Like a train whistle in the night, a road always calls us on, a ribbon into tomorrow. It tempts us with tales we haven’t heard and sights we haven’t seen and food we haven’t tasted. And makes us wonder if we’re like those people further on — or different?
In 1939 when my mother, Rose Post, was 13-years-old, she moved onto Main Street, North Carolina. Specifically, 110 North Main Street in Salisbury. Her parents were opening Zimmerman’s Department Store, and they planned to live above the store. Like many of the Main Streets in North Carolina, it was also Highway 70.
With the exception of college and two years in New York after college, my mother lived the rest of her life in Salisbury. She wrote for the Salisbury Post for almost 50 years. Everywhere I went with her, we would get stopped. I mean everywhere. Walking down the cracker aisle at Food Lion, we’d hear, “Rose!” And someone would have a story to tell her. I grew up understanding, on a very fundamental level, that people trusted my mother. She listened to their stories and deeply understood them. In my town, she was a bit of a celebrity.
In late 1998, as the turn of the century loomed ahead, she decided to travel the width of North Carolina from the coast to the mountains, following our collective main streets. She followed Highway 70 from Atlantis in the outer banks all the way to the border with Tennessee. Highway 70 goes right through the downtowns of the cities it enters. Newspapers were booming. She wrote a two-week series that ran on the front page of the Salisbury Post for 14 days, with jumps to at least one full two-page spread. It was long!
I’m beginning a journey that will be inspired and informed by what my mother wrote. I still have her newspaper articles. I’ve spent hours with them spread out on the table. I will continue to read and digest them as I explore where we’ve come in twenty years. I feel a deep connection to my mother because professionally, storytelling has defined both of our lives. It was her gift. It is my passion. This year marks the tenth year since she passed away.
My hope is to dig into who we’ve become. She wrote about people with so many differences: racial, cultural, economic. Today we still live with those differences, but the divisions within our communities have widened. Did she see this coming? I will listen as I explore our Main Streets, looking for reflections of what she found and whispers of what she would tell me today. There might be a few “then and nows” because I’ve already begun looking for some of the people and the places she traveled. But as I introduce you to the people I’m meeting today, my underlying question is to examine the divisions we live with today. My mother began with the question: Are we like those other people, or are we different? Our political situation as we face this election highlights how divided our communities are. We don’t know each other, and we don’t understand each other. So let’s look up. Take stock. For me, this journey is my time to listen. I hope you’ll join me.
Twenty years ago, we didn’t all have devices in our pockets. So today, as we hold our phones in our hands, what happens when we look up?