing but farmland, beautiful maple trees and towering Long Leaf Pines. This was a city falling somewhere between the coastal plains and the piedmont, where the land was flat with gently rolling hills; where streams flowed through swampy lands; where tar and turpentine funded the economy of the early days; where cotton products eased in and tobacco slowly monopolized; where small towns with unique, colorful names - Tickbite, Lizard Lick, Rockfish, Frog Level and Frying Pan Landing - all welcomed visitors from the city to these neighboring towns. This was a city where hurricanes visited, disrupting the quiet serenity of the sleepy town, uprooting two-hundred-year-old trees and creating newly flooded waterways where there had been none before, where 500-year floods made untimely visits every 100 years.

This was a city the residents called home; where the local economy was supported by cotton pickers, tobacco processors, shirt pressers, pharmaceutical line workers, rubber mold operators and bindery workers; where surgical technicians, dialysis technicians, licensed practical nurses and registered nurses mended the sick and the lame; where volunteer firefighters and basic law enforcement officers risked life and limb each time they answered a call of rescue; where Liberty Bonds supported the war effort; where welfare benefits became the choice of payment for overdue utility bills, cable service and local extended phone service; where the unemployed grew weary and resorted to alternate means of financial support; where local law enforcement often turned a blind eye as long as the traffic never crossed west of the tracks that divided the haves from the have nots.

This was a city that became a haven for the mélange of new transplants invited to the sanctuary of suburban life, their migrant camps outfitted with only the basic necessities for sustenance; where educational opportunities and training were readily sought after by the steadily declining workforce; where outsourcing created a new class of people, the unemployed; where people like me attempted to re-educate the souls of this newly created class, laid-off workers whose jobs left them without a pension or retirement plan after thirty plus years of service, single moms forced to return to college to get training or a degree in order to receive child care benefits, no longer allowed to sit home and make babies, take care of babies, and receive a check, young people graduating high school seeking apprentice jobs that fifty-year-old men had forged the existence of and molded from the moment of inception, divorced housewives forced to provide for their families after their husbands of twenty years got the seven-year itch and no longer wanted the responsibility of being the sole breadwinner, and military retirees returning to school for training in a field that was non-combative.

I grew up in this town. Well, rather in one of the townships of Wilson. Elm City. I know these people. I understand these people. They are me.

Who am I? I am Ms. Pimmelly. A teacher to these people.


Katrina Parker Williams teaches English Composition and Grammar at a community college. She is a Barton College graduate with a B.S. in Communications and a Masters of Education in English from East Carolina University. She is also the author of a fictional novel titled Liquor House Music and publishes writing and publishing articles online. Visit Katrina’s website at Stepartdesigns.com for more writing and publishing tips. Email Katrina at Stepartdesigns@hotmail.com for more information.


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