If you have some Christmas money lying around, treat yourself to a copy of Gary Freeze’s Catawbans Volume III: Boomers and Bypasses. The Museum of History in Newton has them for sale for $40 each.
Or better yet, buy The Catawbans trilogy for $100 in a protective sleeve and a $14 savings off the individual book price and the complete narrative of our county from the 18th century.
Recently I attended a talk and book signing by author Gary Freeze who told how, as a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, he was laughed out of the room when he revealed his career goal to research and write community history. He wanted to write about the local fire department instead of wars and presidents. More than 40 years later, community history remains the odd sock of American history. In fact, Freeze has combed the nation to find another locale that has documented itself as Catawba County has done. He has yet to find anyplace that comes close.
The Catawbans trilogy was commissioned at the request of now-retired County Manager Tom Lundy. The project took more than 25 years, thanks in part to Lundy’s long tenure at the helm of county government and his commitment to the county’s story.
But don’t assume that the lengthy project made Gary Freeze rich. He jokes that all said, he was paid about a penny an hour to research, draft and revise the manuscripts, though this labor of love has offered the great intangible that any community historian would relish: recording local stories within a broader context; stories that have never been written before.
This last volume covers the years 1948 to 1992, the anniversary of the county’s sesquicentennial. Tackling this time period took guts. Writing about living people and recent events are a challenge. It’s a precarious place navigating that narrow space between news reportage and interpreting them in a broader context, and doing all that without ruffling feathers.
I arrived in Catawba County late in the Baby Boomer game. The year was 1979 and I was already 24. To me there has always been a Valley Hills Mall and a Newton bypass. Hickory Station has always been a restaurant. Catawba Memorial Hospital has always existed on Fairgrove Church Road. I-40 has always bisected the county.
But even though Baby Boomers share a common history of mass media, the places we call home are local. I wonder how it would have been to shop for school clothes at Spainhour’s or Mrs. P.O. Carpenter’s or eat at the Oasis Diner. What if I’d discovered Balls Creek Camp meeting as a child? How might my life be different if I had cruised Highway 64-70 instead of my own Main Street? What if I had attended Lenoir-Rhyne instead of worked there?
Such a parallel life exists only in my imagination, and for curious transplants like me, Boomers & Bypasses is tailor-made for the what-if game.