Where We Are: Badin, NC

An ode to small town America

Not Me Alone Photography, 2016.

Dad started his silver and black Harley, the engine going, letting loose that heat that radiated through my legs more and more with every second. He picked me up and helped me onto the back seat, making sure my helmet was on as tightly as it could go. There was that light smack of the helmet, a joke every time, to make sure it wouldn’t be going anywhere during our ride out to Morrow Mountain and Badin.

I was too small to peer over dad’s shoulder to see what time it was, so I kept asking him what had to be every five minutes. I loved Morrow Mountain, and I had yet to see Badin, but that didn’t keep me from being excited. We stopped at our regular gas station, a Shell on the left side of the highway. Dad stepped off of the Harley and picked me up, making sure my shoes didn’t hit the motorcycle’s pipe in the process. This had happened to me before, and the heat from the pipe melted some of the rubber from the bottom of my shoe onto it- dad wasn’t so happy about it, so he told me that he would help me off every time from then on.

We walked into the Shell station and made our way to the coolers in the back. After I grabbed a Yoo-Hoo and dad grabbed his diet Coke, we picked out some candy and crackers and walked back to the Harley. Before we got back on we downed our drinks, saving the snacks for once we got to Morrow Mountain.

The highway was smooth as we graced through green light after green light. As my small fingers wrapped around the metal handlebars on either side of my seat, I turned around, looking back at from where we’d come. All grey, one stripe of highway, two lanes on either side loosely-filled with beat up sedans and old Ford pickup trucks with fading paint. Dad called back and told me we were a few minutes away from the park entrance, and just like that, we were there. My hair was flying from beneath my helmet as the lush trees passed by faster and faster with every turn of the motorcycle’s handlebars. While the speed limit was marked at twenty-five, dad decided a low forty miles per hour would suffice.

After we got to the top of the mountain and parked in one of their numerous spaces, dad opened the motorcycle’s trunk and pulled out our snacks. I tore open my Skittles before dad could even help me take my helmet off, pouring them in my hand and into my mouth by the palmful. After doing this at least three times, dad told me I should hold onto the rest of them because we were going to hike, something we never did when we came up to the mountain. Once I pocketed my Skittles, we walked to the end of the parking lot and looked out over the city of Badin, an amazing view from the top of the mountain. We walked down a few stairs and took a sharp turn, now on the trail that rounded the top of the mountain. The trail was clearly marked, the greenery recently cut back for the season, and there was no one else immediately in front or behind us for a good amount of time while we hiked. Occasionally, a turn on the trail would result in our being able to see nearly all the way down the mountain. The mulch, dirt, and large fallen trees were a safe haven for those with a fear of heights who might have been coaxed into hiking that day.

At one point in the hike, there were flowers that met me at my shoulders, thick green stalks at least three feet tall with yellow heads. I wanted to pick one, but park policy didn’t allow for the removal of plants or other objects. Little did the park rangers or my dad know that I had grabbed a rock from the trail for my personal collection. Everywhere we went, I always picked up and kept a rock, wrote on it where it was from, and who I was with when I snagged it. This was just another rock in a long line of rocks, each different from the last.

As we rounded the end of the trail, we came upon a manmade bridge, only a few feet long. On the other side of it was a young couple, who had apparently started the trail at the end of it rather than the beginning, and instead of making room for dad and I to finish crossing the bridge, they decided to stand at the end of it, blocking us in until dad finally said something. For the last few minutes of our hike, dad and I talked about how awkward the couple was until we came upon the end of the trail. However, while the end was in sight, there was something standing in our way.

I pulled out my bag of Skittles and threw one. It was caught almost in mid-air by a raccoon. After eating it in a few bites, it stood its ground. Dad convinced me to toss a few more Skittles behind the raccoon, hoping it would go after them and that we could get to the stairs at the end of the trail that led back up to the parking lot. After throwing each and every last Skittle at the raccoon, it finally left the trail, leaving us the opportunity to get back to the motorcycle or for a place to sit at the top of the mountain’s stone wall that encircled the parking lot. After talking a little more, dad and I got back on the motorcycle and instead of taking our normal left turn that would take us back to Charlotte, he made a right, just past the sign for Badin.

As well pulled up on the town, I began to take in everything. Dad had great memories of Badin and had shared them with me. When comparing these treasured memories to the real thing, almost nothing differed. It was as if Badin had been standing still since dad last left it. The ALCOA factory on our right, the rest of the town on our left just past a small well-to-do gas station- it had one pump. Dad drove up the small town’s main road and then broke off this road to another. We rode down every street the town had to offer, each one a mirror image of the last. The houses all had roofs slanted back, white paint, white shutters, and a black screen door. There was a white picket fence that encircled all of the houses. Each house had a flag hung on a small pole just outside. After dad finished driving us through the small neighborhoods, he drove us up to the country club and school, letting me take in the appearances of both. The green-shingled roof of the country club was nothing compared to the beautiful brick school that was in that moment housing many children as they furthered their education while repeating multiplication tables or spelling out different types of animals and objects. Every tree was bright green- it felt like they were more green than those we had encountered on our drive up to Morrow Mountain and Badin.

As we came to the center of town, dad parked by the lake. This lake you could see from the top of Morrow Mountain. It was large, even from the top of a mountain that was thousands of feet away, and over the lake was a beautiful steel bridge, reminiscent of bridges I had seen in Knoxville or Charleston before. Each had beautiful beams and massive bolts all over the surface of it holding each piece of steel together with the next. It was clearly labeled that people should not swim in the lake, however, if they felt so inclined they could swim in the roped off area in the front nearest the wooden dock. When I asked dad why there was a sign saying people shouldn’t swim, he tried to scare me with a story of strange and wild fish, but eventually got to the truth of the matter. He said an old relative of his, and estranged uncle who married into the family, was piloting his plane one day to impress his wife when suddenly the plane went down in the lake. Since then, the plane has never been found, and the body of his distant relative has never been found, either. This was in fact proven true to me after dad took me by the town’s small museum. It was only open two days, and for limited hours on both. When the museum attendant wasn’t looking, I held my hand to the glass, almost as if I could touch the artifacts lying behind it. I wanted to know more about this pilot, this relative who made a fool of himself out of love for a woman. Was it worth it?

Over the years, Badin has been known for many things, but some things in particular stand out from the others. For instance, not many towns are known for having an experienced pilot wreck a plane into their main source of water. Not many towns are started solely with the purpose of creating aluminum, assuring that homes, schools, and stores would be built to ensure that those in the town would live a decently normal life. Not many towns stayed so small, living it up with their lack of a massive population while maintaining a peace and serene calmness that once settled over the town and has yet to leave.

Badin is the home of few, but these few are loyal, never going, always making financial ends meet while they maintain their small French-style homes and keep up the town’s economy and industry. Badin is a beautiful town with old brick buildings, gothic-style churches, rows of old houses, a school, and a people who sincerely cares for it. In the end, Badin will stay small because the ideals of small town America are not shared with most of society. When everyone in the world is so dead-set on moving up, those who live in Badin are more than happy with the lives they lead and will continue to lead there.

Many years later, I still visit Badin, and every time I feel I don’t want to leave, I come to the realization that I have to. I have a home and a family to get back to, but for the life of me, all I want is to stay in Badin, and for Morrow Mountain to be the background of my days. I want war stories that meld with romance which result in a man and his plane in a lake. I want the small talk and neverending conversation about whose child is taking whose to the spring formal, or how Nancy’s sister makes the best pie. Badin is in and of itself, small town American, a representation of how a people used to be and are at their core. Badin should be deemed an example, of how everyone should treat everyone else, and how social media or Wall Street shouldn’t matter. Everyone’s opinion is heard, and every one counts. It is every man for himself, but also all together to help out those in trouble. In my heart of hearts, Badin is and will always be home.

About the Author: My loves are Jesus Christ, rock climbing, photography, classic novels, the Nationals, Scooby-Doo, and the Killers. For more, follow me on Instagram here.