I grew up in Wonderland. I can say this now, after having lived and died a little in some of the ugliest cities. Brevard, NC is an impossible town, and it should have died like it did every night at 9 PM when the traffic lights down town went off duty and reverted to four-way flashers. It should have hemorrhaged to death when so many of us left it, bleeding.
Life after Brevard consisted of marrying your high school sweetie, snagging a second shift job at Du Pont or Olin with the right influence, and hopefully, getting a double wide so say, in ten years and with a lot of overtime, you’d get a real home one day. Or you could get out, go to college, find a decent job never once thinking of the wounds or how inane it was, back then.
Exactly an hour later almost as an addendum, the one TV channel with consistent reception reminded our parents it was 11 o’ clock, and somehow, as if it were possible, not knowing where we were was the last thing they heard, the constant back question: Do you know where your children are?
Yes, we were cuturally deprived. The population inside city limits strained to top 5500. You knew everyone and everyone knew you, and even if you did not comprehend it, there was security in this, and a little resentment at not being able to live so unanonymously. The lone radio station was AM, and on week nights, the melodious voice of John Anderson brought us serenely to “the close of another broadcast day”, promptly at 10 PM and the strains of his voice were the last heard of the day for many of us.
You waited on everything in Brevard, and you waited for Brevard to catch up to the rest of the world, but it could not, and you knew it.
Mustangs, Barracudas, Chevelles, Impalas- all those horses and nowhere to run- the dichotomy of excess speed in a town that prided itself, almost to the point of codification, on operating at the pace of thickening molasses.
Go ahead and laugh at this, but on Friday nights in summer, the parking lot which now comprises Princess Plaza was cordoned off for square dancing. Do-se do, I kid you not. The whole town turned out. You slapped your face with Canoe or English Leather, slick in your favorite jeans, leaning against -something-until you found the courage or waited for the competition to die down so you could sidle up to Anne or Beth or Cindy or Marsha and ask for this next round?
You could not help but worry just a little because what if the Hokey Pokey really IS what its all about? How would you know? Left foot in, do-se-do.
Maybe you’d get lucky. Maybe a friend shared a can of beer with you, fresh from a “run” to Hendersonville. Not enough so you could feel it, but enough to leave a taste in your mouth for more, and enough to taint your breath and enhance your image. Image was all we had at times.
The bowling alley was the hottest place in town, except of course for Hardee’s. Before everything and after everything, there was Hardee’s. The simplicity of it was its appeal: you want to be found, go to Hardee’s. There you’d catch a glimpse of a wild Mustang perhaps, or split an order of fries. Even the cops had names like “Elvis” and “Tinker” and most of the time, they’d be hanging too, only parked conspicuously in the center of the lot with the window down.
Paegentry and dances were relegated to the American Legion, and we cut up, showed off, smoked an joked under the ancient machinery of a WWII anti aircraft gun whose trajectory would have placed a round about three feet over the court house and made impact say, close to Wal Mart, windage and elevation being considered.
To the students at Brevard College we were “townies”; to the tourists we were “hicks”. Always, there was this battle for our own town. Some of us fought it while others hung back considering Brevard not worth an ass kicking. But we shared a common perplexity, and try as we might, could never grasp the concept of driving 100 or maybe 150 miles just to look at LEAVES. White squirrels were common as mud, and any kid who had his driver’s license over 60 days knew every waterfall within 30 miles by rote. . As inevitable as daffodils in spring were the well-intended young women who arrived from UNC-Asheville. I never asked, but there had to be some deep spiritual power that propelled them onto the capstone of the court house retaining wall to save our dying town.
This was done usually at the top of their rather expanded lungs and usually, when mixed with the background of traffic, was for the most part unintelligble. But you learned to read their faces and even if you missed your appointed hour, you knew something serious was going on, and that there would surely be a next time.
“The City On The Hill” has been euphemised since the time of the ancients. In the Bible, it signifys both strength and depravity. Nostradamus saw it over and over and over. Those few of us fortunate enough to have lived there knew its pinnacle conjoined at the corner of Main and Jail House Hill, precisely where the wisewomen from Asheville stood.
They call Rome the Eternal City. I argue with history from time to time. If you lived this Brevard, you know it like you knew your first kiss, you know it now with your eyes closed, it has always been. It resides on tongue- tip like the good news ready to spring forth across the land, it is deeper than skin, a fabric of which a part of you is indelibly woven.
My best years. Wonderland and “The Last Picture Show” with a Buck Owens twist. Red pill or blue, it is waiting for you.