I didn't think it was possible to come back to your hometown and find it stranger than the place you had moved to, but when I arrived in Maryland in late January after having lived and worked in eastern North Carolina for more than five years, that was definitely the case.
As I said in my inaugural column, I am a native of Baltimore. I am a graduate of Gilman School and the University of Maryland at College Park, and I have never stopped being a fan of the Terps, Orioles and Ravens.
I cheered on the Orioles from my home and the newsroom of The Free Press in Kinston, N.C. as the BUCKle Up Birds came within inches of postseason glory in the fall of 2012.
I also cheered on the Ravens from my couch in Kinston, posting exuberant Facebook statuses each time they made a key play that same fall on the bumpy road to a Super Bowl title.
Meanwhile, Kinston, N.C., a city of 21,000 souls in the middle of tobacco and textile country, became my adopted home during the five-and-a-half years I lived in that community.
I knew very little about The Tar Heel State, also known as The Old North State, before I started writing for The Free Press in late May of 2007 – I covered city government, economics, city life, and later on I covered the neighboring Jones County and Lenoir County government.
I knew North Carolina mainly as a large state you had to pass through while traveling to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
I adopted the mannerisms and speech patterns of my new community "right quick," as they say down south.
I learned that a "ticket" is a restaurant check, and that expressions such as "over yonder," "I reckon," and "I tell you what" are not just TV phrases.
It was VERY odd to come back and hear the Bawlmer accent after so many years of the light southern accent, but it is starting to grow on me again, the way people here draw out their "o"s, as in "aeuuuu," or pronounce "on" as "un" or "awn."
It is also nice to hear ladies call you "hon" when they greet you.
I also had to get used to horrible winter weather, highway traffic, commuting and a generally more hectic pace of life.
It is nice, however, to be working in Harford County, where I can drive 10 minutes from Bel Air and be in the country – that development envelope really works!
Let me give you a bit of background on the amazing community of Kinston, N.C.
Kinston is the county seat for Lenoir County; it was founded in 1762 and named Kingston in honor of the King of England.
The "g" was dropped from the name during the American Revolution; Kinston served as North Carolina's capital during part of the war, as the official state papers were moved from the colonial capital of New Bern, about 35 miles to the east, to Kinston.
Richard Caswell, a founding father of Kinston and a militia officer during the Revolution, became the first governor of the new state of North Carolina.
The city and county were also the site of two battles during the Civil War, and Union forces briefly occupied it in late 1862 as they pushed west from their base in New Bern to cut vital railroad links supplying Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's army in Virginia.
A Confederate ironclad gunboat, the CSS Neuse, was built in the Kinston area; she only saw action in the waning days of the war, firing on Union troops as they closed on Kinston in 1865.
The vessel was scuttled, and the remains of the hull rested on the bottom of the Neuse River for nearly 100 years before they were pulled out in the 1960s.
The hull is now the main attraction of a downtown museum dedicated to the Civil War in eastern North Carolina.
Kinston became an industrial center of the region during the late 1800s and early 1900s, as its tobacco warehouses and textile factories boomed.
Eastern North Carolina farmers still grow cotton, and the cotton fields looked like a light dusting of snow had fallen during a recent trip there.
Kinston was the place to be in the region through the 1960s and 70s; it's downtown commercial strip was known as the "Magic Mile."
The city fell on hard times at the end of the 20th century, and I wrote many a story about the glory days of Kinston's industrial base and the efforts of city and county leaders to bring some of that industry back.
The economic picture looked better in 2013 than it did in 2007, as a aircraft components factory and poultry processing facilities had been built to augment the small industrial sector of the community, and the downtown area is enjoying some revitalization as private investors built a microbrewery and later some upscale restaurants.
Kinston has a long way to go, but it's people are some of the nicest, and most resilient, you will ever meet.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun