The Omnivorous Reader

A Haunting Tune

A country music star’s harrowing memoir

By Stephen E. Smith

If a memoirist’s job is to make sense of the raw, shifting facts of the past in order to instruct the future, country music singer-songwriter Allison Moorer, best known for having composed and performed the Academy Award-nominated “A Soft Place To Fall,” has a new calling. Her first literary publication, Blood, has the potential to change lives for the better.

This sometimes poetic but more often bitter memoir is no sob story about the hardships of being a celebrity. It’s about the brutal, cold facts of real life. On an August morning in 1986, Moorer, who was 14 at the time, had her world upended when her abusive alcoholic father murdered her mother and then committed suicide in the front yard of their home in Mobile, Alabama.

The expected response to such an intensely traumatic experience might be to distance oneself from these horrifying memories, and Moorer’s older sister, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne, has downplayed this life-altering event by fending off interviewers’ constant questions, claiming to have come to terms with the family ghosts. Moorer has chosen to directly confront the past, and she begins her memoir with a detailed recounting of the murder-suicide.

Although her recollection is sometimes sketchy and often confused by the fact that she was awakened by the gunshots that took her parents’ lives, she relentlessly investigates, ruminating on forensic reports, death records, and by interviewing relatives and friends. Much of what she writes is suggested by personal items and family mementos — photographs, random notes penned by her father, his song lyrics, a coffee cup and keepsakes such as her mother’s ring, which she wears always, and her father’s Gibson guitar, which she continues to play in recording sessions. These items are talismans which Moorer employs to reveal, bit by bit, the terrible events of her childhood, and to demystify the details of the murder/suicide in order to assuage the grief and guilt surrounding her mother’s final moments.

“I hope she didn’t hear me call for her,” she writes. “If I were shot in the chest and in the process of bleeding out in my front yard and heard my child call for me from the side door of the house, I can’t imagine I would die peacefully. The idea that Mama might’ve known I was looking for her haunts me. The idea that she might’ve died hearing me call for her, that my voice might’ve been the last thing she heard and that might’ve served as a terrible torment for her last conscious seconds, brings me indescribable sadness.”

Old photographs foreshadow the tragedy. A 1975 snapshot taken in a chicken coop outside the family home suggests that her mother’s despondency was present early in her marriage. Her posture seems to indicate that clinical depression had “grabbed her around the throat and started slowly choking the life out of her . . . She just looks sad. Resigned. Older than thirty-one.”

In a photo taken in Nashville 10 years later, Moorer detects the same forlorn look as her mother stands beside a display case filled with antique rifles: “. . . the look of ‘I wish I could disappear’” is even more obvious.

Moorer doesn’t employ the customary chronological structure for her storytelling. Chapters jump from one disconnected episode to another, and short lyrical passages are interspersed with the narrative, mimicking the pattern of obsession the author experiences.

“There are things that require no recalling,” Moorer writes. “They are here in the morning, they are here in the evening, they are here in my chest. They are knocked loose and into my mind by a stack of magazines on the floor beside my reading spot, the crossword puzzle in the newspaper, the color of an eggplant, the smell of morning on a work coat . . . ” Still, the narrative progresses in a timely and engrossing fashion, and the final effect is to bring the depth and detail of the story into full, horrifying focus.

Blood is a memoir of despair, the story of a family tiptoeing around unpredictable behavior, drunken abuse and needless cruelty, all of which might have been avoided if Moorer’s father had received treatment for alcohol abuse and depression. She acknowledges his alcoholism but doesn’t offer it as an excuse for his behavior. And she can only wonder about his mental state: “Was he bipolar? I know he was depressed. He was unpredictable. He did dangerous things. I’m pretty certain he didn’t care if he lived or died.”

She speculates that he may have been schizophrenic or suffered a personality disorder, but her judgment is necessarily simplistic and straightforward. Her father was “mad about what he didn’t do with his life” — which is, of course, a common affliction in a society that touts unobtainable goals. Alcohol abuse and mental illness remain constants in American life; the CDC reported more than 47,000 suicides in 2017.

The value of Moorer’s memoir is twofold. First, it is an unburdening, a release for the writer. Committing her past to paper has no doubt forced Moorer to confront her demons and relegated them to a permanent and peaceful place in her life. More important, her storytelling may act as a wake-up call for those who live with physical and emotional abuse, a signal for victims to get out of dangerous relationships — and perhaps the memoir will serve as an eye-opener for those caught in the grip of alcoholism and mental illness, encouraging them to seek treatment, which would be no small accomplishment in a culture plagued by despair, anger and violence.  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.

The Accidental Astrologer

Guts, Game and the Good Life

Virgos have it all


By Astrid Stellanova

By September, ole summertime holds on like the last drop of sweat. 

September-born Virgo children have guts and game — and a taste for the good life, especially if you can plate it or pour it in a fancy glass. A few: Queen Elizabeth I, Prince Harry, Greta Garbo and Lauren Bacall, and the first woman to run for President, Victoria Woodhull. To that add a short list of a long list of actors: Charlie Sheen, Danielle Brooks, Lily Tomlin, Michael Keaton and Salma Hayek. Plum crazy, right? Virgo birthday celebrations sizzle like frog legs (or fried chicken) in a cast-iron pan. The Colonel himself, Harlan Sanders, was a finger-lickin’ Virgo. Let’s talk food and drink, Star Children.


Virgo (August 23–September 22)

That famous old curmudgeon Hemingway said he drank to make other people interesting. What makes you break out the bubbly? If nothing else, celebrate a year of wild-child creativity at the cusp. This may just be your best year ever, Sugar Foot. So hit the dance floor, do the worm, get down tonight, and savor that muscadine slurpee.

Libra (September. 23–October 22)

The slump you’ve been in is going to come to an end. Best of all, you will have a breakthrough versus a breakdown. Somebody close to you is biting their tongue and you owe them. Treat ’em right; your tastes in spirits are downright amazing, and you owe more than one round.

Scorpio (October 23–November 21)

When you did one of those drink-and-paint the ducky nights, turns out you sure do have a gift — for drinking. Don’t sulk, because your ducky was the most original. Originality is one of your trademarks, but so is radio silence, Honey. Open up and call a friend.

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

You got catfished. Conned. But it wasn’t all a failure, Sugar. The catfish in life keep the rest of us on our tippy toes. You won’t be caught again. And, it keeps you intrigued. Plus, catfish themselves are pretty damn tasty dipped in corn meal and fried up.

Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

Your mouth may be saying cheese, chocolate and a malted, but your jeans are saying, for goddsakes, order soup and salad. The bingeing was fun, Honey Bun, but now it’s done and get your sweet self back in training for that killer fall wardrobe you wanna rock.

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

You get emotional just doing the Happy Baby pose in yoga. And you have been known to express your feelings in the most unusual ways, Sugar. Whatever has made you so vulnerable is intensifying but will release by the month’s end so you find a way to chill without a smoothie or a milkshake.

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

Innocent soybeans died for your veggie burger, Sugar. You have imposed a lot of strict ideas on yourself and others, but remember you can’t survive without making a lot of choices. And some are going to be far harder than skipping a mouth-watering bacon cheeseburger.

Aries (March 21–April 19)

Well, a good friend just pickled your okra, didn’t they? Now you have to put up or shut up, which is a Devil’s bargain. There’s no shame in just holding back one more hot minute before you unload your bucket. Patience is going to be your best ally.

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

Sure, you can make wine disappear, but, Honey, that is not some kind of a super power. Not exactly. But, in one way, the best thing you can do is keep your mouth full, because not everybody is buying what you have been selling lately.

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

You are at a crossroads, Sweet Pea. Can you be honest all of the time? Because you have hurt some people who care about you and left them wondering if you care for them. Do not feel compelled to tell Aunt Ida her cooking stinks. She’s too old and too tired from a lifetime at the hot stove.

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

You towed your bass boat to the wrong lake. You backed into the wrong situation. Maybe you put in, maybe you fished, but you are in the wrong place, Honey. If you can find a graceful exit, go home and grill the catch of the day before you get hooked.

Leo (July 23–August 22)

Were you slurring or trying to talk in cursive, Sugar? Seriously, you were way more entertaining than you even remember. Now you have to get some steel in your back and face up to a situation that will require you to be sober and serious — if only about what you will cook for dinner.  OH

For years, Astrid Stellanova owned and operated Curl Up and Dye Beauty Salon in the boondocks of North Carolina until arthritic fingers and her popular astrological readings provoked a new career path.

– The Neighborhood Where You Live –

Porch Rockin

The sweet sounds of the Dunleath Porchfest create community

By Ross Howell Jr.     Photographs by Lynn Donovan

For an early June afternoon it’s hot and the air is heavy. Though thick clouds are helping keep the temperature down, their dark, ragged patches threaten a storm.

Despite the heat and humidity, lots of people have come out for the 2019 Dunleath Porchfest. Passerbys smile and nod as my wife, Mary Leigh, and I walk along Percy Street northeast of downtown along Summit Avenue We overhear the murmur of friends talking, their conversations punctuated with laughter.

We stop in front of a porch to enjoy the sweet harmonies of a traditional music group called Turpentine Shine. There are festival T-shirts for sale under a canvas tent. A couple of enterprising elementary schoolers have a lemonade stand set up close by.

Mary Leigh and I saunter on, glancing at the darkening clouds, then turn and start down Fifth Avenue. Just across from Sternberger Park we join a group gathered on the sidewalk in front of a house overlooking the street. Some people have opened their umbrellas for shade.

I speak to a pleasant-looking lady wearing a straw sunbonnet and learn that we’re standing in front of her house. She’s Andi Christensen, who in 2016 moved all the way from Los Angeles, to make her home here. In L.A. she ran a successful dry-cleaning business for 50 years, living in an older neighborhood near Santa Monica Airport that had sprung up with the growth of Hughes Aircraft Company during World War II.

“I’m a native Angeleno, so I love L.A.,” Christensen says. “It’s such an interesting city. But it had become so congested, it was a hard place to live.”

When a niece who lives in Greensboro suggested she relocate here, Christensen decided to have a look. On a quick trip East she found the house on Fifth Avenue, and decided it was the one for her. “With a porch view of the park, the house was so pleasant. I just loved it,” she says.

The year she moved in, a neighbor across the street hosted one of the annual performances that serve as the centerpiece of the neighborhood’s porch festivals. Christensen was interested in participating, so she asked her neighbors how to become involved. The neighbors put her in touch with the organizers.

So here we are. We look up the steps to a porch where a blonde-haired lady sits on a stool with her guitar. She’s musician Denise Ball, who’s traveled from Charlotte to perform. She’s just been introduced to the audience by Greensboro’s mayor, Nancy Vaughan. Ball bends over the guitar body and picks a few notes, listening. Then she smiles.

To tell the truth, she’s manicured and dressed like she just had lunch at the Greensboro Country Club. But when she starts to sing, it ain’t about chicken salad and sparkling water, Baby. This lady’s singing the blues.

Two girls stop arranging their miniature tea set in the front yard to look up and listen. So does the dachshund at the end of his leash snuffling in the flowerbed that borders the sidewalk.

Some background: After public hearings, Greensboro City Council voted unanimously in 2017 to change the name of the Charles B. Aycock Historic District to the Dunleath Historic District. Months earlier the name of the neighborhood middle school had been changed from Aycock to Melvin C. Swann Jr. Middle School, honoring “Mel” Swann, who worked for 36 years in the Greensboro City and Guilford County school districts.

The name change process sometimes provoked discord.

The school and historic neighborhood had been named in honor of Charles B. Aycock (1859–1912) of eastern North Carolina. The problem was this: While serving as governor 1901–1905, Aycock had proved to be a strong friend to education, but as a candidate, he had supported a proposed Jim Crow amendment to the state constitution that stripped African Americans of the right to vote. Many residents were troubled by the racist legacy his name connoted. But UNCG professor and neighborhood resident David Wharton, along with others, had a ready alternative at hand.

In 1857 prominent Greensboro native Robert P. Dick (1823–1898) and his wife, Mary Eloise, decided to build a mansion on their property, which at the time comprised nearly all the boundaries of the area now recognized as the neighborhood historic district. Dick was opposed to Southern secession, even though he was a slave owner. After the Civil War he donated farmland to former slaves and supported passage of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. constitution that guaranteed the right of former slaves to vote.

Robert and Mary Eloise Dick’s mansion was named “Dunleath,” and it stood facing Church Street until its demolition in the 1960s.

With the vote by city council, the matter of the name change was settled. But many residents were concerned that the bonds of the tight-knit community had been damaged. What could be done to strengthen newly named Dunleath?

Resident, archaeologist and musician Shawn Patch had a suggestion. A friend had told him enthusiastically about a porch festival in the Oakhurst neighborhood of Decatur, Georgia.

To Patch that sounded like just the tonic Dunleath needed. For the first porch festival he envisioned a small event with five or six performance locations, perhaps where only neighbors turned out to listen.

“I would consider that a success, just because we want to get people out of their houses and walking around the neighborhood and circulating,” Patch told the Greensboro News & Record three years ago. “Anything above and beyond that is going to be wildly successful, in my opinion.”

Patch’s group, The Radials, was the final act in Sternberger Park that first porch festival.

Fast forward to 2019.

In the course of this afternoon, on the hour from noon till 4 p.m., some 44 individual musicians and bands are performing from 40 porches in 45-minute sessions throughout the Dunleath neighborhood.

There are performers like The Can’t Hardly Playboys, Mistura, Farewell Friend, The Smiling Bees, Momma Molasses, HighStrung Bluegrass Band, Grand Ole Uproar, Headless Chickens, Disaster Recovery Band, The Imperfectionists, Hokum Pokum, Minor Swing Band, Walker Street Fiddlers, and more. Genres include millennial blues, English and American folk, bluegrass, Irish and Celtic, old-time, honky-tonk, jazz, rhythm and blues, Bossa Nova and classic rock.

Also included on the program are a slew of Triad singer/songwriters — among them, Doug Baker, Bigdumbhick (a.k.a. Jeff Wall), Nick Boulet, Dean Driver, Beau James, Tony Low, Bobbie Needham and Casey Noel.

There’s even a “Kids Track” — venues where young musicians Colton Lindfors, 9; Finn Phoenix, 8; and Maggie Yarborough, 16; play 15-minute sessions alongside more seasoned performers.

All the events are free. Stations are available for people to donate canned goods for Triad Health Project’s food pantry.

And in the high noon slot, Shawn Patch plays and sings with the Mason Jar Confessions from the front porch of his and his wife Paula’s big, old house on Cypress Street.

Sometimes it’s necessary to open our umbrella against fat raindrops as the hours pass, but the showers don’t last. Around 4 o’clock everyone gathers at Sternberger Park for the finale, a performance by The Zinc Kings, who play old-time, bluegrass, folk and traditional music. Some families have brought picnic spreads. For those of us who are unprepared, there are food vendors.

The shadows grow longer across the park, and at woods’ edge, we see a firefly or two.

From discord, sweet harmonies. Surely, somebody’s said that.

Anyway, it fits Dunleath neighborhood well.  OH

Ross Howell Jr. lives with his wife Mary Leigh and rescue dogs Sam and Lucy in Fisher Park, just across the railroad bridge from Dunleath.

Simple Life

The World After Rain

A good soak is the gift that keeps on giving


By Jim Dodson

Every year about this time, as another summer’s lease expires, I remark to anyone who will listen (i.e. mostly my dog Mulligan) that we’ve survived the hottest summer ever.

Unfortunately, this year I turned out to be right. According to the National Weather Service, the months of June and July logged their hottest temperatures on record, symptomatic of a year forecasters predict will be hottest in history — for the third summer in a row.

If misery does indeed love company, at least we weren’t sweating it out alone.

In England, suffering through its own record heat wave, jurors weighing evidence in a sensational murder trial in Oxford were dismissed after complaining to the judge of being unable to concentrate due to intense heat. The case involved a church warden and a magician who allegedly conspired to murder a famous Oxford lecturer and his headmistress neighbor in a scheme to steal their pensions and wills, a plot line worthy of Dame Agatha Christie.

The judge halted the proceedings and sent everyone home to rest and cool off. At last check, the jury was still out. But stay tuned for the blockbuster movie.

Across the Channel in France, meanwhile, where dozens of meteorological records suffered heat stroke due to weeks of three-digit temperatures, maps of the country’s hottest zones at one point eerily resembled a human skull, reminding some of Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream.

As you may have guessed by now, I’m no fan of summer. Perhaps this is because I am a child of winter, reportedly born in the midst of a snowstorm.  Or possibly it’s because I lived on the coast of Maine for more than two decades and grew accustomed to summers that are short but cool affairs, ruining me for increasingly hot Southern summers.

Curiously, when I think back on my boyhood — a kid growing up in three different small towns of the deep South — summer heat never seemed to get under my collar the way it does now.

In Mississippi, a beautiful state beach lay just across the highway from our house. There was always an evening breeze off the water, and my mother and I used to go there in late afternoon to wade in the tranquil surf of the Gulf of Mexico to hunt for interesting wash-ups. Someone at the weekly newspaper my father owned told me that the Gulf offered the widest variety of shells in the world, an idea that inspired me to mount dozens of beautiful sea shells — striped turbans, Scotch bonnets, false angel wings — on a pair of lacquered pine boards.

The pressman at the newspaper also informed me that we lived in the heart of “Hurricane Alley,” which prompted me to begin watching for signs of gathering thunderstorms that boiled up far out over the Gulf and swept ashore with curtains of wind and rain. Secretly, I confess, I hoped a real hurricane might blow ashore, having no clue what might have resulted. A few years ago, the town where we lived was almost erased from the map by just such a September storm. 

The next stop in our family odyssey was a small South Carolina town that could have been the setting for To Kill a Mockingbird. Save for a beautiful African-American lady named Jesse who nursed my mom back to health after a pair of late-term miscarriages and taught me to “feet dance” to the gospel music she played from a transistor radio in the open kitchen window, my long summer days were spent either in a wicker chair on a wide side porch reading my first chapter books or — like smart dogs across the sultry South — burrowing into the cool dirt beneath the house, where I played for hours with my painted Greek and Roman soldiers.

The days I liked best were those soothing gray affairs when a soft, steady rain fell all day and into the night, refreshing a parched world with its soothing music. Today, whenever I see the TV spot for the popular Calm app — featuring a full minute of nothing but gentle rain dripping from leaves  — I’m reminded of something Miss Jesse liked to say. “Slow rain is a gift, child. This tired old world is like new after a good rain.” 

In Wilmington, the next stop on our Magical Mystery Tour of Southern newspapers, we joined the Hanover Seaside Club on Wrightsville Beach, where after a long day on the searing beach I liked to sit in a big rocking chair on the club’s open-air porches, slugging down ginger ale as I eavesdropped on grown-up cocktail chatter about politics and weather. On at least two occasions a hurricane was in the vicinity.

Small people have big ears, as my mother liked to remind my father at such times. But I remember a few of his corny summer heat jokes to this day.

It was so hot today I saw a dog chasing a cat and they both were walking.

Did you hear? It was so hot today, why, the chickens were laying omelets and cows were giving powdered milk.

These days, of course, owing to global warming, rising seas and other factors, ordinary thunderstorms seem more menacing than ever, and hurricanes have become even more lethal.

Last September the citizens of Wilmington were marooned by a lady named Florence that dumped catastrophic amounts of rain on the coastal Carolina region, killing 51 people and doing a record amount of damage to property.

A month later, tropical storm Michael turned into the most powerful hurricane ever to hit the Florida panhandle, obliterating Mexico Beach and adjacent communities before churning up through the Carolinas and knocking over record numbers of trees and power lines across the Piedmont. Four huge oaks went down on our street alone, which left us in the dark for over a week. At least two of our neighbors’ houses were severely damaged, but thankfully nobody was killed or injured.

In Michael’s wake, however, tree crews began combing the neighborhood, playing on people’s fears as they went door to door.

For the moment at least, we are willing to accept the risk of living in an urban forest beneath stately century-old white oaks, if only for the kindness of shade they offer in summer and cathedral-like beauty they present come fall.

Besides, at the start of the summer just ending, I made my wife smile by claiming that I was going to fully embrace the heat of this summer the way I did as a boy — with grace and a true sense of wonder, and absolutely no grumbling about the horrible heat.

“Oh, nice. Are you planning to spend the summer in Sweden?” came the cheeky reply

I suppose she knows me all too well. For a while, at least, I gamely managed to live up to this impossible goal, as abundant rain in May and half of June made my garden flourish and the staff gardener smile.

Then came July and someone thoughtlessly turned off the great spigot in the sky —  turning yours truly into Edvard Munch’s Scream.

Despite heavy watering by hand — city water is no match for the kind that comes from the clouds — my garden withered during a solid month of relentless 90-plus days of heat and sunshine. Every little pop-up thunderstorm on my weather radar app, alas, seemed to just miss our little patch of earth, a personal affront that soon had me swearing an oath that next summer, “Stockholm here I come!” One afternoon when I least expected it, burrowed away in my air-conditioned tree-house office, my wife phoned to report that a cold front was bringing a series of thunderstorms our way.

I told her that I would believe it when I smelled it.

Not 10 minutes later, I heard the thunder and stepped outside.

Ten minutes after that it was raining gloriously. I actually stepped out into my garden with my arms outstretched, savoring the smell and feel of summer-ending rain like the character Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption who, after he finds his way to freedom by crawling through a prison sewer pipe to a rain-swollen creek, strips off his clothes and stretches out his arms to embrace the water of heaven. I’ve watched that movie half a dozen times and never fail to find that scene deeply moving, a metaphor for the power of love and a tired old world washed clean.  OH

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at

Wandering Billy

Jack Murphy’s Law

Breaking the rules is the former radio personality’s rule of success



By Billy Eye

“Radio is theater of the mind; television is theater of the mindless.”
— Steve Allen

I recently relished an opportunity to catch up with Jack Murphy, whose highly rated radio program Murphy in the Morning aired over 107.5 WKZL for two decades.

Before landing in Greensboro in 1992, Murphy had been bouncing around the dial with gigs on Q106 in San Diego, Y94 in Dallas, and Z100 in New York. All larger markets than ours but, “I had children and decided I wanted to settle down somewhere,” Murphy tells me. “When you’re going into a new market and you’re dead last or in the bottom tier of the radio stations, which I often was, I was considered a turnaround specialist until I got to Greensboro.”

Early on at WKZL, Murphy hired a tall, skinny kid named Chris Kelly who was attending Appalachian State. “I always tried to surround myself with the most talented people I could find,” Murphy says. “I talked to him for just a few minutes and realized very quickly he was a lot smarter and brighter than I was. More creative.” He also promoted a young lady named Terri Knight who was an underused newsreader. “The three of us made pretty good team. I think we went to No. 1 the very first [ratings] book we had.”

Murphy faced some stiff competition from broadcasters he admired. “He was kind of on the tail end of his career but Jack Armstrong was one of the greatest Top 40 jocks that ever lived,” he says. “Big Paul and Aunt Eloise were, I thought, a monster show; we battled them all the time for ratings.”

There’s a huge difference between being a deejay and a morning personality as Murphy explains: “I always felt like the more personal life you can share, the more you revealed, the more successful you could be as long as it was interesting or funny. A lot of people are very reluctant to do that.”

Most radio personalities abide by the rule never to talk about your competition on the air. “I always did the opposite,” Murphy says. “I would find out everything I could about my competition, particularly things they didn’t want you to know, and talk about that on the air. Really try to get inside their head and get them off their game. That worked on some people, some people it didn’t.”

Radio was a cutthroat business, maybe still is. “We approached radio and ratings almost like war,” Murphy notes. “The higher the ratings were, the more you got paid. We were really ruthless about it. We would do anything to destroy another station or another show, a lot of that I’m not particularly proud of but a lot of it worked,” he confesses. “If you could make the competition look bad and gain an advantage for your station, we certainly were not above doing it.”

Murphy recalls a prank that was pulled on his operation. “Somebody somehow got into our phone system and changed the outgoing message to a different set of call letters, saying nasty things about our on air personalities.”

I was associated with the show for a few years as Murphy in the Morning’s webmaster beginning in 1995; that’s when Murphy became the second radio personality to hear his voice over the internet. A Chicago morning guy beat us to it by a week. Keep in mind this was before Google, YouTube, Facebook, or even Myspace.

One thing that impressed me about Jack Murphy was his eye for talent and his ability to recognize future trends. “At first we had a fax machine as a way for listeners to communicate with us,” Murphy recalls. “Looking back it’s hard to believe we did that. We were real early with an email address as well.”

Murphy’s influence over Greensboro’s rise and shine continues to this day. Chris Kelly left his program in 1999 to team with Chris Demm for Rock 92’s 2 Guys Named Chris show. Murphy is an admirer. “Chris Demm and Chris Kelly have an awesome show that’s consistently funny.”

Jared Pike and Katie O’Brien Tesh currently host WKZL’s Jared and Katie in the Morning. Both got their start working alongside Jack Murphy. In 2005, “Katie was working in the promotions department setting up tents for remotes, basically. I brought her onto the morning show.” A couple of years later, Jared joined the team. “I think Jared was trying to sell condominiums for Portrait Homes and was working over at GTCC on the radio station there.”

Does he miss those days? “At first I really did,” Murphy admits. “Now I can honestly say no. In all those years, I don’t think I ever slept more that five hours a night. It didn’t take long to get used to sleeping eight or nine hours a night and not getting up at 3:30 in the morning.”

There is one aspect of the job he misses, the philanthropic side. Through his Murphy’s Kids charity, “We were able to raise a lot of money,” Murphy points out. “I think we raised well over a million dollars.” Cash is used for college scholarships, providing Christmas for disadvantaged families and dispatching sick children to Disney World.

Murphy left Triad radio behind in 2012 and, after brief stints in Roanoke and San Diego, walked away from broadcast radio altogether.
“I miss the people of Greensboro, friends I used to play golf with,” Murphy says. “I go back and visit people. Chris Kelly came to my daughter’s wedding; we keep in touch.” Today he resides outside Charlotte to be near his son and daughter and their families.

In a prescient move, Murphy started a voiceover business about 20 years ago, “It did really well and it’s how I make my living now.” His baritone vocals can be heard on station IDs and voice breaks over dozens of radio and TV stations around the country in addition to being the voice of Optima Tax Relief nationwide and Ralph Lauren Polo Blue worldwide. “I thoroughly enjoy what I do. I get to work from home; my dogs are laying here in the studio with me right now. All those people that depended on your ratings every book, I didn’t realize how much stress that put on me. Now, if I want to take a day off, I take a day off. ”

There’s a story about my time with Murphy’s program that I love to tell. At an event in 1998, WKZL’s station manager approached me to say, “Billy, we’ve been talking to our marketing people in Raleigh and they told us the internet is not going to happen. It’s just a passing fad.”

I promised myself to remind him of that one day.

Maybe I just did.


I had an exceedingly brief career as a radio jock in 1987 on WBIG, a country music station. Believe it or not, the station manager who came up with those call letters had no idea there had been a WBIG previously in Greensboro from 1926–1986. Aside from a great morning guy the station was a mess, we weren’t allowed to play the No. 1 song at the time because their research indicated it was a turn-off. “BIG 102” went off the air in 1988 with ratings less than a third of competitor WTQR; that’s when WBIG’s call letters were changed to WJMH, better known as “102 Jamz.”  OH

Billy Eye is O.G. — Original Greensboro.

Life’s Funny

Nailing It

How one student builds on kindness and encouragement


By Maria Johnson

When shoppers inspect the wooden outdoor furniture at a special sale this month at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore on Gate City Boulevard, they’ll see the obvious traits: sturdy, attractive, handmade, affordable.

They won’t see the most impressive part: the builder, 19-year-old Bianca Briscoe of Greensboro. Her kissed-by-fate story stretches from childhood summers spent with her grandparents to a mild spring morning this past May.

That’s when Bianca’s mother, Gretta Frierson, the director of clinical support services at Cone Hospital, was driving down Bessemer Avenue and saw two cars wreck in front of her.

Gretta, a registered nurse who once worked on Cone’s orthopedic floor, jumped out to see if anyone was hurt. The people in one car were fine. In the other car, the man in the passenger seat was dazed by the airbags but OK. His wife, the driver, was frozen behind the wheel.

The seat belt had dug into her side, and one hand was hurt, but she seemed to have no major injuries.

Gretta noticed the woman was wearing a Habitat for Humanity T-shirt with the name tag: Ruthie Richardson-Robinson.

“Ruthie, look at me,” Gretta said. “You’re OK. I’m right here. I’m with you.”

“What’s your name?” Ruthie asked.


“You’re my angel,” said Ruthie.

Gretta stayed until the ambulance arrived. Then she went to pick up some supplies for work and drove to the hospital. Entering through the emergency department, which she almost never does, she noticed Richardson-Robinson and her husband in the waiting room.

Another man had joined them.

Gretta went over to check on Ruthie.

During the conversation, she referred to Ruthie’s T-shirt, saying that she and her daughter planned to volunteer with Habitat this summer. Her daughter, Bianca, an architecture major at Howard University, was interested in affordable housing.

Ruthie gestured to the man who sat beside her and her husband: “I guess you don’t know who he is.”

He was David Kolosieke, the new president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity in Greensboro. Ruthie, it turned out, was the organization’s director of homeowner services and neighborhood outreach.

Kolosieke made an offer on the spot: He wanted to give Gretta’s daughter a summer internship with Habitat.

A couple of weeks later, Bianca was back home, explaining to Kolosieke why she was the right woman for the job.

She’d finished third in her class at the Early College at Dudley High School, where she’d studied on the engineering track. Howard University, in Washington, D.C., lured her with a hefty scholarship to enroll in a five-year program that would graduate her with a master’s degree in architecture. The Howard marching band offered financial help, too, if she would play the French horn for them.

It was a tough sell for Gretta, who had played flute for the marching Aggies of N.C. A&T State University. She had assumed that Bianca would suit up for the Blue and Gold Marching Machine, but Bianca had other ideas.

“Help me understand,” she said to her mom one day. “Why it was OK for you leave home for college, but it’s not OK for me?”

She had a point. Coming to A&T from Richland County, South Carolina, had forced Gretta to grow up. She had put down roots in Greensboro, but her parents, Gretchel and Lucious, visited Greensboro often, and Bianca spent summers with them in South Carolina.

Bianca was her grandfather’s shadow. When Lucious cut the grass, Bianca cut the grass. When he repaired things around the house, Bianca repaired things around the house. When she was 7, and he put her new ready-to-assemble twin bed together, she was standing at the ready with a screwdriver.

“He didn’t have any grandsons, so he had to teach me. He kept encouraging me,” said Bianca, who also excelled at puzzle-making as a child and, later, at the construction-oriented video game Minecraft.

She wrote about her grandfather in her application to Howard.

Unwittingly, he had prepared her for the Habitat internship, too.

Kolosieke needed someone to build outdoor furniture with wood from donated shipping pallets. He took Bianca to the ReStore workshop and asked her to make potting benches, garden benches, end tables and shelves.

There were no plans or drawings. She would have to wing it.

“OK, I can do this,’” said Bianca.

Kolosieke, the father of daughters, was elated.

“She had a fearless willingness to try it,” he says. “There was a brightness in her eyes.”

Over the summer, Bianca and her volunteer helpers made nearly 20 pieces of outdoor furniture — some painted and stained, all sealed with polyurethane.

About once a week, Bianca worked on a Habitat construction site.

When she’s a practicing architect, she wants to focus on low-cost construction and renovation that will slow gentrification, the upscaling of housing in older neighborhoods that drives prices beyond the reach of longtime residents.

“They were there first,” Bianca says. “They should be able to live there.”

She reflects on the ripple of kindness that opened a door for her this summer.

“It’s kinda mind-blowing,” she says. “One person did something good, then someone else did something good, and it worked out.”

She believes her grandfather, who died in March, a couple of months before the wreck, would not be surprised at how she spent her summer.

“He’s the one who talked me through building furniture. I feel like he’d be really proud,” she says. “He’s probably up there like, ‘Ha! Look at you!’”  OH

Habitat for Humanity Greensboro ReStore,3826 West Gate City Boulevard. For info on its sale in early September, please call (336) 851-2939.

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. She can be reached at


The Greatest Show on Turf

NC Folk Fest promises another stellar lineup



The Greatest Show on Earth won’t be coming to town anymore. No more plodding pachyderms leading a ponderous parade through the streets, no more high-flying, glittery dare-demons sailing overhead in death-defying arcs. But every fall in Greensboro there’s still a bigfoot stomp making the pavement tremble when the North Carolina Folk Festival takes over downtown for a three-day residency (this year, September 6–8). Some glittery high-flyin’ as well as a plethora of musical acts from around the globe fill the airspace with a deluge of notes from on high.

This year’s lineup once again draws from a catalog of artists and genres that you’d have to be a professional schmoozer with deep pockets to be able to capture in your personal space.

Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys are one of the best Cajun outfits performing today. Here’s a group that bridges the gap between old and new, respecting their traditional roots, while writing new original songs that take that sound out of a stuffy museum, and into the streets and clubs. Riley leaves the Playboys back home in Mamou, fronting Racines, a Cajun supergroup. Fiddler Kevin Wimmer (Red Stick Ramblers) had done some recent gigs with the Playboys but with the addition of Chris Stafford on lap steel and electric guitar and BeauSoleil’s Mitchell Reed on bass and fiddle, the band’s sound is like a flip book of Louisiana music and culture with a blast of rockin’ Zydeco mixed in.

Mwenso and the Shakes are a cultural mashup representing Sierra Leone, London, South Africa, Madagascar, France, Jamaica and Hawaii, interpreting blues and soul through a global filter. Mwenso also channels James Brown with choreography as arresting as any footwork dreamed up by the original Godfather of soul. 

The Allen Boys bring sacred steel down from Mount Airy, taking their organ replacement steel and electric guitars across the aisle into secular music, churchily channeling the music of Michael Jackson and Al Green along with traditional hymns. 

And if you need a classic soul injection, Booker T. Jones is your doctor. With his band the M.G.s, shorthand for the Memphis Group, Jones and guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Duck Dunn and drummer Al Jackson Jr. were the heartbeat of soul back in the day, backing Otis Redding, and Sam and Dave in the studio and on tour, recording with Wilson Pickett the Staple Singers and Rufus Thomas, while racking up a No. 1 hit of their own with Jones’ 1962 instrumental “Green Onions.”

It ain’t Ringling Bros., but the NC Folk Fest can circus with the best
of ’em.

— Grant Britt

Info: ncfolkfestival.comIt ain’t Ringling Bros., but the NC Folk Fest can circus

True South

Vacay Days Haze

How to refine relaxing


By Susan S. Kelly

But deep down, though, aren’t you glad it’s over? Not summer, no — the temps, the tomatoes, the twilights. The rum drinks and rose slushes. I’m talking about The Vacation, that week or two at the beach or lake or mountains or wherever. The one you made a list of what to take to wear, what to take to read, what meals to cook, what food to take from home, what food to buy once you got there, which bedroom for which child/baby/sister-in-law, so that you were exhausted before you even packed the car? The empty bedroom I have to dedicate to vacation staging requires more space than Christmas staging.

C’mon. Aren’t you secretly happy to be back to your old selfish self?  Because, fact: Vacations are all about compromise. I’d use the term go-with-the-flow, but it’s something beyond that. Routines are compromised, sleep is compromised. Understand that there will be blood. And if not blood, then certainly there will be meltdowns. Over getting stuck with the Old Maid or the queen of spades or the last spoon during games. That the air conditioning is too cold/not cold enough. You just have to yield to the inevitable, and accept the fact that you will, inevitably, walk in on someone in the bathroom. That the rental house does not have a Cuisinart and so, yes, you’re going to have to chop all that cabbage by hand. That it does not have a (zester/garlic press/whisk/celery seed, or even a particularly sharp knife. That someone doesn’t like coleslaw/store-bought barbecue sauce/prefers Neese’s to Jimmy Dean’s sausage, and will be vocal about it. That there will be a grit-embedded soap bar or Suave gel in the outdoor shower instead of your elegant (stolen) hotel products at home.

Like death, taxes and colonoscopies, just accept. Accept that you will not get the book(s) you’ve brought read. That you will not be first at the crossword puzzle because there’s only one newspaper and 13 people. Accept the mirror that makes you look fat. Curse yourself for not having brought bathroom deodorizer, your own pillow, a sleep machine, and a sleep mask to block the sunlight coming in from the permanently bent mini-blinds every morning at 5 a.m.

How nice, now that it’s over, to reflect fondly on vacay’s memory-making moments, which (almost) blot out the memory of my father’s knuckles whitening around his glass of Scotch during his sacrosanct daily cocktail hour, coincidentally during my children’s dinnertime arsenic hour. (“Do you like seafood?” Open mouth and let whatever’s in it fall out and gleefully proclaim, “See food!”) Or, at the other end of the clock spectrum, driving around nowhere at 6 a.m. with a baby in the car seat so as not to wake the rest of the house. Reflect upon the not-so-well-known adage that it’s better to know someone who owns a boat or a tent than to own one yourself. And isn’t it grand that you have 12 months before you have to go through the vacation food dregs again, that morning of rent-house departure? The mustard jar with an inch in it, the hummus barely dipped into, the half-sleeve of saltines, the two lemons, three hot dogs, four club sodas, and five eggs? Before guilt again requires you to bring home the tired food and unpack it from a cooler with a grainy layer of sand, from grocery bags used and reused and crinkled with recycled protest.

With a year to plan, make a few resolutions. First up, rethink the rest period dictate. You know, the required downtime after lunch. Why did I think that idea would ever work when I hated it as a child — watching the clock, not tired of anything except reading The Bobbsey Twins and scratching chigger bites till they bled? Child-wise, the only thing worse than a rest period is waiting to go in swimming after lunch because you’ll get a cramp and drown. (Is that even still a thing? Or just another empty childhood threat like watching out for rusty nails and barbed wire because you’ll get lockjaw? We used to run around with our teeth clamped together to see what that graphic euphemism for tetanus felt like.) Instead of a mandated rest period, just claim an hour alone in your bedroom and not give a damn what the children are doing as long as they don’t do it to you. Mine once managed to find fly swatters in a broom closet, and while they had zero idea what a fly swatter actually was intended for, they entertained themselves for a good hour running around and slapping each other. On a related topic, resolve to just hand the kid a Popsicle or a doughnut and keep going. Just close the door to the bunk room where wet bathing suits and towels, 14 changes of clothes, and other detritus (sticky Popsicle sticks, see above) so clutter the floor that you can’t even see the floor.

Next year, resolve to go ahead and pay the exorbitant entrance fee to Jungle Rapids, get your hand indelibly stamped, claim your concrete patch, and become a redneck for the day. It’s absolutely thrillingly liberating. One: You will not see anyone you know, so you can revel in anonymity, act like an idiot, and look even worse. Two: You can finally, finally, over and over, slide down all those blue chutes that look so enticing from the road (refer to “act like an idiot,” above). Three: Because there’s nothing remotely healthy on offer at the food counter, you have permission to stuff yourself with deliciously vile, greasy, sugary and salty stuff like French fries that, as my daughter noted when she was about 4, “don’t have any potato left in them,” because they’ve been fried so hard and so long. Go ahead and laugh, but I’ve done this with my sister and our children, and after finally coming home to our gated, manicured, perfect-and-pristine beach community for supper, we looked at each other, guessed what the other was thinking, and said, “Let’s go back.” What the heck? Our hand stamps were good until 10 p.m.

Resolve, next year, to just sleep on top of the beds you’ve already made up the night before check-out, so you don’t have to do any laundry or make any beds on departure day. Yes, I have done this.

Finally, rethink the return to reality. Next year, go to a different grocery store for that first run.  That way, you won’t run into anyone you know who has been doing their daily things — wedding, exercising, etc. — that make you feel guilty, or puzzle or enrage you. Remember, you’ve been out of orbit, and re-entry to the atmosphere of home is deadly if it happens too fast. NASA makes sure the astronauts have a re-entry heat shield on their space capsule. Put on yours and avoid frying: zzziiipppp!  OH

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

September 2019

The Sound of You

This morning I wake to music,

the sound of the cat lapping water from the glass on my nightstand,

and wish I could capture the softness with words.

The 1-2-3 rhythm sends me waltzing with you in the garden,

in the kitchen, kissing in the rain on the sidewalk,

and I wonder why I’ve only written love poems for the ones who broke my heart.

The cat is still drinking, and as you sleep,

I wish I could capture your softness.

Then it hits me.

Those love poems were never for them.

I wrote them as if the words might fill the cracks,

as if my own love might mend my brokenness,

as if, some day, I might learn to waltz.     

The coffee is steeping, and as you stir from sleep,

love spills from me freely, not to fill some void,

but because there is so much here.

Drink from this sacred fountain. Dance beneath it.

Like every love poem you have ever written,

this is and has always been yours.

  — Ashley Wahl

Sporting Life

Remembering a Hero

A cabin, a pack of Red Man and a distant war


By Tom Bryant

Sometimes fall has a way of sneaking up right in the middle of summer, or maybe it just seems like it. That’s the way it was just prior to dove season: scorching hot days, long soft humid nights and then bam, a cool day that guarantees that summer has had its time and here we go with the next part of the year. That’s one reason I love North Carolina with its defined seasons.

Summer might bleed into fall; but when the sun rises lower on the horizon and shadows lengthen and cicadas sing in earnest, a smart man will check his woodpile, hoist out the winter clothing, and make sure his hunting coat and boots are ready. Deck shoes, shorts and knit shirts are to be put away.

That’s exactly what I was doing when the call came from Bubba. I had hunting gear piled high in the roost, our little garage apartment where I write, mess with outdoor gear and, in general, just hang out. I was making sure everything was ready for the upcoming cold months when Linda, my bride, came to the door and shouted up the stairs. “Tom, Bubba has been trying to call you. Where is your phone?”

“Oh, man. I forgot. It’s in the truck. I’ll get it and call him back.”

She laughed and said, “I don’t know why you have a phone. You never have it with you.”

I hustled down to the Bronco, found the phone under the front seat and saw where I had missed four calls from Bubba. I punched a button and returned his call.

“Coot.” Bubba had installed the nickname Cooter years before and it took. “That woman you married is too good for you. I don’t believe you would ever get a phone call if it wasn’t for her.”

I laughed and said, “You’re right, Bubba. I know it more and more every day. She does have a tendency to look out for me. What’s up? I thought you were heading to Costa Rica fishing.”

“Naw, decided to stay home and do a little dove shooting. That’s the reason I’m calling. Several of the old-timers are gonna meet at Slim’s store Saturday and talk about likely spots to hunt. Come on up and join us. We sure don’t want to leave you out. Ritter’s gonna be here with some of his apple brandy, and even Johnson is joining us. There’ll be a good crew.”

Slim’s store was a tradition in that part of the country, catering to hunters, fishermen and as Slim loved to put it, reprobates of all kinds. After Slim passed away, Bubba bought the place, kept Slim’s cousin, Leroy, to run the business on a daily basis so, as Bubba put it, “I’ll have a place to go. Plus I like the coffee.”

“I’ll be there, Bubba. I’m just in the process of checking out some gear. It sure feels like fall, doesn’t it?”

“Yep, and I’m sure ready. See you Saturday.”

I decided to drive the old Bronco up to Slim’s place to check her out. I recently had a lot of work done on the old vehicle and wanted to see how she would ride. I thought as long as I kept to the back roads, everything should be OK. She was slow, but she usually got me there.

The old crew was kicked back in rockers on the side porch when I pulled into the gravel parking lot. At one time Slim had tried selling gas, but that didn’t work. So he had the pumps removed to make room for a spot to play horseshoes. He always said he hated those gas pumps, a lot of trouble for nothing.

It was good to see the old group, and after a reasonable amount of good-natured insults, we all relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company. Old Man Time was beginning to trim the ranks of the aging crew. In the couple of years since my last visit, several had gone on to their rewards. Somehow, I’ve always had a feeling that everything would remain the same, but lately, age and time have proven me wrong.

Most of the crowd broke up early, having to get home for one reason or another, and as the sun set and the moon began to rise over the tree line where Johnson’s pasture used to be, only Bubba, Johnson, Ritter and I were left to hold forth.

“It seems funny not to see cows over there in that pasture, Johnson,” Bubba said.

“I know, but the developer had more money than them cows. I did get him to promise to keep that space green, though.”

Johnson had sold out his farm several years ago to a major developer who’d split it up into 10-acre mini-farms.

“I hope you did more than get a promise,” Bubba replied.

“I did. It’s in the contract that he has to keep that buffer like it is.”

Leroy came out, careful not to let the screen door slam. “Bubba, I’m heading home. Lock up before you leave. Good to see you guys.”

“OK, Leroy. Coot’s gonna stay overnight. We’ll be back in the cabin.” Bubba had built a small log cabin behind the store on a little pond that Slim had put in years before. He used it every now and then when he partook a little too much of Ritter’s apple brandy.

We watched Leroy’s pickup drive up the road. “That’s a good man you got there running the store, Bubba.” Johnson said.

“Yep, I’m lucky to have him. I think Slim would approve.”

Ritter reached in a pocket of the coat he had hung over the porch banister and pulled out a pouch of Red Man chewing tobacco. He answered the inquisitive looks. “I know, I started chewing again last week. I haven’t had a good chew since I was in Vietnam.”

We watched as the moon slowly rose over the pines. Bubba had gone in and turned off the outdoor lights, and when he sat back in his rocker he said, “If your brandy won’t kill you, that tobacco surely will.”

“Yep.” Ritter was quiet for a time. “You know I feel I’ve been living on borrowed time ever since that stupid war.” He had served in the Marines, and his platoon was one of the first to suffer casualties.

“I had a dream the other night about one of the boys who didn’t make it home. His name was Bud, a nickname really, picked up in boot camp. He was big, stood about 6 feet 4 inches and weighed around 250. And could he eat! Always borrowing C-rations when we were in the field. The drill instructors gave him the name Bud by calling him Big, Ugly and Dumb, shortened to Bud.

“We were still using M1 rifles then, M1As came later and then M14s, but we mostly liked the M1. Bud was so big he carried a .30-caliber machine gun. He toted that heavy thing like it was a tobacco stick.”

We sat silently watching across the old pasture. The moon was fully up now, and as a group we were surprised to hear Ritter talk about his war experience. In the past he would respond to any question about his service with only a perfunctory answer.

“Bud was a real hero,” he continued. “He’s the reason four of us in the unit came home from that stinking war.”

I don’t know if Ritter’s melancholy eloquence came from his own brandy or old age or maybe the dream he had about his friend, but in the moonlight I thought I could see a tear on his cheek. “Are you all right?” I asked.

“Yep, Coot,” he replied as he wiped his cheek. “I learned a long time ago in that war that you don’t cry for heroes, because there were so dang many. Bud was one of the best.”

No one broke the spell by speaking. We just sat silently, lost in our thoughts.  OH

Tom Bryant, a Southern Pines resident, is a lifelong outdoorsman and PineStraw’s Sporting Life columnist.