The Colours are Gold & Black at Winston-Salem

My connection to the southern town of Winston-Salem in North Carolina is my husband. He lived and studied in this sweet sleepy place, laid out by a cigarette baron and his philanthropic wife. It is the town where they till late handed out cigarettes for free in offices, even at the university that the same baron funded in the mid-1800s. Shocking? Hell yeah, but you see how the world has changed for the better, even though we might carp about it from time to time.

In more ways than one, the story of tobacco tycoon R.J. Reynolds and his wife Katharine Reynolds is intertwined with the story of this institution that is sprawled over 300 acres of the couples’ property. Wake Forest University where Adi completed his masters in business administration. Three golden years of his life, he maintains, because it is here that he sprouted wings. He was living away from home for the first time, making friends who would last him a lifetime, meeting people from diverse cultures and professions. Truck drivers, military officers, biologists …you get the drift. It was suddenly so that he discovered the irresistible tug of living life on his own terms, inculcating the lesson of independence which we all need and prize at some point in life.

Eight years after passing out, he found himself back upon the rolling campus of his university, exactly a week ago. I do not need to spell out what he was experiencing because we all have our own bank of emotions to tap into. The kinds that well up our throats palpably upon return to beloved places that have been part and parcel of the formative years of our lives.

On a toasty hot Sunday, we were walking around its massive grounds. Adi taking me with pride to his familiar stomping grounds. The beautiful brick buildings built with flourishes of of colonial architecture; the ash trees in the compound draped in toilet paper, a beloved and curious tradition, the students refer to as ‘Rolling the Quad’, and in which they find self-worth in ‘tossing like a boss’; the photogenic chapel with its green steeple reaching for the skies where personalities such as Dr. Martin King Luther Jr., and former presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, delivered discourses and addresses, to what I imagine to packed audiences, and which years and years later hosted Adi and his batch’s hooding ceremony; the cafeteria where Adi grabbed lunch, when the cook would rustle him up an indulgent plate of aglio e olio, it not being part of the menu. The black and gold colours of the school. It was rather a heady rush for my sweetheart.

Such were our rambles made of last Sunday. Peppered by a surplus of stories and memories.

All because hundreds of years ago, the power couple of their day, the Reynolds induced the college that Wake Forest once was, before it was elevated to university status, to move to Winston-Salem from a bucolic little town called Wake Forest a 100 miles away.

As it drizzles away this soggy Sunday, I think of this son of a tobacco farmer from Virginia who moved to Winston (then Winston and Salem were separate towns), innovated packaged cigarettes because at the time men were used to rolling their own tobacco, married Katharine Smith of Mount Airy, and used her sound business acumen to cement the fortunes of his tobacco company. Directed by her goodwill, R.J. allowed himself to be channelled into acts of goodness about town. And hundreds of years later, there was my husband and his band of friends, touched by the legacy of this man whose grandson went on to become an anti-smoking activist for a smoke-free America.

Isn’t life just the most fascinating and amusing business, made up as it is of emotions, of beginnings and ends, of ends and beginnings, wrapped in boxes of paradox?

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Meeting Adi’s friends from Wake Forest University. A warm and fantastic lot, with wives and tiny tots now. Thanks Heidi and Sachin for making us so comfortable in your beautiful home, and Bharath and Jyothi, for the splendid night of drinking and reminiscing at your place, with a generous amount of buttery popcorn and stirring debates. I don’t know why we did not take more photographs that night except for this dull, dark one.
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When three friends meet after 8 long years at the cool dark bar of one.
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The town of Winston dominated by the tallest building in town at 100 North Main Street
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Winston-Salem
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Winston is the home of BB&T Bank
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The day was enveloped by dramatic clouds. The cloud-catcher in me was mesmerised.
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Wait Chapel

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The Wake Forest Logo — and in the backdrop is Hearn Plaza
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Wandering through the many corridors of the various buildings

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At the former building for business studies where he sat imbibing lessons that were life changing
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Adi’s former home in Wake Forest that he shared with his friend, Sachin.
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Stories abound here. The most prominent being of a woman who washed her car in the shortest of shorts on weekends. I could picture the boys’ faces.
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When the years come rushing back, because let’s face it, there is no joy like letting nostalgia wash over you with abandon, and awe at the changes that time does wreak.

Published by

Arundhati Basu

The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.

27 thoughts on “The Colours are Gold & Black at Winston-Salem

  1. Still living in my home town I don’t get to appreciate nostalgia quite this way, but sometimes I’ll go to my old childhood home and it’s mildly magical. Looks like you had a lovely time 😊

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    1. Cleave to this solace then, love. It is a bittersweet experience like no other to leave a place you love and belong to. Thank you for the words, and yes, seeing a part of Adi’s life (that took place even as we were dating) was so special. Have a good week. xx

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  2. What a wonderful nostalgic visit! It’s always great to relive past fond memories and revisit old friends. The story of the woman washing her car was a bit naughty though ;-p – Neek

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    1. Thank ye Neek. The image is as naughty as it was in reality I believe πŸ˜‰ Have a lovely week ahead. xx

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    1. Merci Tracey! I always wonder what it would feel like since I have never studied in such a campus. Well, it is okay to soak it up vicariously I suppose πŸ™‚

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  3. Nice trip down the memory lane! It is interesting to know about Reynolds, his wife and their grandson, now I do feel that life is full of paradoxes πŸ™‚

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    1. Looking back in time can be such a reward. Oh the kind of stories that unfold! Thank you, Megala. x

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  4. That’s wonderful to know you folks were in North Carolina . Winston -Salem is indeed a wonderful place .I had been on a field trip with my kids there to old salem museums and it was really a wonderful experience!

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    1. So you know then what is coming next. Why but Old Salem πŸ™‚ A field trip would have done it justice. We had a few hours at hand and most of it was spent waiting for food there. xx

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      1. Ah! looking forward to read about it on your blog and viewing the photos as well. I seem to have lost all the photos taken there .I was actually chaperoning a group of school kids and it was fun with hands-on science activities and demonstrations throughout the historic town of Salem . I remember they had some really good baked stuff .

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      2. See, now that is something I missed out on. A scientifically-minded exploration of Old Salem. I have a few photos to rejog your memories of it. The baked goodies had my juices flowing! xx

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  5. I love reading this post, A! Reunion and memories beautifully captured in the pictures. Hmm shortest of shorts, now this is scaring me. My son’s going off to uni in 2 years-time and oh my… Adi must have enjoyed his stay at that campus. It looks peaceful and fun at the same time.

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    1. Hey Amor, that is going to be bittersweet for you as a mother. The babe is ready to fly out it seems. My mother resisted it initially. My brother studied in a boarding school, you see. When it was my turn after college to pursue higher studies, she was loathe to see me go. But I had to. She wonders even now how things would have turned out if I had stayed back home.

      So I kind of get your heart quailing at the thought of your son setting off for uni. He will be fine. On the bright side, you still have two full years to pamper him. πŸ™‚ xx

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      1. Oh some things are just inevitable, like this one, I guess. Your mum’s strong. Mine too. Hopefully I’d be like them when the time comes. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks Amelia, it was beautiful to see a part of my husband’s life that was taking place even as we were dating. xx

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