Eye on GSO

Beep Beep!

Our Covid Park Side Game

by Cynthia Adams


In recent months, the usually subdued Latham Park isn’t.

Turns out, one of the positives of a state- and city-wide lock down is seeing the park brimming with Frisbee tossing fans, picnicking families, children and teens.

Latham is among the city’s first parks; it is the namesake of J.E. Latham and only exists because the land was considered too wet to build when he donated it to the City.

But Latham’s wetlands do make for an excellent park, one which is interconnected via the Greenway with Greensboro’s other parks.

It is, however, deceptively dry much of the time. But Buffalo Creek bisects Latham Park; during heavy rains it swells beyond the banks and when rains are extreme, it approximates a river.

As the rain gauge fills, even the tennis courts adjacent to the creek disappear beneath the floodwater. Somehow, trucks jacked up on tractor tires soon make their appearance as if on cue, the drivers plowing through the rising waters that soon begin to rage. Then local TV trucks with antennae mounted on their rooftop follow, appearing along the creek as predictably as the police barricades blocking traffic onto Cridland and Latham Roads.

When the flood footage, almost always featuring park benches and exercise equipment burbling below water makes the evening news, kind friends call to ask if we are safe and dry at our park side home.

And so, our life is attuned to the ebb and swell of nature. But now, Latham (which has flooded several times during May with 9.5 inches of rain and counting) is experiencing a different sort of flood—bipeds.

Humans seeking respite from their four walls.

Our park has been transformed in a dramatic way. The paths are overrun with walkers, runners, cyclists and sun-seeking citizens.

And chance encounters with new characters like one we call “Beep Beep.”

I don’t actually know Beep’s real name. This I do know: He’s a social extrovert astride a road bike who favors cotton t-shirts and shorts; one with a zeal for cycling. Beep is so named because he announces himself on the park path (marked at different points with signs that say, “Give a yell or ring a bell!”) –signs which he takes seriously.

He hollers out, “Beep beep!” at the top of his lungs as he makes his way through the park.

The affable cyclist whizzes by, a Road Runner on two wheels, with a two-syllable anthem. (Was Road Runner the reference, we wondered?)

At first, we startled at his approach while walking our dogs—one is a still-skittish rescue who jumps at a falling leaf. We took to standing back in wonder as he Paul Revered his way along the concrete pathway, knees pumping like pistons.

We would pull the two dogs back and respectfully watch his energetic and vocal passing.

“Beep beep!” he would greet amiably without slowing.

At first merely observing this, and then over days anticipating it, my husband returned the greeting one afternoon as Beep appeared on the horizon.

“Beep beep!” my husband replied in friendly salute.

The cyclist looked surprised, but wheeled away in silence. Only after he was well beyond us did he resume his usual shout out. His was not, we learned, a call and response effort.

The next afternoon, noting the anticipated hour, Beep and his bike appeared on the dot, weaving through walkers, wheels flashing. Again, my husband attempted a friendly exchange, shouting at his approach: “Hey, beep beep!” He waved for good measure.

Beep’s head snapped towards him. He stared momentarily before shouting, “Airborne!”

“Huh!” my husband said, staring at his retreating figure. Sure enough, Beep was wearing an Airborne t-shirt.
Thereon, Beep continued his ride but now hollered at intervals, “Airborne!” We stood and watched, momentarily speechless.

“Well,” my husband muttered to the ground. Intrigued yet deflated by Beep’s reaction, we continued our walk. What did this mean?

On the third day that week, I glimpsed Beep on the horizon and began waving enthusiastically as if we were long lost friends at airport baggage. I couldn’t help myself.

“Hey! Beep beep!”

Beep whizzed past, looking through me as I waved. I dropped my arm sheepishly. Only when safely beyond us he shouted his new anthem, “Airborne!”

This all seems freighted with meaning. But what?

Perhaps we’re too needy; with no entertaining, no happy hours with pals, no friends joining along on park jaunts, we had jumped at a chance connection with a stranger in the park.

Perhaps we’ve been socially distancing way too long.

If you’re reading this Beep Beep, please let us know.


The Simple Life

The Great Road Wagon

by Jim Dodson



I call her The Pearl.

She’s a 1996 vintage Buick Roadmaster Grand Estate station wagon – a true American land yacht with fake wood siding and a ride that is like driving in your living room.

I purchased her a decade ago more out of simple nostalgia than anything else, thinking how fun it would be to cruise around town in a classic Roadmaster wagon just like the one my old man had when I was a kid.

After complaining in a newspaper column that our kids kept sneaking off to college with a succession of our family Subarus and Volvos, I half-joked that maybe the trick was to find a vintage gas-guzzler no self-respecting Millennial would wish to be seen riding in – much less driving.

A woman who read my column promptly phoned.

“Mr. Dodson, I’m here to make your dreams come true,” she said.
Her father was pushing 90 and had recently terrified her mother on a short outing to lunch from their senior living community, winding up lost and 60 miles out in the country.

“He loves this car. It’s really his baby. But he’s starting to run red lights and stop signs and I’m afraid he might kill somebody in it.” She added that a vintage car collector on the west coast had made her an offer, but if I wished to take it for a test spin, I could go over to the garage where she’d had it towed, hook up the battery and take her for a test ride.

“I had to tell my father his beloved Roadmaster was worn out – a little white lie, I’m afraid. There’s actually nothing wrong with the car save for a few dents here or there. That car took my sisters and I off to college and moved us several times when we were single.”

The mechanic at the garage pointed out that this particular model was the last true production station wagon made by Detroit – the end of a noble line of historic Roadmasters that stretched back to the Great Depression. Buick was ditching its big road wagons for something called a Sports Utility Vehicle.

“If Buick still made that car,” he added, “the company wouldn’t be in the trouble it’s in today.” He also said that if I chose not to buy that car, he would.

An hour later, I drove it home.

My only miscalculation was that our two youngest millennial in residence that summer actually loved my new land yacht and wanted to drive it around town – or even better, take it off to college.

One of them unhelpfully pointed out that the Roadmaster station wagon was listed as No. 6 on the “Top Ten List of Best Cars for the Apocalypse.” He seemed deeply impressed.

“That may be,” I told him, “But hopefully spring will be here before The End is near. Behold my new gardening wagon.”

The family millennials laughed. The younger one wondered if I’d given “her” a proper name.

The perfect name, in fact, suddenly came to me.

“I think I’ll call her the Dirty Pearl – after the Black Pearl in Pirates of the Caribbean.” Once upon a time, before everybody grew up, that movie was a big hit in the Dodson household.

“Pirating and gardening are both dirty business,” I explained.

My new first mate and garden assistant seemed enthusiastic about the idea.

Mulligan the dog, whom I found running wild and free as a lost pup, was already sitting in the front seat shotgun position – ready to roll.

It’s been exactly a decade since that sweet day of homecoming and we’re still cruising along together – man, dog and Dirty Pearl.

She had just 60,000 miles on her odometer when I acquired her in mid-2009. Today she has over 170,000, most of them in service to my garden or road trips for work or pleasure.

Three years ago, however, I began researching the Great Wagon Road that brought a couple hundred thousand European settlers to the Southern backcountry during the 18th century. The Wagon Road was the most traveled road of Colonial America, stretching nearly 800 miles from Pennsylvania to Georgia.

Back in late January, halfway across South Carolina – just 100 or so miles from the finish line of my research – the pandemic shut down the road until further notice.

Along the way, however, The Pearl has attracted an amazing amount of attention and comment from complete strangers. For some, she’s a nostalgia trip.

“That’s my childhood car!” a woman shrieked with joy outside York, PA’s historic Farmer’s Market, wondering if she could simply sit in the car for five minutes and take a mental road trip down memory lane.

Another man in the parking lot of the Gettysburg Visitor’s Center wondered how much I would take for The Pearl. I told him she was part of the family, and thus not for sale. He gave me his name and number in case I changed my mind.

Upon seeing her in action, dozens of motorists have tooted their horns, waved and given thumbs up signs.

This makes me wonder: Was life simpler, larger or somehow better a quarter of a century ago? America’s love affair with vintage automobiles is an established fact and a multi-million-dollar industry. Perhaps an old car simply reminds us of when travel by road was a luxury or a means of seeing the world at an unhurried pace – not the frenzied mad dash to get wherever you’re going on the freeway these days.

Back home, around town, in any case, we still go for a Saturday morning cruise to the farmer’s market and the local garden centers to buy mulch, organic soil and whatever else will fit in the car’s massive cargo hold – and almost everything does.

Over our mobile decade together, she’s hauled everything from household furniture to young fruit trees, oil paintings to bookcases. You name it, The Pearl has brought it home – including yours truly to the old neighborhood where he grew up in Greensboro.

That may be the sweetest thing of all.

But time does take a toll on man and machine alike.

The Pearl’s days of hauling anything but good garden soil are probably behind us. Man, dog and Pearl are all showing signs of age. My knees complain, The Mulligan has gone deaf in one ear and The Pearl’s electrical system has become a mystery known only to God, because no mechanic can seem to find a simple short in the system that occasionally drains her battery. Her air conditioner also conked out last summer up in Virginia. Maybe The End is near, after all.

Sometime this summer, however, about the time you’re reading this, good lord willin’ and the battery holds out, she and I will complete the journey along the Great Wagon Road to Georgia.

I’ll be a little sad the road trip is over, I suppose…

But also happy that my great wagon made it the entire way, carrying me over the same road my ancestors took to find a home in North Carolina.

I’ll probably aim her for home, give her a good wash, and park her in the carport where she always sits and can enjoy a nice long rest.

Until next Saturday morning.


A version of this story ran in Seasons magazine Spring 2019 issue.

Party Line

Make mine a double with a Splash of Geritol!

By Annie Gray Sprunt

“Call Dickie Andrews! Call Dickie Andrews!” was the early morning mantra of my grandfather for the last several years of his life. Everyday he thought it was going to be his last day among the living. As soon as he realized he was, in fact, going to survive, he would get up, get dressed and head to his workshop where he would putter around with a few Saltine crackers and an O’Doul’s near beer. He lived for 95 years. For those of you who may not know, Dickie Andrews was his friend and the owner of Andrews Mortuary.

Both sides of my family live long, long lives and our survival tool is humor. (We are long livers but I doubt anyone would want our livers, just saying.) We will spin anything that happens into an opportunity to laugh because the alternative is not much fun. Years ago, my maternal grandmother had to have her leg amputated due to complications from diabetes. She was 90. She was so proud of that stump that she would randomly and spontaneously whip that thing out as if she were in a Mardi Gras parade flashing mammaries to score some purple and green beads. New version of tooting your own horn . . . flashing your own stump! At the time, my daughter was 5 years old and my grandmother explained that since she only had one leg, she wasn’t able to walk and my daughter said, “Well, at least you can hop!” That’s my girl . . . always seeing the bright side!

My paternal grandmother, for whom I was named, lived for 91 delightful years. Her greatest summertime joy was to sit on the edge of the ocean with the waves lapping onto her legs. Sporting powder blue cat eye sunglasses, (she called her “smokes”), well-worn straw hat with pink faux flowers atop her lovely gray hair, long swim dress enjoying the simple pleasures of summer, making drip drip castles in the sand and digging for sand fiddlers. Along comes a 5 year old whipper-snapper. He noticed that
she had well earned wrinkles and her skin was soft and for lack of a better word, saggy . . . essentially that she was no spring chicken. After curious and innocent observation, this little fella said, “Hey lady, your skin don’t fit.” I’m sure his mother wanted to dig a hole to China and jump right in but my grandmother howled in hysterics, embraced the hilarity and retold
that story many times.

Years ago, my cousin Hardy received a phone call that a great-uncle had passed away. He asked the customary question: ”Was it expected?” His mother said, “Yes, it’s been expected for the last 97 years.”

Even when we reach the stage of life when the proverbial horizon is approaching, we preemptively strike with a pithy nugget or sarcasm of self-deprecating sass. My father lived an extraordinarily long life and could find humor at every opportunity. Time came when we had to call in Hospice which is always a difficult and sobering experience. Sensing the weight of the situation and realizing the imminent doom we were all feeling, Daddy summoned his well honed humor and asked the lovely hospice nurse, ”What is your success rate?” Crickets. The poor lady didn’t know what to say until we all fell over laughing and we knew then that everything was going to be OK. Humor IS the best medicine although that morphine really does work.

My mother is in assisted living. Primarily because if she lived with me, one of us would not survive. On one occasion, she had to transfer from one room to another which meant that someone had to be there so that the cable man could switch the account. I arrived to meet the technician for the 10 a.m. to noon service window, which of course, meant that I was still there at 3 p.m. then, a NURSE walked in, clearly a nurse, in a nurse uniform, name tag which declared that he was a nurse, nurse bag and standard issue stethoscope around his nurse neck. He introduced himself to my mother, identifying himself as a nurse, asked my mother if he could perform traditional nurse duties, taking her temperature, blood pressure, blood oxygen cuff on her finger. He asked if he could check her feet to ensure that indeed her circulation was circulating. She obediently did what she was told, answered his medical question and complied with his requests. He, the nurse, then said that he needed to inspect her backside to make sure she wasn’t exhibiting signs of bedsores. She did as she was told and provided a vision of her backside where upon she turns to me and asks, drumroll please, “When is he going to turn on the cable?”

Oh, yes she did!


Annie Gray’s (eventual) life goal is to die like Chrysippus of Soli, the Greek
Stoic philosopher who died from laughing at his own jokes.

‘Hood Winks

In Praise of Mrs. Kravitz

She saw everything in the neighborhood — thankfully

By Nancy Oakley

She wryly calls herself “Mrs. Kravitz,” after the busy-body character from the 1960s television comedy Bewitched. This would be my friend of 20-odd years, who for the last 15 has rented to me an old servant’s cottage that sits at the end of her driveway. Our neighborhood oozes Southern charm and romance of a bygone era, but its proximity to downtown invites a stream of foot traffic, and every now and then, crime. It was during a rash of break-ins that “Mrs. Kravitz” came to be.

She is not the first, for every neighborhood has one. Growing up in Greensboro in the 1960s and ‘70s, my family and I had a Mrs. Kravitz for a next-door neighbor. She was cheerful, kind and generous, a salt-of-the-Earth type who baked pies and gave my sisters and me rides home from school. She had a distinctive laugh, a high-pitched cackle — and an eagle eye. “I just happened to wake up in the middle of the night last night,” she’d often begin, “and noticed the lights were on across the street, and two people were leaving the house. I declare, who in the world would be going somewhere at that hour?”

The phrase “across the street” referred to the young divorcée whose lawn-mowing attire consisted of a low-cut blouse and a miniskirt. My sisters and I never dared throw any parties on the rare occasions that our parents went out, as we knew that they’d get a full report from you-know-who. She gave us the lowdown on everyone else in a two-block radius: the fellow down the street who was hospitalized after a heart attack; an older woman who was drunk and ranting in the middle of the night (“when I just happened to be up with a headache,” said Mrs. K.); the mysterious nine-month case of “mononucleosis” that a teenaged girl had contracted; various children who skipped school or left their bicycles in her front yard. Never was she more incensed, however, than the day she caught her other next-door neighbors’ son teasing his dog, and vehemently scolded the boy: “Don’t you be mean to that Jingles; she’s a sweet dog!”

Shortly before the Mrs. Kravitz died, my parents acquired new neighbors on the other side of their house, a young couple with three children. We shall call them Mr. and Mrs. Kravitz. Energetic, with a hail-fellow-well-met demeanor, their brand of surveillance was fueled by sympathy. “We feel so sorry for Sue and her girls,” they’d sigh, before describing in excruciating detail the plight of the single mom whose husband was serving a jail sentence. They worried about the health consequences of one family’s hoarding tendencies and revealed that the two mutts responsible for leaving calling cards in our front yard were, in fact, rescue dogs. When the same drunk and ranting woman who had offended the first Mrs. Kravitz locked herself out of her house, these Kravitzes were the first on the scene to help and even looked into rehab programs for her.

But back to my Mrs. Kravitz, who evolved into her role. In the first few years that I lived in the cottage, I would get nervous phone calls from her on nights that her husband was working late or out of town. “Just wanted to make sure you’re there,” she’d say. But years later, when my purse was snatched and I was the frightened one, she insisted on dispatching me to her guest room and consoling me with a few beers while she wrangled with the police. They explained there wasn’t much they could do since the perp had slipped away, but Mrs. K. refused to let the matter go. “Don’t you have someone on the neighborhood beat who can track him down?” she snapped.

I was impressed with her audacity to sass the cops, a contrast to my deferential “Yes, Officer; No, Officer” responses. The police came to know her by name as the summer wore on and crime escalated. She demanded follow-up on another purse snatching, on the car break-in next-door, and routinely called in any suspicious-looking loiterers, until the city’s finest suggested she form a neighborhood watch. She did just that, starting with an e-mail chain that always ended with, “Mrs. Kravitz is on the case!” Literally. One night, she went out on patrol with the cops in a squad car, and I considered changing her moniker to “Dirty Harriet.”

But Mrs. Kravitz, while vigilant, is no vigilante. She and her counterparts before her are compassionate souls who only want the best for everyone, whether a defenseless animal, a troubled soul or frightened neighbors. So the next time you discover a Mrs. Kravitz in your midst, be glad she—or he—has your back. And if you’re planning any late-night revels, keep the noise down; Mrs. K. might happen to wake up.



This story ran previously in April 2011 issue of PineStraw, one of O.Henry‘s sister publications.

Eye on GSO

by Billy Eye


Restaurants that were previously closed are reopening all over Downtown Greensboro. There’s even a new kid in the heart of Hamburger Square.

Last week, Crafted: Art of the Taco re-emerged with a new, limited menu consisting of burgers, wings and, yes, tacos. We thoroughly enjoyed their 10-piece garlic teriyaki wings with a side of the best ranch dressing I’ve ever tasted. For $11, that’s a real deal!

Chez Genèse is perhaps my fave restaurant downtown. The tall and fluffy quiche is always a winner at breakfast time and a natural to-go order with contactless curbside pickup. Check their website chezgenese.com for daily changing offerings. This past Thursday, its smoked salmon sandwich on toasted whole grain toast topped with herb goat cheese, avocado and cucumbers was on the menu. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Machete’s tuna tataki with fennel and yuzu dashi is scrumptious as is the double-fried chicken with lemon. As a special treat, if you have time to kill, take your eats around the corner to Green Hill Cemetery for an enjoyable picnic in the sun. Complete your meal with one of the dozens of beer and wine bottles they offer.

Next door, Sage Mule bakery and bistro reopened  this week, taking orders Wednesday through Sunday, for scratch-made pastries and sandwiches from locally-sourced ingredients. Sage Mule was only open a few weeks when this current unpleasantness hit life’s pause button. I’m looking forward to dining in again when this is all over.

International eatery Bon Chon is back, as well. If you haven’t tried their Asian sesame salad with salmon, I highly recommend it. Also delish are the pork buns, bulgogi, and their crunchy chicken katsu is out of this world. They even offer delivery.

Smith Street Diner is once again plating Southern-style comfort food including their signature homemade chicken and tuna salads. I’m craving that ribeye with home fries and corned beef hash platter.

Heavenly Buffaloes is a new eatery at 356 South Elm. Their specialties are wings and waffle fries. This place is so new I haven’t tried it yet but they’re very popular in their original locations, Durham and Chapel Hill. Open most nights until midnight, there’s a good chance I will soon be sampling their garlic garlic garlic wings on a late night. Delivery is also an option.

Grey’s Tavern isn’t open but there is major renovation happening on its site. The Green Bean is currently taking delivery orders for Joe Van Gogh coffee blends.

Life is returning to downtown and Eye for one couldn’t be happier!


Simple Life

The Stuffed Potatoes

By Jim Dodson

Two or three times a month, we meet for lunch at a quiet bar of a local restaurant.

We catch up on news and work, talk about books we are reading and swap tales about the adventurous lives of our wives, grown children and grandbabies. Sometimes it’s history and politics that dominates the conversation. More often we share thoughts on life, love and matters philosophical. In a nutshell, we attempt to solve most of the world’s problems in the span of time it approximately takes to consume a couple well-stuffed baked potatoes.

That seems about right since the three of us always order the same items off the bar menu. Joe and I routinely order fully loaded baked stuffed potatoes while our worldly friend Pat – who prefers, may we say, to be called Patrick — gets a fancy club sandwich. There’s always one in every crowd.

Some time ago, I began calling our gathering The Stuffed Potatoes Lunch and Philosophy Club.
Spud Buds for short.

You see, we’ve known each other for more than half a century. Pat (oh, right…Patrick) is my oldest pal; we grew up a block from each other and have spent years chasing golf balls and trout in each other’s company. Patrick and Joe grew up attending the same Catholic church. But I knew and liked Joe a great deal in high school.

To look at us, you might think we’re just three old dudes swapping war stories in a booth.

Technically speaking, I suppose we are “old” guys, though none of us thinks of ourselves that way in the slightest.

We were born weeks apart in 1953 — Joe in January, me in February, Pat(rick) in March.

What a banner year it was: The Korean War ended and Dwight Eisenhower became president. Hillary — the mountaineer, that is — reached the summit of Everest. Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of England. Gas cost 20 cents per gallon. The first Corvette went on sale. Albert Schweitzer won the Nobel Prize. From Here to Eternity was the top Hollywood movie. Ian Fleming published his first James Bond novel. Mickey Spillane was the king of crime fiction.

Our mothers, bless their sweet suburban hearts – classic housewives of the 1950s – knew exactly what they were doing giving us simple 1950-ish names like Joe, Pat and Jimmy, names that fit us like a pair of Buster Brown shoes, names from a Mickey Spillane novel or a Burt Lancaster movie.

I’m guessing nobody these days names their kid Joe, Pat or Jimmy. Not when you’ve got so many exotic choices like Brendan, Rupert or Hamish floating around in the Millennial baby pool. Just to be sure what I’m talking about, I looked up the most popular male names for millennial babies in 2020.

Michael, Christopher, Matthew and Joshua are actually the top Millennial male names for 2020. Daniel ranks fifth.

That’s four Biblical names shy of a Christian baseball team. With a starting lineup like that, you could almost write your own Old Testament — if Millennials bothered to go to church anymore.

Joe’s the only one of us who has achieved exalted granddad stature. He and wife Liz have two g-babes, in fact. One’s in Durham, the other Asheville. They go see them all the time and who can blame them for that? If I had grandbabies somewhere within shouting distance I’d burn up the highway just to make a proud and happy fool of myself every dang weekend.

As of this month, we’ve all turned 67 years old. No applause necessary. Or desired.

Truthfully, t’s rather amazing how quickly this age-thing happened. Once upon a time, 67 sounded positively ancient to our carefree, youthful ears — one bus stop shy of the boneyard, as Mickey Spillane might say.

The funny thing is, none of us feels at all ancient or even looks terribly old, according to our thoughtful wives and daughters. Then again, they might need new glasses.

With age, however, comes a number of often unadvertised benefits.

We’ve each buried family and friends, suffered setbacks and experienced comebacks, seen enough of life and sudden death – not to mention the drama of our own aging bodies — to know that bittersweet impermanence is what makes living fully so important and precious. To laugh is to gain a taste of immortality.

Failed projects and busted business deals have taught us that’s there’s really no failure in this life – only reasons to get up, dust off our britches and try a different path. A new summit awaits.

Our faith has been tested and found to be alive and kicking, even after all these years. Correction: Especially after all these years.

In brief, we’ve learned that joy and optimism are spiritual rocket fuel, that divine mystery is real and the unseen world holds much more intriguing possibilities than anything we read about in the news or watch on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon.

Ditto the natural world of woods and fields and streams.

It’s no coincidence that we share a profound love of nature, drawing comfort and wisdom from its many lessons.

Joe, a forester by training, spends his days helping clients find and set aside wild lands for future generations to enjoy. He and Liz are dedicated wilderness hikers, walking encyclopedias of botany and flora, forever in search of new trails and unspoiled vistas when they’re not slipping off to see those beautiful grandbabies of theirs.

Patrick is a top businessman whose real love is the spiritual solitude of remote trout streams and chasing a golf ball around the highlands of Scotland with his oldest pal. He’s also skilled bird-hunter but shoots only clays with Joe some Wednesday afternoons.

Several years ago, Pat and Joe built a cabin on Pat’s land up in the Meadows of the Dan. They set up cameras just to film any wildlife that happened by, cleared roads and got to know the locals. Since both are still working and have no plans to retire, that cabin became a way, as Joe puts it, “to reset our clocks – inside and out.” We take from nature, said Theodore Roethke, what we cannot see.

As for me – a veteran journalist and writer who busier than ever and shares their view of the dreaded R-word — I’m an aging Eagle Scout, fly-fishing nut, bird watcher and gardener who once spent six glorious weeks in the remote bush of South Africa with a trio of crazed plant hunters dodging black mambas and spitting cobras just to see the world’s smallest hyacinth and other exotic plants in the ancestral birthplace of the world’s flowers. The baboons, birds, springboks and elephants weren’t bad, either. I felt like a kid in a Rudyard Kipling tale.

At that time, I also lived in a house I built with my own hands, in a forested hill near the coast of Maine. There in my woodland retreat, I rebuilt the stone walls of a long abandoned 18th century farmstead and created a vast English garden in the woods that nobody but family, friends, Fedex guy and local wildlife ever laid eyes on. My late Scottish mother-in-law, cheeky women, suggested I name my woodland garden “Slightly Off in the Woods.”

I called it my Holy Hill, my little piece of Heaven.

My two children grew up there watching the seasons come and go, learning to look and listen to the instructive voices of nature. Today, one is a documentary journalist living and working in the Middle East, the other a top copywriter and screenwriter in New York City. Both claim they carry the peace of that Holy Hill with them in their hearts, and I believe them. I do, too. Nature’s wisdom is infectious.

Maybe that’s what I love most about lunches with the Stuffed Potatoes.

At a time of life when a lot of men our age lose their curiosity and zest for living, spending their days grumbling about sports, politics or the weather, we take genuine pleasure in each other’s company, swapping tales of life’s natural ups and downs while sharing thoughts for the road ahead.

Joe has stories galore and the most booming laugh you’ve ever heard. The again, he grew up having to be heard as fifth child in a family of nine kids. Today, he has 53 cousins and an uncle who became the voice of the American Environmental movement, and is always coming out with pearls of wisdom that I promptly write down. We call them “Joeisms.”

Here’s one of my favorites, perfect for the rude or thoughtless among us: Everybody has to be somewhere. I just don’t have to be there with him.

Patrick is gifted with what the Irish call the craic — an ancient Irish word that means he can talk to anyone and entertain them royally while he’s doing it. He’s a master at solving complex problems and has quietly done things that help teenagers and homeless folks than anyone I know. He’s also the only guy I know who’s probably read more books than me, which is really saying something. At least he hasn’t started writing them — yet.

So we are three for lunch – the wise forester, the craic fisherman and the mad gardener.

A fictional Forest Gump got famous for saying life is like a box of chocolate because you never know what you’ll get.

I beg to disagree, believing life is actually more like a gloriously stuffed baked potato because, the more you put in, the better it tastes.

My Spud Buds, I suspect, would agree — even if one of them prefers the club sandwich.

There’s always one in every crowd.



This “Simple Life” first appeared in O.Henry magazine in March 2020.

Simple Life

Rainy Sundays

By Jim Dodson


It’s raining this morning, a Sunday in early May.

Few things, meteorologically speaking, make me happier.

To begin with, Sunday is my favorite day.

Also, soft rain is a gardener’s blessing. Together, rainy Sundays make the world a smaller, quieter place, encouraging certain hardworking souls – my beautiful Yankee wife, let’s say — to burrow a bit longer beneath covers before she’s roused by the muddy-pawed crowd (human and canine) to stage one of her heroic Sabbath morn breakfasts, with time off allowed for good behavior to read the newspaper and talk of small things, savoring a peace that passeth weekday understanding even as her husband heads off for the garden.

For me, on a different level, rainy Sundays stir involuntary memories of my family’s odyssey through the strange garden of the deep South during my first seven years of life, a South that really no longer exists outside the boundaries of my mind, shaped by solitary days of a childhood passed in a succession of small sleepy southern towns where my father worked at the newspaper and my brother and I were pretty much left to roam the world untethered, forever ditching our shoes, Boxcar boys growing up wild and free.

First there was Gulfport where my pregnant mother and I would walk the broad flat beach in the evening light, shoes in hand, collecting interesting shells and keeping watch for approaching storms over the vast Gulf of Mexico, a body of water that was often as still as bathwater but reportedly coughed up more diverse shells than any other ocean on the planet.

This information came from a mountainous pressman named Tiny Earl, who worked at the weekly newspaper my dad owned with his silent investment partner.

Tiny Earl also let it slip that we happened to reside “smack in the middle of Hurricane Alley,” predicting that any day now a “killer” hurricane would churn up from the Gulf to wreak incredible devastation on Gulfport and neighboring Biloxi.

Looking back, I was secretly thrilled at this terrifying prospect and immediately wrote off to the National Geographic Society for an official Hurricane Watch kit that included a special map of common hurricane patterns and a preparation guide plus membership card.

A few impressive storms did boil out of the Gulf during the two years we lived across the street from the state beach, bringing curtains of rain and fearsome winds but disappointingly no named hurricanes that I could later claim to have witnessed and somehow miraculously survived. That distinction would come half a century later when Hurricane Katrina wiped away hundreds of lives, homes and businesses on the very coast where we lived.

A different kind of hurricane blew us home to Carolina.

My mother lost her baby the same week my father lost his newspaper owing to a silent partner who cleaned out the paper’s bank accounts following his Tuesday Kiwanis luncheon and struck off for parts unknown with the cigarette girl from a downtown hotel.

My father had just returned from a trip to Memphis where he’d purchased a new printing press that would allow his newspaper to publish five days a week in the new year. Instead, he lost both his newspaper dream and life savings in one afternoon, not to mention a third baby boy later that week.

In my mind it was softly raining the late November evening we left Gulfport for the overnight drive to North Carolina, though I could simply be imagining this because of the rain that seemed to follow us everywhere in those days.

I do have a clear memory, however, of my dad’s nine employees lining up on the sidewalk to say goodbye, and my father handing each one of them a small white envelope that contained – as I learned from my mother decades later – the last of my parents’ savings. Tiny Earl the pressman gave me, of all things, a waterproof flashlight that I kept for years. Tina the receptionist gave me a handful of peppermint candies for the overnight ride home to Carolina.

We wound up living by Greenfield Lake in Wilmington for one year, where the weather either seemed blazingly hot and sunny or moodily cool and rainy. I hoped for a hurricane but none came, though I did learn to swim in the little lagoon near the drawbridge to Wrightsville Beach one rainy summer Sunday after church, dog paddling about while a sudden shower freckled the surface of the water. I also learned to ride a bicycle that year, 1958, peddling along the oyster-shelled foot paths of Airlie Gardens and sidewalks in the rain around Greenfield Lake, my tires singing on the wet pavement.

After my mother’s second miscarriage, we spent another full year living in Florence, South Carolina, where I started the first grade and had perfect attendance and my father worked at the newspaper and my mother was nursed back to health by a wonderful black woman named Jesse May Richardson, who looked after my brother and me during the week and always checked in on us after her own church services on Sunday.

Among her many gifts, Miss Jesse May taught my mother – a former Miss Western Maryland beauty queen — how to garden and cook “real” Southern food.

She also taught me to “feet dance” by hoisting me up by my skinny arms and lowering me onto her own canvas work shoes, shimmying us both around the kitchen while supper cooked on the stove and gospel music played from her transistor radio in the window over the sink. To this day, anytime I hear “I’ll Fly Away” or “Over in the Glory Land,” I’m inclined to dance on the spot or at least move my feet to the holy beat.

It was Miss Jesse May, in fact, who first informed me that rain is holy water, the Lord’s way of helping the world grow flowers and food. “So never say a cross word about a rainy day, Child!” she instructed me, just one of many important things I was told that year– quite bossily at times, I might add, with unwavering authority from my mother — including the fact that no civilized child ever removes his shoes in a public place, and certainly not at the Piggily Wiggily — no matter how hot it happens to be outside or how cool the tiled floor of the newly air-conditioned grocery store feels under your bare feet.

My mother liked to say she owed Miss Jesse May her life, and I believe there is Gospel truth in that. For what it’s worth, I still use her recipe for seasoned collards every Thanksgiving.

It rained the Sunday we went to see her in the colored wing of the old Florence Memorial Hospital. This was just before Christmas of 1959. My parents refused to tell my brother and me what was wrong with her. We came straight from church. My mother took her a bright bouquet of flowers from the florist shop near the newspaper.

Her funeral a week later was held at a small freewill Baptist church on the outskirts of Florence. It must have been on a Saturday. The service was long but I liked the music and met Miss Jesse’s grown daughter, Babygirl, who drove up from Atlanta. That Sunday it rained. I remember this because my mother said a good rain was Miss Jesse May’s doing – the winter garden out back needed it.

Within weeks, however, we moved home to Greensboro, where I joined Miss Chamberlain’s second grade class at Braxton Craven Elementary for the new year, 1960. That week we were asked to bring a poem to class and read it aloud. I chose Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “Rain,” a ditty lodged in my head to this day.

The rain is raining all around,
It falls on field and trees,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.

His message seems clear. Rain feeds the earth and oceans and connects us all to each other, wherever life’s voyages take us.

Miss Jesse May was right.

Why else is water mentioned just 39 words into the Book of Genesis, even before the Almighty made light to separate the day from night; even before He created the land and stars, the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky and finally man. We bathe in water, we baptize new life with it; rainwater washes away the dust of the day, cools city streets and washes windows of the soul; makes the world green and forever new, gives us flowers and food.
Perhaps this explains why, six decades later, I’m prone to lose track of time when I’m working in my garden on rainy Sunday mornings.
The scent of watered Earth and growing plants takes me back to a quiet South that may rightfully exist only in memory – and a very privileged one at that – but shaped so much of what I believe about life and people and worlds both seen and unseen.
Not long ago, after an early hour of spot weeding in a light Sabbath mist, I hurried off to church forgetting to change out of my muddy garden shoes.
An elegant older lady who often shares our pew, gave me an amused look and nodded at my feet, where chunks of red clay and bits of mulch clung to my khakis and shabby canvas shoes.
“I can see where you’ve been this morning,” she whispered with a chuckle, as our pew rose to head for the communion rail. “Closer to God’s heart in a garden, dear?”
“Yes ma’am,” I replied.
For a crazy instant, I was tempted to kick off my muddy shoes and take communion in my bare feet.
But then a voice in my head reminded me that this was the Lord’s house and not the Piggily Wiggily — where even muddy shoes are acceptable at the table.
So up I went, hoping it was the Almighty who’d spoken to my heart.
On the other hand, it could easily have been Miss Jesse May Richardson.



The edition of Simple Life was first published in May 2016.

High Browsing

Art Lives Here

For Center for Visual Artists, the show must go on

By Maria Johnson

Fine art venues have been up against some blank walls with social distancing born of coronavirus, so the Center for Visual Artists, a nonprofit Greensboro gallery devoted to local creators, is trying a different tack.

In mid-May, the gallery will launch a soft opening of the organization’s first online show and sale, Maggie Fickett: Living in Plein Air.

The show — featuring the work of former Greensboro watercolorist Maggie Fickett — was supposed to have opened in the CVA gallery on April 21, but the city locked down the Greensboro Cultural Center, which houses the CVA’s office and exhibit space.
It’s not clear when the building and the gallery will reopen, so it seems like a good time to experiment with a different way of showing, selling and educating the public about an exhibit, says gallery director Corrie Lisk-Hurst.

“We want to be one of the first to do this kind of thing,” she allows. “If that means learning as we go, that’s fine. It’s giving us focus and purpose.”

The art world has used online tools for a long time. Many artists sell directly from their websites and from online marketplaces like Etsy. Live auctions are fairly common. So are recorded gallery tours, artist interviews, demonstrations and classes.
But it’s new territory for a smaller gallery like CVA to fuse an online show, sale and education-related programming.

“For a long time, we’ve wanted to increase access to the local arts via online exhibitions,” Lisk-Hurst explains. “Lucky for us, Maggie’s family and supporters have allowed us to use this show as our first educated experiment.”

The soft opening will be accessible by email invitation only. People who want to be invited may email their requests to gallery@greensboroart.org. In June, all visitors to the CVA website should be able to view the show at www.greensboroart.org.

Using newly acquired software that enables the display and sale of art online, the CVA will start the show with about 200 framed and unframed works that cover a variety of subjects and locations.

Fickett painted scenes in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Jamestown, Eden, Burlington, Seagrove, Raleigh, Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, as well as her home state of Maine and the city of Boston, where she worked as an advertising illustrator for several years. Bermuda, a favorite vacation spot, pops up in balmy blues.

As chronicled in the November 2017 issue of O.Henry, she captured familiar Greensboro locales, such as Fisher Park, Hamilton Lakes, Tate Street, State Street and downtown during its last big construction boom. She preserved local landmarks, including the Boar & Castle restaurant, Ham’s restaurant, the Carolina Theatre, and several colleges and churches.

In time, the CVA plans to sell hundreds more of Fickett’s works online. Buyers may use credit cards to purchase the art. They can pick up the items by appointment.

Someday the gallery might host an in-person show of Fickett’s work, Lisk-Hurst says.

But for now, CVA will stick to the cyber-show. They plan to promote the ongoing event through their Facebook page, Instagram feed and email list. They also hope to post videos about Fickett, including discussions of her artistic style and biography.

Fickett died on March 26 at age 89. A native of Maine, she moved to Greensboro in 1979 and became a prolific chronicler of area streets, parks, historical sites and private homes. She lived in Wilmington for a couple of years in the late ’80s before returning to Greensboro, where she often sketched and painted on location, en plein air.

Fickett’s family moved her back to Maine in 2014 because she had Alzheimer’s disease. Much of her work remained in storage in Greensboro.

A week before she died, Fickett, who no longer recognized family, fell out of her wheelchair in the memory care facility where she lived in South Paris, Maine. She broke a hip and possibly an arm, and she was in pain.

Hospice caregivers administered palliative care. Maggie passed peacefully, in the company of staffers whom she treasured. Family was not allowed into the home because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Fickett’s family and gallery officials had planned to use the majority of proceeds from the show to support Fickett’s care. Now, they’re considering using most of the profit to create a plein air painting class in Greensboro in Fickett’s honor.

“I’m thrilled that some of the profits from her art will be used to enlighten and educate others in her style of work. She loved sharing her art with other people,” says Debbie Fickett, who is married to Maggie’s nephew Robert. “It gave her much joy, and it’s wonderful that others will be able to experience that.”

The Snoopy Gardener

Take a tour of a Greensboro garden with Jim Dodson, O.Henry editor and best-selling author. Jim welcomes you to his home where he talks plants and future plans.



Simple Life

by Jim Dodson


With graduation season upon us, here’s a letter I wrote to my son, Jack, eight years ago this week, upon his graduation from Elon University. My nickname for Jack was “Nibs.” Today he is married and resides in the Middle East, working as a top journalist and filmmaker. His old(er) man couldn’t be prouder.


Dear Nibs,

Hearty congratulations, dear boy! As of noon yesterday, you are a college graduate.

Four years have flown by like the speed of light, or at least a bird in flight.

Come to think of it, so have the past two decades. As I was driving up to the university Thursday afternoon along that winding state road that we both love, the one that passes farms and fields, heading to meet your mom and grandmother for your Periclean Scholars farewell dinner, I confess to thinking it was only yesterday that you were a sweet, quiet, curious and sometimes stubborn lad who loved nothing more than to ride with me on the John Deere tractor and hear my silly made-up stories about Pete and Charlie, the two disreputable bears who inhabited the hemlock forest around our house in Maine.

I remember how you would tremble with pleasure over the goofy adventures of those two bumbling imaginary bears, like the time they broke in while we were away on vacation and threw a wild party for all the other animals in the forest, eating up everything in the pantry and watching all your Disney videos without rewinding them.

Funny to think you’ve out-lived video tapes, isn’t it? Someday you may actually need to explain to your son or daughter what those were. Good luck with that. In another decade or so, I recently read somewhere, kids may even be watching videos on command from an information chip implanted in their skulls. Personally, I find that thought to be a bit frightening. Give me the Stone Age nuisance of rewinding Beauty and the Beast any old day.

Since we’re on this subject, I can’t possibly leave out “Ugga-Bugga” the Bedtime Monster and his beloved (if now woefully politically incorrect) bathroom sidekick “Chinese Washy-Hair Guy” who would make you and your big sister disappear under clouds of tear-free shampoo as you splashed in our huge Portuguese claw-foot bathtub, provoking gales of lovely terrified laughter. Bath time was always something of a three-ring circus at our house.

Gosh, how I miss those wild and crazy guys. They brought out primal screams of pure joy in you both, and maybe the best in me.

Of course, the very mention of their names may embarrass you now, college boy. You have places to go and important people to see, a journalism career to get started, an interesting life to live. Fortunately, we have plenty of evidence from your early formative years in the form of scrapbook photos that prove all this silliness really did happen, including the dogs you grew up with and the Whiffle Ball games on the summer lawn, the Halloween parades, Christmas snow, your first hockey game, your last toothless grin. You name it, we covered it. I miss it.

One thing your mama and I agreed upon early in our married life, see, even before you and your big sister came along, was that the best thing we could possibly give our children was a childhood filled with happy memories and joy in the small and passing things of life, so that when your grown-up life and career present trials and speed bumps — as they certainly will – you would have something reassuring to fall back on, if only to remind you of where you come from – and that love and laughter are, in fact, two of the most useful tools for navigating the universe.

You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to know that a good laugh – especially at yourself – is powerful medicine, a cure for just about anything that ails you. A good laugh releases the soul from the shackles of disappointment and helps you keep a proper perspective. From this point forward, college boy, nothing of lasting value will ever come without a mighty struggle of some sort and even a major failure or two. That’s okay. No pain, no gain. You’ll learn more from honest failure, oddly enough, than any easy triumph. Just keep a sense of humor about it all and you’ll be fine.

Besides, the really funny thing is – and I’ll wager no professor dared to tell you this in college – there really is no such thing as failure. It’s only the universe’s way of sending you down a better path or teaching you the value of revising the project until you get it right.

For the record, old Albert also noted that there are really only two ways to live your life. The first is as if there is no such thing as a miracle. The other way is as though everything is a miracle. Eighty years ago this week, Einstein also told a reporter from the New York Times that only a life lived in service to others is a truly worthwhile life, and that the most beautiful experience one can have is the mystery of life itself.
Smart dude. Could have used a good barber, though. I guess it’s all relative.

Anyway, now that you’re officially a college graduate, seasoned world traveler and a scholar to boot, not to mention a promising filmmaker who has movingly chronicled poverty in India and vanishing rain forests in Sri Lanka, I guess I’d better quit calling you Nibs, the name I gave you from the Lost Boys of Peter Pan the summer you and I set off to try and see the wonders of the world like a pair of eighth graders on the lam.

As you may recall, just about everything that could go wrong on that trip did so. But didn’t we have the time of our lives? (If nothing else, it gave me my funniest book.) Moreover, it illustrated my point nicely, methinks, about the illusion of failure – namely that sometimes all our well-made plans and firm expectations come to a dead-end or at least take a sudden and inexplicable turn in another direction, usually something better. The truth is, you’ll probably never see the thing or person who changes your life coming, which I’m guessing is exactly the way God intends it. He works well with surprises.

You dream big and clearly work hard, dear boy. But please stay flexible, and always have a decent Plan B in your pocket. As your late grandfather used to say to me, quoting some long-forgotten sage, remember that it’s a wise man who keeps his child’s heart.

Leave room for being awed.

Being no Einstein, my prediction is that you’re going to do just fine out here in this wild and uncertain world. These are strange and difficult times, for sure, but the world has always been a challenging place and that’s when we human beings often do our best work — when the chips are really down.

Bottom line, Nibs: Have faith in yourself and believe in something larger than yourself and you’ll do splendidly. Things will take care of themselves. The right people will magically appear in your path, unexpected doors will open. You just need to have the courage to walk through them when the moment is right.

Listen to me – going on like I’m a regular Albert Einstein or something.

A few more bits before I let you go, old travel pal: You are a college graduate now but your real education is just beginning. Enjoy the blazes out of it, grab the reins and run hard, love deep and follow your heart. Go save the world. Just don’t forget to phone your mom and grandmother on Sunday nights.

As for me, well, I’m going to sorely miss the drive up that winding country road to see you at college and take you and your pals to supper. What an unexpected blessing that was. But it gives me deep comfort and pride to know that you are out there somewhere making a difference, and making a fine life in the process.

So, truth be told, you’re anything but a Lost Boy, son. You’re a damn good man who has found his way.

Besides, I still have Pete and Charlie, Ugga-Bugga and Chinese Washy-Hair Guy to keep me company in my happy dotage until perhaps some grandchildren come along.

As I watch you go, memories of those four old beloved characters – the disreputable wild things from your woodland boyhood — never fail make me to laugh.

Oh, how I loved them – and you, Jack.

— Dad