“Carolina in My Mind.”
It was the closing hymn at my niece’s wedding a few days ago. Just before the benediction, an a capella group stood up in the rear of the church and sang:
“In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina.
Can’t you see the sunshine?
Can’t you just feel the moonshine…”
“What is the big deal?” I can hear you asking, and thinking that might be a very nice way to end a North Carolina ceremony.
But the bride grew up in Connecticut and the groom in New Jersey. And the wedding took place in a beautiful old Congregational Church in Massachusetts on Nantucket Island. It was all New England, a long way from North Carolina.
“Ain’t it just like a friend of mine
To hit me from behind?
And I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind.”
James Taylor’s classic song has been popular throughout the country, but it means much more to North Carolinians. It is our unofficial state song and tied to our geography. In his book, “Grounded Globalism: How the U.S. South Embraces the World,” UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Jim Peacock uses “Carolina in My Mind” to illustrate the special role of home and place in Southern culture.
Recently, Peacock inspired an on-line magazine called “SouthWritLarge,” a quarterly that explores the culture of the changing South. Coincidently, a few minutes before the wedding began, I got an email from one of the magazine’s editors, Samia Serageldin, an author who grew up in Egypt and now lives in Chapel Hill. She invited me to write a short piece for an upcoming issue.
Her message was on my mind when I took my seat in the church and took a look at the wedding program and saw Ramy Mohamed Serageldin on the list of groomsmen. I immediately emailed Samia, “Any connection?”
She wrote back, “My son.”
Ramy, though proud of his Egyptian heritage, grew up in Chapel Hill and is also proud of his North Carolina heritage.
So, was “Carolina in My Mind” in his honor?
Not exactly. It was for the bride and groom. More about that later.
The song was not the only North Carolina connection on Nantucket. Walking along the town’s Main Street the day before the wedding, I noticed a sign for the Cromartie Gallery. I remembered James Cromartie, who grew up in Charlotte and graduated from East Carolina. His mother, Doris, was a powerhouse in Democratic politics. I remembered his popular paintings of the North Carolina Capitol and Pinehurst No. 2 golf course. Cromartie earned national attention for his paintings and prints of the Smithsonian, U.S. Capitol, White House, and Supreme Court buildings.
His gallery in Nantucket features scenes of seascapes, boats, beaches, and weathered buildings. His style is unapologetically local and realistic. Nelson Rockefeller was one of his early sponsors. More recently, when the Republican presidential hopefuls gave statements about their interest in the arts, a summary reported that Newt Gingrich “loves hard-edge realist painter James H. Cromartie, calling the artist’s painting of the Capitol building ‘an exceptional and truly beautiful work of art.’”
Forty years ago Cromartie took his brand of Carolina sunshine and moonshine up North, just like James Taylor did. The North was where the action was and where you had to go to make it big.
Back at the church, the bride and groom were gathering around their friends. Although they grew up in the North, they came to North Carolina for higher education (Davidson, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Duke), and they met because they stayed to work in the state’s financial industry.
Forty years after Cromartie had to leave home to find success, talented young people, like the bride and groom, from all over the country are coming to North Carolina to prepare for success.
And even if they leave us, Carolina is always coming back “in My Mind,” even in a big white church in Nantucket.
Note: Artist James Cromartie’s book, “Nantucket Portrait,” with many of his North Carolina, Washington, and Nantucket paintings, is available for viewing online here.