Simple Life

Confessions of a Happy Old Guy

And the joys of life in the slow lane

By Jim Dodson

A close colleague needed to speak in confidence the other day. She looked so serious.

“I don’t know how to tell you this,” she said, “but I have to tell you something important.”

I feared she might be quitting her job to join a kazoo band or something even worse, appear on a reality show. So I braced for impact.

“I was behind you in traffic yesterday. You drive like an old man!”

She burst out laughing.

I laughed, too — and agreed with her. She wasn’t the first to point out my maddening old-fashioned driving habits, or as I prefer to simply call them, careful. For the record I haven’t had a moving violation in 40 years, something one can accomplish only by moving slowly through the busy intersections of life. Knock wood.

A year ago, however, I turned 65. In the eyes of my government, my insurance agent and my beloved colleague, this apparently means I’ve achieved official Old Man status. So essentially, my driving habits are finally catching up to my age.

Over this year, in fact, since word has spread like kudzu on a redneck barn, I’ve received several “special dinner” invitations from companies eager to tell me all about their exciting products and services designed to “make your senior years happier, safer and more fulfilling.”

One was from a lawyer pointing out the dangers of failing to update my final will and testament, presumably so craven heirs don’t rob me blind. Another was from a financial firm eager to feed me at the Olive Garden in order to convince me that I should try a reverse mortgage that would allow me to sell my house piece-by-piece in order to finance a speedboat or buy a timeshare in Cabo San Lucas. Not long after that, two dinner invites from local funeral homes offered a fancy last supper with small talk of coffins over coffee.

The truth is, I’m perfectly fine officially being an Old Guy. I’ve never felt happier or more fulfilled than at this very moment, even without a speedboat. My health is good, the important parts all seem to work, I love what I do every day and look forward to many years of doing it as I chug along in the slow lane of life.

I never plan to retire or even slow down because I’ve always moved at more or less the same modest speed. Slow and steady wins the race, as the moral goes, assuming you even care about winning the rat race. Never hurry, never worry was the personal motto of the late great Walter Hagen, a dapper fellow who walked slow and lived large while winning 45 golf tournaments, a total that included 11 major championships and four British Opens. Successful living, said the late great Leroy Robert Paige, a.k.a. “Satchel,” — hall-of-fame Major League pitcher who played his last game for the Peninsula Grays of the Carolina League at age 60 in 1966 — is really a question of mind over matter. “If you don’t mind,” he counseled, “it don’t matter.”

Besides, the evidence is pretty compelling that I’ve been an old man since the day I was born.

A small chronological sampling:

It’s February, 1953, and I am born. My mother thinks I’m the cutest baby ever. My father jokes that I look like Dwight D. Eisenhower. My mother doesn’t think this is funny, doesn’t speak to my father for a week. Years later, whenever she’s annoyed with me, she’ll sigh and say, “I guess you were just born an old man, Sugar Pie.”

It’s 12 years later, 1965. My favorite Beatle is George Harrison, the “quiet one” whose guitar gently weeps. I teach myself guitar and spend endless solitary hours learning to play like George. Paul McCartney tells the Associated Press that “George is the old man of the group.” In tribute, I try growing a beard like George. It goes nowhere. Then again, I’m only in fifth grade.

Now we’re in the early avocado-colored ’70s. The music, the cars, the groovy way college girls look — it’s all quite wonderful. I grow my hair long and spend an entire summer at college smoking pot, which only puts me to sleep. So I quit smoking pot, buy a Dr. Grabow pipe and a corduroy sports coat with leather elbow patches. My hippie girlfriend jokes that she’s dating William F. Buckley and is shocked when I admit digging the music of Burt Bacharach. I am the only guy in my dorm who watches the Watergate Hearings from beginning to end — and enjoys it.

Now it’s the 1980s and I’m an investigative reporter for a magazine in Atlanta, engaged to a beautiful TV anchorwoman who works late on weekends. Way past my normal bedtime, she likes to unwind from her job by dragging me to glamorous late-night parties where everyone is buzzing from funny white powder inhaled off the bathroom counter. More than once I sneak off to a stranger’s bedroom to grab a quick nap or watch reruns of Hee Haw with a Falstaff beer. The engagement is predictably short.

In the late 1990s, I become a father of two, the happiest thing that’s ever happened to me. I build my own house and a faux English garden deep in a beech forest near the coast of Maine. I love reading books to our little ones and normally fall asleep before they do. We like the same G-rated movies and yellow food group. They grow way too soon. Apparently I never did. But at least I am fully trained for grandparenthood.

Two summers ago, while driving my vintage Buick Roadmaster in crazy rush hour traffic outside Philadelphia, a snarky young dude in a BMW opened his window and yelled, “Hey, Chevy, wanna drag race me to Wallyworld?” He howled at his own wit. I smiled politely back. When the light changed, however, I opened up my Roadmaster’s massive 350-hp, eight-cylinder Corvette engine and taught that little twerp never to mess with an old man driving his old man’s Buick.

For the record, old guys like shirts with roomy pockets. This is a known fact and I’m no different. I want a shirt with pockets large enough for car keys, screwdrivers, grocery store lists, directions to the party, a sandwich for later, a tape measure, various auto parts, mysterious things you find in the yard and so forth. Pocket protectors, however, are ridiculous. What do you take me for, a complete old geek?

Also, long ago, I decided that certain essentials in life should primarily be basic white. This includes, but is not limited to, golf balls, toilet paper, underwear, snow, vanilla ice cream, dress shirts, and the look on any idiot BMW owner’s face who thinks he can beat my Buick to Wallyworld. (By the way, genius, Chevy’s wagon was a Ford).

If you’re going to jabber during the movie, please do us both a big favor and sit elsewhere, preferably in another county. I have a hard enough time hearing what’s going on in the movie without having to listen to your witless commentary. And if you speak to me in a crowded party, don’t be surprised if I just smile at you like a drooling village idiot because I can’t understand a blessed word anyone says to me in noisy, crowded places.

Ditto if I forget your name. Please don’t take it personally. Next time just wear your name tag — preferably written in LARGE EASILY DISCERNIBLE LETTERS. For the record, I forget lots of names of things these days, including those of movie stars, old flames, neighbors, song titles, state capitals, sports stars, candidates I voted for, candidates I wish I voted for and so on. On the other hand, I can name every dog I ever owned, just one of many reasons a dog really is an old man’s best friend. You never forget them.

Finally, I love going to the grocery store without a shopping list. Talk about free-range fun for Old Guys! Roaming the aisles like a man on a mission who can’t remember what he’s looking for, I just grab whatever catches my fancy on the oft chance it might include whatever item my wife specifically asked me to bring home. True, this often means a quick return to the store to get the correct item but, hey, that just means you can repeat the process and double your fun, taking home other great stuff that captures your fancy.

Frankly, I could rattle on forever about the simple pleasures of finally being a certified Old Guy — going to bed early and rising before the chickens, reading poetry, biographies and histories in my tree house office, long walks with the dogs and road trips with my bride, small suppers with friends, stargazing, classical music, lonely back roads, rainy Sundays, weekend gardening, watching birds, early church, late afternoon naps, Kate Hepburn movies, historic battlegrounds, old houses, Scottish golf courses, expensive bourbon, bumping into old friends I actually remember, and other stuff I invariably forget how much I enjoy.

Whew, just the thought of all that activity exhausts me.

I’d better go grab a quick nap before I run to the store to fetch supper items I probably won’t remember to get.

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at

10 Things You Never Knew about the Battle of Guilford Courthouse

By Jim Dodson     Photograph by Lynn Donovan

Many of us had the great fortune to grow up with the historic Guilford Battleground  in our backyard, the place where the city’s namesake General Nathanael Greene met British General Cornwallis’ army. The fateful showdown on March 15, 1781, helped turn the tide of the Revolutionary War in favor of the Patriot struggle for independence from Great Britain. Today, when you are driving over streets named New Garden and Battleground or through neighborhoods called Kirkwood and British Woods, you are covering bloody ground where arguably the pivotal battle for American independence took place. One local story holds that the name “Brassfield” derives from brass military ornaments recovered in the vicinity of Horse Pen Creek where the shopping center exists today.

If you’ve never witnessed the battle’s annual series of re-enactments live, an event that attracts hundreds of “Rev War” re-enactors and battlefield buffs from across the nation to what is now officially called Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, you are in for a real treat. It’s the perfect mix of history and military pageantry on an early spring day. 

Jay Callaham not only happens to be an expert on military history and a veteran re-enactor of more than 50 years, but also the narrator of the action at Guilford Courthouse for approaching 20 years. Among other things, he also served as an advisor on the film The Patriot. Callaham portrays an officer of the Coldstream Guards, and for many years acted as a British field commander, and has performed the role of Lord Cornwallis. During his nearly 20 years of narrating the battle presentations, he is typically uniformed as a British Officer.

We caught up to the retired communications executive and former Army major on a recent afternoon at the Greensboro Masonic Temple on Market Street, wondering if there might be 10 curious and lesser-known facts about the famous battle.

Lord Callaham happily obliged.

1. The Super Bowl of the Revolutionary War

By the time Cornwallis marched his troops to Deep River Friends, where he camped prior to the battle, having unsuccessfully engaged  General Greene’s army for six weeks across the Carolinas to the Dan River and back, both armies were showing serious wear and tear. “Both were in pretty terrible shape. Cornwallis halted his march in Salisbury, for example, just to find shoes for his troops. As they came through Old Salem,” notes Callaham, “the British and their camp followers stole clothes off lines. Despite their worn appearance, Cornwallis’ 33rd Regiment was among the best in the world. His force included the renowned Royal Welch Fusiliers, and veteran 71st Highland Regiment, as well as the battle-hardened Brigade of Guards and Hessian Regiment von Bose (pronounced bose-a), all led by seasoned commanders. Not to mention American Loyalist or Tory troops. Greene’s force was a mix of militia troops from the Carolinas and Virginia, many of whom had prior experience and training in the Continental Army, as well as the 1st and 2nd Maryland Continental Regiments and Kirkwood’s Delaware Continentals. One army was led by a British General who’d never lost a fight in the field, the other by a Colonial general who’d never won a fight in the field — and wouldn’t win this one. In many respects, despite their tattered condition, this was the Super Bowl of the American Revolution, the battle that changed the whole complexion of the war and brought it to a close.

2. The Myth that the North Carolina Militia failed to hold its ground.

In his report following the battle, General Greene asserted that the front line of the deployed Americans — manned by the North Carolina Militia — failed to hold its ground during the first assault by the British.  “He wrote that the Carolina militia broke and ran at the start of the action. It’s simply not true,” says Callaham. “They weren’t even a true militia, rather a mix of local farmers and tradesmen and highly seasoned Continental troops that had proven themselves in plenty of action. They were deployed behind split rail fences overlooking Horse Pen Creek. The next line up was the Virginia militia followed by the 1st and 2nd Maryland. The commander of the 71st Highland Regiment — one of the finest units in the British army — reported that the lost half his company in the first volley. The North Carolina Militia troops did their job splendidly, in fact, enduring a 30-minute cannonade from three-pounder Royal Artillery cannons. Greene was simply trying to cover his rear end for losing the battle, which broke out everywhere and was mostly one of complete chaos. Fighting was brutal and bloody, hand-to-hand at times.”

3. The Scope of the Battlefield

The scope of the battlefield was huge, stretching from New Garden Friends — where Kirkwood’s Delaware troops engaged along New Garden Road — to the Guilford Courthouse site, a distance of about four miles. Cornwallis’s 2,000 troops were deployed along what is now Battleground Avenue, roughly from where Lowe’s Home Improvement is today all the way to Walmart. Artifacts from the battle have been found around both big box stores and along Battleground. The national battlefield encompasses only about a third of the actual battleground, and does not include skirmish sites along New Garden Road. Other parts of the battlefield are under Forest Lawn Cemetery and Greensboro Jaycee Park, both places where many artifacts have been found.

4. Rifles vs. Muskets

Soldiers in both armies used similar weapons, mostly muskets made in France or the venerable British Brown Bess muskets commonly used by infantrymen on both sides. Muskets fired a ball about three-quarters of an inch in diameter, loaded from paper cartridges containing powder and bullet or buckshot, rammed down the unrifled, smooth-bore barrel to the breech. A skilled fighter with a musket could load and fire his musket three times within a minute. The musket had an auxiliary weapon as well — a fixed bayonet — used effectively by the tenacious 1st Maryland at the Battle of Guilford (though by the 18th century, deaths in battle from bayonets were becoming less common). Rifles were a more specialized weapon, defined by a barrel with twisted grooves along its interior that allowed for a more accurate shot. The problem was a slower loading process that could be problematic in close-quarter fighting. On the other hand, rifles had extended ranges of accuracy — up to 300 yards — and were used effectively by both sides during Britain’s failed Southern Campaign, whose objective was to sever the South from the North, destroying the “bread basket” of the Colonial Army and ending the war in Britain’s favor. Rifles affected the outcome of at least three major Southern battles — at Kings Mountain, Cowpens in South Carolina and to some extent Guilford Courthouse, where the British used Jäger riflemen from Germany to great effect. These were skilled hunters dressed in green, whose deadly accuracy and discipline made them formidable foes. “The Jägers were professional huntsmen and were crack shots. The problem was every rifle had its own caliber, which often meant a rifleman had to make his own ammunition. Rifles played a significant role but muskets and bayonets won the war,” says Callaham.   

5. Question: Which Side was dressed in Blue? Answer: Both sides

A key regiment of the British force at Guilford that saw intense action was the von Bose regiment composed of well-drilled German soldiers who wore dark blue uniforms that resembled the uniforms worn by both the Colonial Army, and both British and Continental artillery units — producing confusion in the fog of battle. The British army’s uniforms were bright red so they would stand out in the smoke of battle. The proud von Bose unit was composed of Hessians who came from a number of places across Germany, leased to the British army by King George III’s German allies. Fighting on the right flank of the advancing British force, the von Bose unit was savagely attacked both front and back by the Americans, distinguishing themselves and affecting the outcome of the battle. “Contrary to the myth, these troops were not mercenaries. They belonged to the lord of their home principality. An interesting postscript: Most Hessians who were captured were sent as prisoners to Pennsylvania where German farmers employed them. Many were encouraged to stay in America and were even given land. Many became American citizens.”

6. Did Cornwallis really fire upon his own troops?

Not intentionally, insists Callaham. “That’s one of the biggest myths about the battle. At one point in the battle, he came upon a melee in close combat between the 2nd Battalion of the Guards and 1st Maryland and ordered his soldiers to use a 3-pounder [cannon] to fire on Lt. Col William Washington’s light dragoons [calvary] that had attacked the Guards and in so doing had come between Cornwallis and his troops. Cannon doesn’t discriminate between red and blue. But the decision halted the Dragoons, separated the Guards from the 1st Maryland, prompting Greene to leave the field to preserve his Continental troops — and allowed Cornwallis to escape. It would have been very bad for the British if he’d been killed or taken prisoner. General Cornwallis also had at least one horse shot out from under him and was almost captured during the confused fighting in the woods. The fighting was that intense, neither side yielding, convincing General Greene to leave the field, in good order, to preserve his Continental troops.

7. Light Horse Harry Lee vs. Banastre Tarleton

Both were legendary cavalrymen. Tarleton was commander of the green-clad British Legion and the subject of a rebel American campaign, which claimed that his men terrorized the countryside and massacred surrendering Continental Army troops at the Battle of Waxhaws, South Carolina, in 1780. The alleged outrage earned him the nickname “Bloody Ban.” As leader of the highly mobile Continental Light Dragoons, cavalry and infantry, Lee won fame for his hit-and-run guerilla-style harassment that helped stymie the British army during General Greene’s “Race to the Dan.” Both men saw action at Guilford Courthouse. Both men presided over the massacre of unarmed soldiers — Tarleton at Waxhaws, Lee in Alamance County, whose Legions cut down a large group of royalist volunteers marching to join up with Cornwallis, camped in Hillsborough, N.C. before returning to Guilford County. “Light Horse Harry’s Legion basically slaughtered them, hacked them to pieces,” Calaham says. Adding insult to injury, the survivors were fired upon by British sentries when they sought shelter with Cornwallis. Harry Lee went on to become governor of Virginia and father to Robert E. Lee. Tarleton lost two fingers on his right hand in the battle at Guilford Courthouse and back home was elected to Parliament. “The truth of the matter is, Harry Lee wasn’t as great as he’s made out to be and Tarleton wasn’t as bad,” Callaham allows. Lee, he notes, was a terrible businessman who went bankrupt and nearly lost the Lee family estate, Stratford Hall — placed in trust, allowing Henry Lee IV to inherit it. “Tarleton had taken the town of Charlottesville, Virginia on a raid prior to the investment of the army at Yorktown. He had also taken Monticello, and could have destroyed it, but didn’t. There were good and bad men on both sides of the fight. The war brought out both aspects in them.”

8. The Numbers Game

No one knows for sure how many men were involved in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, but the accepted number includes 4,000 Patriots and 1,700 men fighting for the Crown. “They were the best troops in both armies,” says Callaham, “the most elite troops with the best leaders. One of the most fascinating aspects is the disparity in their numbers.” The Brigade of Guards went into the battle with about 700 men and lost almost 50 percent of them — their worst day in the war, in part because the Americans had roughly a 2-to-1 advantage in numbers. “Traditional battlefield strategy holds that, if you’re going to attack an enemy, you should have at least a 3-to-1 superiority. Cornwallis had almost a 50 percent inferiority in numbers and still won the battle.” That was good news for the visitors. The bad news is that the British general lost a quarter of his troops. They were never quite the same after that. After withdrawing to Wilmington to rest and refit, Cornwallis abandoned the Carolinas, and moved into Virginia, joining his troops to another British force. Before marching into Virginia. Weeks later, Cornwallis surrendered 7,000 troops at Yorktown, ending the war.

9. A Dark Legacy

Col. Charles Lynch was also present at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, commander of a rifle unit for the Virginia militia, a planter-class judge who was infamous for the harsh brand of frontier justice he meted out to British spies and Tories during and after the war. Lynch coined the phrase “Lynch’s Law” to describe the hasty trials and punishment he meted out, particularly if the sympathizer happened to be a loyalist. Legend holds that his worst offenders were tied by their thumbs to branches of a black walnut tree and given 39 lashes with a whip known as the cat o’nine tails. If the convicted individual hollered “Liberty forever!”, so the story went, he would be spared the remaining lashes and forced to enter American military service for one year.  “Basically,” says Jay Callaham, “he loved to hang Tories.” The term “Lynching” is commonly believed to have derived from his name and dark legacy. A young Sam Houston — who later avenged the Alamo and gave his name to the largest city in Texas, saw his first action as a sharpshooter serving in the Virginia Rifles at Guilford. Supposedly, he walked home to western Virginia after the battle.

10. On and a brighter note, Spring is back — Let’s Play Ball!

After you’ve checked out this year’s re-enactment scheduled on Saturday, March 16 and, Sunday, March 17, weather permitting, why not be a super patriot and show up for opening day of our beloved Greensboro Grasshoppers on Thursday, April 4, at 7 p.m.? The Hoppers, at least in part, take their name for the highly mobile and effective 3-pounder cannon used so effectively by the Americans at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Look sharp and you’ll find the replica of the famous cannon owner Donald Moore acquired for the occasion. “Our park, after all, sits only five or six miles from the scene of the battle,” says Moore with a laugh. “You probably could have heard the cannon fire from home plate — if there’d been one in those days.”

O.Henry Editor Jim Dodson has attended two re-enactments — one almost two decades ago and again in 2018. He plans to be there this year with his camera and tricorn hat.

Scuppernong Bookshelf

Blair Fare

Thanks to Carolina Wren Press, veteran N.C. publisher John F. Blair finds an owner, adopts a new name and offers up several new releases

Compiled by Brian Lampkin

Some big-name writers from big-name publishers have books arriving in March: Oprah Winfrey (Flatiron Books) Dave Eggers (Knopf), Peter Wohlleben (Greystone), Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead), Preet Bharara (Knopf) and Amy Hempel (Scribner), to name a few. Advertising budgets for all of those books will be significant (To be sure, no Super Bowl ads, but maybe a 1/2-page ad in Mother Jones!). Instead, let’s use our own meagre “advertising budget” to highlight a North Carolina publisher that’s bringing superb books to us in 2019.

Blair is a publishing house located in Durham, North Carolina, recently created by the purchase of Winston-Salem’s John F. Blair Publisher by Carolina Wren Press. Publisher Lynn York says that for several years, he had been trying to find a way to expand Carolina Wren Press, founded in 1976. “When we heard that the folks at John F. Blair were ready to retire, it seemed like a natural fit,” he says. “We were really happy to be able to purchase their titles and pull them into our nonprofit.”

Along with senior editor Robin Miura, York has embarked on an ambitious path. They recently announced that poet Ada Limón is their new poetry editor. Limón has credibility of the highest order in the poetry world. With all these changes, York still believes that their “mission remains the same: to publish new and underrepresented writers. With the addition of the John F. Blair titles, this also means that we publish lots of books that relate to the South, and especially to North Carolina.”

Here are forthcoming titles from Blair:

April 2: The Little Turkle, by Deborah Van Dyken ($16.95). The Little Turkle hatches into a world full of wonder on a barrier island off the Atlantic Coast where some people still call turtles “turkles.” Van Dyken lives in Beaufort, N.C., where she practices family law and watches sea turtles and their nests at the Cape Lookout National Seashore.

April 23: Any Other Place: Stories, by Michael Croley ($16.95) In his debut collection, Michael Croley takes us from the Appalachian region of rural Kentucky and Ohio to a village in South Korea in 13 engaging stories in which characters find themselves, wherever they are, in states of displacement. Croley uses his absorbing prose and relentless intent to uncover his characters’ hidden disquiet and to bring us a remarkable and unique collection that expands the scope of modern American literature. Croley will also be featured at the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival, May 16–19, 2019.

May 7: Cape Fear Rising, by Philip Gerard ($18.95). Based on actual events, Cape Fear Rising tells a story of one city’s racial nightmare — a scenario that was repeated throughout the South at the turn of the century. Although told as fiction, the core of this novel strikes at the heart of racial strife in America.

May 7: North Carolina Ghost Lights and Legends, by Charles F. Gritzner ($15.95). North Carolina is considered one of the U.S. headquarters for ghost lights — that is, for spooky and unexplained luminous phenomena. Nearly half of all reported ghost lights shine, blink, burn, dance or float somewhere in the state. These ghost lights are well-known in their localities. There are scary and fascinating stories associated with them, and they attract many visitors, each hoping to see a ball of fire floating over a cemetery or a jack-o’-lantern illuminating a corner of the Great Dismal Swamp or, better yet, a long-dead railroad man swinging his lantern in search of his severed head.

Author Charles “Fritz” Gritzner has been chasing ghost lights for many years. A geography professor and luminous phenomenon buff, he has visited the sites, researched possible scientific explanations for the lights and recorded the legends surrounding them. In this charming and fascinating book, he does not seek to debunk these phenomena, but to illuminate them as a part of the folk culture of North Carolina.

August 13: Gullah Days: Hilton Head Islanders Before the Bridge, by Thomas C. Barnwell, Emily Shaw Campbell and Carolyn Grant ($21.95). The Gullah culture, though borne of isolation and slavery, thrived on the U.S. East Coast sea islands from pre–Civil War times until today, and nowhere more prominently than on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. On this small barrier island, descendants of the first generations of Gullah people continue to preserve Gullah language, customs, arts and cuisine. The three authors of Gullah Days: Hilton Head Islanders Before the Bridge are among those descendants, and in this book, they chronicle the amazing history of their secluded community from the Civil War through the 1950s, when real estate development connected Hilton Head Island to the mainland with a bridge.

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.


Life’s Funny

Crying Time

The art of pre-infant bonding

By Maria Johnson

Dear Future Grandchild,

I realize it’s brazen of me to write this directly to you because — as far as I know from both of my unmarried sons — you don’t exist yet.

I say “as far as I know “ because I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if one of them walked in with a small child, and I said, “Who’s this?” and he said, “Oh, didn’t I tell you? This is your grandchild. My bad. I thought I texted you.”

So let’s just assume you’re an unborn angel — and able to read (It’s a big ask, but humor me.)

Here’s what I want you to know: I want to hold you, gush over you, coo in a whispery voice to you. But there’s something going around that might make that difficult for a while: bonding.

Feel free to spit up in heaven.

Here, according to several of my friends, is how it works:

1. Your parents tell us, your grandparents-to-be, that you are on the way.

2. We, your grandparents-to-be, are beside ourselves with joy because, let’s face it, this is why we had your parents: to be able to spend time with you, our grandchild, without the responsibility of parenting. It’s like winning the Powerball of Procreation. You’ll understand one day.

3. We, the grandparents-to-be, start buying toys, clothes and other accessories for you. We marvel at the advances in baby technology. For example, back in our day, we had radio-based nursery monitors. Now, cameras allow parents to watch you on their phones, which is . . . an improvement? We recall the story of a father of our generation who went golfing while his wife was away. He took the radio monitor (range: oh, 500 feet), finished his round, and heard no sign of trouble. Until that night. This story could be apocryphal. But it’s probably not.

4. The time of your arrival nears.

5. Bing! The email arrives.

6. We, your grandparents-to-be, say: “WHAT THE **** IS A POST-PARTUM PLAN?”

7. Sorry, we promised we wouldn’t curse around you.

8. Yes, it’s a detailed plan. For the first days, weeks, or even months of your life. It spells out who’s allowed to visit, when, and for how long. It lists permissible behaviors. Taking out the trash, washing dishes and doing laundry are highly encouraged. Pets, perfumes and pathogens are out. Holding you is negotiable. Kissing you is highly unlikely. Forget pushing your stroller (which probably carries a “No Touching” sign, no joke). Like high-schoolers after try-outs, we read the list hoping to make the varsity squad: Those allowed to see you at the hospital.

9. If we don’t make the team, we’ll say what we swore we’d never say because it makes us sound too much like our own parents: “This world is going to hell.”

10. See Number 7.

11. Distraught, we, your grandparents — OK, just me, your grandmother — turns to friends to see if any of them have experienced this phenomenon.

12. “Yes,” they say, “This world is going to hell.” Then they tell stories about “smash cakes,” which are first-birthday cakes designed to be smashed by babies for video purposes, then thrown away.

Fair warning: If your parents throw away a birthday cake that’s perfectly good — save a few claw marks — the videos will show this grandmother diving into the trash after it. Hahaha, my ass.

Oops. See Number 7.

Back to bonding. According to my sources, the goal of bonding is that your parents will feel (air quote) connected enough to meet your needs and so that you will not grow up to scream “IHATEYOUIHATEYOUIHATEYOU,” which, newsflash, you’re going to do anyway, but your parents don’t know this yet, so let’s not ruin the party.

The point here is that baby ducks imprint on their parents in a few days, but you’re a human, so this whole step-away-from-the-child thing seems like a bit much.

Understand, I get the drive to attach to your newborn. On the nights my boys were born, I held them in my hospital bed and studied them fiercely, memorizing their eyes, noses, hair, ears, fingers — everything, lest we take home a stuffed animal by mistake.

Such cementing is largely due to hormones, which also usher in postpartum crying jags. Been there, too.

I get how visitors at this point can grate.

I get how new parents want to do everything right.

I get that every generation changes how they do things.

I also understand that it’s nice to have a pair of loving, experienced hands take a squalling baby so you can get a nap, or a shower, or escape to Walmart, which can seem like a dream vacation, especially if your child has colic, a condition that causes babies to cry pretty much nonstop for the first three months of their lives, for no discernible reason.

Oh, didn’t I tell you? My bad. Colic runs in our family.

Seeya soon.


Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine. Contact her at

O.Henry Ending

Nettleton Nightmare

The nettlesome side of “Greensboro’s Shoe”

By Charles A. Jones

When I recently noticed my accountant was wearing non-Nettleton tassel loafers, I winced. In 2012, O.Henry magazine glorified Nettletons as “The Greensboro Shoe [in] the golden age of haberdashery.”

I frankly do not understand all this bootlicking heaped upon a brand of shoes that evokes, for some, painful memories of being bullied and mocked by the fashion police in junior and senior high schools.

My time in hell was three years at Kiser from 1967–1970 and one year at Grimsley ’70–’71. The “uniform” of our generation’s equivalent of the Hitler Youth (aka “Brownshirts”) was a pair of Nettletons, black socks, and often an Izod shirt featuring, appropriately, a vicious alligator. Penny loafers were allowed as an alternative to Nettletons but never with pennies in the slots at the front of the loafers — unless you had a death wish. Such fashion deviations brought instant and brutal punishment by the Brownshirts. Another taboo: wearing “fake Nettletons”

But not everyone who sported Nettletons was a bully. I remember a good guy from the Kiser years whom I will call John Brandt, who wore the prized loafers. When a bully stepped on the tip of his Nettleton and turned his foot to grind the shoe’s toe, John hit the guy in the face the very next day at his father’s suggestion and dragged the bleeding offender to the principal’s office.

My parents for whatever reason would not let me buy Nettletons. My feet were also too big and too wide for the shiny penny loafers (which my parents did allow) flattening the inside edges of the shoes.

Another fashion offense that put me in harm’s way was donning a pair of white or light colored socks, a lightning rod that drew instant fire. I remember a dangerous duo — let’s call them Lane Smith and Paul Downing, who were both Nettleton-wearers — seeing me commit just such a fashion offense. Rocking back and forth on their feet, they mocked me by sarcastically singing “We like those WHITE SOCKS!” Lane once expressed his disapproval of me by spitting on me through the gap in his front teeth. Once, when the bottoms of my feet were badly cut and I had to wear white socks, I covered them with a pair of dark ones so I would live another day.

Nettletons or “Neds” as they were called, became meaningless after I left Greensboro’s public schools. At Oak Ridge Military Academy, Wake Forest University and Campbell College Law School, one’s academic performance and character were much more important than a shoe brand.

In 1981 I joined the Marines and never had to worry about what to wear — and I didn’t have to go to Younts-DeBoe and spend a week’s pay on a pair of shoes. For field duty, the uniform was “boots and utes” — combat boots and a standard utility uniform (camouflage). I became elite based on merit, not on footwear.

Ironically, shoe problems still haunted me during my initial Marine training. My wide, flat feet didn’t fit comfortably inside narrow combat boots with little support. What were benignly termed “conditioning hikes” were in fact long marches on gravel roads (a great way to see Virginia’s countryside while wearing a helmet and pack, and carrying a rifle). My feet began to look like bleeding hamburgers. I tried everything for relief, including wearing hose and — get this — white socks. The only relief came when I got wider boots.

Civilian clothing was permitted after hours, but fellow Marines, despite their regimented training and esprit de corps, never ragged anyone for wearing faux Nettletons or white socks. I doubt they even knew what Nettletons were. I realized that high school was over and that mature adults do not really care what shoes or socks one wears as long as one is a competent, humane individual.

Despite the very strong signal I got from the beautiful people and show-offs that I was CLEARLY not one of them, I have led a successful and fulfilling life to age 64. And I will never be nostalgic about a status symbol that symbolized, at least for me, the cruelty that insecure adolescents are capable of inflicting upon one another.

Without fear I wear white socks as I write and edit this article, and I — who still have the fire of a Marine — look forward to meeting Lane Smith and Paul Downing one day to revisit the good old times and maybe even using the end of my fist to point their chins to their “Neds.”

Charles A. Jones is a retired Marine Corps Reserve colonel, a lawyer and a writer. He changed the names of those mentioned in this article to protect the guilty.

Wandering Billy

Caps ’n’ Taps

A different kind of brewing company serves up a sip of the past alongside current faves

By Billy Eye

“Everybody’s got to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another beer.” — W.C. Fields

I had the pleasure one afternoon of meeting with Jan Oden at the site of one of the most exciting resurrections of architectural relics since the Revolution Mill project.

Jan and her husband, Bill, are forging a brewery, beer garden and entertainment complex at the southern edge of the College Hill neighborhood, crafted out of a handsome two-story brick manufacturing plant flanked on both sides by four Craftsman-style bungalows built around the turn of the last century. The imposing rustic building at the center of this facility, most recently a metal finishing business, was erected in 1940 for the Good Luck Bottling Company.

Greensboro is known for many things. Dolley Madison’s stitches, Wrangler britches, Vaporub for itches, the South’s sassiest (that next word didn’t get past my editor). It may surprise you to know our fair city was also a soda pop fountainhead for the Southeast.

North Carolina’s very first Coca-Cola bottler began filling 5-cent bottles on South Elm in 1902. Soon after, Pepsi-Cola was brewing on nearby Lewis Street. By the 1940s, Nehi was bubbling up on Battleground, 7up over on Walker, Orange Crush on Westover Terrace, Canada Dry Ginger Ale on West Market, and Dr Pepper (“Drink a Bite to Eat at 10, 2, and 4 o’clock”) on Lee Street. At one time or another, we’ve been home to Chero-Cola, Lime-Cola, Gin-Gera (“It Gingers You Up”), Pal Ade, Nesbitt’s Orange, Mint Cola, Big Frosty, Necto, and Tru-Ade. Greensboro was selected for the world’s most modern Pepsi bottling plant in 1957 where no less a superstar than motion picture dominatrix Joan Crawford herself stilettoed into position on Spring Garden near Holden to cut the ribbon, flanked on either side by WWII ack-ack guns and the combined Army, Navy and Marine Corps Color Guards.

Lesser known but just as effervescent was Greensboro’s own Good Luck Bottling from the mid-1930s into the 1950s. Founded by William Lafayette Oden, more informally known as “Fate” (if you saw his portrait you might imagine why), Good Luck began operations on Davie Street with 3 Centa cola. With every other bottle of pop selling for a nickel, 3 Centa had a 40 percent price advantage. In 1940, Oden expanded his operations to include a spicy ginger ale originating out of Birmingham. It wasn’t happenstance that he chose to build his larger plant on Lee Street (now Gate City Boulevard) near Tate. “He did some research,” Jan says of her great-grandfather. “And found this spot had the best water possible, so he had a deep well dug.” The water was so pure, Oden was bottling spring water here with the slogan, “Feel better, live longer.”

Around the same time, that spicy ’Bama ginger ale was renamed Buffalo Rock. Was it because of our own Buffalo Creek? “That’s one of the things I’m trying to figure out,” Jan tells me. “Exactly what my great-grandfather’s involvement was.”

Jan is so dedicated to this exciting endeavor she relocated her family here from Wilmington in the fall of 2017. As we tour one of the charming houses serving as her makeshift office, filled with shabby chic antiquities, she tells me of her commitment to preserving these historic properties: “We want to keep everything close to the way they are built. The Avett Brothers’ ‘Salvation Song,’ that’s our theme song.”

For years serving as college student rentals, these four homes will be integrated into the overall complex, each remarkably intact, cozy and true to its roots. “We could have a restaurant in here with seating inside,” Jan remarks about her office. “While food could be served out of the back window to the beer garden.” When I visited, one of the homes had just been moved to the side, opening up the rear of the property for parking and an expansive open-air patio with a stage for local bands.

As someone residing in the area, known to tip a glass or 10, I for one can’t wait to see — and taste — the results when this ambitious undertaking is completed in late summer. The brewmaster for what will be christened Oden Brewing Company, Brian Carter, late of Natty Greene’s, will have 15 taps flowing. “There are a lot of places taking ‘creative’ way beyond where I think it needs to be,” he says. “We’ll have a good variety, so that there is something for the beer nerds who want that new crazy thing, but if somebody just wants a damn beer, they’ll have something to drink too. The whole first year will be figuring out what people are clamoring for.”

There’ll be more than brewskis on draft. The plan is to make kombucha in-house and, Brian promises, “Once we figure out how to carbonate the water, some craft sodas,” A spicy ginger ale, natch, along with other flavors. “Just like the beer rotation,” he says. “When that batch runs out, we’ll replace it with something else.”

This area was undisturbed for so long it remains encircled by towering oaks and leafy shrubs, an idyllic environment for a friendly neighborhood brewpub filling the gap between coffeehouses and corner bars. “There’s nothing else like it here,” Jan points out. “People want that walking distance spot, a place where the family can eat and hang out and bring the kids.”

Billy Eye is O.G. — Original Greensboro.

Short Stories March ’19

Branching Out

Help the Gate City keep another moniker, Tree City USA, as designated by the National Arbor Day Foundation. And you don’t have to, er, go out on a limb. Just join Greensboro Beautiful on March 16 — Arbor Day — at 10 a.m. for a tree planting at Kings Forest Park (1501 Larchmont Drive). The event will also launch the local nonprofit’s NeigbhorWoods Community Tree Planting Program, which helps provide canopy for hardwoods and evergreens lost in storm damage — as we all witnessed during Hurricanes Florence and Michael last fall — or for utility work. Info:

Pickled and Preserved

Not that we’re suggesting you tie one on, but you can order a bowl of pickled veggies and yes, hoist a brew or two — or even a few — while helping out Preservation Greensboro. Just head to Natty Greene’s Brewpub in the historic Jones Building (345 South Elm Street) on March 20, aka “Good Work Wednesday” between 5 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. and order your favorite frostie, be it a Buckshot Amber, a Southern Session IPA or an Old Town Brown. While you’re at it, place an order of Cajun fries to go with those pickles, knowing that when you pay your tab, 10 percent of it — along with 10 percent of other bar patrons’ tabs — will go directly to the nonprofit dedicated to saving revered places and vital links to the Gate City’s past. Info:

The Body Eclectic

As in, eclectic ways artists have used to portray the human figure, as seen in Here We Are: Painting and Sculpting the Human Form, opening March 9 at Weatherspoon Art Museum (500 Tate Street). Drawing from Modern and contemporary works from the museum’s collection, the exhibit consists of self-portraits, celebrity portraits or renderings of body fragments, to show that our mortal coils are a means to express identity, societal trends and fragility. So show a little esprit de corporeal, and catch the installation, which will be on view through October 20. Info:

Marvelous Maguy

It was a book reading.

But the writer, Greensboro’s Maguy (pronounced Maggie) Thomson, who is 75 and bent by rheumatoid arthritis, could not speak above a whisper, so her husband, Tim, introduced her work, Marguerite de Bourgogne, a self-published memoir via LifeRich Publishing, an imprint of Readers Digest.

Reading from a copy bookmarked with sticky notes, Brenda Schleunes, founder of the Touring Theatre of North Carolina, freed Maguy’s stories:

Of her father as a young Jewish man in Austria, fleeing Hitler’s police in 1936.

Of her mother, who was from the Burgundy region of France and who lived, as young woman, in Paris, where she and Maguy’s father met.

Of Maguy’s childhood, which included an 8-year-old boy who wrapped her 4-year-old finger with a blade of grass and announced to Maguy’s grandfather, “We are married whether you like it or not.”

At this, Marguerite of Burgundy — and later of Paris, of Chicago and four more U.S. cities before she landed, five years ago, in Greensboro — closed her eyes in the den-like coziness of Scuppernong Books and smiled. So did everyone else. Info: or —M.J.

Couture de Coeur

You don’t have to be a fashionista to appreciate Restoration Runway, the fashion show and silent auction benefiting Restoration Place Counseling, which offers affordable, faith-based services to women suffering trauma, depression or dependence. On March 28 Restoration Runway will celebrate its 10th year at Greensboro Country Club (410 Sunset Drive) with a reception, runway show and silent auction, but under the  theme, “Joy,” it celebrates something more important: inner beauty. Tickets:


Step to it, get into the groove, drag your heels, toe the line and give it a whirl. Dance Project’s Dance Marathon, that is. From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on March 30, Dance Project will set up in LeBauer Park and Van Dyke Performance Center (200 North Davie Street) for a day of classes, performances, dance relays, prizes and then some. The point is not only to have a great time but also to raise money for the programs and activities at Dance Project’s School at City Arts. So grab those dancing shoes and get ready to cut a rug. Info: (336) 373-2727 or

Irish Trad

Long before Celtic Woman or other renowned folk bands from the Emerald Isle — De Dannan, Planxty, even The Irish Rovers of “The Unicorn” fame — The Chieftains set the bar for traditional Irish music. Established in 1962 by front man Paddy Moloney, the group boasts a staggering discography of 40-some albums, six Grammy awards and numerous collaborations with musicians of various genres, from rocker Mick Jagger to late opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti. As cultural ambassadors, The Chieftains have performed for monarchs, heads of state, Pope John Paul II and, at the invitation of the Chinese government, on the Great Wall of China, the first western group to do so. In its 57 years, the band has expanded and contracted with various members’ passing or leaving, but Moloney still leads, playing the tin whistle and uilleann pipes. With Kevin Conneff on vocals and bodhrán (drum) and Matt Malloy on flute they continue to delight and mesmerize audiences with their enticing blend of Celtic airs, ballads and reels, along with  classical compositions. Be similarly mesmerized on March 7 at 8 p.m. the Carolina Theatre (301 S. Greene Street). Tickets: (336) 333-2605 or

Spring Forward

To Springfest! OK, so we’re brazen enough to toot our own horn, but we strongly feel you won’t want to miss this year’s event, hosted by our sister publication Seasons Style & Design, a quarterly devoted to all things home and garden in the Triad. Now in its second year, Springfest will be held on Saturday March 24 from 1 to 5 p.m. at Grandover Resort (1000 Club Road). With the theme, “How Does Your Garden Grow,” it will feature — if you’ll pardon our alliteration — garden gab from hort luminaries Tony Avent and Chip Calloway. In between talks you can enjoy a splendid tea, replete with nibbles, and meander among vendors’ displays, and home and garden demos. Rumor has it that flower guru Randy McManus may even make an appearance. Find out for yourself! Tickets:

Drinking with Writers

The Art of Civil Discourse

A little healthy organic juicing with Rachel Lewis Hilburn

By Wiley Cash     Photographs by Mallory Cash

Last year I attended a literary event with some of the best known writers in the country, but as soon as the event began it became clear that the crowd was more interested in seeing emcee Rachel Lewis Hilburn, a woman whose disembodied voice had been speaking to them for years from the studios of WHQR Public Media. She joined the station in 2011, and she was named news director in 2012. A year later she anchored the pilot episode of CoastLine, a show that focuses primarily on local and statewide issues and the people they affect. Over the past six years, Rachel and her guests have discussed issues as diverse as gun control, water quality, film incentives and Thanksgiving recipes. No matter what the topic, Rachel always finds a fascinating angle. I will admit that I once sat in my driveway for 15 minutes and listened as Rachel and a county official discussed recycling. Like her voice, Rachel’s questions are direct and smooth. Her interactions with people are civil and genuine, and she gives her guests an opportunity to tell their stories as well as the expectation that they will be held accountable for the stories they tell.

This is not to say that Rachel does not ask hard questions. I sat for a CoastLine interview when my last novel was released, and at one point Rachel read a quote from a terrible review I had received in a major newspaper. Then she asked, “How do you keep that dagger from staying inside you?” Ouch! No one had ever asked me how I recover from bad reviews, and that question forced me to be honest about the vulnerability of artists. I look back on that hour I spent on-air with Rachel as perhaps the best interview experience I have ever had.

I took an opportunity to ask Rachel a few questions of my own one chilly morning in late January. We met at Clean Juice in downtown Wilmington on the corner of Grace and North Front Street. I ordered the Immunity One, an organic blend of carrots, lemons, oranges, pineapples and turmeric. Rachel ordered the Glow One, a mix of organic apples, cucumbers, kale and spinach. We found seats by the huge windows that look out on Grace Street. While I serve on the board of directors at WHQR and have known Rachel for several years, there was one question I had never asked her.

“What was your path to public radio?” 

“I started life thinking I would be an actor,” Rachel said. “And I went to the North Carolina School of the Arts, and then I moved to New York and L.A. and did some theater.”


“Yes,” she said. “At one point, when I was in L.A., I decided I wanted to have a steady income and see what other things I could do.” She laughed and took a sip of her juice. “So I became a financial adviser, but only for about two years.”

“How did you get to Wilmington?”

“I knew people in Wilmington, and I loved the East Coast,” she said. “I was tired of the desert in Los Angeles, and I just loved the texture of the weather here. I came to Wilmington and embarked on a process of finding the next version of myself.” During that process Rachel wrote and produced television news broadcasts for WWAY; she wrote and produced a documentary about the 1898 Wilmington race massacre; and she served as the executive director of the homeowners association at Bald Head Island.

When you stack all these jobs together — financial adviser, news writer, producer, documentarian and executive director of a homeowners association — it becomes clear that Rachel has been perfectly prepared for a career in public radio. Over the course of her diverse work history she has managed personalities, produced content, sought facts, and listened closely to people’s concerns and this is exactly what she is doing with an exciting new serialized program called CoastLine: Beneath the Surface.

According to the description on the program’s website, the community members who will participate in Beneath the Surface are “thoughtful and engaged listeners who’ve agreed to be part of a yearlong conversation. They are black and white, youngish and older. Their politics cover the spectrum left, right and center.”

In this politically charged environment, what happens when you put a group of diverse strangers in a room? Rachel has the answer: She assembled the group for a meet and greet a few days before their first on-air discussion.

“I thought I would have to do some goofy icebreaker,” Rachel said. “But no icebreaker was needed. People freely went around the room introducing themselves. They seemed really enthusiastic about being there, and they didn’t want to leave!”

Rachel said that, at least initially, conversations on Beneath the Surface will focus on local issues because she believes that is the place where people who are sitting together in the same room can achieve some level of civil discourse. Hopefully, that civility will trickle up.

“I happen to think the political dynamic, that super division and vitriol on Capitol Hill, and even at the state level, isn’t going to change until regular folks change,” Rachel said. “Public radio can pull back the curtain and introduce you to a situation in its context. It can introduce these whole human beings, and it makes it hard to put them in a box.”

In keeping with Rachel’s history of discussing timely topics and asking hard questions, the first topic broached on Beneath the Surface was the issue of Wilmington’s Confederate monuments. I listened to the show, and I could hear the strain in people’s voices, their discomfort in defending positions that may not be popular. But I could also hear other things: the click of boxes opening as people grew comfortable with one another; the sound of voices speaking calmly while sharing ideas and experiences. These were the sounds of whole human beings coming together and being civil.

Wiley Cash lives in Wilmington with his wife and their two daughters. His latest novel, The Last Ballad, is available wherever books are sold.

Resonant Dwelling

Architect Michael Clapp’s poetic barn conversion in Whitsett

By Cynthia Adams     Photographs by Amy Freeman

Michael Clapp is living what he calls “the poetics of architecture.” His vision, expressed in a family barn in the countryside that is his new home, reveals what is extraordinary in the ordinary.

Clapp, a practicing architect and a lecturer in the School of Architecture at UNC-Charlotte, is wiry and slim, dressed in monotones of gray: jeans, sweater, shirt and scarf. Only his tan-colored shoes differ; they are neatly polished and laced.

In describing the project located on a Whitsett farm, he compares his architecture to poetry. As poetry lovers understand, taut writing must reveal, not conceal, essences.

Much like poetry, effective architecture must also be deliberately devised, revised and constructed. Nothing extraneous, nothing left to chance. Multiple interpretations, however, are both expected and welcome.

Now on rural land that has long been in his family, Clapp grew up in the Adams Farm community in southwest Greensboro. He and his partner, Méric Ozgen, moved into their barn conversion in December last year. The barn always spoke to him.

“For years, I saw it and thought there was potential to create a really wonderful space.”

Work on the structure began in 2017, the year Clapp launched his practice, Schemata Studio, after finishing graduate school. The barn functions as both home and studio with 940 square feet of heated space — there is additional unheated footage on the ground level, which features a laundry room, outdoor shower, storage and a garage. It has been reinvented yet not. It still possesses its barn essence, honest and rough-hewn. As Clapp knew it must: “It retains vestiges of the past.”

“My grandparents lived next door,” he explains, gray gravel crunching beneath the impeccable shoes. The barn is adjacent to his grandparents’ traditional clapboard farmhouse. And while the farmhouse is a rental now, Clapp’s older sister may consider returning to what could grow into a small family compound. At this, he smiles.

A cabin across the road from the barn was restored to his father’s specifications — another story altogether — Clapp says as he circles the barn’s exterior. He points out the outdoor shower and space where animals and farm equipment were once kept; they reveal the history and yes, even the granular poetics of the place.

The barn does a curious thing. It disappears. UPS drivers miss it constantly, Clapp explains. Brown trucks whizz past the gravel drive, which wends by a bisected felled tree, a pine lost in a winter storm, which he laughingly calls “the gate.”

The barn hides in plain sight, with charred board siding, metal roof and a separate shed, so organically conceived it blends into the winter’s landscape. The exterior form is a combination, Clapp says, of the original tin panels and oak plank. The rain screen, an architectural modification to the original barn, is made of charred slat siding, a Japanese technique, not stained, he qualifies. The charring technique is redolent, too, recalling a family home that was lost in a fire.

So, altered, the barn echoes the past but it is changed. It is of the place, yet not. Clapp will explain later; this, too, concerns resonance.

There are small innovations to be seen from the very first glimpse. The large front door, wood and metal-edged, has a load-bearing wheel on the inside that is both quirky and industrial-chic.

Stairs lead up from the entry, through a grid-like exposure of rough beams. Clapp says code modifications were made to the stair treads, in order to retain the original wood yet make them compliant. The original treads, he says, “are articulated with new rough cut oak.”

There is the undeniable romance of hefty timber beams, raw edges and decades-old wood.

Where once there was a hayloft, there is now work and living space. Overhead, the gambrel roof is a show-stopper, a humbler version of a vaulted ceiling in a European cathedral. The beams were cleaned, faced with plywood, and serve as the most impressive feature, the one that no doubt inspired everything. Windows artfully sliced into the upper walls provide light yet recede, more generous than traditional barns allow.

Clapp discusses the way “the new space was grafted” onto the old. He mentions palimpsest, usually defined as discernible traces of writing, as on a pad, or it can mean something that has been altered yet bears the traces of its earlier form.

“We are standing on the original floor and under the gambrel roof structure,” Clapp says, his blue eyes narrowing in emphasis. “All original,” he adds, right down to the insects they had to shoo away. “We had to vacuum off the cobwebs and dirt dauber nests. We seemed to find new ones every day.”

Clapp points out that the revealed oak rafters are 24 inches on center. “It gives a harmonious feel. The vernacular resonates towards that end.”

He also mentions pondering the finer points of a baseboard finish only feet from where his desk is, neatly stacked with multidimensional studies. Clapp anticipates growing the business, and requiring another, separate location. Then he and Ozgen will claim the nearly 1,000 square feet of the barn as their living space only.

As he makes an espresso on the stovetop in the L-shaped (surprisingly spacious and workable) kitchen, he sets cups and cream onto a dark-stained butcher block counter.

Both Clapp and Ozgen are avid cooks who did not want to scrimp on the kitchen, which he admits appeared smaller on paper before being built. So the fridge was carefully deliberated — they eschewed French-style doors to maximize space.

There are three levels, the third comprising a sleeping loft. The loft contains a bathroom, with exposed copper pipes in the industrial-styled tiled shower. The bedroom features a Juliet balcony across from the bed, providing a tree-filled view. There are evergreens and deciduous trees, whose stark branches will soon leaf out, filling the frame in a profusion of green like an animated painting.

The interior is largely complete with some finishing touches still in process. Clapp points out that furniture is on order but not yet arrived. Two camp chairs provide seating near the office where the couple are still testing various details within the space and revising ideas. There is the baseboard, for example. He points to a raised metal lip along the baseboard behind one of the camp chairs. The original idea, he explains, for the entire floor. The more practical option, he says, is one being tested on another wall called a shadow line — which appears to delineate the base of the wall without complicating construction and housekeeping.

The couple, both in their 30s, are the occupants and also the makers. They are doing the work largely themselves. Clapp sprinkles conversation with ideas about living minimally, of craft, of intention. There is discovery, tweaking and refinement all ongoing as the makers explore, as they have been, since taking occupancy last December.

He discusses conservation versus preservation, saying conservation focuses on retaining the past, preserving the flavor of the place. “Done in a way that can be sensible.” Clapp uses a professorial term: “resonant dwelling.” He has dubbed the barn project that.

“Farm architecture is what you build when you can’t afford to get it wrong,” N.C. architect Frank Harmon once commented. It is a quote found on Clapp’s website, though Clapp received his architectural training at the University of Tennessee and Harvard, where he also met Ozgen. So what if the barn was once a humble outbuilding on a farm? In the architectural context, Clapp says, good design can lend identity and a sense of place.

Only briefly did he doubt his vision.

As he recalls, there was a particular memory before the project began. It occurred after they cleared out all the detritus and items stored in the barn. For the first time, he could see the barn he had long admired emptied out.

“There was a weird moment,” Clapp confesses. “The essence of the space was exposed.”

It seemed larger. And he recalls feeling sudden reservation about altering it at all, thinking, “Oh, no, we’re going to start breaking this space down and compartmentalizing it. But once fully realized, the vision enhanced the existing space. We retained certain aspects of the original structure, so you could tell the story.”

Later, Clapp shows some of his elaborate sketches. Three days a week he travels to UNC-Charlotte, where he lectures on architecture. The remaining days, he works here in Whitsett, occupying the project nearest to his heart.

The family dog, Kar, snuggles into a bed near his desk, also reporting for work. “Kar,” he explains, “is the Turkish word for snow.” Ozgen is Turkish.

She works with Gensler, a Raleigh architectural firm but also is involved with Schemata, something Clapp long contemplated opening.

“A schema is an organizational tool that our minds use to understand certain situations. Schemata, as its plural form in Greek, help bridge between images and concepts to facilitate that understanding. We seek to challenge traditional ways of thinking about architecture and space to create pleasing new forms of occupations and residences.”

Standing on the ground level, which still has relics of its farm-past, Clapp says they are still pondering how the unfinished footage may one day be used. But he very much likes the fact that the old feed bins and stalls where his grandparents kept a pony and other animals are visible. Palimpsest personified.

“I think architects are uniquely positioned to help expose hidden value through thoughtful design,” Clapp reflects.

He adds that the “Amazon-ized society and culture have come to equate the lowest price with the best value but this couldn’t be further from the truth . . . “I like to ask: ‘When’s the last time you were truly delighted by something?’ Architecture and the space that is designed within and around it has the ability to present that.”

The grounds will change, too. Come spring, the couple envisions there will be planting in the field outside, just as there once was. Clapp says they are discussing planting pecans and mulberries. “A true Turkish breakfast will have mulberry jam,” something that he says Ozgen anticipates. The delicate mulberries are shaken from the branches, then caught in linen sheets before they hit the ground and are bruised, he explains.

Part of the poetics of architecture concern how man relates to the land. Clapp honors the place where his father and uncle came of age, and where his grandparents farmed.

“Christmas Day, we opened one of the few remaining canned jars of green beans from my grandmother,” he recalls. “She also made fresh apple pies,” he adds.

So inasmuch as Clapp is a philosopher, he too, is also a “maker,” just as he says.

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry. Many of her happiest childhood moments were spent playing inside a Cabarrus County barn, observing life from the hayloft.

From Here to Ubiquity

Barn conversions are not uncommon in New England and certainly the U.K. But in the South, like the barn of my childhood, many have been lost, erased from the landscape by the ravages of time or a developer’s bulldozer. Ours fell to the latter.

Mike Cowhig is a longtime community planner with the City of Greensboro who works historic districts and guides the Historic Preservation Commission. He and Benjamin Briggs, the head of Preservation Greensboro, pondered how many barn conversions exist in Greensboro. Neither possesses an inventory of the county’s barns.

In an email, they mention the Carlson Farms barn conversion (part of the Greensboro Country Club), Stancil Farm, and Starlight Meadow, which is also near Whitsett. Then Briggs’ emails a quip about how such facilities often pop up and disappear, joking that anyone with a cow, a barn, and a golf cart is suddenly a wedding venue. There is something egalitarian about a barn, after all. — C.A.



Greensboro Opera launches a new production in a new performance space

We all know the story: A brother and sister lose their way in a forest and come upon a gingerbread house laden with sweets; weak with hunger, they start nibbling at the confection . . . only to discover it is the property of a witch who uses the sugary structure to lure young children for her own consumption. Grim and grisly stuff, as written by the Brothers Grimm. Though the story is well-worn, the operatic adaptation of Hansel and Gretel by 19th-century German composter Engelbert Humperdinck “has some of the most beautiful music,” says David Holley, director of Greensboro Opera.

He has equal praise for the new venue where the production will be performed March 8, 9 and 10: Well-Spring Theatre, situated on the campus of Well-Spring retirement community. “It’s just a gem,” Holley affirms. “It’s got great acoustics, great sightlines and there’s not a bad seat in the house.” Accommodating 330, the performance space consists of a traditional proscenium theater, but as Holley observes, it’s designed in such a way to serve multiple purposes. “It’s intimate, inviting, yet spacious.”

He should know, having watched the theater’s construction from the time it was “a concrete slab.” About four years ago, Holley’s colleague on the UNCG music faculty and Well-Spring’s director of programs Garrett Saake made an attractive offer: “He said, ‘We want to get professional arts organizations booked in the new performance space,’” Holley recalls. “I immediately said, ‘yes!’” (As did Five By O.Henry, Greensboro Symphony and Bel Canto Company). Ever since, the opera company has used Well-Spring for rehearsals of Daughter of the Regiment, Madame Butterfly, Carmen and Cinderella. “It’s great, because the residents can come and go,” Holley says.

Now it’s the general public’s turn to get in on the act. Or more specifically, the three acts of Hansel and Gretel, which was chosen for its popularity among opera buffs and novices alike. In addition to the familiar plot, “it’s an hour-and-a-half and in English,” Holley notes. But just as that gingerbread house in the forest enchants the opera’s protagonists, it’s the music that enchants audiences. Holley waxes poetic about the sublime “Evening Prayer,” and the, well, sweet sounds of Greensboro Youth Chorus filling cast as the other child victims of the witch’s evil spells. “A lot of it is folk-based, simple, accessible,” he says of the score. “It is one opera where people will leave humming a tune.” — Nancy Oakley  OH