Today is overcast and breezy, and I have yet to prioritize today’s missions, let alone muster the energy to commence. While Jon is at UNC’s Memorial Hospital for his quarterly “study group,” I sit in a large (what appears to be a Mitchell Gold) eggplant velvet chair. My trenta iced coffee teases me each time my glance returns to its cramped spot on a tiny side table. While I indulge myself with a few reflective and private hours at a Starbucks, my older and wiser half is getting prodded, poked, and what certainly must seem like drawn and quartered.
I’ve always been fond of my field trips to Chapel Hill. I was born here while my father was in law school. Since then this eclectic and picturesque village has been a home base. Its demeanor is comfortable with its many restaurants, coffee shops, and ordinances eschewing change. Of course, it is unreasonable to think that I could ever afford to live here among the ghosts and childhood elves. Instead, it will likely remain my favorite destination for either a field trip or escape … or, like today, both.
The nostalgic eateries of my childhood and college years are today gone and barely remembered: The quirky, yet speedy Porthole, pizzeria Zoom-Zoom, and the Ranch House, the once special occasion purveyor of all things Angus. The Rathskellar is still operating but no longer trades quality Italian fare for long lines of students and alumni. And the Carolina Coffee Shop, where I met the likes of Randall Jarrell, Harry Golden, and Charles Kuralt, is more restaurant than coffee shop and more yuppyish than beatnik. Nonetheless, I can still visualize Saturday mornings when I’d tag along with Hal and, afterwards, be treated to a new book from the Intimate Bookshop.
In fact, very little here has remained unchanged. In fifty years, the town has tripled in population as has the student body at UNC. Jon is likely right now lost in the labyrinth of buildings that I remember as a one structure hospital. The Arts & Crafts bungalow in which we lived on Ransom Street, however, still looks the same. I am certain the attic no longer has a cache of odd and forgotten finds that can delight a child. Yes, I want to drive over, quickly park, and scurry to the back yard to see if the ancient fishpond is still there.
The Catholic school I attended is still here. The “oh so hip” Sisters of Mercy that taught me kicked the “habit” and married in the late sixties. But I still remember where my friends lived: Damian, Mark, Jean, and the twins Gary and Jerry.
As I sit here, squirming and restless for a smoke, there is one aspect of Chapel Hill that immediately seems unchanged: this time of year there is a pungent mix of scents in the air: honeysuckle, cut grass, and brewed coffee.
Soon, I shall pack up the laptop and head over to campus to fetch my beloved. I’ll pass the storefronts that used to house Danziger’s Olde World, where I’d spend my allowance on marzipan … and the long gone Leo’s where I’d always get some Halvah treats after dinner.
I won’t be melancholy though. I can still taste the first few bites of both. And I still have what remains of my trenta iced coffee.
Such is an indulgent afternoon, a county or two away from the hinterlands of Marklewood.
(I apologize: I no longer remember the source of this image. If any of you know, please pass the information along to me.)