‘Above all, it is home’

Published 3:37 pm Wednesday, March 15, 2017

To the Editor:

“Little” Washington: As a child, this nickname was as grating as fingernails on a chalkboard. When I came across outsiders from such foreign places as Pitt or Martin counties, I would dutifully correct them. “It’s not Little Washington. It’s the Original Washington,” I indignantly protested. What infuriated me even more was native Washingtonians referring to their hometown as “little.” I couldn’t understand why anyone would be so blasphemous. Our name is an important piece of our history. It shouldn’t be diminutive; it should be proud. We are the first town in the country to be named after President George Washington. In fact, we did it so early that he was General George Washington when we took the name. “Little Washington” not only hides that history, but it makes us seem unimportant — or so my thinking went.

Since coming to college, my perspective has changed. It is a fact that Washington is a relatively small town. When introducing myself to people from Raleigh or Charlotte — or basically anywhere west of Wilson — describing my hometown by name alone is a lost cause (“I’m from Washington, N.C. … Oh, you’ve never heard of it? It’s 30 minutes east of Greenville”). Stating that we’re “the Original” does nothing to jog any memories.

However, the fact that we’re small no longer seems like a disadvantage. It is something to be embraced. Talking with friends who come from big high schools in Durham, Charlotte or even Greenville, I’ve realized that I’ve had unique experiences I would never trade for one or two more McDonald’s.

I witnessed an entire town rally in support of a high school football team on an historic state-championship run. Not just any team, but a team that bore the name of the city on its jerseys. I felt that same support playing on a Washington soccer team that made it to the state championship. There is something special about stepping out on a field or court and wearing Washington across your chest. You’re not just representing a school; you’re representing a town.

I grew up in a school system that consisted of nearly every Washington kid my age. I experienced a truly diverse high school and am better for it. My friends weren’t divided among various school districts. When I went from Eastern Elementary to John Cotten Tayloe to John Small to P.S. Jones to Washington High, I transitioned with the same people I started with. We were not funneled into ever-shifting school districts with kids from other schools I’d never known. I came to know nearly all of my classmates on a personal level.

I walk around town and know that people know me. For better or for worse, what I do reflects on my family and my community. What that means for me is that I have a strong support system of people I know and trust to fall back on in times of need. It is a wonderful thing to be buoyed by an entire town, something that many don’t know.

So, now, when I hear Little Washington, I don’t cringe. I smile. The name “Little Washington” conjures up memories of everything that is great about Washington. It reminds me of the river; it reminds me of Bill’s Hotdogs; it reminds me of the Seventh Street Rec. But mostly, it reminds me of the people. The name embodies the charm that makes Washington so special.

I have come to embrace “Little Washington,” and I think y’all should, too. “Little Washington” is many things, but above all, it is home.

Holt McKeithan