“South Toward Home: Tales from an Unlikely Journey” is a unique and wonderful collection of stories, tales if you will, brought together to make a book by one of Pinehurst’s own (until Raleigh grabbed her).
Alice Joyner Irby became my friend shortly after we moved to Pinehurst. I could not have had a better friend if I tried. She and I liked mostly the same shows, concerts, art and fun. Whether my husband wanted to go to something or not, Alice and I did, and off we went.
When you do those sorts of things together, you learn a lot about one another, but nothing could have prepared me for her book of stories about her growing up in Weldon and the path she took and the paths she blazed.
Since Alice would not be the first in the room to yell, “I am a trail-blazing woman who lifted a generation that came behind me,” I will say it for her.
As I read the wonderful stories about growing up in a tight-knit and loving family, about her darling brother George, with whom she battled, joked and caused all manner of mayhem with as kids, I was enchanted.
Weldon reminded me of some of my younger days in a farming area in what was then rural Maryland, with a number of characters who seemed to have grown in both the sandy soil of North Carolina and Maryland.
As the story of her life unfolds, we see what “the good old days” actually looked like for bright and accomplished women — from all-male seating on an “executive” plane to positions not open to women period.
Alice is a steel hand in a velvet glove. She persisted, insisted and remained always polite and courteous. She is a music lover and accomplished pianist and singer from her youth, devoted as much to art as she is to her faith.
What this collection of essays did for me was to walk me through a period of time that encompassed both innocence and ignorance. She lived a wonderful childhood of innocence and high jinks, but as she grew she often faced a world filled with ignorance when it came to the value of women.
Firsts are never easy and even harder for women in the late 1950s, ’60s and even now. Finding a way for a bright mind and eager spirit to blossom let alone thrive was the secret Alice shares.
Along the way we meet so many folks in her family and at various positions where she works.
Firm in her upbringing, firm in the love that raised her, firm enough to raise a daughter after divorce and still thrive in the workplace, firm in her faith to attend church, sing in the choir and help her beloved Village Chapel thrive, firm in the belief that life always hold interest regardless of age and the physical trials thereof. Alice Joyner Irby is a model to follow. UNCG awarded her the honor of being “A Woman Of Distinction.”
The joy of all these essays is that she writes of a real life, real people and time that is still in many memories now.
Alice was a pioneer for all of us who now enjoy some recognition, ability to go for jobs we desire and have talents for. It is not enough for Alice to succeed; she wants to take others with her, men and women, but I think for women, this book shows one woman’s strategy to live a full, honest and highly productive life springing out of a little town called Weldon.
I want every girl to read this book — every girl who wishes to enjoy life on her own terms, with dignity and purpose. Alice Joyner Irby shows you how to do that both then and now.
I hope that Alice will come down from Raleigh when we are allowed to have a book event. She will charm you, enlighten you and make you glad your feet are made with some tar.
Joyce Reehling lives in Pinehurst. She retired here from New York after a 33-year career in theater, TV and commercials.