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North Carolina

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The emails, text messages and calls came from all over the country. In the days leading up to Hurricane Florence’s arrival in North Carolina, friends and family shared good wishes for my family, who had moved to the Tar Heel State during the summer.

Preparing for the storm, we were under the impression that we were leaving the typical path of hurricanes when we moved this far west to Charlotte, which is more than 200 miles from the coast.

As the tone and urgency to prepare for the hurricane from meteorologists and politicians reached a peak, people lined up outside supermarkets, waiting to park their cars and navigate their overflowing carts through crowded aisles for their list of must-haves.

Clearly, water and bread were on every list, as the shelves at the 24-hour supermarket didn’t have a drop of bottled water. The only remaining bread was a cranberry concoction that sat on an otherwise bare shelf, examined closely perhaps by a desperate shopper and discarded at a rakish angle, a lone bread crumb telling the tale of the hurricane hurry.

Gas stations brought the same crowds, as drivers were as anxious as they would be on Long Island to gather fuel before trucks might be delayed and gas lines could grow.

People often referred to 1989, when Hurricane Hugo ripped through Charlotte.

Two days before the hurricane reached the area, the public schools closed despite the clear skies and the relatively calm winds. Several of the schools transformed into shelters for residents of the city and for those fleeing from points further east.

The day before the storm, a local bank teller told me about a nearby store that received a new water shipment. The parking lot for this rare find was as empty as the shelves were full of fresh water.

On the day of the hurricane, the forecast for the area called for squalls and heavy rains through much of the day. We stared outside, judging how far the trees bent over and how hard the sheets of rain were blown into our windows. Did we dare go out, especially when we didn’t know areas of local flooding all that well?

I called the local bagel store, where the man who answered the phone said the store planned to remain open through the afternoon.

We looked at trees that provide shade for us in a typical day and are homes for all manner of songbirds to see if we could figure out which of our arboreal friends were the most dangerous — and vulnerable — in the storm.

Eager to get fresh food and to leave the house before it was impossible, we drove around a few downed branches to the store, where we made the mistake of shopping when we were hungry and in provision mode.

When our teenage children awoke, we triumphantly presented the food. They seemed mildly impressed.

We still had electricity until Sunday afternoon, up until the time when we learned that schools would be closed for another day, as trees were removed from the area and power companies restored energy.

The calls and emails from outside the state continued to come in, as supportive friends continued to check to see how we were doing.

Even as other areas of the state dealt with unprecedented flooding, strong winds and tornadoes, we considered ourselves fortunate only to have lost a few trees and power for a day.

As with the response to Hurricane Sandy, our new neighbors in Charlotte offered advice. We may have moved to a fresh environment, but we were heartened by the support from up close and afar in the face of nature’s fury.

They aren’t unicorns, tooth fairies or fantastic creatures from the C.S. Lewis “Narnia” series. And yet, for a Long Islander who spent considerable time standing knee deep in the waters around West Meadow Beach, listening to the aggressive screech of territorial red-winged blackbirds, the sight of a green ruby-throated hummingbird moving forward and backward in North Carolina brought its own kind of magic.

By the time I got out my cellphone and clicked open the camera app, the bird had disappeared.

While there are hummingbirds that periodically appear on Long Island, the sight of one in Charlotte so soon after our move here seemed like a charming welcome from the nonhuman quarters of Southeastern life.

Behind a Chili’s and Qdoba — yes, they are side by side in a strip mall here — we discovered a spectacular lake with a small walking path over the water near the shore. Looking down, we saw numerous fish hovering below and, to our delight, a collection of turtles, who all clearly have an appetite for the leftovers from the nearby restaurant.

We have also seen, and felt, considerably more bugs and mosquitoes, while we’ve heard cicadas, which, unlike the 17-year kind on Long Island, emerge here every year.

So, what about the two-legged creatures?

After the initial shock from the level of consideration other drivers displayed, it’s become clear that:

(a) The Northeast hasn’t cornered the market on aggressive and anxious drivers.

(b) You can take the New Yorker out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the New Yorker.

Until I get North Carolina license plates, I have been driving the speed limit on smaller, local roads. Other cars have tailgated me so closely that I can practically read their lips as they talk on the phone or sing songs.

I watched a woman in a Mustang convertible, with rap music shouting profanities, weave in and out of traffic as her long hair waved in the breeze behind her. From a distance, the music and expletives were one and the same.

We have also seen an extensive collection of tattoos. A young FedEx driver climbed out of her truck and rang the bell to deliver a package. Her arms were so covered in colors and designs that it was difficult to discern a theme or pattern.

I walked into a supermarket behind a young couple pushing a baby stroller. The father had tattoos along the back of his muscular calves, while body ink adorned the well-defined shoulders and arms of his wife. I wondered if and when their young child might get her first tattoo.

When they find out we’re from the Northeast, people in North Carolina frequently become self-deprecating about their inability to handle cold weather. They laugh that flurries, or even a forecast for snow, shuts down the entire city of Charlotte. They assure us that no matter how much we shoveled elsewhere, we won’t have to lift and dump snow by the side of the road.

They ask how we’re handling the heat, which is often in the mid-90s, and the humidity, which is fairly high as well. While the three H’s — hazy, hot and humid — are my least favorite combination, I have certainly experienced many warm summers on Long Island, where shade or a trip into the ocean or a pool provide small comfort in the face of oppressive warmth.

With birds and insects of all sizes flying around, and drivers weaving in and out of traffic, North Carolina has displayed an abundance of high-energy activity.

Want to know why biscuits in North Carolina are so much better than they are in the rest of the world?

I did, which was why I interrupted a woman who was loading her groceries at a Harris Teeter supermarket and chatting with the cashier.

One word: love.

“Well, it’s love and a lot of butter,” she said. “You can’t be afraid of the butter.”

She suggested that biscuits were invented in North Carolina and that everyone’s grandmother has a recipe for them. They all taste somewhat different, but they’re all so much better than everywhere else.

That was just one of the many stories we’ve overheard ever since we picked up our two high-school-aged kids, threw our unwitting and desperately frustrated cats into their carriers, and relocated to the Tar Heel State.

Putting the cats in the carriers is always challenging, but it was as if they recognized that the trip would
be especially difficult for them. The older one, who is cautious and only likes members of our family, stuck his paws out as we tried to lower him into the case.

It reminded me of all the times our children used to arch their backs as we tried to put them in the car seat. Reasoning with the cats didn’t work, but eventually we won the battle.

We arrived here during a heat wave in the Northeast. As it turns out, our first few days have been a few degrees cooler than what we left behind. Our son observed on the way to the airport that we used to make this drive when we were leaving home, but we were now taking the drive toward a plane that would take us to our new home.

Our interactions with people here have been remarkable. For starters, it really is challenging to find someone who is originally from Charlotte. We have met people from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

The Northeasterners have universally described how much they enjoy living here. Some of their own complaints are the lack of bagels and authentic Chinese food.

People, wherever they are from when they’re here, have been noticeably courteous, even before they read our Yankees shirts, our Brooklyn Cyclones hats and the names of Northeastern schools on our attire. I was pulling out of a store with an enormous rental car. The drivers from two lanes in front of me stopped to let me go.

The North Carolinians are also more than ready to share their stories. Randal, the driver who delivered our cars, gave us advice about where to go for mechanical and auto-body needs. He also shared a few harrowing
anecdotes from his days driving a truck and responding to various emergency calls.

On my trip to the grocery store, where I met the woman who was so proud of her biscuits, I also noticed how people violate the typical New York peripheral vision rule. You know how when you’re in the city and you’re walking down the street, you’re supposed to notice people without staring at them or looking them directly in the eye? The opposite was true among the people I saw in the supermarket. They not only look you in the eye, but they greet you with a “hello” and “how are you doing?”

While I will never be able to test the North Carolina biscuit theory because of my lactose intolerance, I would have to say that, so far, our first impressions of our new state have been remarkably positive.

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There were two extra place settings during our Thanksgiving weekend. They were for a couple we met when my husband and her husband were serving at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, some 50 years ago — a golden anniversary of sorts. The idea that we met half-a-century ago and have maintained our connection is astonishing and lovely because we were quite fond of them then and are happy to still be friends now. When they left the service, about a year before we did, they returned to their home state of North Carolina, and we, of course, returned to New York. Over the years, we have kept up sporadically through Christmas cards stuffed with letters about our lives.

Our family wound up at Sheppard because we made the right decision for the wrong reasons — as so often happens in life.

Just after my husband began his internship at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, he came home one evening somewhat puzzled. “Look,” he showed me paperwork, “if I agree to enter this lottery called the Berry Plan, I will be allowed to finish my residency in the specialty I choose, but then I will have to go into the military for two years. The benefit is that I will not be drafted out of my training before I finish, but I will delay starting my practice two years while I am serving Uncle Sam. What should I do?”

“Do it, do it!” I urged. “They will send us to Germany or Japan and we will get to see the world.” I yearned to travel and we had not had the chance or the means. The year was 1963, and aside from a few military advisers in Vietnam, there was no war involving the United States. There was a draft but we were at peace.

“OK,” my husband said, still seeming dubious. “But only about 5 percent of those who apply are selected.” He went off the next morning with the completed paperwork and the two of us promptly forgot about the whole matter. That is, until the next spring when he came home and announced, still unsure what he had gotten us into, that he had been selected. I was happy at the prospect of travel in our future.

With the benefit of hindsight, you know that by 1965, we were in a hot war and I will tell you that many physicians were drafted out of their specialty training and sent to Vietnam as general medical officers. Some of them never returned.

We, meanwhile, now had one child and a second on the way when we were sent to Texas. It was not Germany or Japan, it wasn’t even California or New Jersey, as we had requested when asked by the Air Force, but it was — just by dumb luck — stateside, which meant we could be together. In fact, we had a house to live in, our first, with a washer and dryer, and each child had his own room. Wichita Falls is not a particularly beautiful place, as far as scenery goes. There were no real trees, little grass, no bodies of water and only an occasional bit of mesquite shrub blowing across the brown dirt. But it was heaven for us, and we were thankful to be there for the duration of the two years. We learned to eat chicken fried steak and barbecued beef on a bun, and before too long our third child was on the way.

It was on the base that we met our friends, who were serving under similar circumstances. He was a pediatrician who worked alongside my husband at the hospital, and with his wife they also eventually had three children, went home and started their professional lives together. But we stayed in touch, as I have explained, and they have rejoined my family with lots of conversation and laughter.

Old friends are treasures because they are irreplaceable. We are older now, quite a bit older, and we might not have recognized each other immediately on the street. But the basic persons that we were are intact.

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