North Carolina. First and Last in Flight

I was an early fan of the saying, “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.” When I was young, my mother thought that I mostly wasted mine and I wouldn’t want to argue that she was wrong.

On the other hand, there are times when a very broad range of association is a comforting thing to have. Like yesterday, for instance.

A part of what mother called “daydreaming” was my mind’s response to the associationsNC 2 one thing evokes which attached it to another. Of course, associations—plausible but mistaken associations—are the root of a great deal of humor. Advertising for mattresses, for instance, is full of references that could be taken to refer to the mattress or to what one might enjoy doing on the mattress. They count on you to associate the one meaning with the other and nearly everyone does.

That’s what I mean by “association,” but I associate things that aren’t really that close. “I have,” as Tom Lehrer says, “a modest example here.” It has to do with North Carolina. [1]

North Carolinians are called Tar Heels in the same way that Kansans are called Jayhawks. Tar was an early product of the colony of North Carolina and later the state of North Carolina. “Tar Heel” was probably a slur, originally, along the line of “Redneck.” But Tar Heels came to be a treasured term of self-definition when it got associated with the firmness with which North Carolina militia stood their ground.

NC 1I have seen that story set in Revolutionary War times and in Civil War times, but either setting presupposes the line of soldiers with muskets or rifles standing in the way of an attacking army and refusing to retreat. “They stood there,” ran one account I saw, “like they had tar on their heels.” The Tar Heels had the courage to “stand their ground,” a term that makes perfect sense on the battlefield. [2]

North Carolina is also known for the first trials of motor-driven flight by Orville and Wilbur Wright, as pictured above. [3] The first flights took place at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and when the state legislature put the slogan “First in Flight” on the license plates, it is that event they are commemorating.

But now we come back to the “range of association” problem. I was walking_Image.jpg down the street yesterday when I passed a car with a North Carolina plate. It said, like this one, “First in Flight.” At that point, my mind handed me a meaning of Tar Heel I had never had before. Thank you, mind. It pointed out to me that “Tar Heel” means “Last in Flight.” That’s a very good thing if you are talking about the behavior of soldiers in battle. So I started smiling and have hardly stopped. When I was still chuckling about it this morning, I thought I would share it.

North Carolina: First and Last in Flight.

[1] And this has nothing at all to do with their having defeated my beloved Ducks in the Final Four this year.
[2] And none at all on your front porch.
[3] Again, nothing against North Carolina but Orville and Wilber were from my home town (Dayton, Ohio) and I don’t think I’m ready to give them up.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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