April 2018

Monday, May 10, 2010

NL #16: Small Town Cool

My father grew up in the small NC town voted most like Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. His father and uncle owned a hardware store together in the downtown, and he went to school with most of the white kids in town and from the country. African American kids who lived, literally, on the other side of the tracks led separate lives.

Each summer, our family went to the beach with three house-loads of grandmothers, aunts (pronounced “aints”) , and first, second and third cousins once, twice and thrice removed. Uncle Don’s family and Aunt Sumner’s families both had ski boats, so we would take the boats to the sound and spend the day waterskiing while the older folks sat on the shady bank to eat watermelon and cheer us on. In the mornings, Uncle Jake and Jake, Jr. would go fishing in the surf and then, when the sun got strong, would haul their plentiful guts back up to the deck, drink Budweiser from a can, and gawk at bikinied girls through binoculars. Sometimes they would holler out. I knew even then that this was not cool--small town or otherwise.

My father recently suggested that I put a clothespin on the spoke of my "tricycle" so that I would make that thumping noise as I ride. This, he explained, is what he did as a child. This was small town cool. I pointed out that my "tricycle" is a trike--much cooler and adult.
I remember that when Dad got older, he and his friends drove around town in the summer heat with the windows rolled up so that folks would think they had air conditioning. (If you've not been in NC in the summer, it's about 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity.) This, too, was small town cool.

My theory is that some people just understand cool and others don't. My dad, like my siblings, probably would have been cool anywhere.

I grew up in suburban Raleigh and was never suburban cool: I didn’t smoke pot on the school bus (or anywhere else); I preferred the Rocky Horror Picture  Show to Friday the 13th part eight; I preferred James Taylor to Molly Hatchet; I preferred to curl up with a book than a boy.

Now I live in the city and I’m not city cool, either, but fortunately I’ve aged out of the importance of cool.



  1. Oh, please. You were the coolest of the cool.

  2. Mary, Mary, haven't you heard of the circular theory of cool? It states: "The uncoolest are actually the coolest". It's simple and it works if you don't think about it too hard. Paul and I discovered this theory in China 20 years ago when we saw Chinese men in polyester shorts, pulled up knee socks and sandals walking around. We realized that simply because they were so uncool that were very cool. So welcome to the cool club.


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