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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: When nostalgia guides us into the past and leads us to be grateful for the present and future

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Sometimes, cloaked in nostalgia, there are people and places I wish I could visit with again. What a rich and lucky community we are!

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For almost two decades Peggy Higgins ran the Helen Alice Higgins Montessori School on Oriole Drive. She began renting space for one year in a church and then moved into a cinderblock and stucco building, which housed a wonderful playground. As her oldest class of students aged from pre-school to kindergarten to elementary classes, Higgins successively added on to the building. When the cornerstone to the last addition was laid at the end of the 1980s, our class put together a time capsule to be buried with it. The capsule wasn’t put under the corner stone but a little out past it, and it was a fascinating exercise for 7 -to-10-year-olds to try to fathom what represented us and our time best. The adults kept telling us it would be opened in 100 years—an idea we could vaguely associate with “Back to the Future” movies.

ODE TO PACO: Paco Strickland was one of many highlights of Wilmington’s music scene. He played his delicately moving brand of Flamenco across town, including at downtown’s once bustling blues haven, Ice House. Both make the list of things Gwenyfar misses most about Wilmington in the old days. Courtesy photo.

ODE TO PACO: Paco Strickland was one of many highlights of Wilmington’s music scene. He played his delicately moving brand of Flamenco across town, including at downtown’s once bustling blues haven, Ice House. Both make the list of things Gwenyfar misses most about Wilmington in the old days. Courtesy photo.

Somewhere in late 2002 or early 2003 I found myself in the darkness, at the (by then) abandoned property, wandering through the woods with two friends from early childhood. We decided to find our time capsule, dig it up and open it. Due to some very bad advice about locating anything underground (and after dark), we were not successful that night. But other things were revealed—or as one of us asked, “When did this change from a joke to catharsis?”

That is a question I find myself exploring repeatedly. Living as an adult in the same place I grew up means dealing with the ghosts of the past. Many people choose to fear them, and dwell upon them, but with Day of the Dead fast approaching us on Nov. 1—the holiday to honor those who have come before us, as well as the influence they still have in our lives—I’ve been reflecting upon the people and places that I miss in our area.

I miss the Ice House. I do—so, so much. Though I was not old enough to drink there, I did visit, hear music, meet people, and see the amazing draw that it was for our community.

I miss Paco Strickland—really badly. I miss his music and adventures.

I miss Deluxe from when it first opened. John Maljon owned it and everyone hung out there at night.

I miss Mickey Ratz.

I miss CD Alley—lit up at night like a beacon to all who would hear its siren call.

I miss playing on Snuffy the Tug Boat.

I miss Jacob’s Run.  I first spent time on “a real stage” there for a Steve Cooper children’s theatre show. And that reminds me: I miss Steve Cooper.

I miss Bessie’s—and “Shelf Life,” the live soap opera that was hosted there. I miss the plays of B.U.M.P. I miss Lori Freshwater, proprietress extraordinaire.

I miss the Soapbox.

I miss We Fest (Wilmington Exchange Festival)—the music festival Kenyata Sullivan started putting together when I was in high school. It lasted for more than a decade and showcased some stellar musicians of all genres.

I miss the black bean burrito dinner from Water Street Restaurant. They served it when they first opened.

I miss Ashton Farm Summer Camp. I really wish they offered a day of it for adults.

I miss the Opera House Set Shop on the corner of 4th and Nun streets.

I miss the women’s bathroom in the old Community Arts Center. It was a work of mismatched (but well-intentioned) necessity and represented six decades of effort. There never has been, nor ever will be, one like it again.

I miss Wrightsville Beach’s baby hospital.

I miss the auditorium at Snipes Elementary. It was a beautiful example of Art Deco architecture. I also miss the old wooden playground equipment—it included parallel bars!

I miss Numero Uno Pizza on Princess Street and The Saucepan in Chandler’s Wharf. Hell, I just miss Chandler’s Wharf being fully occupied and a destination.   

I miss Donn Ansell. I miss Michael Titterton’s voice on WHQR. I miss the old black box theatre in Keanan Hall at UNCW. I miss Sam Garner from Thalian Association.

I miss Shakespeare at the De Rosset House (City Club) lawn.

I miss the Thieves Market on Market Street.

I miss the junkyard that used to lie just on the outside of College Park School. To adults it was dangerous, but to children it was a gift from the gods.

I miss the receding pond that would appear every year behind Montessori School. It was the most amazing outdoor classroom any child could have—and to have spent three years exploring it with Andy Wood as our guide is a gift I did not appreciate at the time. I wish I could go back now and ask him a thousand questions I didn’t know to ask then.

I also miss art class with Mrs. Shannon, which included charcoal drawing outside while using pieces of a burnt tree from the woods for real charcoal pencils. She also took dictation of our stories about what our artwork depicted. That might be one of the greatest gifts she gave to any of us—a gift of story—and of taking us seriously as creative beings. 

I also miss music class with Roger Davis, a talented musician in his own right who didn’t talk down to children.

I miss my first tree house.

I miss the old St. John’s Museum of Art.

I miss the old Tidal Creek Co-op building on Wrightsville Avenue.

I miss slow dancing on the floating docks on the Cape Fear River in the star light.

I miss seeing a film crew on every street corner in town. I miss the sense of excitement and anticipation that would draw crowds to watch on-location filming.

I miss Rare Cargo. I miss Joe and Mimi, and I must admit they did their best to teach me some valuable life lessons.

“There are places I remember, all my life, though some have changed…”  The Beatles             

I miss the beautiful oak trees that used to overhang Market Street.

There was a VW bus up for auction that I passed every morning on the way to school for a couple of months in 1987. That was probably part of my early love of buses.

I miss the sound the old bridge at Wrightsville Beach made when cars drove over it.  Though it terrified me as a small child, I miss when Johnny Mercer’s Pier was built out of wood.

I miss the pine forests that used to line 17th Street and College Road.

I miss the Castle at Empie Park. More so, I am very frustrated that no one seems to be able to provide me with a detailed account of when it disappeared and why.

I miss watching the bats circle the church next door at sunset. It was one of my father’s favorite pasttimes, and they kept the mosquito population down. The church got bells and the bats departed.

I miss Plantation Gardens and Mr. Ross—and feeding the raccoons honey buns at night with him.

I miss the troll store on Market Street, the owner Minna and story time.

If I am honest, there are friends that I miss that are still living, but through my own foolishness, or immaturity, or pride, or hubris, I have lost. Sometimes we only learn lessons too late.

It is not to say that I don’t love, value and honor where we are now in Wilmington. It is just that, sometimes, cloaked in nostalgia, there are people and places I wish I could visit with again.  What a rich and lucky community we are (and I am) to have shared all of this. Thank you, so much! May our next 35 years together be just as memorable.

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