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How a Pandemic Influenced a Long, Last, Loving Look at Fayetteville


By Sara VanderClute

I didn’t know it would be the last time. I didn’t know there’d be no fond farewell. No tears, no hugs, no promises to keep in touch.

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted my plans for a long, thoughtful goodbye to Fayetteville, a place I’d lived most of my life. I wanted to revisit the places and people who had made my time in this community memorable. And there were so many.

I didn’t know when I went to the Fayetteville Publishing Company in early spring to witness former editor Tim White receive the Order of the Long Leaf Pine that it would be the last time I’d be in that building. I’d already gradually adjusted to the melancholy of seeing two busily humming newsrooms become one and then slowly diminish to a sparsely populated fraction of what once was. But when I left the building that day, I didn’t know it would be the last time I’d walk those halls. I’d started my career as a writer in that building decades earlier, working with some of the journalists who are local legends. I might have lingered a bit if I’d known then that I wouldn’t be back again.

The last time I circled around the Market House, I didn’t stop and reflect on the exciting time in 1989 when the North Carolina General Assembly convened in Fayetteville on that very site. The state’s Bicentennial celebration that year focused intensely on Fayetteville, as it was here in 1789 when the state ratified the U.S. Constitution. The year-long Bicentennial celebration was a heady time for Fayetteville. A special production at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre, “Cool Spring,” left me with a life-long souvenir of the celebration, a tune I sing whenever I see an especially beautiful moon.

“Look at the moon, sister…” were lingering lyrics for me.

My time in Fayetteville included not only the Fayetteville Publishing Company, but stints with both the City and the County, the Chamber of Commerce, the Airborne and Special Operations Museum and as an editor of CityView as well. My employment history reflects that Fayetteville is ready and eager to employ military spouses.

I’ve never been in the current Chamber offices, but I well remember the exciting forward momentum the community enjoyed when the Fayetteville Pride campaign was launched back in the 90s. In those days, the Chamber had become the convenor of all relevant players in building up Fayetteville’s image, internally and externally. A consistent look, an enthusiastic and positive attitude about our unique economic assets – even a determined effort to refute the “Fayettenam” epithet we have all endured over the years. I can’t recall the last time I attended a Chamber meeting, but I’m sure I didn’t realize at the time that it was indeed the last time.

The Airborne & Special Operations Museum has become a familiar downtown presence since opening in 2001. I remember how satisfying it was to welcome visitors from all over the world, most of whom were awed by the displays. It is an extraordinary accomplishment that the museum exists in Fayetteville – it was originally planned to be built on Fort Bragg. It took courage and vision to change those plans, a daring effort undertaken by two local leaders over a Labor Day weekend. When I worked at the museum, I enjoyed knowing how it came to be where it is.

Can you imagine how much more difficult it would be for visitors to see that extraordinary museum if it were indeed on Fort Bragg, no longer an open post? I haven’t visited the museum recently, but I’m sure when I was last there, I didn’t know it would be the last visit as a resident of Fayetteville.

So many “last times” that I didn’t recognize as final visits – picking up a book on hold at Headquarters Library, seeing a movie at the Cameo Theater, laughing with my Zumba friends at the Rec Center. All those places closed down quickly with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our decision to leave Fayetteville for Apex came about after our daughter and her husband made the move three years ago and urged us to do likewise. My husband and I were both retired and growing older, with the attendant medical developments one can expect of people in their 70s. Being nearer to family made sense. We had long expected to live out our days in Fayetteville, but the realities of aging changed our minds. Still, it is difficult to leave a place in which you’ve invested so much of yourself.

However, I will always have many happy memories of our time in Fayetteville. There are places and faces I’ll never forget. And I expect I will long hum the tune to “Look at the moon, sister…” on a moonlit night.