Franklin Street Of Sighs
This week a topic for Homecoming. I started thinking about it last Sunday morning. It was quiet downtown—a good time for reflection. Alone, I shuffled past storefronts and took a perch on the wall that separates town and gown. My thoughts were interrupted by a father and his three kids. From head to foot they were in Carolina Blue and, from all the pointing and gesticulating, the dad was telling his kids of days gone by.
His delight in telling those stories was obvious and rewarded for his audience of three smiled and laughed. After one story, he grew silent. He looked up and down the street and I watched him sigh. For a few minutes, he was a student again. No worries about job or adult responsibility. The power and magic of Franklin Street at work again. It brings you back whenever you want it—whenever you need it.
Many years ago, then UNC Sports Publicist Jake Wade was quite aware of the potion mixed here when he wrote that Chapel Hill and Franklin Street are places “touched by a strange magic.” He was right. Like a spider’s web, the two grab hold of all who come here and the experience is so profound we’re reluctant to be released. Perhaps, because of what Wade meant when he noted this place “has no rivers, no mountains, no seas but in the spring it is beautiful and in all seasons it is both wonderful and sad, romantic in the spirit of youth.”
That’s it. Chapel Hill and Franklin Street trumpet youth. If you’re honest with yourself, that’s why many of you will come “home” again this weekend. To embrace times when you roamed this place without a care—when your whole life stretched before you brimming with possibility and adventure. I remember.
In September of 1970, I, a sheltered, naïve carrot-topped freshman, left the North Carolina foothills and arrived in Chapel Hill. Nervous and uncertain, I began to explore and the call to do so was most hypnotic on Franklin Street. It was on this street that I, like so many before and after me, first tested wings of independence.
I distinctly remember my first evening. I had dinner at the Zoom-Zoom then walked up and down Franklin staring into storefronts. And I found a place to feed my vice. Hungrily, I thumbed through singles and albums at several record stores until one owner with a fatherly smile said he had to close but invited me back the next day. As I walked back to Teague Dorm, I knew my world had changed. I had fallen under the seductive spell of Franklin Street.
That ribbon of asphalt is much more than a street. It’s a beacon—has been and will always be—that waves hello, says goodbye and, when we can’t stay away any longer, welcomes us back again and again. It is, in essence, Chapel Hill and the University all rolled into one—a monument that marks a life-changing time in all of our lives. Franklin Street has been with us since the town and university’s birth and, so, it not only spans generations but links them. That’s a lot of folks but no matter because Franklin Street is big enough to hold all our memories. That’s why we love it.
If you’re back “home” again this weekend, go ahead. Once more, dive in and take another swim in Franklin Street’s fountain of youth. Share stories with your kids. Make new ones. And, perhaps, not during all the buzz on Saturday, but maybe Sunday morning—when it’s quiet—allow yourself a private moment. Think back to the first time you walked this street. Think where the journey of life has taken you from then to now. Remember. Reflect. And when you do, I’m willing to bet it’ll begin with a sigh and end with a smile. Enjoy the game. Enjoy the memories.