The Place I'm Thankful For
Notable Southerners share their most treasured spots.
My Adopted Hometown
By Nicholas Sparks, novelist
“I originally moved to North Carolina back in 1992. I was young and recently married; my first son, still a baby. As a pharmaceutical salesman, I got to see a great deal of the state as I traveled from doctor’s office to doctor’s office, but as soon as I saw New Bern, North Carolina, I knew it would be our home. I’d moved around a lot as a kid, and I wanted my own children to grow up with a greater sense of permanence and belonging in a community that felt vibrant but also intimate. In New Bern, I found a family-friendly small town that welcomed outsiders yet felt knit together by neighbors who knew each other. It also seemed like an extension of its natural environment—even though New Bern doesn’t sit directly on the ocean, it is surrounded by the Neuse and Trent Rivers, so it feels very coastal, and the surrounding area is lush and teeming with fish and animal life.”
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My Adopted Hometown, cont’d
"My family has spent countless hours boating, tubing, and fishing on the rivers, as well as hunting in the woods beyond our house. I fell in love with its rich history (it was the site of a Civil War battle and the birthplace of Pepsi- Cola, among other things) and knew that the town’s timeless quality and warm community would be the perfect setting for the story that would later become The Notebook. There are some key New Bern locations in that book: the Masonic Theater, Fort Totten Park (Noah and Allie’s special place), the Alfred Cunningham Bridge leading into town, and many others. The source of professional inspiration and my personal oasis for more than 20 years, New Bern is the place I am proud to call my home.”
Sparks’ latest book, See Me (released on October 13), is also set in his beloved North Carolina.
Our Swampy Lakes
By Rebecca Rebouche, painter
"This year, I plotted a road trip across Louisiana, Mississippia, and Alabama to paint the natural landscapes, flora, and fauna of the region that I live in and love. Lake Martin in Alabama was a real turning point for me. I stayed nearby in a one-room church that has been turned into a creative retreat for writers and artists. The kitchen was the pulpit. I took guided boat trips through the swampy lake, hiked, and set up my easel on the banks of the lake overlooking lush cypress trees, lily pads, and marsh grasses. I created one of my favorite paintings there."
You can purcahse wares featuring designs inspired by Rebouche's painting at Anthropologie.
My Mississippi Waffle House
By Harrison Scott Key, author
“I’m thankful for the Waffle House of Jackson, Mississippi—a place to rest while I wandered through the wilderness between childhood and adulthood. Thank you for that day in 1998 when icy roads kept me from Christmas dinner with the loving family I did not yet under- stand. Thank you for the friends I found in a Waffle House booth that day, overfull with people on their way to places they didn’t want to be. Thank you for the manager who told us to order or leave. Christmas is the season of giving, and so we gave up our booth. Thank you for the booths.”
The author debuted his memoir, The World’s Largest Man, this year.
My Beloved Delta
By Maude Schuyler Clay, photographer
“I am a Delta lifer. My parents and grandparents all grew up in the same house I live in now. I call it the Grey Gardens of the South. When I was a kid, I would photograph our home and places around it, like the Cassidy Bayou. My cousin Bill (photographer William Eggleston) was my guide. He gave me my first real camera, a 35mm SLR, when I was 18. After college, I wanted to get away from this backwards land as fast as possible. But while living in New York City, I longed for the Delta. I had to come home. This is my place, and it’s become my mission to preserve and archive it through the eyes of a native.”
Clay’s third book, Mississippi History, is on shelves now.
Camping at Linville Farms
By Bellamy Young, actress
“Growing up, I’d go camping with my grandpa at Linville Falls in North Carolina. My favorite activity was seeing the Brown Mountain Lights. We’d pile in the car at night, follow a dirt road along the crest of Linville Gorge to Wiseman’s View, and walk the winding path to the overlook, where we’d wait for the ghost lights to appear. I’m not sure anyone has figured out why they occur, but I love the mystery.”
Young plays Mellie Grant on ABC’s Scandal.
Our Family Restaurant in Virginia
By Travis Milton, chef
“My great-grandparents owned a local greasy spoon kind of place in Castlewood, a small town in the heart of Central Appalachia. When I was younger, I would run around the kitchen and bug all the cooks about what they were doing and mimic their actions. During my teenage years, I spent every summer there working alongside my grandfather. We cooked with local produce, long before farm-to-table was a thing. Those days were instrumental in my path as a chef. The restaurant has since been sold off and became a Mexican joint, but I still stop and stand in the parking lot sometimes to feel a little piece of those days.”
Big Bend National Park in Texas
By Jenna Bush Hager, Editor-at-Large
“My parents taught my sister and me to appreciate the outdoors at a young age. The first national park we visited was Big Bend in West Texas, where I learned to ride a horse when I was 5 with a giant sky as my backdrop. Years later, I took my then boyfriend, now husband, for a camping and hiking trip in the Chisos Mountains. As we hiked the Window Trail, the dry, rugged landscape and the enormous sky spoke to both of us about the endless possibilities of life. I love to get back there any chance I get.”
Hager is a correspondent on the TODAY show.
Myrtle Beach's Kitschiest Gift Shop
By Andie MacDowell, actress
“Once upon a time, the Myrtle Beach boardwalk resembled a carnival. There was a wooden roller coaster, dance floors where teens would shag, and mini golf. Even though a lot has changed, one of my old haunts remains. At the Gay Dolphin you can still play an arcade game, find a perfect shell, and even buy a live hermit crab.”
MacDowell stars in the Hallmark Channel’s Cedar Cove.
Making Music in Alabama
By John Paul White and Donnie Fritts, musicians
“My friends and I were kids who didn’t know anything about the music business, working in a recording studio above a Florence drugstore in 1959,” says Fritts. “We were just making the best songs we could. Then the studio got a hit with Arthur Alexander’s ‘You Better Move On’ in 1962, and we realized this could really happen in a little Alabama town.” White adds, “Donnie and everyone who formed the music scene recognized the potential of this area early on. Now, the next generation here isn’t just resting on their laurels. There’s a creative current that runs through this town that we are all still tapping into.”
Fritts’ new album, Oh My Goodness, was produced by White.
The Bridge That Gave Us Hope & Strength
By Amelia Boynton Robinson, activist
“My parents, George and Anna Hicks Platts, taught me and my nine siblings to love, respect, and help one another. That gave me the strength to stand alongside my fellow men and women on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 and to do it again 50 years later with President Obama in March. I am thankful to everyone who stood with me and for what we accomplished that day. I am thankful when I hear a young person tell me how I have made a difference in his or her life by the things I’ve said or done. That is why it is so important to live your life as an upstanding person—maybe someone will see you and emulate your actions.”
Editor’s Note: Robinson, a pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement, passed away in August, at the age of 104.