I’d bet money that I’m the only one of my friends who regularly reads the newspaper. At school, I eat breakfast (cereal—Cracklin’ Oat Bran on the bottom of the bowl, Golden Grahams in the middle, Cinnamon Toast Crunch on top) at South Dining Hall with the New York Times folded between my tray and my coffee. On the way out, I snag the USA Today puzzle page to work on during the day. These days, I flip through the News & Observer at the kitchen table.
The News & Observer is Raleigh’s primary daily newspaper. My parents spend Sunday mornings yearning for the Chicago Tribune, which we had delivered to NC for years, but I’ve grown quite fond of “The Old Reliable” N&O. After all, John Drescher, the executive editor, is a Cardinal Gibbons alum like me.
The N&O has a lot in common with most newspapers (yeah, they’re all failing! Ba-da-bing), but it has some oh-so-endearing distinguishing features.
Sundays are wedding and engagement announcement days. Whoa. I recall being mystified when reading about some girl who “was presented by the Terpsichorean Club in Raleigh at the 2004 North Carolina Debutante Ball”. What the hell is a Terpsichorean? In high school, my friends’ older sisters and cousins were “Debs”. I thought that the practice of “introducing daughters to society” had fallen by the wayside decades ago, but the debutante ball is still alive and well. The Terpsichorean Club hosts the big state ball; only the daughters of true power players and social elites are invited. I believe there were 3 state debutantes in my graduating class. The Terpsichorean Ball is held in September, so the girls come home from college for parties and the ball.
As you might suspect, a debutante ball involves lots of white gowns, pearls, and roses. Imagine my mother’s horror when, in the spring of my junior year of high school, I received a letter of invitation to the Cary Debutante Ball Society. Now, Cary Deb isn’t as big of a deal as State Deb, but it’s still quite fancy. The Cary ball is held around Christmastime of senior year of high school—some of the Cary girls go on to State the following year. I wasn’t allowed to do debutante. Mom wasn’t quite ready for me to adopt such a Southern tradition…“What will Notre Dame think when they see “Cary Debutante” on your college application!? Notre Dame doesn’t want girls who wear bows in their hair!” My goodness. So needless to say, my wedding announcement will not include the date of my “presentation”.
The “Celebrations” page in the N&O is wonderful. Besides looking for debs, I love to peruse the announcements for college couples. Meredith girls marry State boys (that’s Meredith College, the women’s college next to NC State) and UNC journalism majors (or dentists or pharmacists) marry each other. Sometimes they wed at the family home in Asheboro, sometimes they honeymoon in the Outer Banks. My favorites are the weddings when a relative officiates. It’s no New York Times, but the wedding announcements in the N&O are delightful in their own special way.
I suppose the opposite of the Celebrations spread is the Obituaries page. I’ll stand by my assertion that the obituaries in the N&O are the absolute best thing that the paper offers. When we first moved to NC, we noticed that the obituaries here are much more…colorful than those in other papers we had read (even our beloved Trib). For a while, we had a “Buddy Watch” list. Let me explain— the N&O allows families to list the nickname of the deceased in the obituary headline. For example, John “Buddy” Smith. There are usually a couple of nicknames each day, and most of them weren’t just short versions of given names (Johnny for John, etc.). Some of them were so funny that we started a list (we didn’t write down the people’s actual names). Said list has since disappeared into the flotsam and jetsam of the kitchen junk drawer, but I seem to recall tally marks by nicknames like “Buddy” (of course), “King”, “Lefty”, and “Chip”. Some of the other names that made the list were “Sugar Man”, “Cookie”, “Tex”, “Spud”, and the like. Simply excellent.
In addition to providing readers with the familiar names of the deceased, N&O obituary writers (or family members or whoever) seem to avoid saying that somebody passed away at all costs. The linguistic gymnastics that these people go through to euphemize death are truly incredible. People here don’t pass away or die. They “are welcomed by angels”, “meet the Lord”, “grasp the hand of Jesus”, and “feel the warm light of heaven”.
I think it’s awesome that the N&O obituaries can convey so much character and personality. Reading things like, “Mildred was also an excellent seamstress and knitter. Many homes in Rocky Mount and surrounding towns contain drapes, cornices, and bedspreads that were sewn by her and installed by her husband Jasper….Canning and freezing vegetables were important to Mildred and she always had a full freezer” makes me happy. I’d much rather know a little bit about Mildred’s life than just see the information about where her services will be held. I always read the obituaries, and I’m always surprised by the cool stuff that people can accomplish over a lifetime. This guy was in the first graduating class from Cary High! That lady was a teacher for 43 years! He established Little League baseball in New Bern! The people on the obituaries page might be gone, but many of them left huge impacts on their communities.
Sometimes the N&O squeezes little human-interest articles in alongside the obituaries. Today, there was an article entitled “N.C. hollerer wins with ‘Summertime’. Tony Peacock of Siler City won the 42nd annual National Hollerin’ Contest held in Spivey’s Corner. I couldn’t contain my curiosity, so I looked up the National Hollerin’ Contest (yes, the apostrophe is included) on YouTube. You have to see this to believe it. Seriously. Here’s a little warm-up exercise: Think of the most redneck-y, hick-y, stereotype-y person you can. Got that picture in your imagination? Ok. Now make him/her yell. When I go through this drill, I get a character sort of like the Prospector from Toy Story 2 or Cleetus from The Simpsons, and he makes sort of a “Hoooo-WEEEEE!” noise.
You will not be disappointed. Or maybe you will.