If your kid is a student at Duke, you stay at the WaDu* when you visit. The last time I was there was in ’96 when Amy and Chris were graduating from law school. Mr. Forte and his dad Ed, me and my stepmother Margery and dozens of chirping, booming knots of other graduates’ families and friends sweated in the bleachers of Cameron Indoor Stadium, slippery and shining, as our robed and mortared relatives got diplomas and a good grip of the dean’s hand. Rain gushed outside the open transom windows; thunder was so loud it drowned the sound system; steam rose from our bodies into the thick air. I whispered in Mr. Forte’s ear, “This place is so much smaller than I imagined. How can it hold all those Blue Devil fans?”
Turns out it can’t, of course. Chris, on campus this week by invitation to teach a class and be honored at a dinner, stopped to talk to tenting students living in line at the box office. A much bigger perk than the dinner were the three tickets he was given for tonight’s game against NC State. Amy and Simone flew in last night from San Francisco for our nine-year-old girl’s first visit to Durham and to worship at the center of her dad’s basketball universe. They are staying at the WaDu.
Chris and Amy met in their first year of law school when they were paired as opponents in a moot court competition, but Chris was an undergrad at Duke and had spent four years, a nice Jewish boy from the Upper West Side, falling in love with the food of North Carolina. Trying to describe how much he misses Biscuitville leaves him without words. One of his roommates and best friends, Jimmy, worked as a line cook at Pop’s, where Chris, Amy, Amanda and Lauren ate dozens of buckets of mussels and drank gallons of wine. Pop’s was where all of them and their moms, dads, brothers and sisters, grannies and grandpas sat in the screened patio around picnic tables on grad night. We were just raising our glasses (and I was trying to shush Margery) for the first toast when the thunderstorm won and the power went out all over Durham. Jimmy and the men in the kitchen, cooking with gas, fed the whole mob whatever could be cooked on the big grill. There was ice for a while and plenty of candles. Most of us looked better in the dark anyway.
It’s chillier this week, the first of February, than it was that night in June. 34 degrees tonight at game time, says the weather forecast. Simone was planning to wear her Duke b-ball mesh jersey, a pair of shorts and those favorite red clogs to Cameron Indoor. Amy said, “Are you nuts? It’s North Carolina. It's winter.” Simone replied, “But you guys are always talking about how hot it is in there!” No one knew months ago when Chris was given the tickets that tonight’s game would be decisive for Duke’s season; inside will be completely insane. Chris got a message before he left home that some VIP wanted to meet him when he got to town, and he was immediately suspicious that the guy wanted his tickets.
Simone will be driven and walked to every memorable venue her parents can fit into two days: this was Daddy’s dorm when he first got here, this is where Mommy beat him in the moot court thing, this is the house Daddy lived in with Jimmy and Jimbo, here was Amanda and Lauren’s house, and here is the apartment Mommy lived in when the trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras was foiled because an ice storm froze her car tires to the pavement in the parking lot for a week. Here is where Mommy and Daddy carried on their secret love affair for most of the last year of school because Daddy had a girlfriend in New York and Mommy figured this was great but, you know, probably just a fling. (How Jimmy never figured out what was going on is a mystery on a par with Mona Lisa’s smile.)
A lot of what Amy and Chris both love (besides each other) and remember about Durham and its places circles back to eating. The meal planning for this short trip was intense; certain spots, low-life and high-, were as mandatory as core curriculum requirements. I asked about shrimp and grits at Crook's Corner, and Amy moaned, “We can’t even get to Chapel Hill!” There was a showdown over what time of day they would go to Foster’s Market. “Lunch,” said Amy. “No, it has to be breakfast,” said Chris. “Don't you remember the breakfasts?” Amy rolled her eyes: “Of course I remember, but how many breakfasts can we eat in one day?”
Which clarifies everything, I think. You can lose Magnolia Grill and forget Pop’s and softshell crabs, all the pie and barbecue and tomato jam, the ham, the chive omelets. You can skip the chicken and waffles. Because once you think about Sara Foster and realize you're back in the South, it’s all about the biscuits.
p.s. Her mother relented, and Simone will have on her basketball shirt, shorts and shoes tonight at the game. Just in case Coach K, you know, needs a sub.
* Washington Duke Inn, Durham NC
photo of Meme's Biscuits through the courtesy and with the permission of Virginia Willis: Virginia Willis Culinary Productions - How to Make Biscuits: Baking Secrets and Five Recipes
you can find the original of this essay and the rest of my writing on my website at: adobe soup: the unzipped life of candace mann