O.Henry Ending

Daddy Diaries

Fatherhood Day #960: Today I got popped



By Josephus Thompson III

I don’t know if you have ever been popped in the mouth by a 2-year-old, but today was my day.

My wife and I had been going back and forth about spanking versus not spanking, time-out and the Naughty Chair versus whoopings and all that jazz. As new parents trying to find the best way to parent, this is not an easy task. But today — TODAY! — she was off the chains: doing the most at every turn and not listening.

It was a lot. And to top it all off, today she was spitting. Ugh. 

A spitting toddler is in no way, shape or form like a grown man spitting. Still, she was talking back, taunting me with her little toddler tongue as if to say, “What you going to do about it?” It wasn’t exactly cute.

I asked her to stop, but she kept pushing my buttons. 

I asked her to stop again, and she didn’t. Kept right on spitting at me, lying flat on her back.

As a parent, you know what happens when you have to ask the third time . . . 

Or maybe you don’t. 

I didn’t. 

When I asked her to stop one more time? Still no chill. She spit again. Soooooo, I popped her — right in the mouth. Pop! Nothing hard, but direct and to-the-point so she knew play time was over. 

She immediately stopped, sat up straight and looked around. Then the tears started. LOL.

“Next time I ask you to do something, you need to do it,” I said, “Daddy asked you three times to stop.” 

Fast forward two days later. I’m changing her diaper. She is flat on her back, and she tells me, “No, Daddy. Stop.”

Of course, I proceed with the diaper change and tell her she needs to be still.

“No, Daddy. Stop,” she repeats.

I don’t. I’ve got the wipes out and am cleaning her up.

The third time, noticeably firmer than the first two times, she says, “Daddy, stop.”

I’ve just fastened the right side of the diaper when she pops me right in the mouth. Not hard — just enough to get my attention. I sat straight up. 

I’ll be honest with you, my natural instinct was to pop her back, harder — but I restrained myself and held back the tear in my left eye. Where did she learn this from?

In that moment, I was staring at a reflection of myself. And in that moment, I chose love. I hugged her and told her I loved her and that “we don’t hit.”

In wanting better for ourselves and for our children, we have to do better. Be more creative. Be more loving. Be more patient. Be the change we want to see. And sometimes it takes getting popped in the mouth by a 2-year-old to remember that. 

Lesson learned. At my house we don’t hit anymore. Naughty Chair and time-out it is . . .   OH

Poet Josephus III is a new father and the Muse of Epic Poetry in this month’s O.Henry

Almanac June

By Ashley Wahl

June is a waking dream, a dreamy wakefulness — a dream within a dream. 

Beneath the ancient magnolia, where the earth is cool as a stream and filtered light flickers across your skin like stardust, the crickets have lulled you to sleep. The summer air is a fragrant amalgam of magnolia, bee balm, rose and gardenia, and as you breathe, your dreamscape becomes a fertile garden, lush and vibrant, fueled by the essence of this sensuous season.

Chorus frogs and cicadas join the mélange. Butterflies arrive — a heavenly surge of them — followed by a procession of bees, a metallic troupe of beetles, a shimmer of ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Each breath is the thread of a gorgeous tapestry — an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of movement, color, sound and light. Each breath pollinates the garden.   

You open your eyes.

Were you sleeping, or is this all a dream?

A dragonfly hovers above your head before lighting on your finger like some kind of pet bird. In its stillness, you study those iridescent wings, that thin missile of a body, those monstrous, all-seeing eyes. Again, you wonder: A dream?

As it stares back, eyes like glittering mirrors, you think it could have dreamed you, too.


Green was the silence, wet was the light,
the month of June trembled like a butterfly.
— Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

Tastes Like Summer

Strawberry rhubarb pie. Poetry, isn’t it? Imagine the baker who churned out the first one. 

Why? No need to ask questions. Just . . . thank them.

Reportedly, rhubarb was introduced to the gardens and pies of our continent in the 1700s, after a Maine gardener procured the seed from Europe. Although its leaves are toxic to humans, its celery-like stalks (petioles) are packed with health benefits and take on the flavor of whatever they’re cooked with. Strawberries, in this case.

So, is it a fruit or is it a veggie? Botanists call it the latter. And since its early years in the States, the rhubarb has been dubbed the “pie plant.”

June 9 is National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day. Yes, a whole day devoted to this seasonal knockout. If you’re making one from scratch, consider adding orange zest. But don’t stress over the lattice crust. Minor details.



Golden Days

Summer is here, and with it, honeysuckle and roses. Iced tea and pesto. Cucumbers and snap beans straight from the vine. Father’s Day lands on Summer Solstice — Sunday, June 20 — the longest day of the year. Soak up the daylight with pops. If he’s earthside, make memories. Go fish. Build a trellis. Fire up the grill. Alive in spirit? Plant a tree in his honor. Feel the warmth of the sun, the coolness of the soil, and remember him.

On Thursday, June 24, the Full Strawberry Moon rises in the afternoon. This month’s showstopper will be the last of three supermoons of 2021. Closer to the Earth, it may appear larger and brighter than usual. But such is the magic of Midsummer.

Home, Naturally 

Lightness of being and a sense of gratitude

By Cynthia Adams

Photographs by Stacey Van Berkel


When an apparel executive and his artistic wife first weighed a career move from the Chicago area to Greensboro early in 2019, they made several exploratory trips.

JD and Erinn, who wish to go by first names, optimistically considered Greensboro a fresh slate. Even so, they weighed the unknowns: What would small town life and a new community be like? How would their three children adapt?

As for their eventual home, easygoing Erinn especially welcomed a brand-new lifestyle in a warmer, less hectic locale. Within months, they had sold their Wheaton home, a charming white two-story on a golf course, and were searching for their new home from afar.

JD became the new president at an apparel company. He could still golf, and would be much closer to his Lowcountry roots in Charleston, S.C.

“Honestly, I didn’t know what to imagine about Greensboro — and I didn’t want to have any preconceived ideas of what it would be like,” says Erinn, who studied dance and formerly worked in theater.

Erinn has a fondness for relaxed interiors without too much fuss or saturated color. She studied designers online and identified one who completely captured the family’s style.

That designer was Lisa Sherry.

The couple tracked down Sherry via Houzz and Instagram — even before they found “the” house. Formerly based in High Point, Sherry still worked in the Triad from her Charlotte offices.

Choosing the interior look for their future home was the easy part, given that Erinn was already sold on Sherry’s serenely organic style.

Favoring jeans and sandals, Erinn was unable to imagine living with a formal, traditional home or being surrounded by splashy colors. She wanted as much of a relaxed sensibility as possible.

“I appreciate color in other people’s homes. But natural color is pleasing to my eye.” While checking out Sherry from afar, she kept hitting pause to study the images. “I loved her style.”

Big moves were something the family had done before, having relocated from New York City to Portland, prior to landing in Illinois. The couple met and got married in NYC, where their first child, Quinn, now 17, was born. Hawkins, 15, and Eliott, 13, complete their family of five.

Having settled on Greensboro, the search for a house began in earnest. “JD was traveling down a ton for work.” That spring, the family visited and toured Grimsley High School. While Erinn had been down a few times with her husband, the trips were short. Still, they were able to get a sense of the place.

Then their agent showed them a large Starmount house within walking distance to a golf course. A perk for JD. It also offered tremendous privacy, and the house wrapped around a stellar pool with a Buddha statue on the deck.

It was the last house among several they saw.

“We didn’t know Starmount was a great neighborhood.”

While it was many of the things they wanted — a spacious house and layout — it was decidedly formal and traditional, completely different than what Erinn sought. And the previous owners preferred saturated color.

Sherry described it as “Romanesque,” possessing several elegant architectural details and, here and there, some “don’t touch” aspects — suboptimal for a younger family. At the same time, she realized that mere cosmetic changes would transform the house without removing a single wall.

As soon as Sherry saw the house for herself, she was able to look past the bold colors and impractical features. She felt like she could “make it work.”

It was decided. The new owners planned to be living in Greensboro within six months. Downplaying the formal décor was key. So down came the expensive drapery, complete with swags and jabots. Sherry recommended airy white curtains — or none.

The living room’s dramatic windows to the pool suddenly flooded the house with dappled sunlight. Benjamin Moore’s China White softened and further opened the rooms.

Thick dark molding was painted white, and the rooms also, as Ben Moore moved in and took over. “China White. Lisa was adamant about that. It brought the temperature down,” says Erinn. “Lisa calmed the interiors with neutrals.”

Down came the ornate chandeliers. A new one was chosen from a Charleston designer.

As the house transformed, Erinn grew a bit nervous — perhaps it would seem sterile. “Is it going to be cold?” she fretted privately. “But Lisa — she knew.  ‘Trust me,’ she kept saying. So, we did. But I wanted it to be comfortable.” The couple decided to banish all former furniture from the main floor to upstairs and go with new choices, curated with Sherry’s help. “I worried about the white slipcovers, but Lisa told us they’d be fine.”

Things moved apace. The hardwood floors were refinished and given new life. A highbrow living room mantle was replaced with a more relaxed matte black stone surround and simple wooden mantlepiece.

Lightheartedness prevailed.

For the most part, the owners saw little more than painting, refinishing and fabric samples as Sherry took command.

“We moved in, sleeping [upstairs] on the floor on mattresses,” Erinn recalls, as the downstairs remained off limits.

In September came a big announcement: “Lisa asked us to leave the house for six hours for the reveal.”

It was exactly like something you’d see on TV — a dramatic debut. The family returned later that day to a stunning transformation. Sherry’s team had the furniture situated, window treatments done and accessories in place. “I hadn’t seen the totality,” says Erinn. “I started crying when I went into our bedroom.”

The designer had totally nailed it.

Now, the question that Erinn asks with a too-good-to-be-true smile while sitting in her sun-drenched family room is, “How did I get here?”

Regardless, she is grateful for what she calls a definite “life upgrade.”

“Illinois is tricky,” she explains, referring to the higher cost of living, severe weather and heavy traffic. But Greensboro? 

“It’s twelve minutes anywhere you go,” Erinn marvels. “We really felt lucky and blessed to be where we landed.”

By late 2019, the family were assimilating. “We went to a Starmount Christmas party when we first moved here and had such a blast.”

Then, 2020 arrived and socialization ended beyond their new home.

Fortuitously, Sherry had created two “pod” areas placing sofas back-to-back, perfect for family living, and added a useful dining table. (This is where Erinn and JD enjoy morning coffee.)

Now, in the time of a pandemic, the family of five has discovered a perfect place and a new way of being together. “We played a lot of Yahtzee,” says Erinn with a smile. “The kids are so happy . . . we all have found amazing friends. At this stage in our lives, its exactly where we wanted to settle.”

Beyond the window as summer approaches, the pool beckons. “As crazy as it sounds,” she says, “it feels like we have been here for a long time. It feels like home.”  OH

Fairy Lands of North Carolina

Those with “the Sight” claim there are wee folk among us. Do you believe?

By John Hood     Illustration by Harry Blair


That rock in the river was a big one. Big enough to sit on. That’s what the woman did, in fact, while her husband spent the afternoon fishing upstream. She waded out to the rock, found a comfortable seat, and took out a book to read. What happened next was like something out of a book — but not the one she was reading.

Hearing footsteps and voices, the woman glanced up and saw two boys cavorting along a trail, their distracted father trudging along behind. As the boys approached the water’s edge, something else entered her field of vision. “It started coming up the river,” she later recalled.

What was “it”? A “pale-skinned, water-logged-looking” creature, she said, “with black hair and sharp, serrated teeth showing in a smile.” Paying no attention to the woman perched on the rock, it “focused on the boys” and moved rapidly through the water toward them.

She wasn’t the only one who saw it. The boys did, too. They picked up sticks and pointed them at the mysterious swimmer. The woman never found out if their makeshift weapons would have done any good. Although apparently unable to see the creature that was now just a few feet away from his boys, the father nevertheless decided they were playing too close to the water and ushered them back to the trail.

That the boys were briefly in peril, though, the woman never doubted. “It watched them move up the trail away with a creepy look on its face,” she said, “and then moved on upriver out of sight.”

Maybe you think you know what was really in that river. A bullfrog. A bottom-feeder. A bumpy log converted into something sinister by an overactive imagination. But the woman in question is convinced she saw a fairy. Just a few years ago. Right here in North Carolina.

It’s not our state’s first fairy sighting. It won’t be the last. Oh, it’s easy to scoff at those who claim to see wee folk wading in rivers or slinking through forests or dancing on hilltops. How childish. How backward. How unscientific. Well, sure. But I bet you know someone who still carries a lucky charm or wears a lucky sweatshirt whenever the Wolfpack play the Tar Heels. I bet you know someone who watches Ancient Aliens or Ghost Hunters, hits up psychics for advice or thinks Bigfoot just might really be out there somewhere, camera-shy but furtively flattered.

By the way, what’s your sign?

Generations ago, all the smart people thought universal schooling would disabuse the masses of such fanciful superstitions. They thought the relentless march of science would muscle old faiths and folk traditions aside — confining them, converting them into historical curiosities. “Rationalization and intellectualization,” the sociologist Max Weber famously predicted a century ago, would bring “the disenchantment of the world.”

Then a great many of these same smart people went out and got their palms read. Or sat in seances. Just for the experience, you know.

The magical, the paranormal, the supernatural are not so easily banished. According to a recent Harris Poll, 42 percent of us believe in ghosts, 36 percent in UFOs, 29 percent in astrology and 26 percent in witches. Fairies — by which I mean the broad swath of legendary little people, not just tiny Tinker Bells with translucent wings — rarely get included in American polls. But surveys in other countries find significant minorities still believe in fairies. In some places, such as Iceland, believers form a majority.

Among the believers is the woman I mentioned earlier. I wish I could tell you more about her and the fairy encounter she claimed to witness from that big rock. Unfortunately, I can’t even tell you her name. Anonymity was the promise made by folklorist Simon Young in 2014 when he began soliciting first-person accounts of fairy sightings. Published four years later as The Fairy Census, Young’s research spans hundreds of stories from around the world — including several from our state.

I can tell you the woman says it wasn’t her first sighting. “I have seen them since childhood, different ones,” she told Young. “My granny from Ireland says I have ‘the Sight’ like her.” The woman describes fairies as “beings from another world” that can have good or bad intentions. “I was always taught to never talk to them or let them know I see them.”

I can also say that, if you believe her story and hope to see your own fairy one day, there are plenty of places in our state worth exploring. While researching my new historical-fantasy novel Mountain Folk, largely set in North Carolina during the American Revolution, I learned a great deal about the fairy lore of our ancestors. Some of it developed locally, tied to specific Carolina landmarks. Other beliefs were brought here from afar — from the British Isles, from Northern Europe and the Mediterranean world, from West Africa. It turns out that almost all cultures have stories of wee folk. Accounts vary, of course, but a surprising number of them converge in key details: creatures two to three feet tall, invisible to most if they wish to be, infused with magic, attuned with nature, prone to pranks but also willing to trade favors for something they covet.

Based on the woman’s description, for example, you might find her rocky seat in some Piedmont river or mountain stream. The original inhabitants of those parts of North Carolina often told tales of such creatures. Among the Cherokee, for example, they were called the yunwi amayine hi, or “water dwellers,” and had the power to boost fish catches and promote healing.

In one story, a water dweller disguises herself as human to attend a dance. Smitten by her charms, a Cherokee man follows her to a riverbank and professes his love. He must be persuasive, for she agrees to become his wife. Eyes sparkling, she dives in the river and beckons him to follow. “It is really only a road,” she says. He takes a deep breath and leaps. Finding a wondrous world hidden beneath the river, he lives there happily as her husband. Later, when he leaves to visit his parents, they turn out to be long since dead. Generations of Cherokee live and die during the few years he lives among the water-dwellers.

Alternatively, maybe what our eyewitness saw was not a diminutive humanoid from native folklore but something scalier. The place where the Haw and Deep rivers converge in Chatham County to form the Cape Fear is nicknamed Mermaid Point. Just before the Revolutionary War, a man named Ambrose Ramsey ran a tavern nearby. When the locals left Ramsey’s tavern late at night to stumble home, they’d pass a sandbar. On numerous occasions, they spotted small figures luxuriating there in the moonlight. Figures with the heads, arms and torsos of beautiful women and the lateral lines and shiny tails of a fish. If the patrons were quiet and kept to the shadows, they could watch the mermaids laugh, play, sing and comb their long hair. But if the men tried to speak to them, the fairies would disappear into the water.

Rivers are hardly North Carolina’s only sites for fairy lore. Another folk from Cherokee legend, the Nunnehi, are associated with such locations as Pilot Mountain (both the famous monadnock in Surry County and a lesser-known peak near Hendersonville) and the modern town of Franklin, where the Nunnehi were said to have helped defeat a Creek invasion and, much later, a raid by Union soldiers. On the other side of the state, in and around the Great Dismal Swamp, the mythology of Iroquois and Algonquin speakers mingled with European and African-American legends to produce a rich folklore of eerie lights, dark shapes and magical creatures.

Moreover, as the Fairy Census reminds us, our sightings aren’t limited to old tales preserved in old books. They still happen. A 30-something woman reported “staring at the foot of the bed at the light coming in through a large window when I saw a fairy suddenly appear on one side of the room and fly across the bed toward the window.” She described the creature as brown-haired and gaunt, about three-feet tall with sharp features “not very pleasant to look at.”

The woman wasn’t alone. But her husband, lying next to her, never saw the fairy. “I think it is strange that I had this experience in my house in suburban North Carolina, of all places,” she said.

Another North Carolinian described an encounter she had in her youth with a fairy “about two to three feet tall, dressed entirely in red, with a solid red face, tiny white horns on the top of his head, and with a red, pointed tail.” He was standing next to the stump of a tree that had been his home until it was felled during the construction of the girl’s house. She ran to get her parents. But they couldn’t see it.

The more you study both folklore and modern-day sightings, the more you come to appreciate the commonalities. I decided to include several in Mountain Folk, such as the extreme time difference between fairy realms and the human world, the link between fairies and nature and the idea that only those rare humans possessing “the Sight” can pierce fairy disguises.

Do such commonalities suggest fairy traditions aren’t pristine, that they develop over time through cross-cultural exchange? Or that people claiming to see fairies are just mashing up distant memories of bedtime stories with drowsy daydreams and optical illusions? Could be.

There are many explanations for fairy belief. For some, it’s reassuring to believe that good and bad events aren’t just random. That powerful forces are at work, magical forces to be tapped or propitiated. For others, fairy belief is about rediscovering a sense of wonder — about reenchanting the world, as Weber might say, instead of settling for a cold, clockwork version.

That’s how some of your fellow North Carolinians feel, anyway. Whether out exploring their state’s natural beauty or just puttering around the neighborhood, they keep their minds open along with their eyes. They suspend their disbelief. They dare to hope that something utterly fantastic will happen. That something utterly fantastic can happen.

After all, it’s happened before. Or so they’ve heard.  OH

John Hood is a Raleigh-based writer and the author of the historical-fantasy novel Mountain Folk (Defiance Press, 2021).

Muses of the Gate City

Nine divinely inspired humans who live, breathe and encourage creative compassion in Greensboro   

By the Muses of O.Henry     Photographs By Amy Freeman


In Greek Mythology, the Muses are nine divine forces, each with a sacred gift to help guide, heal and inspire the human spirit.

Wholly dedicated to the Arts, they embody creation itself and have long been called upon by writers, painters and philosophers to fan the flames of imagination and wonder. They sing and dance in the space between realms, ever revealing glimpses of heavenly grace and beauty to those seeking enlightenment.

Yet such influential beings are not lost to the mythic past. They are here, in our Gate City, walking among us.

We are fortunate to have many — men and women alike — all here to awaken something deep within us with their vision, compassion, talents and wisdom. 

On these pages, we celebrate nine.

We see you, brilliant lights. And lucky for all of us, Greensboro pulses with creative inspiration now more than ever.   



Muse of Sacred Poems

Linda Beatrice Brown

Award-winning author and retired professor Linda Beatrice Brown has always been “kind of rebellious.” As a student at Bennett College, she took part in the Greensboro sit-ins, which she wrote about in Belles of Liberty some 50 years later. Although she had faithfully attended the Episcopal church since she was a girl, Brown “temporarily closed the church door” as a young adult until a profound metaphysical experience secured her faith in a higher power a few years later. “At that point, I deliberately set out on a spiritual journey,” she recalls. Her writing improved. When a deadline loomed, for instance, and her direction was unclear, Brown would sink into meditation and ask for clarity. Guidance always came, and whether she was working on a novel, play, poem or nonfiction, this silent dialogue between Brown and the “Invisible Universe” became a natural part of her writing process. Her collections of “Mary poems” — A Mother Knows Her Child (2014) and Something of His Mother to Remember (2016), both about the mother of Jesus — are her most intense examples. They were “gift poems,” she explains, meaning they arrived in a flash, practically complete. During the pandemic, Brown was guided to write a new “Poem for Peace” each week for over a year, which she shared with her mailing list every Tuesday. You can find them in The House of Gratitude, to be released later this year. Her sequel to Black Angels — a novel for young adults — is also in the queue. Then, says the Muse of Sacred Poems, she’ll return to writing her spiritual memoirs, no doubt infused with sacred poetry. –AW


Muse of Music

Marta Richardson

When Marta Richardson plays her electric violin, she isn’t going through the motions. She is answering a call, transmitting what sounds like an ancient love song through her bow and strings. While the song is not her own — the “download of sound” comes from a Divine source, she will tell you — Richardson knows she has a gift. And so, says the performer and educator, “I serve the music.” Marta’s father was 10 years old when Nazi Germany invaded his native Poland. After the war, he came to the States as a displaced person, then settled in Greensboro when he married Marta’s mother, Betty. His hands are “so large that he can’t play a piano key without hitting two,” the muse says of her father. And since he never got the chance to express himself musically, he wanted Marta to play the violin. It became her “salvation.” After graduating from the UNCG School of Music in 1981, Richardson discovered improvisation and how to make spontaneous music with others. Since 2002, Richardson has been empowering students at Peeler Open School for the Performing Arts. Through the years, she has collaborated with various local musicians, spoken word poets and visual artists. She was a founding member of the nationally acclaimed world music band Songs of Water and released a solo album called Mystic Canticle. Last year, she and musician Rory Paul launched a podcast called The Creative Coop with the Winter Chickens. As she tells her flock of violinists at Peeler: “Find your sound. You don’t have to do the classical thing. But find your sound and the violin can open doors.” –AW

Muse of Dance

B.J. Sullivan

B.J. Sullivan has been teaching contemporary dance at UNCG School of Dance for 20 years. Not once has she tried to “fix” one of her students by manipulating their posture or positioning. In fact, she has made it her life’s work to help them discover that “the technique is inside of them.” The youngest of five kids, Sullivan grew up in the apple orchards of upstate New York, where her father worked 16-hour shifts at a nuclear power plant and her mother was a waitress. She begged her parents to let her take ballet lessons, which they couldn’t afford. But her mother asked the studio owner if they could barter. “I started cleaning the studio bathroom,” says Sullivan, who showed up to her first dance class at age 11 wearing the purple Lycra leotard and tights her mom found on a sales rack. “Everyone else was wearing black,” she says. “I stuck out.” And during that very first class, she had the overwhelming sensation of knowing “this is who I am.” Her instructor knew it too, and when Sullivan was 13, her teacher flew her to Boston to audition for the Boston Ballet School. “The rest is history,” says Sullivan, who has a B.F.A. from The Juilliard School and an M.F.A. from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she began developing her own approach to dance, an evolving and globally studied body of work known as “Safety Release Technique.” Our bodies are amazing, says the Muse of Dance. Helping others awaken to their body’s own wisdom and flow is what continues to feed her soul. –AW


Muse of Tragedy

Dr. Sara Fletcher

“I’m here to shorten their death, not their life,” says our Muse of Tragedy, Dr. Sara Fletcher, who has euthanized thousands of terminally ill dogs and cats while comforting the family that loved them. “Helping them leave is my unfortunate superpower,” the Hospice veterinarian says with a gentle smile. “It’s 40 percent of my practice.” The premise of her mobile service, Greensboro Veterinary Housecalls, is to allow dogs and cats to spend their last hours in the comforting presence of their home and those who cared for them. Fletcher’s beloved greyhound, Sophie, was the catalyst for her roving practice (see O.Henry’s July 2014 Dog Issue for the full story). Animals seem to automatically intuit her compassionate purpose, relaxing at her touch. Humans have the same response. When this happens, Fletcher is able to facilitate a peaceful and often beautiful transition for everyone. In the throes of the pandemic, veterinarians grew particularly overwhelmed as many owners worked at home, more closely attuned to their pets and somehow more willing to accept the unfathomable: that death is often the humane choice. In the last six months, her practice averaged 20–30 such visits monthly. Dr. Sara, as she is affectionately known, confesses that grieving pet owners often ask her if she can “come back” when it’s their time. Recently, Fletcher reached her father’s bedside in Kansas City as he battled COVID, his lungs ravaged. He died on March 1. “There is even a light in death . . . a peace,” she says. “The anxiety and sadness leaves. That relief is natural.” She strokes Tulip, her cat. “Death is not the worst thing that can happen,” she underscores. “It’s the last.” –CA

Muse of Epic Poetry

Josephus Thompson III

To thousands of school kids, Greensboro spoken word artist Josephus Thompson III is The Poetry Man. “I can’t go to a McDonald’s or a Chick-fil-A without someone going, ‘Hey, you came to my third-grade class!’” he says. Since 2009, when he founded The Poetry Project, Thompson has made it his business, literally, to spread the joy found in similes and metaphors, lyrics and jingles, rhymes and raps, and onomatopoeia. Fizz. He teaches the teachers, too, via The Poetry Project Institute. Listeners relish the wordplay on his radio show, The Poetry Cafe (Tuesdays at 6 p.m. on WNAA, 90.1 FM), a showcase of open-mic artists and music from around the world. Pre-COVID, Thompson hosted live open mics, poetry camps and college events. COVID has taught him how to work virtually. In April, he presented The Freedom Slam, with entrants from around the country competing for a $1,000 prize at the Greensboro Cultural Center, minus a live audience (see excerpts on his Facebook page; check out Thompson himself in “Breathe by Josephus III” on YouTube). Finding the most efficient way to get the job done comes naturally to Thompson, who landed in Fayetteville with his Army family at age 16 and later earned an industrial engineering degree from N.C. A&T State University. The engineering jobs never materialized, so he worked as a manager for UPS until his schoolhouse poetry gigs became more profitable than packages. Now 44 and the father of a 2-year-old (see the O.Henry Ending on page 80 of this issue), The Poetry Man doesn’t miss a beat. –MJ

Muse of Comedy

Jennie Stencel

You could call Jennie Stencel the mother of good humor in Greensboro. Seriously. Since opening The Idiot Box almost 20 years ago, she has grown her comedy club into the rarest of creatures: a long-lived, locally owned, middle-sized ha-ha shop (80 seats) with a menu of shows ranging from stand-up to improv, from sketch to the popular open-mic Thursdays. Stencel shepherds a troupe of 35 players — local folks with day jobs — and a comedy school to boot. Four years ago, she founded The North Carolina Comedy Festival, which showcases hundreds of comedians from around the country every year. Well, almost. Last year’s fest was a bust. This year, it’s scheduled for September. After a year of restricted funny business, Stencel is exercising maternal caution in reopening the Box in a new location at 503 North Greene Street, adjacent to her recently acquired and aptly named Next Door Beer Bar & Bottle Shop. “If I see a group of comedians standing around, I’m like, ‘Hey! Six feet!’ I’m actually not that nice — but I do like to spread joy.” The real-life mom of three kids — ages 17, 20 and 21— started a Chapel Hill improv group with her husband, Steve Lesser, in the ’90s before the couple moved to Greensboro to open their own stage in 2003. Stencel then took a turn in local television. When she rapped a traffic report for WXII-TV in 2007, the video went viral. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno wanted to book her. A serious-minded station manager intercepted the call and said no. Stencel, now 44, got the last laugh. Three years ago, Greensboro’s Jourdain Fisher, a veteran of the Box, debuted on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and landed a writing job there. Another former Boxer, UNCG grad Sayjal Joshi, works for The Second City, the famed Chicago improv group. –MJ


Muse of History

Elise Allison

If anyone has grasp of the past, it’s Elise Allison, archivist at the Greensboro History Museum. Officially, she’s responsible for all of the museum’s paper-based materials, plus audio and visual recordings — another way of saying she’s in charge of the words, sounds and images that make up the city’s memory. “They’re a window on the past. They tell you that life wasn’t always easy,” says Allison, a Maryland native and former math teacher who, after bagging two master’s degrees — one in library science from Carolina, one in public history from N.C. State — landed at the museum as a part-time assistant archivist in 2006. Among the rarest items she has worked with: two infrequently displayed daguerreotypes of Greensboro native and former first lady Dolley Madison, taken by famous Civil War-era photographer Mathew Brady. Dolley sat for Brady in 1848, which was during the infancy of photography but long after she occupied the White House with hubby/prez James Madison. The museum’s collection of pictures is probably its richest vein, says Allison, who includes the 20th-century snaps of photojournalist and studio owner Carol W. Martin; the mill village images of Bernard Cone, a brother of textile barons Moses and Ceasar; and the work of the late photographer Otis L. Hairston Jr., who documented the African-American community. The museum’s recognition of history includes events of the not-so-distant past, exemplified by the current exhibit Pieces of Now (up through July 4), featuring local artifacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests and the 2020 general election. “We’re a museum. Our job is to tell stories,” says Allison. And, for this Muse of History, to preserve them for future generations. —MJ

Muse of Love Songs

Kristy Jackson

Love doesn’t always feel good. But for acclaimed songwriter Kristy Jackson, music begins flowing through her from those dark, uncomfortable spaces of the heart. Jackson has been writing songs and playing piano by ear since she was 5 years old. “It became my outlet for grief, pain and confusion,” she recalls — even for feelings that she experienced empathically. After high school, Jackson enrolled in UNCG’s music composition program but dropped all her music courses within the year. She majored in psychology instead, played in local bands, and eventually took a day job in sales. But she never stopped performing. “I felt like I had to get my songs out there,” she says. In the early ’90s, after a beach music DJ heard Jackson sing a song she’d written, “Take it Back,” with her then-band, he asked if he could send the song to country superstar Reba McEntire. “Next thing I know I’m getting a phone call from MCA Records,” she says. Jackson’s song became one of Reba’s hit singles. Another miracle happened shortly after 9/11. “I just started writing,” says Jackson, and 45 minutes later, she had a song. A friend sent Jackson’s simple work-tape recording to a local DJ, and weeks later, “Little Did She Know (She’d Kissed A Hero)” was the No. 1 requested song at the largest radio stations in New York City and beyond. Royalties from the song’s popularity went to the Twin Towers Fund, the Beamer Foundation and other 9/11 charities. “I really had nothing to do with my successes,” says the Muse of Love Songs. But as she tells aspiring songwriters: “Write a good song and it will find a home.” –AW

Muse of Astronomy

Jonathan Ward

In Jonathan Ward’s view, the sky’s the limit — which is to say a limitless source of beauty and scientific knowledge. Elected to lead the Greensboro Astronomy Club just before COVID hit (“The president turned to me and said, ‘Do you want to be the next president?’ And five minutes later they had the election,” he recalls), his mission is clear: to raise awareness of the club’s activities, including stargazing events around town and away from city lights at the Mayo River and Haw River state parks. Ward, a D.C. native, packs heavenly qualifications for the job. A telescope owner since his teenage years, he maintained an interest in space throughout his professional life as a contracts manager for a slew of federal agencies and businesses, including Boeing. He became a certified community speaker for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and later was approved as a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in London — a credential that he readily admits getting in order to qualify as an on-board astronomer for Viking Cruises. Since semi-retiring to Greensboro 10 years ago (his wife, Jane Gwyn Ward, is from Reidsville), Ward turned his thirst for celestial knowledge into three books — two about the Apollo moon program and one about the Space Shuttle Columbia. He is editor and co-author of a fourth book, due out in October, about Col. Eileen Collins, USAF (Retired). Ward hopes to bring Collins to Greensboro to promote Through the Glass Ceiling to the Stars: The Story of the First American Woman to Command a Space Mission. Talk about star power. –MJ


Butterfly Lexicon

Sometimes I see a nimbus of butterflies
other times they’re just a puzzle or
a tarradiddle to my eyes.

Would you look at that quandary of butterflies?
I ask a stranger, or do they call it
a quibble?

We’re expecting a downpour tomorrow
says the weatherman and
I know he speaks of butterflies.

A peccadillo, a meander, a complicity
perhaps I’m just confused —
a confabulation of butterflies.

For you, my love, I stir an elixir
of song, dance, and joy
a philter of butterflies.

–Ashley Memory

Wandering Billy

Hat’s Off to the Chefs

Seriously. I’d be lost (and uninspired) without them


By Billy Eye

I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called Mother and Child Reunion. It’s chicken and eggs. And I said, I gotta use that one. — Paul Simon

Although I’ve become adept at making a darn good Thanksgiving dinner, I am otherwise a lousy cook. I much prefer eating out to having Pepto-Bismol for dessert. That’s why I’m so excited about what’s happening on the 600 block of Battleground Avenue near Deep Roots Market.

I’m talking about MACHETE.

The brainchild of San Francisco-transplant Tal Blevins, MACHETE is not just another casual gourmet eatery. It’s an experience. Their philosophy? “Food should not only be delicious, it should also be creative, evoke memories and be a communal experience.” Start with fresh, farm-to-table ingredients. Add novel accents from the best cuisines on the planet: Asian inflections from miso, green Thai chili and ponzu sauce, European hues from foie gras and roasted olives; or good old, local favorites — country ham and chicken livers. But that’s just the food. “This is not a restaurant,” they insist. “This is our home; you are not our customer, you are our guest.” Easy to say; hard to do. Judging from my recent visits, however, Blevins — who grew up in Greensboro, went to UNCG, then moved to San Francisco (where he lived for 20 years) — actually pulls it off.

That’s because MACHETE was dreamed into existence in Blevins’ own home, where he hosted communal meals for friends and family. Word spread. Friends invited more friends, and once the gatherings outgrew his house, Blevins acquired the space formerly inhabited by Crafted: Art of the Street Food. Somehow, in some way, MACHETE has been able to preserve that dinner party feeling. And through the trial and error of feeding his friends, he’s been able to come up with a menu that features innovative combinations of international ingredients blended with fresh viands from just down the country road — cheeses from nearby dairies, freshly picked produce and savory, locally cured meats, like Lady Edison ham out of the Chapel Hill area.

Blevins is not discarding the farm-to-table moniker, “but that farm may be in Argentina.” His use of fruity aji amarillo chile peppers is a good example. Or sushi-quality hamachi (Japanese amberjack).

Diners are encouraged to order several different menu items to share amongst themselves. “It’s kind of like Thanksgiving every day,” Blevins says. “We want people to have a little bite of this, a little taste of that, and be able to try a bunch of different flavors.” My favorites? Wagyu tartare. And the Brussels sprouts — charbroiled, no less, with triple chocolate malt.

It’s a casual atmosphere with a large, open patio for dining al fresco and an impressive bar that serves “very modern but approachable” cocktails and aperitifs with some unexpected blends — gin, cucumber, lemon, jasmine and eucalyptus, for instance. “We want to have some ingredients where people will ask, ‘What the heck is that?’” Blevins says. “That they’ll drink it and go, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never tasted anything like that before!’”

MACHETE fans are looking forward to a time in the near future when the restaurant can start hosting large, communal dinners again. “Diners can mingle, make new friends, and talk about new flavors and experiences,” says Blevins. Where else can such fascinating conversations take place? San Francisco, perhaps, which was the inspiration for much of the vibe and food, along with Kevin Cottrell (executive chef), Lydia Greene (chef) and Andy Schools (beverage director): “They bring together that modern cuisine I miss from San Francisco,” Blevins says.

* * *

The Big P shuttered some wonderful restaurants and devastated countless others. Still, new eats continue to pop up. Like Old San Juan Bar & Grill, adjacent to the corner of Tate Street and Walker Avenue, which is serving traditional Puerto Rican fare. Located in the space previously occupied by Pedro’s Taco Shop, it’s the only Spanish eatery in town that I know of. I’ve sampled a few delicacies during what was a long, soft opening in May. I’ll reserve judgment until they’re fully open, but the El Cubano sandwich was marvelously flavorful.

If you live or work downtown, then perhaps you’ve discovered The Bodega — right across the street from the Carolina Theatre — where an amazing array of freshly prepared sandwiches are offered Tuesday through Saturday, from 11:30–4 p.m. Downtown finally has a proper sandwich shop again, and by that I mean a place where I can find a genuine roast beef sandwich. And with its lovely shaded patio and beers on tap, what more could you ask for?

For over 60 years, Bernie’s Bar-B-Que on Bessemer, a genuine, circa 1960 hole-in-the-wall diner, has been serving what I consider to be the best vinegar-based shredded pork, coleslaw and hush puppies in town. They also offer two daily specials, Carolina comfort foods like beef tips and gravy, meatloaf and chicken fried chicken. Plus, they serve banana pudding the way grandma made it.

You may also find me at Embur Fire Fusion (love their Pollo a la Brasa and pizzas), Cafe Europa’s Wine Wednesday (I’ll have the Steak au Poivre), New York Pizza on Tate (food’s better than ever and, occasionally, it’s the hippest bar in town), Sticks & Stones, El Camino Real, Fishbones, Sunday brunch at M’Coul’s Public House, Freeman’s Grub & Pub for brunch, Carniceria El Mercadito for its authentic tacos, Saigon Cuisine (once a week at least!), Nazareth Bread Company (if you haven’t been, you must), Bandito Burrito, Sushi Republic and Lucky 32.

Most of all, Eye will be enjoying breakfast and lunch at Chez Genèse again, always my first choice for either meal. It’s not just the delish dishes that draw me back — it’s the tranquil surroundings, a relaxing place to start the day or recharge whenever Eye need a break from pounding these keys. OH

Billy Eye is O.G — Original Greensboro.


Hidden in Plain Sight

The secretive and elusive Eastern meadowlark


By Susan Campbell

Larks? Here in central North Carolina? Yes, indeed! But few folks are likely to notice them. Even during the summer, when their melodious songs can be heard on the warmest days and their yellow plumage is at its brightest, these birds tend to blend in with the large fields they inhabit.

Meadowlarks are not small birds, but they do have secretive habits that allow for survival in open areas. They are only found breeding in agricultural areas with plenty of large insects such as grasshoppers and beetles, as well as warm season grasses that produce a good crop of seeds by midsummer. The Eastern meadowlark is a jay-sized bird with long legs that spends the majority of the time on the ground searching for prey. The head, back and tail are streaked and blend in perfectly with the vegetation. Its chest, however, is yellow with a black “V-shaped” collar. Males actually display a somewhat brighter breast at prospective females and will even jump into the air as they puff out their chests in their attempts to impress potential mates.

Where the habitat is good, males will defend territories containing more than one female. Polygyny is not uncommon for meadowlarks. This is more frequently the case for Western meadowlarks, found in the Great Plains and beyond. Actually, Eastern and Western meadowlarks are almost indistinguishable where they overlap in the Midwest and southern Plains. Their voice is really the only clue. Westerns are far more musical, having a song that is a rich warble. Not surprisingly, in the western part of the range, Easterns do sometimes learn the wrong song or even hybridize with their Western cousins.

Here you can find meadowlarks anywhere from larger hay fields to horse farms or airports. Males will be singing from elevated perches, such as fence posts, from dawn until sunset. They typically throw their heads back and emit a series of loud, clear whistles. In winter, you will more commonly hear their rattling call as a dozen or more individuals make their way through plowed fields in search of leftover corn, soybeans or slow-moving insects. Unfortunately, because they require very large openings, they are reluctant to come to bird feeders even in the coldest weather.

Females build a cup-shaped nest in a thick clump of grass in order to hide and protect their young from both aerial and ground predators. And, in our area, the season is long enough for two broods to be produced. However, the fact that they typically use large hay fields makes them very vulnerable to losing eggs and nestlings to mowing. The increase in ground predators such as raccoons, foxes and stray cats also has caused significant population declines here in the eastern United States. There are other grassland species that have been affected as well. Grasshopper sparrows, horned larks and bobolinks have become even more scarce — but their stories will have to wait.  OH

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos.  She can be contacted at susan@ncaves.com.

Note from the Hills

Posing for Daingerfield

Up in Blowing Rock, the spirit of a prolific painter still resides at Edgewood Cottage 


By Ross Howell Jr.

On a mild evening in Blowing Rock, where I spend the hottest days of summer, a nice place to rest is on a bench next to the bronze statue of artist Elliott Daingerfield. When you sit down, the effect is quickly apparent: You’re posing for the artist.

Daingerfield peers intently at you over his bronze easel, unruly hair swept back from his forehead, palette in one hand and brush in the other. He’s painting outdoors, en plein air, as he often did in life.

A short distance behind Daingerfield’s figure sits Edgewood Cottage, his first residence and studio in Blowing Rock. Designed by the artist and completed in 1890, the building was recently restored.

Daingerfield — the youngest of six children — was born in Virginia in 1859 but grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where his father served as commander of the Confederate arsenal. According to family tradition, when his older brother, Archie, gave him a box of watercolors one Christmas, he immediately began painting beautiful pictures.

Young Daingerfield would go on to study with a local china painter and apprentice under a Fayetteville photographer, where he learned not only how to make pictures, but also to tint them by hand.

In 1880, at the age of 21, Daingerfield left Fayetteville to pursue a career in New York City. There he would become apprenticed to Walter Satterlee, an associate member of the National Academy of Design and a respected teacher of art. Satterlee would make Daingerfield an instructor in his still-life class, the young man’s first teaching position.

Daingerfield was determined and prolific. Within a year he saw his own work exhibited at the National Academy of Design. In 1884, he left Satterlee and moved to Holbein Studios, where he would paint alongside artist George Inness, who became a life-long friend.

In the winter of 1885-1886, Daingerfield suffered a severe case of diphtheria. The following summer, seeking the curative powers of mountain air, he returned to North Carolina.

Arriving in Blowing Rock after an arduous wagon ride along a rutted, dirt road snaking up the mountain, Daingerfield encountered chickens, pigs and other livestock in the streets. But rising beyond the town was Grandfather Mountain, the highest peak of the eastern escarpment of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The lore and legend of the town and the mountain spoke profoundly to Daingerfield’s spirit. He would keep summer homes in Blowing Rock until his death in 1932. Daingerfield taught summer visitors and others vacationing from the Art Students League in New York or the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, where Daingerfield taught in winter.

Daingerfield was “an advocate for women artists during a time when they were denied the privileges of their male counterparts,” says Kadie Dean, lead docent of the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum and chair of the Artists in Residence at Edgewood Cottage.

Now more than a decade old, the summer residency “continues to build on Daingerfield’s legacy of supporting artists,” Dean adds.

This summer’s program includes painters, quilters, photographers, leather artisans, pottery makers, mixed media artists and woodworkers — most from the High Country. Visitors can watch the artists at work in Edgewood Cottage and purchase pieces of their art right on site, which is currently open to the public only during this annual residency.

In the past, a portion of sales proceeds has been donated to various charities. But this summer, half the net proceeds will be used for a very special purpose: to upgrade Edgewood Cottage and open it to the public as a museum.

Fittingly, the cottage’s first public exhibition “will be centered around Elliott Daingerfield,” says Blowing Rock Historical Society president Tom O’Brien.

Modest Edgewood Cottage was replaced by a larger residence, Windwood, completed in 1900. Daingerfield’s grand manor Westglow, built in the Greek Revival-style on land overlooking Grandfather Mountain, was finished in 1917.

As an artist, Daingerfield is hard to categorize. Some historians view him as a religious painter, and many of his works decorate church altars and chancels. Others describe him as an Impressionist, since many of his canvases demonstrate the tonality of the landscapes of his friend, George Inness. Some see Daingerfield’s paintings of rural mountain people in the tradition of Jean-François Millet, whose realism celebrated peasant life in France. Others view Daingerfield as a visionary, painting ethereal goddesses in the natural world to suggest its spiritual essence.

Historians agree that Daingerfield’s work is suffused with mysterious, ineffable beauty.

So if you find yourself some twilight evening sitting on the bench by Daingerfield’s statue, you might imagine for a moment that you saw a lock of the artist’s hair lifted by the breeze. Or be certain the tip of his brush just moved.

And maybe it did.  OH

Ross Howell Jr. is a freelance writer in Greensboro. Contact him at ross.howell1@gmail.com.

The 2021 summer Artists in Residence at Edgewood Cottage in Blowing Rock opened May 29 and runs through September 19. Featured artists change each week, so be sure to check the schedule for artists and times. Info: artistsatedgewood.org



Photographs Courtesy of Blowing Rock Historical Society

Home by Design

Ralph in the House

(And other hauntings) 

Photograph courtesy of Greensboro History Museum


By Cynthia Adams

This house sheltered us, we spoke, we loved within those walls. That was yesterday. Today we pass on, we see it no more, and we are different, changed in some infinitesimal way. We can never be quite the same again.
― – Daphne du Maurier,  Rebecca

The houses of our past gave shelter, though, at times, they also haunt us. And perhaps, as du Maurier wrote, they do have the power to change us. Certainly that was true of Manderley, the famous house at the center of Rebecca, the English author’s Gothic novel.

Perhaps houses change us as much as we change them.

When I wrote about our own 1926 house, built by Greensboro Mayor Ralph Lewis and his writer wife, Laura Linn, I mentioned that the house came with an ephemeral feature.

We detected a mere whiff of a ghost, a vaguely masculine presence that we assume is Ralph’s, as only three families have lived in the house over the course of its 95 years.

After the story was published, a Washington playwright showed up at our door, eager to learn more.

Having befriended Ralph’s granddaughter, Bess Lewis, we visited the archives at the Greensboro History Museum. The Lewises were highly regarded; the City threw a parade for Ralph in 1940 when he resigned as Mayor, voluntarily leaving his wife, young son and thriving development and banking businesses for World War II. He commanded battery D, 2nd battalion of the 252 Coast Artillery Regiment. As Major Lewis, he served with other men, men of strong backs and an even stronger sense of duty.

Lewis returned, his heart weakened and his businesses suffering from his absence. Since he was too unwell to take the stairs, a downstairs room was added.

According to his death certificate, he died in this house — likely in the downstairs room where we often idle, the old goldfish pond visible through the windows. From time to time, his kindly spirit seems to catch your eye — most often merely as a flickering shadow.

When guests stay in his original bedroom, they report unusually restful sleep and serene dreams.

Yet others I have known did not rest easily. My great aunt’s house in Monroe, North Carolina, was believed to be haunted by her deceased mother-in-law, ill-treated by her wealthy, penurious husband. On her deathbed, she vowed she would haunt him.

Until his death years later, he would routinely leap from bed, terrified, rousing the sleeping children and insisting their “mother was back.” The children would stand in the darkness of night, shivering, until their father would allow them to return to their rooms.

But the ghost never disturbed the children.

I’ve been haunted once, too. You might even say tormented. Not by a resident ghost, but a reoccurring nightmare.

As a girl, I was often startled awake by visions of our family home burning down, the oil furnace belching fire as flames lapped at the main hall of the house.

Photograph courtesy of Greensboro History Museum

In the early 1990s, the dream ended, once and for all — when the house did, in fact, burn down. It’s not unexpected that I should be tormented by visions of house fires. My grandparents’ home, an 1880s Italianate beauty with double porches, was burned by an arsonist in the 1980s while being restored.

Yet these strange experiences do not only visit me and mine.

A local preservationist tells me his family home also has a ghost, but quickly declines to say more. (No quoting him in print, he warned sternly, causing one to wonder about the nature of this haunting.)

In a way, the houses of our past become ghosts. That’s certainly true of my childhood home, gone and yet hauntingly present in the strange landscape of my dreams and remembrances.

But what of their resident ghosts?  OH

Contributing editor Cynthia Adams says Ralph is a perfect house guest. She hopes he feels the same about her.