A Voice to be Reckoned With

Meaning, the inner voice that drives the dulcet tones of Abigail Dowd


In January of last year, Abigail Dowd released her first album. Her second one, Not What I Seem, will be out this summer. She has averaged 16 to 18 shows a month throughout 2017.

When Robert Frost wrote “The Road Not Taken,” he could easily have had this Greensboro songstress in mind. Her circuitous journey has taken her from her birthplace in Carthage, North Carolina, to UNC, where she earned a degree in anthropology; to Southern Pines, where she won a seat on the Town Council at age 26; to Florence, Italy; to Maine; back to Southern Pines, where she ran the prestigious Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities; and finally to Greensboro, where she is rapidly becoming one of the area’s most respected and sought-after singer/songwriters.

“I kept following that voice in my head that said ‘this is not your job’ until I found it,” she muses. “This is my job, this in my place.”

Along the way she met her future husband, Jason Duff, on an airplane. Duff is now her accompanist on bass and cajon, and the two are planning a May wedding in Rome.

“I know, it reads like a fairy tale, but, trust me, it’s not,” she says with a laugh, quickly adding, “except the part with Jason. That part is a fairy tale, but the rest of it has been a quest to figure out where I belonged, to find my place.”

While the petite beauty has been getting quite a bit of media exposure lately, it dwarfs the news she made as a member of the Southern Pines Town Council. She was a one-woman crusade against a mega developer, who was planning a 500-unit complex on what she considered pristine land. Against all odds, she won the zoning battle, forcing the developer to scuttle the project.

“I became a public figure, and everybody in town knew me,” she recalls. “But I realized I didn’t really know myself.”

So she wrote a letter to the mayor, telling him she quit, and abruptly moved to Florence, Italy. She immediately landed a job at an arts school there, but soon realized she was repeating herself and moved back to the states, this time to Maine. While working for a sustainable design firm there, she flew back to North Carolina to visit her family, and it was there that fate intervened in the hunky form of Jason.

So she moved to Greensboro and landed a job at the Weymouth Center. Yet, what many would consider a dream job instead made her realize that while she was helping the writers in residence fulfill their dreams, she was neglecting hers, which was to write songs and play music.

— Ogi Overman


Fine Feathers

The unmistakable yellow-rumped warbler arrives with spring


By Susan Campbell

The days are getting longer, the temperatures are rising and the birds are definitely paying attention! More specifically, their hormones are reacting to increased daylight and the males are beginning to advertise their wares in preparation for the breeding season. Even some of our lingering winter visitors are becoming more noticeable as they sport brighter colors and begin to sing. The yellow-rumped warbler happens to be a shining example.

Yellow-rumpeds are a bird of the pine forests in summertime, but in winter they can be found all along the East Coast and throughout the Southern U.S. From mid-November until late April, they are quite common everywhere in North Carolina. As spring approaches, the birds acquire distinctive bright black and white plumage with splashes of yellow. The rump is indeed brightly colored as are the “shoulders” and the crown. These little birds, that previously may have gone undetected in your neighborhood, will turn into flashy little songsters with a beautiful warble that is now hard to ignore.

Yellow-rumped warblers, who are mainly insectivorous during the summer months, find plenty of small insects here in the central part of the state even in the colder months. Yellow-rumpeds will grab flies and midges in mid-air, beetles and spiders in thick vegetation. But they are also known for their adaptability when it comes to feeding. In addition to a variety of invertebrates that may be active in wet habitat, berries are a staple of the birds’ diet. In fact, their digestive system is such that they can consume wax myrtle and bayberry fruits. This is why you may hear these little birds referred to as “myrtle” warblers. Such adaptable foraging behavior allows these birds to winter considerably farther north than other warbler species in the United States. Furthermore, they will also visit feeding stations where suet or dried fruit or jelly are offered. And if they happen upon a hummingbird or oriole feeder, they’ll even drink sugar water.

If you visit the coast in the winter, you will likely come across huge flocks of these little birds. Their incessant “check” calls and flitting from branch to branch will give them away. As seasoned birdwatchers know, other unexpected species like blue-headed and white-eyed vireos and warblers such as black-and-white or palm may be occasionally mixed in these congregations. Careful sorting of these energetic small songbirds can be rewarding! Although it may take scrutinizing dozens and dozens of yellow-rumpeds before something different comes into view, it can be worth the effort. Regardless, enjoy these colorful little critters — soon they’ll take wing and head to the North.  OH

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos at

The Four Masters

An enduring springtime ritual shared by a quartet of golf-loving friends

By Jim Dodson

Without question,” says Greensboro’s Keith Bowman with a gentle smile. “It’s been quite a journey.”

“Seems like just yesterday,” agrees Charlie Gordon of Charlotte. “Has it really been that long?”

“It was just a minute ago when we first went,” adds Wilmington’s Ted Funderburk on a wistful note.

“Fortunately we have some great memories,” Charlie points out.

“And it’s not over yet,” says Bowman.

Heads bob in agreement.

And with that, the stories begin to fly like an Arnie Palmer golf ball.

These three gents — all comfortably ensconced in their early-to-mid 80s, sit around a glass table leafing through a pair of remarkable scrapbooks meticulously assembled over more than half a century by Keith Bowman.

Like a trio of modern-day Musketeers, they are master swordsmen of a different sort who’ve enjoyed quite an adventure in each other’s company. And just like legendary companions of Alexandre Dumas’s famous novel — Athos, Aramis and Porthos — there is even a devoted fourth member of their select fellowship. Jimmie Eckard is the d’Artagnan of the group, but on this day he is at is at home in Parksley, Virginia, taking care of his ailing wife, though happy to contribute by phone.

Military service shaped all of their lives, but the swordsmen in question are in fact a quartet of golf-loving white dudes bonded till death do them part by a powerfully shared affection for each other and an annual rite of American springtime called the Masters Golf Tournament. For 58 consecutive years, they’ve faithfully attended professional golf’s most celebrated and coveted boutique event, collecting a lifetime of colorful memories and intimate brushes with the biggest stars in the game from Arnie to Tiger.

“Not bad,” quips Keith Bowman, “for fellas who aren’t millionaires — just four friends from college.”

Maybe so, but as the years of their love affair and Bowman’s magical scrapbooks reveal, their memories are, indeed, priceless.

Charlie and Jimmie grew up in Charlotte. Charlie’s dad ran a meat market and worked for the Greyhound Corporation. Jimmie’s daddy lost an arm working for Merita Breads and later ran the company’s factory shop that sold day-old bread.


Ted was something of a high school sports legend out in Matthews long before it got swallowed up by suburban Charlotte

“We heard stories about Ted even before we met him,” says Charlie with a laugh. “A real
athlete. He played everything — baseball, football, basketball. In college he even became a tennis champion.

Keith grew up on Bellevue Street in South Greensboro. His daddy was a fine carpenter. Around age 12, Keith and a buddy got interested in golf and built a 3-hole golf course in a field near his house. They also fashioned crude golf clubs from broom handles and wood scraps from Keith’s father’s woodshop.

“My buddy and I were fully in charge of construction and maintenance. All other kids in the neighborhood soon wanted to play it.” Not long after this, through a neighbor who ran the caddie program at Greensboro Country Club, Keith found a job caddying, riding his bicycle through town to the north side of the city on weekends and holidays. “I think I got 75 cents for 18 holes and once caddied for one of the Cones, either Herman or Ceasar, I forget which,” he remembers with a grin. “In lieu of a tip, Mr. Cone equipped his bag with a sheepskin strap that made carrying it easier — or so he thought. But that’s when I really fell for golf.”

Bowman soon acquired a real set of clubs and began playing at the public Gillespie Park and eventually carried his love of golf off to college — first to Duke University and then on to “State College” — which is how most people referred to N.C. State University back then. He planned to study architecture and structural engineering. 

Charlie and Jimmie, who became good friends their final year in high school, also went off to study engineering at State.

Ditto Ted Funderburk, hoping to also be an engineer of some sort.



The four wound up in the same freshman dorm, Tucker Hall, and attended several of the same classes. They were also in ROTC together and later became roommates on and off campus, developing a friendship that bloomed like dandelions on a spring lawn.

Golf soon sealed the deal.

“I needed to take a phys ed course and found that golf was available, so I took that,” Charlie says, “and got hooked.”

“They had a driving range with wooden clubs at State,” recalls Ted, who also played his way onto the school tennis team. “That’s where I learned to hit a driver and thought, wow, this is great.” Pretty soon, he and his college chums Keith, Charlie and Jimmie were beating the ball around local municipal courses and the Raleigh Country Club, where State students were allowed to play. Back home in Charlotte they played at a course owned by local PGA star Clayton Heafner.

“Ted got good fast,” reports Jimmie from Parksley.

“He was a scratch player eventually,” notes Keith.

“No, no,” rumbles Ted good-naturedly. “The best I ever reached was three or four.”

“Better than any of us,” cracks Charlie.

“Well,” Keith picks up the story, “the point is, we all liked each other a lot and we loved to play golf and that eventually led us to plan to try and attend the Masters.”

It was 1960 before they pulled off the feat.

By then Keith had done his required stint in the Air Force and Jimmie was still in the Army, serving in Vietnam, in fact, in the early days of a distinguished 20-year Army career that would lead him to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In his 50s he retired home to Charlotte and purchased a 19-acre orchard, and began growing apples and peaches.

By 1960 Charlie had graduated as a civil engineer, also done his required military service and was working as North Carolina’s lead Construction Officer. In time, he would rise to the post of Director of the state’s construction projects, and later become a key administrator for the Small Business Association.

Following his stint in the Army, Ted was working in Charlotte as a division engineer in the state highway department, playing a lot of golf around the Queen City. He got a promotion to Raleigh and eventually transferred to Wilmington, which suited his career and golf game just fine. In more ways than one, Eastern North Carolina became his turf.


Keith, in 1960, was working as a design engineer for Western Electric on a secret Nike missile project in Burlington. On weekends he and his buddies from work would “scurry down to Pinehurst to play No. 2. You could play all day and the price even included a shower in the locker room.” More than once, Ted drove over from Charlotte to join him.

“We were both really crazy for golf,” Keith underscores, having once captured a third-flight Carolina Golf Association tournament at Pinehurst. His handicap in those days, he reckons, was about a 16 or 18.

The college chums still shared a dream of attending the Masters Tournament someday in each other’s company.

Their timing couldn’t have been more historic. The year 1960 was a seminal moment in the growth of American golf, largely owing to the telegenic charm and go-for-broke style of a charismatic player from working class Latrobe, Pennsylvania, named Arnold Daniel Palmer.

“I loved Arnold Palmer and decided I had to see him in action at the Masters. I invited Ted to join me.” Keith remembers. “That’s when it all started for us.”

“Keith picked me up in Charlotte and we drove down on a Friday night. It was rainy and we didn’t know where we would stay. But we were young and it was a great adventure.”

At that moment the Masters was a reasonably priced affair, attended by maybe 15,000 fans on any given Masters Sunday. A daily ticket — which was still available — went for $3.50, the equivalent of $30 adjusted for inflation. Today, 60 years later, a full tournament pass that includes practice rounds and the famed par-three tournament on Wednesday goes for just under $400, if you can lay hands on one. Famously, Masters tickets are believed to be the toughest tickets in all of sports to acquire.

Keith and Ted paid $15 for the entire week but only needed them for Saturday and Sunday, a bargain considering that tickets for Saturday and Sunday, the days they mostly went, were $7.50 per day. Through the local chamber of commerce, they managed to rent a room at an Augusta boarding house and went out to the local Holiday Inn Lounge where they discovered the Hebert brothers, Jay and Lionel, the trumpet-playing Cajuns who managed to both win the PGA Championship during the day, while performing in the motel lounge at night.


“That was pretty exciting,” recalls Keith, “but we were dead tired from the drive. The next morning we woke up and realized what an awful place we’d spent the night in. It looked like it rented by the hour.”

So before heading off to the course, they arranged new digs just two blocks off Washington Road and the entrance to Augusta National. It was the home of Kitty and Quentin Moore. With only a handful of hotels and motels in the city, Augusta residents often rented out their houses and rooms to Masters patrons, as they were called. These days, local residences during Masters week routinely rent for five and six figures, many of them rented by corporations for entertaining clients.

In 1960, however, the thoughtful Moores actually moved out to a trailer in their backyard and allowed Ted and Keith to have the run of the place.

“The Moores were wonderful people and we hit it off immediately,” says Ted. So much so, the twosome — soon to be expanded to a golf foursome — wound up staying with the Moores for the next 37 years.

“That was the beginning of a great friendship. When they moved to a new neighborhood, we moved with them,” says Keith. “We watched them have kids and watched the Moore kids grow up. We grew old with the Moores year after year and even attended both of their funerals a few years back.”

History records how Arnold Palmer won his second Masters in 1960 — and went on to have the kind of year, dreams are made of capturing the US Open in extraordinary fashion later that summer in Denver and almost taking home the Claret Jug from the British Open Championship. His unprecedented popularity would begin to rewrite American golf, producing historic growth of the game.

What it doesn’t record is the joy Keith Bowman felt upon seeing his golf hero in the flesh and at his peak.

“He just captivated the galleries. There was so much excitement in the air. In those days, they let patrons bring in a cameras for taking photographs after the day’s play,” he says, noting how he always wiggled his way to the front of the crowd for the presentation of the champion’s green jacket, and used his trusty Nikon camera to snap some beauties of Arnold and Winnie sharing a triumphant moment.

Maybe even more impressively, Bowman managed to shoot every Masters green jacket ceremony up to Tiger Woods, and hundreds, if not thousands, of casual shots before and after their tournament rounds. Most of the champions Keith photographed were happy to autograph their photos for his scrapbook, including a reluctant superstar named Ben Hogan. Over the years, Keith also sent his photos to a gallery of the game’s biggest stars, most of whom wrote back thanking him with personal letters.

“I took my first photo of Mr. Hogan warming up on the practice range in on April 7, 1962. Two years later, I approached him before the third round — where he shot the low round of 67 — and asked if he would mind autographing my photo of him. He said to me, ‘I’ve got work to do but come find me after the round, I’ll be happy to sign it.’ Keith did just that and Hogan not only autographed the photo but introduced him to his wife, Valerie. “We had a very nice conversation. What a classy man. It was such a thrill.”

Keith’s weren’t the only set of eyes on the Wee Ice Man, as the admiring Scots nicknamed the reclusive Fort Worth star on his way to winning the Claret Jug at Carnoustie in 1953.

“I loved watching Hogan warm up — learned a lot by just watching him,” says Ted Funderburk. “I read his books Power Golf and Five Lessons and really improved my golf as a result of seeing Ben Hogan.”

In the 1962, a large black-and-white snapshot of the massive crowds sitting on the hill by the 16th hole appeared in Life magazine. There among the faithful hordes in their Easter finery sit none other than young Ted Funderburk and Keith Bowman looking on as Arnold Palmer headed for his third Masters title, tying him with Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret.

By 1972, Charlie Gordon and Jimmie Eckard had joined the annual spring road trip, completing the foursome for all four days. On one of Charlie’s first trips to Augusta, as an Army Reservist, he had to brief a general before racing to the airport to catch a flight to Augusta, changing out of his uniform as wife Barbara raced him to the airport. “I just made the flight and got off the plane to find a group of absolute strangers welcoming me. Keith and Ted had whipped up a little crowd just to greet me — and Kitty Moore even baked a cake for the occasion. That was the kind of fun we had.”

The first three years Jimmie attended the tournament in his uniform. “You could get a ticket half price. There was such respect for soldiers there. Everyone was treated that way at the tournament. Once you’re inside the gates, everyone is the same.”

The group typically started their tournament treks at the first green then fanned out across the course, often peeling off to follow their own favorites.

Keith stayed true to Arnie, as did Jimmie, who learned to follow Winnie Palmer, who knew the best places to stand near her man. (One story the group loves to hear again and again, told by Jimmie, is how Winnie, to stave off hunger, had stashed a piece of fried chicken in her purse. At the very moment she was discreetly removing it, she was approached by a fan. The ever-gracious Winnie politely offered her lunch to the woman, who gladly accepted it, leaving Winnie hungry.) A crack gardener who kept a large farm in Climax where he propagated azaleas, Keith snipped off pieces of a golden flowering Augusta azalea from the woods around second and eighth fairways. He took them home, soaked in water, and for years tried to get them to take root — until he was finally successful.

Jimmie Eckard also had a thing for Chi Chi Rodriguez and Lee Trevino. Charlie liked following Trevino and Gary Player.

“Trevino was such a people’s favorite,” Charlie says, launching into a memory of how he was once standing by an errant Trevino shot when the Merry Mex strode up and glared at his poor lie, removed a club and he glanced at Charlie. “Here, you better hit this shot for me.” The gallery roared. “Trevino played fast. I remember how he hit his shot and remarked to his slower playing partners, ‘C’mon, folks. Hit your shots. I’ve got to get across the river and feed the cows.’”

Ted fancied the buttermilk swing of Julius Boros and had a sweet and unexpected encounter with the two-time US Open champ one evening after play’s end. “It was near dusk. We always liked to stick around so Keith could take pictures, and Boros was relaxing at the back of the clubhouse with a drink. We started chatting — I knew he had connections to Mid Pines and Pine Needles, one of my regular golf places — and he wondered if I wanted a drink, too. He gave me his clubhouse pass and I went in and got my own toddy. We had nice long conversation.”

Ted was the group’s only drinker.

“We weren’t much into the party aspect of the Masters,” notes Keith. “Pretty calm bunch just into the golf.”

“In other words,” jokes Charlie, “dull as could be.”

How about Jimmie?

“Dullest of all,” says Ted (who gave up drinking years ago). “But don’t tell him we said that.”

One year, however, the group came across an elaborate wedding party staged in the parking lot after the tournament. Because of their long-standing friendships with the tournament’s ground staff and parking attendants, the Four Masters always managed a primo parking spot near the entrance gate.

“The wedding couple was from Texas. They had a Cadillac rigged with a set of longhorns, lots of food, flowers, champagne, even a chandelier,” Keith recounts. “They invited us to join them. We had a great time.” 

In 1976, eager to have his own tickets, Jimmy Eckard placed his name on the famous Master ticket waiting list and had to wait until 1992 to get a couple of coveted passes so he could take his wife to her first Masters. While watching The Price Is Right TV show one evening, he was bothered when one of the big prizes was four weeklong passes to the Masters. “I couldn’t believe it so I wrote to Augusta to tell them how disappointed I was that fans had to wait for years to get their tickets — but here they were handing out tickets on a game show to people who might not care about anything about golf.”

He received a nice thank-you letter from the tournament office. The ticket giveaways ceased.

Over the decades, the four became so friendly with security and tournament workers, they also wound up photographed in Keith’s memory books — a friendship that came in handy more than once.

One year during the green jacket ceremony, a Sports Illustrated photographer complained to Keith for not having an official media credential and promptly reported him to security. “I’ll have to ask you to come with me,” the Pinkerton guard told him. “I’m just doing my job.” The guard then escorted him to “an even better spot to take my pictures.”

Over the past six decades, there is little the Four Masters from North Carolina haven’t seen or experienced at the world’s premier golf tournament, including weather — biting cold and rain, blistering heat waves, perfect spring evenings (often in the same weekend), not to mention aching feet, free discarded chairs, chance encounters with celebrities and more memories than one can possibly document in a pair of large scrapbooks.

“We go because we love golf and, frankly, never see each other the way we once did,” muses Ted Funderburk, who still plays a mean game around the Cape Fear.

“We go because we’ve been friends since college and this is our shared ritual,” adds Keith Bowman. “Also, it’s the Masters, the greatest golf tournament on Earth. It’s always the same but always different, some new every year. Things stay with you.”

Charlie still thinks about Arnie Palmer’s final round at Augusta, for example. This was in 2004, Arnie’s 50th trip to his favorite tournament. “It was late Friday afternoon. He’d missed the cut for the final time. I happened to be standing in front of the clubhouse when he came out and climbed into his Cadillac. The crowd saw him and began cheering. He rolled the window down and smiled. You could see the emotion on his face, how he loved that place and his fans. We watched him drive away, down Magnolia Lane for the last time as a player. I’ll never forget that.”

This year, 2018, their 59th odyssey to Augusta will be slightly different. Jimmie’s legs can no longer manage Augusta National’s fabled hills. But a Greensboro special education teacher named Rick Haase is making his second visit with the group. “It’s such an honor to be going with them,” Haase says. “They’ve seen so much history.”

“Rick’s much younger,” quips Keith Bowman. “Only 67.”

He notes that the fellas are hoping to make it an even 60 years before their annual spring pilgrimage to Augusta ceases.

“We walk a little slower,” adds Ted Funderburk. “But the magic is still there. It’s all about history and friendship and the return of golf in the spring.”  OH

Jim Dodson is the editor of O.Henry, PineStraw and Salt, and the author of too many golf books to count.

Gate City Journal

Freedom’s Spring

When Jackie Robinson Came to Greensboro


By Doug Orr

It was on an early spring day, almost 70 years ago, at a baseball game at the old War Memorial Stadium in my hometown of Greensboro that I witnessed early stirrings of the racial liberation of the South. Although Jackie Robinson had broken baseball’s color barrier in 1947, the following year’s spring exhibition schedule began his first visit to the baseball parks of the region, launching a series of springtime train journeys from the Dodgers’ spring training facility in Vero Beach, Florida, on to New York.

Until then, the South’s African Americans had been deprived of seeing their sports heroes firsthand. The television age was in its infancy. The great heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis never entered the ring south of Washington, D.C., except for a little noticed bout in his career’s twilight days. Robinson had exploded on the American baseball scene and into the national consciousness during that 1947 season, called up from Montreal, and leading the Brooklyn Dodgers to the National League pennant — changing forever the face of baseball and American society. In the process he had become an instant celebrity, as well as a lightning rod for the old passions of racial separation. Nowhere were those feelings more deeply rooted than in the South, and as the Dodgers made their annual springtime railroad odyssey from one Southern city to another, attendance at the parks was overflowing, with the black fans in segregated sections usually making up half the crowd.

It was on April 11, 1950, at War Memorial, home of the Carolina League Patriots, where I had the opportunity, as a youngster, to see this phenomenon unfolding. My father would frequently take me to ball games there and, when the Dodgers rode into town, we were in our usual seats along the third-base line. The crowd of 8,434 was announced as the largest in North Carolina baseball history, and a subsequent newspaper account estimated “another 500 clinging perilously to tree branches and rooftops around the outside of the stadium.” I especially remember the fans seated down the first-base and right-field line — Jackie Robinson’s people — filling to capacity the “Colored Section” of the stadium and dressed as if they had come to church. In a way, they had.

Robinson was playing second base and batting fifth. The excitement in the air was electric as the National League champions had come to our town. But the sense of expectation centered on Jackie Robinson. Even before he came to the on-deck circle for his first at-bat, a steady murmur arose from those segregated seats beyond the Dodger dugout and down the right-field line. Then No. 42 emerged into view, with that characteristic pigeon-toed walk, gracefully taking practice swings. The gathering sound down the right-field stands took on an other-worldly quality, not really as a cheer, but rather a deep-seated stirring, as if a collective human soul was speaking with one voice. It began to spill onto the field in a rising crescendo. Their moment, one that generations before them had longed for, was occurring before their eyes.

Though I don’t recall the outcome of that first at-bat, Robinson went three-for-seven that day, “fielding flawlessly” according to game accounts, and leading the Dodgers to a lopsided 22–0 win over the Patriots as Dodger ace Carl Erskine pitched a one-hitter. But the crowd reaction — that haunting, resonating sound — stayed with me, although as a child in the segregated South, I could not fully comprehend its implications at the time.

In subsequent years, I always pulled hard for Brooklyn’s “Boys of Summer” while most of my school friends rooted for those bitter rivals, the Yankees. A long-awaited world championship came in 1955 against New York in seven games. Yet I never forgot that April day of my youth and the undefinable crowd response when Jackie Robinson first made his way to the plate.

By the 1960s I was grown, graduated from Davidson College, and the nation was awakening to an unfolding civil-rights drama, including, coincidentally enough, the historic sit-ins at Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, now site of the International Civil Rights Museum. There subsequently was the drumbeat of marches, demonstrations, the eloquent cadences of Martin Luther King Jr. and the songs of freedom and social justice. And at that moment, I fully understood what I had heard years earlier during that day at the ballpark in Greensboro. The words to an iconic 1960s spiritual helped bring understanding: “It’s the sound of freedom calling, ringing up to the sky. It’s the sound of the old ways falling, you can hear it if you try.”

As an impressionable youngster, witnessing baseball’s annual panorama in a minor league park that warm spring day with my dad, the deep-throated wail we heard was no less than freedom’s song, whose refrain extended as far back as the slave ships from West Africa. And its torchbearer, passing through the ball parks of our Southern towns, was No. 42, playing second base for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  OH

Doug Orr grew up in Greensboro, attended Greensboro Grimsley High School and served as president of Warren Wilson College from 1991–2006. He is co- author of The North Carolina Atlas: Portrait for a New Century; and, Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia — both publications of the UNC Press.

Full House

The artful life of Bill Crowder and Joe Hoesl

By Nancy Oakley     Photographs by Amy Freeman



On a bright sunny morning, Bill Crowder, wearing a black apron over his sweater vest and khakis, sits at his dining room table intently dabbing at a palette of paints. Today he is mixing a range of dark blues and purples. “See? I write down the colors I want to use,” he says, picking up his latest work in progress, an abstract watercolor rendered on plasticized paper called Yupo that will hang in an exhibit at The Gallery at The View on Elm downtown. “That way, I don’t have to guess or recreate the color combinations,” Crowder explains. He has chosen the combinations by referring to a color wheel in a sketchbooks that sits atop one of the stacks of books, canvases and plastic trays filled with paints on the long table. “I can always adjust the color, if I need to,” he says, as he manipulates the paint so that a splash of purple takes on a greenish hue.

From the adjacent room, Crowder’s husband, playwright Joe Hoesl, sits in a chair upholstered in gold fabric — Crowder’s chair — reading. He doesn’t seem to mind that the dining room, where the two frequently entertain — most recently at their annual New Year’s Eve dinner party — has been converted to an artist’s studio. “When you’re constantly surrounded by frames . . .” he trails off, chuckling, before his attention is diverted to the north-facing windows of the dining room where Crowder is working.

“Look at that cardinal!” Hoesl exclaims, as a flash of red hovers by the bird feeder hanging over a bed of daffodils that he’s planted. Just beyond, a fork of Buffalo Creek meanders through woods; all of it, protected wetlands.

“I’m trying to get Joe to go to the other side of the creek bank and plant daffodils,” says Crowder. “He refuses to go through it.” No need.  A few buttery yellow blossoms have appeared on their own among the dense thicket of hardwoods.

For about 10 years, the two men have made a home in this corner of Greensboro, where Old and New Irving Park converge, in a townhouse that Crowder redesigned. An artist by training and interior decorator by trade, Crowder works under the handle Crowder Designs, a business he owns with Hoesl and his brother, Gene, who heads up the company’s drapery hardware division. Crowder had been working with two separate clients, each of whom were living in the small brick complex off Cone Boulevard, when he learned that another unit would be going up. “So I spoke to Joe and I said, ‘Joe, they haven’t broken ground yet. It’s the ideal thing, we have all these woods,’” Crowder recalls. Most attractive was the east-facing façade capturing rays of sunlight into the breakfast nook of the tidy kitchen. “We love having morning sun,” Crowder explains. “And so then I took the plans and radically changed the whole floor plan,” he says.

The result is a compact, yet spacious abode and monument to the art, friendships, travel and celebration of life of its two inhabitants. Though only two floors, one could say that it is a multi-story house, because every nook and cranny in it has, well, a story to tell, starting quite literally from the ground floor.

The floor level as originally designed had to be dropped to accommodate the thick buff-colored travertine flooring. And that, too, has a story. “I hemmed and hawed over that travertine,” Crowder recalls. Then he asked his supplier how much it would cost. “$7,000” came the answer. It seemed reasonable enough, so Crowder took the plunge. And then: “How much to install it?,” he remembers inquiring. Answer: “$20,000!” His mouth falls agape as he recounts the anecdote, which underscores the challenge of a decorator creating his own living space. “[It’s] a lot harder than doing somebody else’s house,” Crowder affirms. You’re so afraid you’ll wish you had done that. Why didn’t I put that fabric on the sofa? Because, I’ll tell people, if they don’t like the fabric, it can be recovered. But I don’t want to have to recover it!” He laughs at himself and says, 10 years on, he doesn’t regret the decision to use the travertine.

Its neutral tones complement those in the kitchen, which Crowder extended by about 5 feet when he redrew the townhouse’s plans. With the exception of the glass backsplash, he insisted on real bead board for the walls, keeping its natural grain, knotholes, nail heads and all, by covering it with a light white wash. Crowder points out the Dutch, amethyst tile used as a tabletop for the end table beneath the sunny window of the breakfast nook, and the pedestal base of the dining table that an Italian cabinetmaker fashioned for him. He is particularly proud of the open-sided island, made from two antique doors that he bought from longtime antiques importer Caroline Faison, one of which forms the length of the island; the other one was cut in half to form its ends. “And then he made a top for it,” Crowder says, referring to Steve Spraggs, who, added a countertop approximating the color of the rest of the piece. He points to the chandelier, noting that he barely cleaned it up, leaving its peeling paint that gives the fixture a distressed look contrasting with crystal prisms that Crowder hung from it later.

He acquired the chandelier from an antiques shop in New York that was going out of business in the 1980s, along with many others on Gotham’s Third Avenue, to make room for a new high-rise being built by an up-and-coming real estate tycoon by the name of Trump. “He bought out the different shop owners, but added an incentive that if they would get out earlier, he’d give them a bonus,” Crowder says, explaining that he had been buying chandeliers from the one particular dealer for years. “He said, ‘Why don’t you buy the whole thing?’ And we said, ‘OK!’” Crowder remembers. He estimates it took about 17 truckloads to haul the shop’s contents from Third Avenue to a warehouse in North Carolina, where Crowder and Hoesl moved in 1982.

For Crowder, it was a homecoming. He had graduated from Greensboro College in 1969 with an art degree and, after teaching for a year, moved to Washington, D.C., where he gravitated toward interior decorating. While working at a showroom, he took the advice of a decorator: “If you’re serious about this, you need to go to New York.” Heeding his mentor’s advice, he landed in the Big Apple, where he met Hoesl. “We were in New York for 10 years,” says Crowder. “But I still had a lot of business up there for about 15 years. In fact, we had an apartment there.”

It was the red clay of North Carolina, however, that would prove more fertile for putting down roots: Hoesl is active on Weatherspoon Art Museum’s board and Crowder serves on the altar guild at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. And of course, the Gate City and surrounding environs have nourished their artistic talents. In 1987, Hoesl penned the first 5 by O.Henry series, five O.Henry short stories adapted to the stage for the Greensboro Historical Museum (now Greensboro History Museum). Thirty years later, the shows are still going strong. “Some 300 stories [to choose from]!” Hoesl says, marveling at O.Henry’s output of about two stories per week. “When [director] Barbara [Britton] calls, I just get the boxes out of the attic,” he says with a laugh, “She asks for five — I give her about eight to ten.” Apart from sorting through the material in the kitchen, Hoesl doesn’t typically work from the townhouse.

It is, by and large, an extended canvas for Crowder, who rediscovered his passion for painting about 25 years ago. Ever working on his craft, he has taken classes from the likes of Alexis Lavine, John Beerman and Charlotte artist Andy Braitman.

In the foyer by the front door hang two of Crowder’s abstracts, in mixed media on canvas. One, Images in Denim is a collage incorporating red paint spatters and swatches of denim, which, appeared in an exhibit last fall at Greensboro Cultural Center, 50 Shades of Blue, (two more from the show are stored in the attic alongside the 5 by O.Henry files). Hanging next to it is another collage in neutrals; on closer inspection, one can just make out the texture of corrugated cardboard, a carton for coffee pods, a paper towel, a cocktail napkin and a swath of terry cloth. “I call it LBI and the Statue of Liberty,” Crowder says, recounting a visit to a friend’s house in Long Beach Island, New Jersey. “They all wanted to go to the Statue of Liberty — in August. I said, ‘Bye!’” he continues. That afternoon, in the solitude of the empty beach house, he completed the work. “That was sand,” he says, pointing to a grainy, buff-colored section of the canvas. “I have a little jar that I brought some home in, if I wanted to use it,” he adds.

Water is a consistent theme throughout the house, from the shell-covered mosaic vase in the kitchen to the brightly covered ceramic stoops (sconce-like vessels for holding holy water) in the hallway. Some are antiques, some are reproductions; one, Crowder acquired in Ravenna, Italy. “I like them because they’re small, and they’re so incredibly different, depending on the artist that’s making them,” Crowder says. “And even though they’re full of symbolism, no two are alike.”

And then, of course, there is meandering Buffalo Creek, just outside the dining-room-turned studio, where at one end hangs a painting of a Venetian canal; at the other, draped over the red sofa by the fireplace is a small throw that reads, “Venice Biennale 2003.” One might say the fanciful Italian city is Crowder’s spiritual home. “Venice is my favorite place . . . In. The. Whole. World!” he says, waxing poetic about his first visit there in the mid ’80s: “It was in February, because I was skiing with two friends in the Dolomites, and then we went to Venice. And it was exactly like the movies — it was hazy and gray and mysterious,” he recalls. “I always said, ‘I don’t love being in water, but I love being on water.’” He hasn’t been to the Biennale in a while, owing to the bite that the Great Recession took out of his decorating and drapery hardware business, but the city of canals is never far from his imagination. In the corner of the dining room stands a cupboard of Venetian glass goblets and plates, and in the adjacent living room, where Hoesl is still absorbed with his book, stands a fanciful glass lamp, that looks as though it were plucked from one of Venice’s grand houses. On the far wall, hangs another homage to the city: one of Crowder’s realistic paintings of a bridge and a canal.

The sitting area also demonstrates his reworking of the townhouse’s original concept. In the other units it is typically used as a master suite. For Crowder and Hoesel, the room, covered in Delft-colored floral fabric, (also the handiwork of Steve Spraggs and his father, Charles) is where they relax in the evenings. The two often take dinner at the small glass table while watching TV, cleverly concealed in a massive cupboard, or they sit and read by the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves crammed with art books and Crowder’s shadow box collages. These, he says, were inspired by Surrealist artist Joseph Cornell, one of Crowder’s artistic influences from his college days.  Crowder removes a volume containing Cornell’s works from the shelves and leafs through it. “I’ve had to quit buying books,” he says with a sigh, “because the stacks are beginning.”

And indeed, there are stacks of books scattered about. Many of them are about his beloved Venice, others about artists such as another idol, American painter John Singer Sargent. They fill credenzas, end tables, the night table on the master bedroom upstairs. Originally slated as a bonus room, Crowder’s design raised the ceiling, bringing in more eastern light through two alcoves  . . . convenient storage space for his canvases. Like the downstairs, the room is also filled with objects and paintings, each with a fascinating provenance: the wooden triptych with beaded egg sculptures protruding from antennae, the work of a friend and artist Michael Haykin who is also responsible for the nearby series of watercolors of birds’ eggs from the collections at the American Museum of Natural History. Eggs were a passing interest of Crowder’s at the time.

Moments of his life unfold in the small office on the other side of the hallway, filled with paintings and photographs — one of a cat peering outside a screen door. “We don’t have any here, but we used to be cat people,” Crowder says, before wandering through the guest bath, where there are more stoops alongside a splendid, painted glass mirror set inside a round frame of blue spikes, emulating sun’s rays. “It’s from Ecuador,” Crowder says, explaining that it was the last of a sample piece from Baker Furniture. Another of his box collages made with wrappers from Ferrer Rocher candy hangs on the wall, and just beneath it, a photograph of a sailboat from a vacation to the Greek Isles. He remembers sailing in the early morning “to some island that was probably uninhabited. Then we’d get off and have a picnic, swim or whatever. Then we’d sail off and get off at a port and go eat dinner at one of the restaurants,” Crowder reminisces.

Echoes of Greece recur in another striking painting in the hallway: A portrait of the late Andreas Nomikos, painter, set designer, UNCG faculty member and close friend whom Crowder met through a mutual friend, Frances Loewenstein (wife of Modernist architect Ed Loewenstein). It was done when he was a young man of 30. “He turned 30 in 1947, the year I was born,” Crowder reflects. More artifacts from Nomikos’s life fill a curio cabinet in the guest bedroom: worry beads from his childhood in Greece, old black-and-white photographs.

Alongside them in the curio cabinet are blue face jugs from Seagrove. “Joe went through a period where he thought they would be cool because he thought they would make him rich,” Crowder recalls with a laugh. In the far corner of the room is a shrine to 5 by O.Henry, a collage of clippings and playbills. It sits just beyond a glass table that Crowder decorated with a floral motif in decoupage. Resting on top of it are glass containers filled with seashells and matchbooks. “I don’t want to get rid of them, because so many of the places are gone,” Crowder muses. “Bistro Sofia, remember that? The Port Land Grille down in Wilmington. This one’s from Prague. A friend of mine says, ‘Oh I’ve got to bring you something.’ And I say, ‘Do not bring me any more materials!’” He pauses and laughs. “I’ve got too many boxes full of materials.”

The garage downstairs bears him out. For here are shelves full of stuff: paints, and paint brushes, a box of poker chips, shopping bags. On the opposite wall are two more collages, one in brilliant red and yellow, bearing a design made with stencils from coffee pods, another using cartons from San Pellegrino and Perrier water; both will appear in the show at The View on Elm. “This is where I start flinging paint,” Crowder says, gesturing toward an easel where another collage rests. Among the shades of purple and gold is the ribbing from the neckline of an old T-shirt affixed to the canvas with modeling paste. “I was trying to see if I could make Joe park outside, and then I could have this whole half of the garage,” Crowder jokes.

At the very least, he’ll open the garage doors and paint out there with longer and warmer days approaching. Come fall, Hoesl will dig around in the attic again for material that will serve as the basis for the next production of 5 by O.Henry. He is excited about the series’ move to a new auditorium, currently under construction, at Wellspring. Along the way they’ll see the steady flow of friends in and out, culminating in their annual New Year’s soiree. Next spring will see another profusion of daffodils growing in the side yard and with hope, yet more sprouting along the banks of Buffalo Creek.  OH

Nancy Oakley is the senior editor of O.Henry.

On View at The View
The diverse talent of Bill Crowder will be on exhibit at The Gallery at The View on Elm (327 South Elm Street) from April 5th through June. Included in the show are realistic and abstract works in watercolor on Yupo and on watercolor paper, textured collages and acrylic paintings. For more info call (336) 274-1278 or visit

In The Spirit

A Sparkling Alternative

How carbonated water can bring your “mocktail” to the next level


By Tony Cross

At the beginning of the year, some folks embark on the journey known as “Dry January.” Maybe some of you reading this participated in — or should I say, endured? — a few weeks respite from consuming alcoholic beverages, giving your liver a much-needed holiday from the holidays. For those who did: You sure did miss a couple of great snow parties. Not that I was at any of them; I was taking a break from drinking, too. I’ve had a few this year, but that’s it. Just a few.

My business had its first full year in 2017, and we made a lot of strides. Even though I’m excited that we grew, the year was bittersweet. I lost my only brother at the end of 2016, and I spent a lot of last year looking through hazy eyes and going through the motions while trying to make sense of everything. I am a firm believer that sometimes it takes life knocking us down into the dirt before we can grasp what we’re capable of, allowing us to fight back. In a nutshell, that’s what happened with me. This year, I’ve started drinking less and working more. I even started teaching an Inferno Hot Pilates class in my spare time. Switching things up has allowed me to enjoy a variety of non-alcoholic beverages. I used to have a few on my menu way back when, and it’s always smart to have something — other than Diet Coke — available for guests when you’re hosting a party. I’ve gained a new appreciation for engineering (pretentious?) creative mocktails. Here are some simple and fun drinks when you’re taking a night (or a month) off.

There is one thing I have begun drinking more of: La Croix sparkling water. I can’t even tell you how excited I am to get home and have one these days. I hope that sentence doesn’t get me banned from the bartender’s union. These zero calorie, canned beverages have become a staple in my refrigerator. If I were going to throw a party, or if someone asked me to be in charge of the bar at theirs, I would go the extra mile. Adding sparkling water into the mix with any drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) is never a bad idea. I mean, have you tried our carbonated draft cocktails? What you want to do is create your own base, whether it’s a syrup or juice combo. Now that spring is upon us, here’s a quick drink that you can whip up and serve made to order, or batch them like a punch. Using fresh cucumber juice this time of the year is perfect for creating light and refreshing elixirs. Add to that a touch of sugar, Pooter bitters from the folks over at Crude Bitters in Raleigh (, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

The Pooter Cuke

Sliced lime

2 ounces fresh organic cucumber juice

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

1/4 ounce simple syrup (2:1)

5 drops Crude “Pooter” Smoke & Salt bitters*

4 ounces sparkling water

Add cubed ice to a Collins glass. Thinly slice lime wheels and put 3-4 of them in the glass. Combine ingredients (except sparkling water) in a shaker, add ice, and shake like hell for 5 seconds. Strain into Collins glass and top with sparkling water.

*If bitters is out of the question, just add a small pinch of Celtic salt. No substitutes on this one. Have you tried Celtic salt? No? Go pick up a bag and see what I mean. It’s amazing.

The gin and tonic is the essential summertime drink. But there are two things wrong with writing about this cocktail right now: 1) I’m trying to pass on great non-alcoholic recipes and; 2) It’s not summertime. Well, we can still have the tonic, minus the gin, and sometimes springtime in the South can be just as hot as other states’ summers. So, without further ado, the Blackberry Tonyc. Believe it or not, my tonic syrup holds its own without any booze, and the notes of orange-citrus complements quite a few types of fruit. Not only does the color turn out gorgeous in this one, but you might convert some tonic haters (speaking from experience here).

Blackberry Tonyc

3/4 ounce TONYC syrup

1/2 ounce blackberry syrup**

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

4 ounces sparkling water

Orange peel

Combine all ingredients (except sparkling water) into a shaker with ice and shake hard for 5 seconds. Pour sparkling water in shaker, and then strain into a glass with ice. Express the oils from an orange peel over the top of the drink. Place orange peel into drink afterward. Santé!

**Blackberry syrup: Wash and rinse 6 ounces fresh blackberries. Put them to the side. In a pot, combine 12 ounces baker’s sugar with 8 ounces water over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar has dissolved. Place sugar syrup in a blender with blackberries. Blend for 10-15 seconds. Pour into a container, and seal. Place in refrigerator overnight. The next morning, strain the syrup through a cheesecloth. Bottle, seal and refrigerate. If you want this syrup to last more than a few weeks, add an ounce of 100-proof vodka to it.  OH

Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

O.Henry Ending

One, Two, Cha-Cha-Cha

Learning the dance of life


By Mamie Potter

Mr. and Mrs. Guyes were the tallest parents in the neighborhood. Mrs. Guyes had dark eyes and blond hair sprayed and teased to frame her high cheekbones. Mr. Guyes’ hair was thick and black. They were always tanned. They owned an upscale clothing store where they greeted us by name. Their children — a boy and girl — were quiet and well-behaved, thin and tall like their parents. They were the only Jewish people I knew.

The Guyes’ house — what would now be showcased as a Mid-Century Modern — was merely an anomaly among the ’50s’ split-levels and three-bedroom ranches on our street. It was one-story, long and sleek, where our houses were solid and functional with basements or bomb shelters. The siding was mahogany-colored in a neighborhood of “Mint Green” and “Sunshine Yellow” houses. The interior was filled with white leather couches that stayed white, and glass tables with no fingerprints.

Our yard had a swing set and places where the red North Carolina clay and four-leaf clover thrived. The Guyes’ backyard was full of azaleas, flowers that seemed to grow year-round and endless green grass.

That summer I was twelve and a half. Has there ever been a more self-conscious creature than a 12-year-old girl? All my limbs felt too long, my elbows and knees bony as a newborn giraffe’s. My face and breasts broke out at the same time, and I obsessed about getting rid of the pimples while I rubbed my breasts because I’d heard it would make them grow.

One night my parents were having drinks on the Guyes’ patio. We never had people over for drinks on the patio — we didn’t have a patio. While the other children played in our yard, I hung around the adults as only adolescent girls do. I snuck looks at my mom, perched precariously on the Guyes’ privacy fence, spilling a little of her martini and laughing in a way I’d never heard her laugh before. I was embarrassed for her — she was being so silly. I wanted her to act like she did at home.

Music came from unseen speakers. Mr. and Mrs. Guyes started dancing. Mr. Guyes would pull her close, then she’d twirl away, waving one elegant hand in the air, her linen sheath setting off her slim brown legs. I’d never seen grown-ups dance except on television. I worried that my mother and father would start dancing too. I sat at the edge of the patio, ready to leave if they did.

Mrs. Guyes said something to her husband. They stopped dancing, and he walked over to where I sat and reached out his hand. “Would you like to learn the cha-cha?” he said.

I was horrified that anyone was paying attention to me, but the idea of dancing with this very tall, very imposing grown-up? Out of the question.

“No, sir, but thank you,” I said, standing, my face on fire, one foot headed toward the safety of my house. But my dad said, “Come on, Mamie, be a sport!” I never, ever wanted to disappoint my dad, so I let Mr. Guyes lead me by the hand. My palms were sweaty, and my face, if possible, redder.

Mr. Guyes took me through the steps. As I cha-chaed my way around the patio, all of my awkwardness disappeared. I even twirled, pivoting on Mr. Guyes’ hand, delighted at my gracefulness. I never wanted the dance to be over.

But the song ended, and everyone clapped. I said a quick goodbye and ran home.

For months afterward, I practiced the cha-cha in our basement, finding the beat in almost every song.

Mr. Guyes died late last year, and the memory came back to me: the white concrete patio that led to the cool interior of the house, my mom laughing on the fence, and my 12-year-old body moving gracefully through the hot summer night air.  OH

Mamie Potter, a Greensboro native, returns often to visit relatives, cruise her old haunts, and sit quietly at Green Hill Cemetery. 

Book Excerpt

This World Is Not My Home

An excerpt from Lost Places: On Losing and Finding Home


By Cathryn Hankla

Mother, a pirate, lying on the living room couch where children seldom roamed much less sat; I wasn’t used to seeing her prone; usually, she was industrious with homemaking chores unless sunbathing with a book propped on her lap. A white gauze patch covered one eye. She had had a mole removed from her eyebrow. I had noticed the dark speck of flesh — a dark  eraser sprouted and splayed the brows around it — but I didn’t know its fate until it had already met the scalpel. Now it looked like she had lost her eye, and she promised me there were a number of stitches. The doctor’s bulky bandage and tape straps extended around her nose, down her cheek and over her forehead. Ahoy. It was a lot of to-do over a dark dot.

I asked if it hurt. “Not much,” she said. “But I’m taking a nap.”

I asked if I could see the stitches when she woke up. “When I change the bandage,” she said. I was squeamish about needles but loved the concept of first-aid, or maybe it was the kit I loved, the organized compartments of bandages and ointments.

A dark dime marks the back of my upper left thigh. When I was a child the proportions made it appear to be worth more, closer to a quarter-sized polka dot on my skinny leg. At the swimming pool people sometimes stared at the brown spot of concentrated melanin, but it was always behind me as I ran, and growing up I didn’t much care. I was dragged to the pediatrician at least twice a year, and during each routine visit my mother asked about the removal of my birthmark. My pediatrician remained blasé.

A classmate at the college swimming pool told me, mincing no words, that I was going to die of cancer. My spotted leg was propped up on a railing as I lazily surveyed the pool for my work-study job as a lifeguard. “It’s a birthmark,” I said. The young woman assured me that I could still die. I was 19 with a plastic whistle hanging between my breasts.

Sealing the deal, she said, “My father is a doctor.”

I grew up with a lot of doctors’ kids and they were sometimes paranoid, exposed to bad news and hushed tones on a regular basis. But all that sickness made them richer than regular kids.

My dad was a medicine man; he dispensed pills, although when he first passed the state board he also mixed, compounded and did some prescribing of controlled substances. He knew the chemical origins of most drugs and their botanical bases, and I imagined back to the rain forest, whence he told me aspirin derived, from the bark of a certain tree. Some of his customers paid him in farm animals, once a black lamb. We lived in town, so this was a tactical problem: no barn, lamb in basement, grazing backyard. Even in Appalachia, this was not done. Mother remembers my father in the prescription department gently daubing to remove cinders from the eyes of miners who called him “Doc.” They couldn’t afford a real doctor.

Mother recently confessed that she’s stopped shaving beneath her arms and also stopped shaving her legs. “I can’t see to shave.” Her legs are nearly hairless now anyway. She tells me this while I am helping her pull a spandex camisole over her head. The shelf bra of the camisole catches on her chest above her flattened smudges of breast. As we work it down into place, I see the sprays of long gray hair stubbornly hanging on beneath what Mother calls her “little scrawny arms.” Neither does she wear bras most of the time. “Oh well,” Mother says, letting go of one more thing.

In my teens and 20s I had several tall friends. I never really understood how short I was by comparison until I’d see a photo, a group shot in which I looked stunted, standing as tall as possible. The tall girls looked better in their outfits no matter what they wore. I still remember the hour, the minute my father turned to me without prelude and announced that he had just realized he was short. “Cathy,” he said, “I’m a short man.”  He was 75 at the time. He waited for my reaction. “Yes,” I said, “I know.” Some part of him fell silent, stunned. Even I already knew.

My feet have always been small, even in army boots they look dainty. Up until the fifth grade I thought they would grow, but instead they decidedly stopped short. My grandfather shook his head, looking down at my feet, “You’ve got to have a firm foundation in this world.” Maybe he had seen what happened with livestock back on the farm in Seven Mile Ford he couldn’t wait to leave, or with mongrels whose puppy paws indicated the eventual size of the dog. Maybe he knew what to expect from me. My grandmother Bonnie, whom everyone called by her first name, never reached five feet in shoes. All of us grandchildren passed her one by one, pressing our backs to hers, and then we were gone. I passed her quickly because she was already shrinking, aged 80 when I was 10. She wrapped her silver hair into a bun and pinned a circular hairpiece over her bald spot. I used to deliver a paper bag when Mother and I shopped for her. One day I looked inside to find a pack of tall brown Virginia Slims and a pint of Virginia Gentleman.

I’m going through every drawer in Mother’s assisted-living bed sitting room, because she has been robbed. We’re checking as the facility manager has instructed, in case we have misplaced the hinged gold bracelet. While I perform this duty, I know we haven’t simply lost it. Just last week I shied from taking it home when Mother urged me to; now I’m kicking myself. In the center drawer of her dressing table I find a stash of half a dozen different pairs of tweezers. “Don’t get them mixed up,” Mother says. “Leave those where I can find them.” When I ask her if she wants to throw some of them away, she says no. I wonder how on earth my mother manages to tweeze in her 90s. Her bad eyesight has something to do with the brush fire she has made of her right eyebrow: a scorched forest with regenerating understory. Or maybe it’s the arthritis in her hands that has compromised her hand-eye coordination. Her fingers twist like bonsai. 

I check the side drawer of the dressing table, and at the very back I pull out a scrap of white cotton fabric that looks like an old handkerchief until I unfold it, shake it loose, and find the shape of a smocked baby dress that’s been shortened with scissors to a tiny tunic.

“What’s this?” I ask. She says it was either mine, or my sister’s. “What do you want to do with it?”

“Leave it,” she says.

I stuff it back in the drawer next to one of my dad’s old T-shirts that I’ve already asked about. Mother insists on keeping it there.

A week goes by before I walk up to the Roanoke city police station to file a report. The woman at the window is very helpful in taking down the details. She also tells me that a few years ago on the nursing side of the same facility I have chosen with great care for my mother they had a male nurse or aide who was abusing the patients; I wish I didn’t know this. He’s in prison, “put away,” she tells me. The assisted living facility is running its own investigation, reviewing hours of surveillance tape to see who went in and out of Mother’s room. Since it seems like an inside job I doubt these tapes will yield more than the obvious schedule of baths, room cleaning and meals. Someone who takes care of my mother is a thief. This is troubling.

“It’s OK but it’s not home,” Mother says of her assisted living apartment. I can quote only one line from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Touchstone: “Ay, now I am in Arden; the more fool I; when I was at home I was in a better place: but travelers must be content.”

Other things have been stolen from Mother’s room, a roll of quarters and some small gold cufflinks neither of us can sufficiently describe. Mother thinks the cufflinks were my father’s, who never wore cufflinks; a tiepin was absent from the set before the theft, and he probably did wear that. The address on the empty jewelry box reads Sixth Avenue. Dad could have bought these when he was a traveling salesman of party supplies with Benco, headquartered in New York City, or maybe his boss gave him an incentive. This was right after WWII when Dad was so anxious he couldn’t stand still to fill prescriptions and briefly became Willy Loman.

Upon receiving an encouraging letter from a niece about all of the activities she could enjoy at her new assisted living facility, Mother looked at me wryly and said, “It’s not summer camp.”

It’s amazing to me how much Mother managed to stuff into every drawer and closet of her condo, how many boxes from the last move she had failed to open, much less sort. She says the time got away from her, six years in an eye-blink. My mother is no hoarder and fairly unsentimental, yet it took me three solid weeks to construct some logic through my sorting, with piles to give away, seal into storage or distribute to distant family. At the same time, Mother is not yet dead, even though it felt like it some days when I dragged myself across the bridge to South Roanoke and entered her condo with my lunch bags of Chipotle. Just when I thought I could part with something, Mother would ask about it, and instead of pitching it toward the Rescue Mission pile, I packed it for the storage unit or delivered it to her new room where there was precious little display space.

Waiting inside kitchen cabinets were dozens of crystal and china pieces that Mother had not used since moving to the condo. Once disturbed from their drawers or shelves, these hidden treasures took on weight and expectation like an island of forgotten, guilt-tripping toys. Each item magnified by catching the light seemed to speak and say the same thing, “Take me with you.” Even colorful plastic cocktail stirs collected on my parents’ various vacation tours whispered the same plea as I dropped them into the trash. I made the mistake of looking more closely at the matchbook collection and kept several of them from the Mark Hopkins hotel in San Francisco, New York’s Americana, Caesars Palace and The Royal Hawaiian.

On the final day of packing and cleaning I pulled a heavy box from the back of the guest room closet and opened the top to find it stuffed with WWII mementoes, including my father’s portrait in dress whites, wearing the very epaulettes, stripes and stars I also found packed in the box. His discharge papers, too, a veritable museum of WWII. God’s eye watches my mother’s youngest child: I closed the lid again and taped it shut for storage without sifting all the way to the bottom. Some things cannot be excised or plucked from our lives. Some things we have to keep. Some love is without end.

Mother says, “Why am I still here? I can’t get any better and I don’t get any worse.” I have no answer . . . no “Spirit in the Sky” chorus for her. The body is a betrayer, not her home. No home is left. Her face contorts in pain. “For me,” I say. “You’re here for me.” I know she wishes she felt like staying.  OH

From Cathryn Hankla, Lost Places, © Mercer University Press, 2018.xxxxxxxxx

Born in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, Cathryn Hankla is professor of English & Creative Writing in the Jackson Center for Creative Writing at Hollins University. Hankla has published over a dozen books of fiction and poetry, including Fortune Teller Miracle Fish: stories, Great Bear, Galaxies. Lost Places: On Losing and Finding Home is her first work of nonfiction.