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‘Loss of innocence’

One thing I’ve learned as a native of North Carolina and in all my years in journalism – Mayberry is a wonderful place, but it’s not real.

Years ago a friend from Florida asked me if North Carolina was really like the old show about life in a sleepy Tar Heel town where everybody knows your name, there is only one drunk, and the sheriff doesn’t have to carry a gun, most of the time.

There was certainly a time when we were closer to that mythical place than now. Why, I remember growing up in Greensboro and going away with my grandparents in the 1960s.

They left giant fans in the window — and nobody broke in. They regularly left the backdoor unlocked. Everybody did. Why, we even had our own neighborhood drunk.

I remember in the morning watching him walking tall pass our house and disappearing up the hill.

That evening, he would stumble down the hill toward home.

Going and coming, he was always pleasant and friendly.

Since leaving home, I’ve spent most of my adult years in rural areas and small towns.

And every time something horrible happened, I ended up having to write the proverbial “loss of innocence story.”

I wrote it with multiple murders; I wrote it with drug busts. I never wanted to write these stories.

My editors would demand them. I guess people like to think that rural means innocence and the assumption is that bad things shouldn’t happen to you in rural America.

The problem is, that innocence was loss so long ago, we probably should stop talking about it and making it sound like a recent occurrence. I was reminded of that when I wrote a story about a family that lost their son in a traffic accident.

His death may not have been attributed to drug abuse, but his family noted that he probably wouldn’t have been out at that hour had he not been an addict. They talked about his addiction and what it had done to him.

Their pain was clear, but they wanted to share. They wanted to make it clear that we shouldn’t dismiss drug addicts as bad people who bring it on themselves; if they just got off their lazy butts, could turn it around.

And, just as importantly, they wanted to remind us that drug abuse isn’t the domain of inner-cities and … well, other people. It is, they said, a disease that can, and does, happen to anyone — no matter how loved you are, no matter how much parents try to shield you from bad.

Yes, it can happen even in a small town.

Jamie ruff is a reporter for The Kenbridge-Victoria Dispatch. He can be reached at jamie.ruff@kvdispatch.com.