Chez Nous: Cameron Manor

“In my mind, I’m going to Carolina…”    — James Taylor

Located on West Cameron Avenue in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, this house was known as Cameron Manor when I lived there during my senior year at UNC, il y a longtemps. A short walk from campus and Franklin Street and next to the “smart” fraternity house (Chi Psi), the Manor was in an ideal location for me and five other girls, all students at the university. It was also close to the Carolina Inn, Granville Towers and UNC’s co-ed fraternity, St. Anthony Hall (St. A’s), a popular spot for parties.

This photo wasn’t taken in those days, but almost two years ago, when I was in the area with my husband and my 19-year-old son Jack, a student at UGA, who had just had surgery at Duke.

Has the Manor changed? You bet it has.

I know this because when I knocked on the door one morning in July 2010, a Carolina student named Stephanie greeted me and Jack, showed us in and gave us a tour.

It was the first time I’d been inside since the day I graduated. Since then, I had visited UNC many times for one reason or another (go Heels) and had walked or driven past the six-bedroom, two-bath house, wondering if the owner still rented it to girls.  When Stephanie opened the door, Jack and I introduced ourselves and I hurriedly explained my history with the Manor. One of her housemates was also home, and both the girls welcomed us in, telling us that, indeed, they had four roommates and attended UNC.

The living room looked smaller, but much, much nicer. So did the dining room, where I attended a Political Science seminar that met once a week. But the kitchen was incredible. A nook that used to contain a vinyl booth we never used had been converted into a big pantry. The rest of the kitchen had also undergone a transformation and seemed larger than I remembered. We had had a full-size refrigerator, cupboards and a sink, but no dishwasher. These girls had built-in modern applicances like the ones I have at home. For my housemates and me, a primary purpose of the room was to serve as a bar and a place for kegs when we hosted parties in the winter; during good weather, we’d put them just outside the back door. It looked to me like these girls actually cooked.

Then Stephanie showed us into her room, the same one I had lived in, one of the two ground floor bedrooms and located in the back. I was amazed. Her desk was in the same place mine had been, and so was her double bed. Her furniture was much nicer, however — I’d slept on a mattress on the floor. Her room was adorably decorated. When she took us upstairs, I pointed out the bedroom where my housemates and I had watched a famous presidential debate on television (it had been the only TV in the house). Across the hall was the bedroom where one of my roommates from my junior year in France had lived.

Overwhelmed with memories, it was hard to say goodbye a few minutes later and leave Cameron Manor again. As Jack and I walked to campus and stopped at the Old Well for a photo op, I was struck by what hadn’t changed: kids still went to class, wrote papers, studied for finals, went to parties and formed lifelong friendships. Jack loves it in Athens, but my favorite college town is still Chapel Hill. There’s just something about North Carolina…

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