Heart of Red Oak

Beer — and Bill Sherrill — are proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy

By Jim Dodson  • Photographs by Laura Gingerich

On a recent warm spring Friday evening, the bar at Red Oak Brewery’s spanking new Lager Haus and its newly completed Biergarten are filled with happy customers and an air of cheerful gratitude that another workweek is in the books. It’s time to hoist a cold Red Oak or one of half a dozen house-crafted beers on tap to toast the start of a warm and welcome weekend. 

At least that’s the feeling of the colorful owner and creator of this festive little piece of Munich, Germany — a pretty happy guy in his own right. Earlier in the day, Bill Sherrill, arguably one of the godfathers of artisan brewing in North Carolina, received some very good news about the future of crafted beer in the state.

A friend who works as a lobbyist in the North Carolina General Assembly phoned to let him know that a lengthy campaign led by Sherrill and other craft brewers to change a state law that prohibited them from producing and selling more than 25,000 barrels of beer without contracting with a wholesale distributor had succeeded.

Under the revised law, the state’s 200 craft brewers could now make and distribute 50,000 barrels on their own. It’s a victory not only for thirsty beer drinkers across the state but also a shot in the arm for smaller, independent craft brewers like Sherrill who’d essentially bumped up against the 25,000-barrel cap, limiting further growth without turning their beer over to a distributor, who probably wouldn’t keep, for instance, Red Oak refrigerated during transport as classic German lagers should be.

“It’s definitely a reason to celebrate because this will mean more jobs in the long run and be great for the state’s economy,” says a visibly pleased Sherrill. His illuminated sign by his Red Oak brewery hard by the southern flank of I-40/85 in tiny Whitsett has become something of a roadside icon and a growing attraction in recent years, underscored by the opening last fall of the brewery’s capacious Munich-style Lager Haus.

The aforementioned Biergarten, with its neat communal tables and fire pit beneath a grove of lacy bark elms, is simply the latest addition to meister Sherrill’s complex. Next up is a 10,000-square-foot office and art gallery that will showcase major North Carolina and Southern visual artists when completed sometime late this year or early next. In the meantime, his popular Lager Haus features its own eclectic works of art in the form of a 17th-century wedding settle (bench) that was given in 1640 to the Earl of Northumberland, a pair of royal family crests from England’s House of Windsor and the Royal House of Holland, a 500-year-old coat of arms from the German Millers Guild, oil paintings from ice skating legend Dick Buttons’ private collection, antiques and an illuminated “Burgie” (i.e. a vintage Burgermeister Beer sign) from the Sputnik years rotating over the bar.

“I found that during an art crawl 21 years ago in Scottsdale, Arizona,” relates Sherrill over the convivial din of his patrons. “Pretty special, isn’t it? It seems to make people happy. That’s the point.”

Indeed it seems to be one of many reasons the festive Lager Haus has become both a roadside destination and a routine gathering spot for everything from local civic groups to book clubs, family reunions and alumni evenings — even a Bible class that meets there every other Thursday.

“We have probably the widest range of patrons imaginable,” says director of customer services, Ashley Justice, with a laugh. “I’m talking about lawyers from Raleigh, college students and professors from Greensboro and Chapel Hill, business folks and Harley bikers.” Plus, she says, there are game boards for families, NASCAR on Sunday, musical Bingo on Wednesday evenings and trivia nights on Thursdays. “We host events for the sheriff’s department and local hospitals. This really is an Old World place where everyone feels welcome.”

Dogs are welcome too — treated to their own special watering holes — while  gourmet food trucks feed their masters on a rotating basis. A highlight of this ongoing festive calendar is the gifted German oom-pah band that shows up annually to perform on weekends through Oktoberfest. Sherrill also plans to add an authentic Brat Stube (Kiosk) selling German sausage.

All three entities — craft brewery, Lager Haus and art gallery — are the kind of yeoman dreams Bill Sherrill has spent a career bringing to life. In 1979, Sherrill opened Franklins Off Friendly with a talented chef named John Berres and a charismatic young house manager named Dennis Quaintance, the three of them creating one of the Gate City’s hottest restaurants over the next decade and a half. From there, Quaintance went on to start a successful wine brokerage and later partnered with construction guru Mike Weaver to open Lucky 32 restaurant; the two would later bring a pair of award-winning luxury boutique hotels, the O.Henry and Proximity, to life.

“I can’t imagine what my life and many others would have been like without Bill,” says Quaintance, who met Sherrill when he was 17 and followed him east after working for him in hotels and restaurants in California and Seattle. “He is such an original thinker. For Bill, it’s not about the money. It’s about creating things that make people happy. Bill doesn’t conform to any formula. He is completely unconventional and creates what makes him happy and shares that with the people around him.”

In 1989, after expanding the footprint of Franklin’s to include a Top 100 wine cellar, Sherrill decided to shut it down and concentrate on making the kind of German lager he’d developed a taste for while attending high school in Switzerland and traveling around the world for a full year after finishing Duke University. He went on to earn a master’s degree in hotel management at Cornell University.

His quest to find the perfect brew and the kind of equipment that could make the Bavarian-style amber lager he had in mind took him on a tour of West Coast craft breweries and across Germany before he settled on equipment found at Chesapeake Brewing Company.

He brewed his first beer in 1990, selling it mainly for the next year through his small chain of bar and grills in Winston-Salem, Chapel Hill and Charlotte.

In 2008, Sherill opened his Red Oak Brewery on a patch of family land in Whitsett, officially the state’s second-oldest craft brewing company, with eight employees and an unpasteurized beer that was so fresh it required refrigeration at all times. Today, the brewery occupies close to 30,000-square-feet and is closing in on 70 full- and part-time employees who seem to find Sherrill’s take of the Golden Rule in management style agreeable. “We have just three rules,” he notes — “Be honest, work hard and treat the customers the way you would want to be treated.”

His eight different beers are distributed as far west as Boone and Morganton, as far east as Little Washington and Calabash.

When it eventually opens, Red Oak’s art gallery will not only house a bounty of original works Sherrill has collected over decades from North Carolina and Southern artists, but also works he’s brought home from some of the 95 foreign countries he’s visited over the past half century. Among other things, he hopes the gallery will also serve as a place for seminars and round tables on the arts.

“I know it’s kind of crazy,” Sherrill allows while sharing a brew with several of his old friends from college days at Duke. “I mean, who would spend this kind of money on good beer and great art?”

He knows the answer to his own question, of course.

“Here,” he says with the Old World charm of a proud Biermeister. “It’s been a long week. Have another beer and relax.”  OH

Jim Dodson’s antidote to the brouhaha of publishing is a brew-ha-ha with one of Bill Sherrill’s craft beers.

Life’s Funny

Chop House

The sport of axe-throwing lands in the Piedmont

By Maria Johnson

Tony Wohlgemuth, the wizard of Kersey Valley amusement park in Archdale, has noticed an invasion of sorts along our northern border: Lots of trends in entertainment attractions come from Canada.

Take escape rooms, the group puzzle solving exercises built around storylines. They were a craze up yonder before they migrated here.

Now, the maple-flavored sport of axe-throwing — think of it as darts on steroids — is sweeping the United States, mostly as a bar game because, you know, who can resist mixing sharp blades with alcohol?

In this area, Wohlgemuth was the first to take a whack at it, having opened his indoor and outdoor venues earlier this year, but his attractions are a bit of a throwback. They’re alcohol-free in keeping with Kersey Valley’s family-friendly atmosphere.

Just good, old-fashioned blade-chucking here. In case you’re picturing long-handled axes à la Paul Bunyan, be advised the instruments of the sport are more like hatchets. They’re 14 inches long and weigh about a pound each, so they’re fairly easy to hurl end-over-end.

“It’s kind of Medievalish. There’s something empowering about it,” says Wohlgemuth, who started Kersey Valley on his family farm in 1985 and has grown it — with the help of his wife Donna, and his business partner David Rundberg — into an entertainment hub, with escape rooms, laser tag, zip line, high-ropes course, a corn maize and — the real haymaker — Spookywoods in the fall.

Wohlgemuth constantly scans the horizon for new attractions, so his interest was piqued when he spotted axe-throwing on YouTube back in 2016.

He checked with his insurance guy.

“Forget about it,” came the reply.

Wohlgemuth kept his eye on axe-throwing. He watched competitions on ESPN and delved into the rules and regulations of WATL, the World Axe Throwing League.

In January, Wohlgemuth was getting ready to refresh his oldest escape room, which had rough-cut pine walls and smelled of pitch, when an idea struck him: what if they used the room for axe-throwing?

He measured to make sure two 12-foot lanes would fit — they would — and he called a Chicago outfit, Axe Insurance Co., that has carved a real niche, so to speak.

Yes, they said, they would cover participants and spectators at Kersey Valley.

Wohlgemuth prodded. Would they cover an outdoor axe-throwing experience with 11 stations along a trail once used for Segway tours?

Well, you’d be the first to try that, but shurrrrrrrrre, came the answer.

Wohlgemuth was in business. He opened his axe attractions in early February.

“We’ve been booked every Saturday since then,” he says.

Corporate groups, clubs, couples, friends and families have given the sport a whirl.

On a recent weekday afternoon, 33-year-old Meghan Williams of Charlotte, and 33-year-old Greg Collins of Greensboro, celebrated their second year of dating with a 90-minute trip to the axe room, which Greg heard about from a friend where he works at . . . wait for it . . . a hospital.

Truth is so much better than fiction.

During a safety session, they learned the basic rules of axe-throwing, which include, but are not limited to:

Never hand an axe to anyone.

Never throw an axe at anyone.

Never touch the sharp edge of an axe while asking, “Is it sharp?”

Their “Axe-pert Instructor” Sydney Parks explained the throwing motion: a chop from the elbow rather than a throw from the shoulder. The axe should make one rotation before hitting the target, which is painted on pine planks. Ideally, the top corner of the blade will sink into the soft wood.

After a few dozen practice throws, Greg and Meghan started their games. An electronic scoreboard kept track. Eighties music played in the background at their request.

Greg, who grew up throwing axes at stumps on a farm in Ohio, narrowly won the first game.

He celebrated a bullseye by vigorously ringing a brass bell on the wall.

“That was forceful,” Meghan observed dryly.

A couple of throws later, she stuck the bullseye, swaggered to the bell and gave it a hearty clang.

“What’s that, Collins?” She teased.

They laughed.

Women tend to do better than men at axe-throwing, says Wohlgemuth. “Men try to muscle it, but it takes more finesse than brute strength. It’s a great equalizer.”

In fact, the record for most points on the outdoor course is held by a 10-year-old boy. Kersey Valley recommends that children be 13 to play, but if a young ’un is able to handle it, they can fling an axe, too.

“It’s all in the technique,” says Wohlgemuth. “If the technique is right, it doesn’t take much strength.”

And that may be the kindest cut of all.  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. To see a slow-motion video of Greg Collins in action, go to O.Henry’s Facebook page.

Short Stories

Flower Power

We take them for granted as we’re tearing down Interstates 40 and 85 in a mad rush (and one hopes, not texting and driving). But why not stop and smell, if not the roses, the wildflowers that carpet medians and roadsides of our highways? Or at least learn about the Wildflower Program from Derek Smith, environmental engineer at the North Carolina Department of Transportation. An employee of NCDOT for 26 years, Smith will discuss the types of wildflowers grown and different agronomic challenges across the state at noon on Thursday, May 9 at the Chip Callaway Lecture Series hosted by Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden (215 South Main Street, Kernersville). The lunch and learn will also reveal how you can grow wildflowers in your own garden. To register: (336) 996-7888 or cienerbotanicalgarden.org. 

Dare to Dream

Double your pleasure with not one but two local productions of Man of La Mancha, the popular Broadway musical based on Miguel de Cervantes’ epic, 17th-century novel, Don Quixote. Scripted by Dale Wasserman as a play-within-a-play, the show begins with the character of Cervantes awaiting trial in prison during the Spanish Inquisition. His fellow prisoners insist he hand over his possessions if he is found guilty. Cervantes agrees and in the mock trial that follows, mounts his “defense” in the form of a play: the story of a mad knight errant under the assumed name, Don Quixote de la Mancha, who is determined to return chivalric honor to a dreary world. With its theme of upholding ideals (no matter how grim life gets) and stirring score (including the showstopper “The Impossible Dream”), it’s no wonder Man of La Mancha garnered six Tony awards in 1966, including Best Musical. Catch it May 1–26 at Triad Stage (232 South Elm Street, Greensboro) or May 3–5 and 9–12, at the Little Theatre of Winston-Salem (Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art or SECCA, 750 Marguerite Drive, Winston-Salem). Tickets: (336) 272-0160 or triadstage.org; (336) 725-4001 for tickets or LTofWS.org.

Mutable Mangum

Just when you think you’ve identified William Mangum’s artistic style, better think again. The artist is unveiling his latest works in the exhibition, Transitions at dual receptions on Thursday and Friday, May 30 and 31, and at an open studio on Saturday, June 1 (303 West Smith Street). Consisting of more than 50 new works, the show reveals the range of Mangum’s talent, from representational paintings to abstracts and underscores that however constant a presence he is in the city and the state, his only constant is, of course, change. To attend an opening reception or learn more about the exhibition, contact Joy Ross at (336) 379-9200 or joy@williammangum.com.

A Walk in the Park

Lindley Park, that is. Hard nowdays to imagine one of Greensboro’s best-loved neighborhoods as an amusement park at the end of a trolley line with dancing, vaudeville, a casino and a manmade lake, but that’s exactly what occupied the 60 acres once belonging to local businessman and entrepreneur, John Van Lindley. By 1917, when the amusement park had had its run and share of fun, the city hired landscape architect Earl Sumner Draper to design the planned neighborhood with winding streets and sidewalks with the park as its focal point. So enjoy the green space, with its arboretum, and get to know the turn-of-the-century and mid-century homes surrounding it on Preservation Greensboro’s Ninth Annual Tour of Historic Homes & Gardens (Saturday and Sunday, May 18 & 19). As the nonprofit’s flagship fundraiser, the tour supports future historic preservation efforts in the Gate City and Guilford County. For more info about tickets and downloading the walking app, go to preservationgreensboro.org/tour-of-historic-homes-gardens/.

The Beef People

Got a legitimate grievance? Need to gripe or get something off your chest? Well, for heaven’s sake, don’t keep all that ire bottled up — or take it out on fellow motorists in the form of road rage, or shout at coworkers, friends or family members or the TV, and please, don’t kick the dog, either. Just head to the newly formed Curmudgeons Corner and air your diatribe(s) to like-minded folk at 10 a.m. every second Wednesday at Scuppernong Books (304 South Elm Street). If you’re seeking more information about the group you can call the Curmudgeon-in-Chief at (336) 897-0283, who may not be inclined to answer. Best just to show up and vent. There, now, feel better?

Creative Campers

With summer vacation around the corner, why let the kiddos while away the hours of the long hot days in front of a video screen, when they can tap into their inner Van Gogh or Michelangelo? From June through August children ranging from pre-kindergarteners to rising sixth-graders can engage in a variety of creative pursuits at one of GreenHill’s weeklong camps. Little tots can explore colors by making their own paints and tools, or recreate their own version of the popular game “Candyland,” while first-, second- and third-graders can choose from craftmaking or creative problem-solving, among other classes. There are camps devoted exclusively to paper-making, drawing and painting, and getting your hands dirty in paint, mud or clay. Whatever you choose, the time to register is now! To do so, go to greenhillnc.org/summer-camps.

Home of the Grave

Or graves, plural. Not to mention an insane variety of exotic trees, thanks to the late, great green thumb of local plantsman and polymath Bill Craft. Yes, we’re referring to historic Greenhill Cemetery, which is really, really green this time of year, given the amount of rainfall these past several months. See what’s sprouting and blooming, and learn about the storied lives of the cemetery’s, um, permanent residents, many of whom shaped Greensboro, on Friends of Greenhill’s springtime tour on Sunday, May 12 at 2 p.m. Meet at the southern gate on Wharton Street with the oh-so-reasonable admission of $5. Info: friendsofgreenhillcemetery.org.


The French Farmer’s Wife (1987 Beeson Road, Kernersville) returns Thursday, May 2 through Saturday May 4 with its first barn sale of the year. With an emphasis on, but not limited to, French provincial antiques and vintage pieces, the sale features fetchingly curated and staged finds, such as large pieces of furniture, baskets, glassware, linens, soaps, garden accouterments and considerably more. As a special treat, Debbie Dion Hayes will be on hand to sign her book, Paint, Stencil & Design on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. Can’t make the sale? No worries, la fermière française will open her doors again July 25–27 and October 24–26. Info: facebook.com/TheFrenchFarmersWifeNC.

Winning Innings

The High Point Rockers are the newest ball club in the Triad, but did you know The International City has been hosting baseball games since the 1880s? It’s just one of several tidbits you can learn by visiting the exhibition, At the Old Ball Game, which opened late last month at the High Point Museum (1859 E. Lexington Avenue) Not only does the show cast a backward glance at local enthusiasm for America’s National Pastime, it also examines the current climate for the game with various lectures, events and programs, including the chance, on Saturday, May 4, for a free appraisal of your baseball cards and memorabilia. Now that’s what we call a homerun. Info: highpointmusuem.org.

Ogi Sez

Ogi Overman

I can’t prove it, but if asked their favorite month, I bet most folks would answer “May.” There’s just not much to dislike about it. As Goldilocks would say, “Not too hot, not too cold, but just right.” Plus, the outdoor concerts and street festivals are kicking off, making this a music-lover’s paradise. So, enjoy, there’s lots to choose from.

• May 2, Carolina Theatre:
For their Command Performance this year, the Showplace of the Carolinas has chosen Three Dog Night. The iconic rockers who ruled the early ’70s with 21 consecutive Top 40 hits, including three No. 1s, are still actively touring with original member Danny Hutton. Those patented “Joy to the World” three-part harmonies are still intact.

• May 10, High Point Theatre:
Not that it ever recedes for true believers, but May means that beach music again kicks into high gear. And the group that (one could argue) started it all, The Embers, are in the area, along with The Collegiates. If you saw them at the N.C. Folk Festival last year, you know that with Craig Woolard back in the fold, The Embers remain at the top of the “sand in my shoes” heap.

• May 18, LeBauer Park: Last year the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society moved its 32nd annual Carolina Blues Festival back downtown to rave reviews. They’ll be back there this year with another power-packed lineup of five stellar acts, headlined by the incredible Dom Flemons. The perfect way to spend a May afternoon and evening.

• May 30, Greensboro Coliseum: If, like me, harmony is your thing, Pentatonix needs no introduction. With the recent emergence of a capella vocal groups as a musical force, they have emerged as the cream of the crop. Their five parts can be literally chillbump-inducing.

• May 30, Ramkat: Did you happen to catch CBS’ recent Sunday Morning segment on Marty Stuart’s country music memorabilia museum? He is what Nashville used to be, and if he has his way, will one day be again. He looks and sounds the part, and His Fabulous Superlatives, ain’t bad, either.

Drinking with Writers

Blood Memory

Five friends and a meal to remember

By Wiley Cash     Photographs by Mallory Cash

In his first poetry collection, 1998’s Eureka Mill, Ron Rash writes about the connection he feels to his father, grandmother, and grandfather, especially their waking before dawn to work in textile mills. Rash refers to this connection, the connection to an ancestor’s experience without the experience itself, as “blood memory.”

I have always felt a kinship with Ron, and it is not just because our people come from the same places — the South Carolina Upstate and western North Carolina. I feel a deep bond with the experiences he writes about, the people he portrays, and the often disappearing landscapes he puts on the page. Is it blood that connects us? No, but when I read his work I feel like I understand Ron and the people he writes about as much as I understand my mother and father and the people who came before them.

This is what I was thinking about — this blood memory — when I left my adopted hometown of Wilmington and drove across the state, where the Appalachian Studies Association was hosting its annual conference on the campus of the University of North Carolina-Asheville. Normally, I am not someone who enjoys conferences: the academic talk, the nametag gazing, the feeling that everyone there is vying for the same thing, whether it is publication, notoriety, or the keys to both. But I felt at ease as the elevation increased and the air cooled because I knew I would be spending the weekend with writers and scholars who view the world in much the same way I do.

There were many people I was looking forward to seeing again or meeting the first time during our stay in Asheville, but I would be lying if I said I was not giddy at the thought of spending time with Lee Smith, someone I do not see as often as I would like and someone I will go to my grave believing is the most charming and warm-hearted person in all of American literature.

Along with novelist Silas House and his husband, writer Jason Howard, my wife Mallory and I had plans to have dinner with Lee in Asheville on Friday night before Saturday’s conference keynote event: a discussion between Lee and Ron Rash with me serving as the moderator.

I had met Silas House a few times over the years, but I really got to know him after we spent an evening in Swain County, North Carolina, last spring, facilitating creative writing workshops and readings with groups of high school students from western North Carolina and New York City who were participating in a literary exchange program. I had never met Jason before, but I knew his work, much of it focused on Kentucky’s rich music history and environmental issues like mountaintop removal. 

For dinner, the five of us met at Rhubarb in downtown Asheville. Asheville has become a culinary mecca over the past decade, and while you may hear a lot about restaurants like Cúrate and Cucina 24, Rhubarb serves consistently incredible food comprised of regional ingredients. John Fleer, a Winston-Salem native and Rhubarb’s owner and chef, is the former executive chef at Blackberry Farm, and he was named one of the “Rising Stars of the 21st Century” by the James Beard Foundation. After a meal at Rhubarb that might include crispy fried hominy dusted with chili and lime alongside wood-roasted sunburst trout you can see how Fleer is steering into the 21st century with the roots of his Southern history fully intact. Rhubarb is one of my and Mallory’s favorite restaurants in Asheville, and we were proud to share it with Lee, Silas and Jason.

Over dinner and drinks, I asked Silas how he had come to know Lee.

“Over 20 years ago I submitted a story to a workshop Lee was teaching at the Hindman Settlement School in Kentucky,” Silas said. “And a few weeks later I went to one of Lee’s book signings. I was so nervous to meet her because I loved her books, and I wanted to be in her workshop.”

Lee laughed and picked up the story.

“And when you came through the line and told me your name so I could sign your book, I said, ‘How funny. I just read a very good story by someone named Silas.’”

“And it changed my life,” Silas said. And his life is still changing. His most recent novel, Southernmost, received rave reviews and kept him on a book tour for most of the spring and summer.

Over the years, Jason came to love Lee just as much as Silas does.

“I was in Washington, D.C. a few years ago,” Jason said, “and suddenly I heard Lee’s voice on The Diane Rehm Show. I dropped what I was doing and drove right to the NPR station. The receptionist asked me what I needed, and I said, ‘I’m just waiting on Lee Smith to finish her interview.”

Lee burst out laughing.

“I came out of the studio, and there you were. It was like we planned it.”

Before dinner, Mallory and I had discussed whether or not she should bring her camera gear, but we decided against it. We wanted to enjoy the evening talking to people we do not get to see that often. But Mallory did take one photo with her cell phone; in it, Lee, Silas, Jason and I are all squeezed onto one side of the table. If you did not know better, you might think we were family.

The next afternoon, during the conference keynote, Lee, Ron Rash, and I spent an hour or so onstage in a packed auditorium talking about Appalachian writers and literature and issues specific to the region.

“I think it’s important to be able to steer students toward writing that reveals something about themselves,” Lee said. “There’s value in seeing your life on the page.”

“Robert Morgan did that for me,” Ron said. “And so did Fred Chappell’s book I Am One of
You Forever

After our discussion, we took questions from the audience. Someone stood in the dark theater and asked if any of us have ever felt slighted because of the place we call home or how we speak.

“For me personally, that’s why I don’t want to ever lose my accent,” Ron said, “Because that to me is a rejection of your heritage. The way I look at it is, OK, you can make fun of my accent, but we can out-write you, we can out-music you, and we can out-cook you.”

I agree with Ron. I am proud of the place and the people I am from, and I am proud to share stages and dinner tables with them. They feel like family. They feel like blood.  OH

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

The Omnivorous Reader

On the Lighter Side

The study of humor can be serious business

By Stephen E. Smith

“Who was Alexander the Great’s father?” my 11th grade history teacher asked (this was back in the day when educators expected students to know a little something about world history). Before anyone could raise his or her hand, my friend Norman Alton, slumped in the desk beside me, blurted out his answer: “Philip’s Milk of Macedonia!”

Norman wasn’t the class clown. He didn’t make monkey faces or squawk like a jungle bird. He was the class wit, a usually subdued presence whose occasional response to teachers’ questions exhibited a startling degree of wordplay and a remarkable, if somewhat perverse, intellectual insight. Philip’s Milk of Macedonia: Everyone laughed, even the thickheaded ones. Even the teacher.

James Geary’s latest book, Wit’s End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It, explains how Norman’s agile, word-warping mind worked, analyzing the bits and pieces of intellect and psychology that conspire to make wit and its resultant humor a force in our lives. And Geary would seem to be the man for the job. He’s deputy curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and the author of I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World, the New York Times best-selling The World in a Phrase: A Brief History of the Aphorism and Geary’s Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists.

The book opens with a dissertation on the pun. Punning is typically regarded as the lowest form of humor (make a pun and you’ll elicit a chorus of groans), but it isn’t a simplistic exercise; it involves two incongruent concepts connected by sound and, if it’s a truly clever pun, it demonstrates a degree of insight that delights with its absurdity. “Puns straddle the happy fault where sound and sense collide,” writes Geary, “where surface similarities of spelling and pronunciation meet above conflicting seams of meaning.” Philip of Macedonia and Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia have nothing in common except, when spliced together, an unexpected degree of silliness and a certain similarity in sound and structure.

Apparently, Geary counted the puns in Shakespeare’s plays: “There are some 200 puns in Love’s Labour’s Lost, 175 in Romeo and Juliet, 150 in each of the Henry IV plays, and upward to 100 in Much Ado About Nothing and All’s Well That Ends Well.” And he offers fascinating facts aplenty: Lincoln was an avid punster. The notion that Adam and Eve chomped into an apple is a misinterpretation of the Vulgate where the adjective form of “evil” malus, is malum, which happens to be the word for apple, thus fixing the misidentification of the apple as the offending fruit. Geary also includes enough obscure puns to last a lifetime, e.g., English essayist Charles Lamb was introduced by a friend who asked him, “Promise, Lamb, not to be sheepish.” Lamb replied, “I wool.” Lamb went on to write an essay entitled: “That the Worst Puns are the Best.” And when Groucho walked into a restaurant where his ex-wife was dining, he proved Lamb right: “Marx spots the ex.”  All right, you can groan now.

Geary then delves into “witty banter,” couching his observations in an original faux 18th century play riddled with contemporary allusions. Using research paper format (who among us wants to read another research paper?), Geary explains how the brain reacts to wit and humor, and in a slightly more interesting chapter he explores the neurobiological mechanism of wit — the ability to hold in mind two differing ideas about the same thing at the same time — asserting that comedians who are bipolar have an advantage over their less afflicted peers. If you’re an old-timer, you’ll be reminded of Jonathan Winters, who gave us Maude Frickert and Elwood P. Suggins from Bellbrook, Ohio, a yokel who’d seen “some 76” flying saucers. But Geary focuses on a more derivative and annoying comedian, Robin Williams, as a prime example of a bipolar individual who could make instant disconnected connections. He also presents numerous examples of individuals who suffered bouts of unrestrained wit, such as the case of a 57-year-old man who began constantly joking, laughing, and singing. “After the patient’s death, his wife discovered scores of Groucho Marx glasses, spinning bow ties, hand buzzers, and squirting lapel flowers in their garage. An autopsy showed asymmetric frontotemporal atrophy and Pick’s disease.”

Neurological mechanisms notwithstanding, readers are likely to find their attention waning in chapters such as “Perfect Witty Expressions and How to Make Them” (can we be taught to be witty?), “Advanced Banter” and “An Ode to Wit,” which falls with a predictable thud. In an especially cringe-worthy chapter on “jive,” Geary explains “Dozens,” a form of interactive insult which is “a part of African-American tradition of competitive verbal invention” in which combatants face off before a crowd and “direct aspersions at their adversary’s shortcoming”: Your mother is so ugly that she has to . . . ” He also includes a lengthy out-of-date jive glossary — “Cat: A cool, witty person,” “Chippies: Young women,” “Eighty-eight (88): Piano,” “Knowledge box: Brain,” etc., — which is completely unnecessary.

Do we need to understand the mechanisms at work in the creation of humor? Probably not. But quick-witted people charm and amuse us; we appreciate them, crediting them, whether they deserve it or not, with a high degree of intelligence. Any understanding of how the witty mind works only deepened our appreciation of their talent. And there’s much that’s entertaining and informative in Wit’s End; unfortunately, Geary’s use of various literary conceits and his incessant cleverness wears thin and eventually begs the question: Is it possible to be too clever when investigating cleverness?

My old friend Norman Alton, who is by now on a first name basis with Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia, knew a good quip when he’d delivered one. He didn’t push it. As we all cackled, he remained silent and straight-faced, accepting our laughter as praise.  OH

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of seven books of poetry and prose. He’s the recipient of the Poetry Northwest Young Poet’s Prize, the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for poetry and four North Carolina Press awards.

True South

Only in the South

When layaway simply won’t do

By Susan S. Kelly

Admit it: There are scenes and situations that could only happen in the South. I’m not talking about moonshine, magnolias, accents or tobacco. Collards, however, are involved.

Exhibit A:

One bitter-cold, sleeting January, my mother was hosting her luncheon bridge club gathering at her house (it’s worth noting, and also probably apropos to Only in the South, that my mother had lived in a different town for 18 years, and her bridge club had never replaced her; they’d used substitutes. For 18 years).

Never mind that these were the ’70s, they were still — again, Only in the South — the days of linen tablecloths, sterling silver, crystal goblets, and what I term girl food: lemon bars, asparagus spears, and a chicken casserole concocted with Campbell’s mushroom soup. Somewhere between the shuffling and the cleaning, the disposal backed up, the dishwasher broke down, and water from ice-damming in the gutters began running down the walls. The luncheon was not a success.

The minute the last guest left, my mother drove straight to Montaldo’s and bought herself a mink coat. (Also worth noting: All through my childhood, when I watched game shows on TV, and fur coats were the ultimate prize, my mother was very firm in her belief that no one under 50 should own a fur coat. She’d reached the required age, but only just.) However, she had to put the mink coat on layaway. That night, she told her mother, my grandmother, who lived in the ultra-sophisticated burg of Walnut Cove in Stokes County, what her day had been like.

The next morning, my grandmother drove straight to Montaldo’s, bought the mink coat herself, and delivered it to my mother. Not so much because she felt sorry for my mother — which she no doubt did — but because there was just no way that a daughter of hers was going to have anything on layaway at Montaldo’s.

Exhibit B:

A friend of my mother’s — we’ll call her Joan — was having a meeting at her house, necessitating finery, flowers, decorum, and girl food (see above). Minutes before the meeting, Joan smelled something awful. The maid had elected that particular morning to cook up a mess of collards (not girl food).

Joan panicked. “You can’t cook collards now, Myrna!” she scolded, revolted by the stench, and that a dozen grande dames were about to descend into her stinking living room. (Did I mention the meeting involved debutantes? Also Only in the South.) “You’ve got to get rid of those collards!” So, Myrna did what she was told. She took the big pot of greens off the stove and emptied the whole malodorous mess down the toilet. Which promptly stopped up and overflowed. And no embroidered hand towels in a powder room, or asparagus spears with hollandaise, can overcome a clogged commode, collards, and matrons clad in ultrasuede.

Exhibit C:

My friend Betty grew up with an irascible, alcoholic mother. A real character, who I loved, but was, nevertheless, a drunk. Years later, at a party, Betty was talking to a friend who was married to another adult child of an alcoholic, in a family that might have had even more dysfunction and irregularities than Betty’s. Still, the son — we’ll call him James — had survived and thrived. Thinking she was delivering a compliment, Betty said, “Look at James. He’s successful. Normal. Happy. With all that was going on in his house, how in the world did he turn out so well?”

The friend didn’t miss a beat. “Just like you did, Betty. Good help.”

Debutantes, collards, Montaldo’s, and good help. Only in the South.  OH

Susan S. Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and a proud grandmother.

Wandering Billy

Hamming it Up

Going Hollywood, a birthday bash and new life for urban spaces

By Billy Eye

“I never worry about diets. The only carrots that interest me are the number you get in a diamond.” — Mae West

This summer marks my 50th year in show business. No, almost really.

It all began back when I was 12 years old, after I noticed that the back porch at 1200 Hill Street looked an awful lot like a stage. So I rounded up the neighborhood kids, including Trudy and Ann Warren who lived there, and put on a play using a parody of Dragnet from Cracked magazine for a script. Within days, we were invited out to channel 48’s studio off Wendover to videotape our sophomoric shenanigans for a segment on that station’s afternoon cartoon-fest, The Kiddie Scene with Mr. Green, introduced as “The Hill Street Moppets.” The only thing I remember about the program was they played the song “Yakety Sax” incessantly and broadcast those dreadful Mighty Hercules animated shorts (“Herc! Herc!”).

Actually, I got my start a few years earlier, when I wrote and starred in the fifth grade play at Irving Park Elementary. I was “The Flying Nut.” But, TV baby, that was the big time, with our skit screened at least a dozen times on Channel 48. Later this year, you can catch me portraying a sleazy music company executive in a motion picture shot here in Greensboro, directed by Maurice Hicks, entitled Rap & Rhyme. I’ve seen a rough cut and, if I say so myself it’s amazing . . . stay tuned.


Attended a gala luncheon at the Greensboro Country Club celebrating recently retired businesswoman and lumber magnate Marion Hubbard’s 90th birthday thrown by her daughters Libby and Ada. There must have been at least 150 of her closest friends there, if the fire marshall had shown up they’d have shut the place down.

The food was wonderful, the cake divine. I’m guessing half the residents of Well-Spring were present. I saw a lot of familiar faces and was lucky to be introduced to a few new folks, as well. By coincidence, I sat next to a couple I’d never met, Joel Funderburk and his lovely wife Norma.

“Funderburk,” I said shaking hands. “That name sounds really familiar!” Duh, that’s because our February 2018 issue featured the ultramodern home on Cornwallis that Joel designed and built in the 1970s, adjacent to Medford Lake, where the couple lived for 40 years. I had just read Nancy Oakley’s story literally the night before, while researching another subject, but I never made the connection (typical!). Not only that, O.Henry magazine scribe Susan Kelly’s mother was also at the table.

Joel and I traded stories about Old Greensboro, about Otto Zenke and why there are log cabins in Pinecroft, but when Norma asked if young people today know what Hamburger Square is, I was very excited to tell her about the meeting I attended the day before.

You see, big changes are afoot around Hamburger Square.

For the uninitiated, the corner of South Elm and McGee earned the moniker “Hamburger Square” back in the 1930s when there were diners on three of the four corners — California Sandwich, where Natty Greene’s is today; Jim’s Lunch, now Two Brothers Brewing; and Sunrise Lunch, currently home to Just Be. Within steps there were a half dozen other restaurants, including New York Lunch, the Hotel Clegg’s Coffee Shop in the newly remodeled Christman-Cascade Building  alongside the tracks on South Elm. While they all served hamburgers, California Sandwich and Jim’s (both remained in business for more than 40 years) were distinguished for their longstanding rivalry over who made the best hot dogs, which admittedly doesn’t shed a lot of clarity about why the area was called “Hamburger Square.” Nevertheless, the corner has remained remarkably intact for nearly a century now, and in my not-so-humble opinion, downtown’s crown jewel.

The renovation of Hamburger Square is Greensboro Beautiful’s 50th anniversary project, spearheaded by April Harris, David Craft and Randall Romie. Kitty Robinson was in attendance, Greensboro Beautiful’s first coordinator, back when the group was formalized in 1968. Before that, Kitty and her compadres had been undertaking beautification projects around town under the name City Beautiful, for example the green space along Cone Boulevard and dogwood trails. “Before, the money had to go through the Parks and Recreation department of the city,” Kitty tells me about those early days. “We incorporated as Greensboro Beautiful because we wanted our money to go directly into our projects.”

First up for Hamburger Square’s facelift will be a colorful new coat of paint for that weathered trestle above Davie Street, transforming what is now a drab and uninteresting view. “We’ve had lots of community input,” April explains about the next step, to brighten up the pedestrian and car thoroughfare underneath the trestle. “A lighting person came and showed us ways to have swatches of light to achieve different effects. You can set these LED lights to gradually change colors or be static.” The lights will be mounted up high to shine down.

Future enhancements will include a train-viewing area and as a complement to the existing 100-year-old shade trees, additional plantings to create greener spaces. Also in the works is some paving designed to increase pedestrian safety.

Everything new is old again!


Half a block north of Hamburger Square, specifically that alley between the Biltmore Hotel and the shops on South Elm and Washington, there’s an ambitious undertaking meant to revamp this dreary back street, where workers take cigarette breaks and stray cats mate. Ryan Saunders of Create Greensboro is behind it, “In 2018, I was living on the third story above Scuppernong Books which backs up into that alley. So I was using that alley on a daily basis.” He was struck by the wasted potential this corridor possessed.

For years, Ryan has been infusing life into dead spaces, both here and in High Point, “Obviously, there are a lot of hurdles to jump over to make this happen,” he admits. “But we want to create an alley that has that open, street-square feeling, where there’s landscaping and seating, so cars, bikes and people can share it,” he says. At night, he muses, “Gates would close so you could buy coffee from the coffee shop, you could buy a beer, get food and hang out. There’s an entertainment stage we envision for concerts.”

The first step is paving the alley, which is underway, but this grand scheme will rely on ingenuity, adaptability and a bit of providence. “If you take the first step today, the rest will follow,” is Ryan’s philosophy. Currently there are two large storefronts on the 300 block that have been vacant since the 1980s. “Those are really deep buildings, very old buildings,” Ryan points out. “From a real estate standpoint, the owners are going to have to invest a lot of money, really do a lot of improvements to get a tenant in there.”

Create Greensboro’s concept would accommodate a subdivision of those 3,000-square-foot former furniture stores into micro-shops, with an entrance facing the alley. “Because you have a smaller space, you’re paying less rent,” Ryan says. “So it’s more approachable for an entrepreneur. Washington Alley is not just a beautification process, this is basically an incubator for small businesses. That’s really what incremental development is all about.”

Relatively small projects like these have a huge impact on day-to-day life for those of us who live and work downtown, and help foster an environment that may encourage young creatives to stick around and not leave town at the first opportunity. Like I did.”


Traverse a few blocks down South Elm to find my fave noshery, Chez Genèse. Not that they need the publicity, this charming bistro is nearly always at capacity and will be even more so, I suspect, when Centric Brands relocates its headquarters into the former Blue Bell plant next door.

No matter how packed this comfy corner cafe can get, one is always able to enjoy a quiet conversation, and Eye was pleased to discover potato leek soup on the menu on my last visit, one of my go-to dishes. Don’t know if it’s still on the board but it was the best I’ve ever tasted, richly creamy with miniature wedges of potato to make it hearty enough for a meal. I also recommend the quiche of the morning — tall, silky smooth.

Anyone lunching or breakfasting with me at Chez Genèse becomes an instant fan. You will too.  OH

Billy Eye is always at a loss as to what to write here, how can anyone encapsulate that much fabulousness into mere words?

May Poem 2019

Four Egrets at the Reservoir

Four great egrets,

the wands of their

slender necks waving,

wade through tall

reeds and tranquil

water to the sound

of a kingfisher’s

call. The tops of

surrounding trees

are lit from above,

and the ground below

them, shadowed.

All is serene, from

the gander swimming

in circles to water

striders, skating

across the reservoir’s

still surface. In

summer, lilies

bloom and multiply,

their petals a delicate

shade of pink. But

the wedding-veil-

white of the egrets’

feathers is stark

in early spring,

against umber,

sienna, and olive,

and the evening air,

cool and weightless

here, where egrets

come and go — like

darkness and the light.

— Terri Kirby Erickson

Bohemian Rhapsody in Blue

Catherine Harrill pushes aside old boundaries in her brilliantly edited new home

By Cynthia Adams     Photographs by Amy Freeman

Jazz plays softly in Catherine Harrill’s Fountain Manor townhouse when she opens the airy double French doors (ones that contractor Gary Jobe installed ages ago for a previous owner). That she says, is serendipitous. So is the fact that she already possessed the gleaming French Regency brass doorknobs now affixed to the doors. Those helped kick things up a notch from the get-go.

Like so many of the furnishings that survived a severe edit, Harrill nabbed the brass knobs at a vintage store. “I bought them without knowing where I would use them,” she says with a smile. She fondly mentions vintage resellers like Adelaide’s, The Red Collection and Carriage House as she points out old loves — that is, longtime favorites enjoying a new life after making the curating cut.

A ghost-style acrylic fixture with brass accents hangs over the entryway. Just inside the entry, a grand gold pier mirror (another vintage score) bounces light into the serene kitchen.

The house reverses the kitchen-out-of-view plan. The sleek kitchen is primary.  With white marble tile and white quartz, it is an understated study in how to create a white kitchen that isn’t sterile — and worthy of being right upfront and on view.

The refined and well-lighted space provides a sight line through the downstairs all the way to the sunroom and rear terrace — something Harrill methodically created via a gut job.

Just beyond the monochromatic kitchen is the unexpected: Fully saturated color!

The once conventional dining room was opened up and now is done in broody, bohemian blues, even on the ceiling. It is now a space with a frisson of excitement —featuring a long and sexy velvet banquette with button tufting, two gleaming white bistro tables, vibrant wallpaper and two sculpture-like fixtures.

Is this Greensboro?

Harrill’s condo synthesizes departures from the norm, while still creating a satisfying and exciting whole — an unmistakably conscious design. Here, Bohemian chic meets Zen.

It is a revelation.

Forget Builder Bob clichés. This homeowner wasn’t having it. “I’d had enough chair rail to do me for a lifetime,” Harrill jokes, taking a seat at a sleekly modern bistro table and serving a pizza that combined fig preserves, brie and pistachios.

The combo elevating pizza to an unexpected and savory plateau is worthy of the kicky dining room.

“I have dinner here every night,” she adds with a smile of pleasure.

The soundtrack for dining in such a space is, rightly, jazz. Comprised of counterpoint, improvisation, with a hipster cachet, it is the music of creative breakthroughs. All indications are that after Harrill retired as a clinical social worker at Cone Health, she had a literal breakthrough of her own.

For not only did she discover a soundtrack for her new digs, she also blew out the rear wall in order to accommodate a creative revision, adding another 200 square feet to her living space.

She banished chair rail, along with decades of stuff during a year and a half of serious evaluation.

And she wisely chose to have her expansive vision drafted, vetted and then drawn by Greensboro residential designer Jim Weisner before she even talked to anyone about costs, avoiding the expensive mistakes witnessed on home design shows.

“He does architectural drawings. I hired Jim to do renderings before I talked to contractors. I knew from the inspection report that I needed to discuss with a professional what could be opened up structurally,” Harrill explains. He came back to discuss a few things — and they were resolved.” As it happened, they had attended the same high school.  Serendipity indeed.

Using Weisner’s plans to obtain renovation quotes, she settled upon general contractor Gary Jobe. The renovation went without a hitch.

Here’s what you should also know about why she got it all so right. Harrill is a former home stager. Aware that she was going for something different, she understood the need for a crack team to get there, from pen on paper to hammer and demo, right down to paint and fabric.

Long before Harrill became a health professional, she developed a business working with Realtors in staging listings when the HGTV network and Designed to Sell were new.  “People’s stuff intruded upon their ability to see a space.” Once decluttered and staged, homes sold.

I think we’re all ADD,” she offers. “Just having a cleaner space where your eye can rest is so different.”

Now Harrill sought aesthetic advice. “I walked in Vivid [Interiors] on Elm Street by chance, she says. “It felt right — all the color!  I wanted to break out of my comfort zone.”

Ultimately, designers Gina Hicks and Laura Mensch at Vivid guided the renovation of the dining room from concept to installation and consulted on the master bedroom, but the majority of the choices were Harrill’s.

Whereas Harrill once favored a heavier and “layered look” her new home called for something else. She points to a substantial primitive table serving as a desk in the sunroom. “Imagine putting that table here,” she reflects. The designers quickly understood that the new dining room needed something completely different than traditional furnishings. And a design which allowed for through traffic to the rooms beyond.

“Vivid’s designers, Gina and Laura, came to my apartment and I showed them a file of ideas and inspirations,” Harrill says, recalling the designers’ array of fabric swatches, paint samples and wallpaper for inspiration. Things clicked.

“Gina suggested the banquette and two tables,” she continues. The idea required a complete shift for Harrill. “But, I said, ‘OK!’ surprising us all.”

Ultimately, Harrill landed upon vintage office chairs she had painted and recovered for additional seating in the dining space.

“They consulted with me, and helped me with other furniture, which included some seating and a few pieces of art.” One major piece they selected hangs over the fireplace. But the majority of the art choices are from Harrill’s own collection.

It had all incubated before the fortuitous estate sale. In the year before Harrill wandered into the sale, she had determinedly kept an eye on Fountain Manor. The community off north Elm was developed in 1973. It became her habit to drive through almost weekly noting For Sale signs. “The units sell so quickly,” she explains.

At the same time, she considered another freestanding house, having left a 4,200 square foot home in Wedgewood. Meanwhile, she rented an apartment and took stock of her possessions. “I wanted high ceilings and sidewalks,” she says, not to mention a neighborhood suited to walking.

“I realized the reason I had been looking at Fountain Manor was, I didn’t want to be isolated. I’m somewhat of a loner.” A friend, Katrina Solomon, was a resident. “I knew her 15 years,” she adds with a contented smile.

Harrill had even attempted to buy another Fountain Manor condo still languishing in bankruptcy after eight years. It was not moving according to plan and the bank was in no hurry to sell.

One day in August of 2017, Harrill was waiting for her Realtor to show her a house on Northwood, and before she could even see it the Realtor phoned to inform her someone had snapped it up. Something made Harrill drive over to Fountain Manor, where she spied an estate sale notice. She entered the sale and walked right into her future.

“I bought a yellow curio cabinet that day,” Harrill notes. (The cabinet is in the all-white kitchen — yellow has become one of her favorite punctuation points in the very edited home.) “And noted just as I was on my way out a notice that the house was going on the market that coming Monday. I called my Realtor, who came over, and we made an offer that night.”

A house and a yellow curio cabinet, all in one fell swoop. “I got the high ceilings,” she says, as another smile creeps across her face.

Time spent in an apartment had prepared Harrill for transitioning from a large home to half the space. It caused her to embrace the new, and make downsizing a creative experiment. Was it consciously planned that way? It evolved that way.

Harrill visualized something very different: a space with room for art, discovery and joy.

“I had also just retired. And, I wanted a place where I felt comfortable, that offered peace, serenity. Stuff doesn’t make you happy.” After retiring from Cone Health, her life’s routine was changing.

Harrill was, by design, shedding things that no longer fit into her life.

She was going to Marie Kondo her way to serenity.

“When I went to the apartment, I took all the stuff I wanted. When you get there, and start moving in, unpacking, you think, I’ve done this enough.” This meant family antiques. Then her cousin visited with even more family heirlooms, including china and a dining room table. She determinedly culled, aided by her former training in helping others declutter, while applying the Kondo question:  Does this spark joy?

Although Harrill had two adult children, Harrison and Hannah, she realized, “The younger people don’t have these attachments. Why was I going to save it?”

Even so, she checked in with them while culling heirlooms. “My daughter wanted my grandmother’s china. It’s beautiful, and she had a lot of happy associations with it. I kept the flatware and I use my mother’s sterling everyday — why not? — we only got to use it twice a year.” She laughs a bit ruefully. Her mother died in recent years, but her father lives in Greensboro.

There are a few nostalgic items that made the cut. “My mother and I both loved shoes. That’s a shoe mirror from Montaldo’s when it used to be downtown,” she says, pointing out the delightful mirror, which complements the velvet banquette  in the dining room. “My mother scored it. I’m not sure how.”

Montaldo’s figured into a happy memory, so the joy-sparking mirror has a place of prominence.

On Christmas Eve, she and her mother would head to the iconic downtown department store for its annual shoe sale which began at 3 p.m. “There was a gentleman who worked there with great taste. We had two hours before they closed.” Invariably, great shoes came home with the duo.

She remained in the apartment as home renovations began after Christmas of 2017, once construction permits were in place. Work proceeded smoothly, thanks to Harrill’s crack team.

The kitchen, gutted, allowed for new cabinetry to run to the ceiling and for a spacious island. With the downstairs revised, the space opened and its potential revealed itself. The awkwardly steep stairs were replaced with wider risers. The rear wall’s bump-out allowed for a generously-sized sunroom and remaining space for a smaller patio.

Harrill moved into her new home on April 10, 2018.

Her personal space is quietly neutral. The master bedroom features a graphic, Brutalist black-and-white, grass papered wall behind the bed. “Gina said it goes with the traditional kinds of things I liked in here. I have a lot more color than I’ve ever had downstairs. But for my living space, I kept it calmer,” Harrill explains.

A French gilded chaise found in a vintage store is central to the room’s edgy look, featuring hand-painted black-and-white upholstery. She accented her space with brass touches. “I’d never had matching bedside tables,” she says. “It seemed like a luxury I wanted to go for.”

A black-and-white painting by local artist Billy Cone hangs on the bedroom wall.

Baths throughout the house were redone. The master bath now features a deep soaking tub.

“The bathrooms aren’t really big,” Harrill says, but the closets are. Perfect for her beloved shoe collection.

With paint, paper and new furniture in place, and Harrill’s many pieces of art hung, there was a mere moment of self-doubt as she walked through the expansive, Bohemian space.

“I had a period of anxiety, wondering, did I make it too fancy?” admits Harrill. “I’ve always made do with whatever I could get, and that was fine. But to do a dining room like that with a banquette?”

But as Harrill came to realize, the new dining room made entertaining  easier and less formal, whereas most dining rooms molder unused. She can now place food and beverages on the large kitchen island and seat anywhere from six to nine guests — no ancestral dining table required.

And there was the joy factor.

Her kids take on the outcome? “Harrison is 27, and my daughter, Hannah Morecraft, is 30. And they like it.”

Morecraft, who lives in Raleigh, later sent an email:

“My mom’s new place is exactly her personality — creative, fun, eclectic and warm. My brother, my husband and I, and maybe especially our Bernese Mountain dog, Bear, love visiting whenever we can and spending time chatting on the patio or around the big kitchen island. I’m so glad she found a great team to help her pull it all together.”

Standing on the redesigned patio, Harrill pointed out the trees beyond a new wrought-iron fence, which affords an unobstructed view.

“I was sitting out here one day and looked at the crepe myrtles and counted them.  There were seven of them. I realized I felt like I was at home. There were crepe myrtles lining my driveway at my former home — exactly seven.”

Some things need no editing.  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry.