I've lived in many small and large towns in North Carolina over the past 20-something years. Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Southport, Edenton, and Mt. Airy have all been "my" adopted homes for stints while working on various projects. Each one has it's own unique advantages (and some with some serious disadvantages). I would return to again for work if offered the chance in the bigger spots, and certainly to Edenton or Southport for vacations.
Living in Mt. Airy for over six years now has been interesting. So imagine my surprise to read in the Winston-Salem Journal that Mt. Airy received state recognition as being the friendliest Main Street community, edging out Southport's Howe Street and Edenton's Broad Street. I'm not sure I agree with that. For one thing, I still count many people in both Southport and Edenton as true friends. For another, I've just returned from a fantastic week in Oriental, North Carolina. Oriental is truly the friendliest town in the state.
The people we met (and there were many) welcomed us like we were old friends. They were genuine. Since many of them are sailors (as I still consider myself), and many of them came through my home state of Maryland and more specifically, my real hometown, Sherwood Forest near Annapolis, I felt like it was one big reunion there.
Shop owners Bill and Camillia Wheeler of Nautical Wheelers made time to meet us at The Bean for ice cream one evening for a lovely visit. Turns out Bill and my husband went to high school together in Winston-Salem. Small world.
Another day, Miss Faye invited us to come to her house to watch her feed the turtles that congregated in her backyard when she called them ("Here, Turtles!") for their evening supper of dog food and watermelon rinds. In fact, she invited us into her lovely home to see about a DVD a news reporter had made of their interview, but the DVD player wasn't working properly. Never mind we were in our still-dripping bathing suits or sandy feet. We'd been across the street at a public beach. I'd never met Miss Faye before that day. I can assure you I'll never forget her.
Our son was in sailing camp all week at Bow to Stern Sailing School. The camp went on despite the death of the owner's father the day before it was to begin. Volunteers and some young employees took over beautifully, and Will had a fantastic time. Local campers rode their bikes to camp just like I used to do in Sherwood Forest -- and they have a certain maturity about them that I don't see in other kids their age in Mt. Airy ... perhaps because many of the Oriental locals are sailboat children/cruisers to begin with, or perhaps because they know everyone in the town of 850 will be looking out for them, forcing them to be on their best behavior.
The Wheelers commented that they did what so many other people do when first coming to Oriental: they kept a sailboat there for years, then found a realtor and bought a house. It's the friendliness of the people (and the certain attraction of water) that keeps this scene playing over and over again. Perhaps one day, we'll be doing the same.
We kayaked around the creeks and the broad waters of the river nearly daily. Nearly daily rituals also included trips into shops, visiting with owners of a gallery, a lovely woman's dress shop, the Inland Waterway Provision Company, and of course, Nautical Wheelers. A sailor who keeps his 39-foot Mirage at the dock where we stayed (Aft Cabin at the BoonDocks is a fantastic cabin in the woods ... and we enjoyed every minute of our stay there!) stopped by to tell us a storm was coming one afternoon. He may have been concerned that we'd left our gear outside to dry after a paddle up the creek. We invited him in for a beer, and ended up making another friend. Like the Wheelers (who are his next-door neighbors), he was gracious from the first hello, and invited us to tour his boat the next day -- even offering the lock combo if we wanted to go see it before he got to the dock in the morning.
My car's back windshield now sports a sticker of a red dragon in honor of my favorite spot in the state. We're going back again soon ... and when we do, I know we'll meet more new friends. It's just that kind of town.