O.Henry Ending

Book Clubs I Have Known

And (mostly) loved


By Ruth Moose

Tell me about your book club and I’ll tell you about mine. And others I have known.

First, let me say that I really love most book clubs. What could be more fun than to get together with other readers and book lovers — preferably with food? Though you have read the same book, everyone reads differently and brings to the discussion ideas to make your own reading wider and deeper. Or not.

My longest membership in one book club was 22 years, and even after moving, if it wasn’t so far away, I’d still be attending. During this pandemic year, we have not Zoomed. Don’t know that we ever had a name, but the club was mostly comprised of Chapel Hill English Department faculty and/or wives of faculty. We met monthly, and when a lot of us found night driving difficult, we switched from evenings to afternoons, rescheduling around teaching days for those not yet retired. 

Not a fan of most nonfiction, I read some books I would never have bothered to pick up. Loved The Professor and the Madman, about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, and The Immortal Cells of Henrietta Lacks. Both books not of my choosing, but I’m the richer for having read them.

A book club I briefly belonged to in Fearrington Village read only New York Times bestsellers. A lot of them were bombs, including one fantasy novel that was a single, long sentence. We finally issued the ultimatum that before one “picked” a book, one should actually have read it.

After my first novel came out, I was invited to speak to some book clubs. Boy, did I learn a lot.

One Raleigh club that had been meeting almost 50 years was invitation-only, boasting daughters and granddaughters of its original members. For speaking, I was presented a box of stale cheese straws.

Another club presented me with an organdy tea apron. That needed ironing. Once, I received a box of fancy soaps. 

At yet another book club, while waiting to speak, I asked the person next to me what books the group had read this year.

“Oh,” she said over her china teacup, “We don’t read books. We just invite speakers to TELL us about the book.” Ouch. 

Another book club in another town confessed the same.

One club told me that each member contributed one book at the beginning of the year. “That way,” she said, “We only have to buy one book.” Ouch, again.

A friend belongs to a Destination Book Club. Where they meet depends on the season; what they read hinges on the setting — mountains or beach.

Moving back to Albemarle, I immediately rejoined the book club I organized; one that began with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I had listened to it on tape while I painted a utility room.  The minute I finished listening, I ran to the library for a print copy. I had to SEE this book, hold it. And I had to discuss it. So, I invited seven friends to my house, and we all dressed as a handmaid of our standing. No one came in red. I’m proud that the group is still meeting and will let me in by Zoom. I’m ready. I’ve finished the selection, Miss Benson’s Beetle, and I’ve picked my actresses to star in the movie: Bette Midler and Melissa McCarthy.

Can’t wait to hear what stars others have chosen.

I really do love book clubs . . . even the ones who don’t read books.  OH

Ruth Moose taught Introduction to Writing Short Fiction at UNC-Chapel Hill for 15 years. Her students have since published New York Times Bestsellers and are getting Netflixed. She recently returned to her roots in the Uwharrie Mountains.

Her favorite children’s book? A tie between The Complete Adventures of Peter Rabbit and Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.

Almanac August 2021

By Ashley Wahl

August leaves you wanting.    

In the afternoon, when the air is all milk-and-honey and the primal thrum of late summer has reached a crescendo, she will boldly take your hand.

“Close your eyes,” she will whisper, and as her golden light flickers across your face and shoulders, you all but dissolve into her dreamy essence. 

“This way,” she will tease, giggling as she guides you someplace a little darker, a little cooler — a shadowy hideaway beneath the trees.

You’ll stop at the tangle of wild blackberries, where deer tracks resemble spirals of ancient text and a sparrow whistles sweetly in the distance.

“All for you,” she will promise, slowly feeding you the last of the dark, warm berries, and then she will guide you along.   

You can tell by the sun on your skin that you’ve entered some clearing, and when you crack open your eyes, bees and butterflies light and stir in all directions. 

“Keep them closed,” she warns, leading you through wildflowers and down to the dock of a swollen pond, where yellow-bellied sliders bask on the bank, largest to smallest, like a set of wooden stacking dolls.

Bare feet dangling in the water, she leans in close, perfume thick as honeysuckle, plants a soft kiss on your cheek. Because her voice is like nectar — slow and sweet and dripping with intrigue — it makes no difference what she says next:

“I’ll never leave you” or “Wait right here.”

Besides, you’re too enraptured to notice that the days are growing shorter, that the gray squirrel has been busy storing nuts.

As the summer light begins to fade, the fireflies blink Morse code. The cicadas, too, scream out. All the signs are here, but you can’t see them.

When you open your eyes, she is already gone. 


Green Corn Moon 

Behold the earliest apples, the earliest figs, bushels of sweet corn and tomatoes ripening faster than you can say bruschetta. 

When the Green Corn Moon rises on Sunday, August 22, take a lesson from the squirrels: Now’s the time to preserve your summer harvest.

Can the fresh tomatoes. Sun-dry the herbs and figs. Pickle okra, cukes and peppers. As for the rest? Cook now and freeze it for later.

Squash soup, anyone?





Late Bloomers

The bees and all who hum and buzz are, in a word, nectar-drunk. Among the late summer bloomers — crape myrtle, lantana, lobelia, ageratum and phlox — a favorite is butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, caterpillar food for Monarchs. Drought tolerant, deer resistant and kin to milkweed, what’s not to love? And their orange-and-yellow clusters mirror the joy and warmth of summer.

When in still air and still in summertime
A leaf has had enough of this, it seems
To make up its mind to go; fine as a sage
Its drifting in detachment down the road.

— Howard Nemerov 

Leafing the World Behind

A rustic treehouse getaway for the young — and young at heart

By Maria Johnson     Photographs by John Gessner

Photographs by John Gessner


CHINA GROVE — No offense to Katy O’Neill’s friend, the one with a treehouse back in Durham, where both of the girls live.

Her pal’s loft is pretty swell. It has a slide, and a zip line, and a hammock.

But the treehouse where 8-year-old Katy slept last night was a different story with its comfy beds, plumbed bathroom, kitchenette and flat screen TV.

“This one is a lot fancier,” Katy said before checking out of her family’s overnight accommodations at the Cherry Treesort, a cluster of cabins in the canopy outside of China Grove, a community near Interstate 85 between Greensboro and Charlotte.

Treesort owner Trent Cherry — whose other full-time job is being the head pit crew coach for NASCAR’s Team Penske — built the first treehouse on his hobby farm in 2015 and started renting it out later that year.

Since then, his sylvan community has branched out to include eight cabins: six supported by trees and stilts, plus two “Hobbit Houses” burrowed into a hillside.

Measuring no more than 400 square feet each, the wee lodgings are a hot property on Airbnb, where renters book the properties — at rates ranging from $125 to $195 per night — months in advance.

Guests come from all over. Striding briskly along a trail that connects the cabins, Cherry stops at a posted map of the United States dotted with multicolored push pins denoting the home states of visitors; all 50 states are nubby with pin heads. That’s not counting the visitors from 12 other countries.

“I wish I could tell you our demographics, but when you track it, it’s everybody. We’ve had people come here for birthday parties, anniversaries, honeymoons. Our oldest guest ever was 91 years old,” he says, anticipating the next question. The elderly guest stayed in a hillside cabin connected to the parking area by boardwalk bridge; no climbing needed.

Cherry says the novelty of napping with the squirrels is the property’s main draw — initially at least.

“The treehouses are what get them here,” says Cherry of his customers. “But what they really enjoy is the atmosphere.”

He means simplicity.

“There’s no Wi-Fi here. That’s on purpose,” he says. “We wanted it to be a family place where you can go outside, sit with your kids and turn the electronics off. A lot of parents say, ‘Thank you. We talked, and played board games and card games, and the kids got out and played around the creek and the farm.’”

Would-be renters can tour the treehouses during Winterfest, an open house hosted by Cherry on the first Saturday in December. Bonus attraction: A screening of How the Grinch Stole Christmas on an inflatable screen in a tree-shrouded amphitheater. Nearby, kids spring around in a bouncy house, Santa takes most-wanted updates, a men’s ministry sells barbecue sandwiches and young entrepreneurs hawk wares ranging from mistletoe balls to marshmallow guns.

“Last year, we had 12 kids, and they all sold out. They’d never seen that much money in their lives,” says Cherry, who dresses farmer-chic in roper boots, Carhartt trousers, a dusty Southern States cap and a T-shirt advertising the treehouse community.

“Never Grow Up” the back of the shirt urges.

The kid in Cherry bought these 27 acres, just down the road from his home in China Grove, because he wanted a place for himself and his son, Nick, now 12, to get away.

Cherry’s father, Jim, who owns a T-shirt manufacturing company in Indian Trail, N.C., was not impressed.

“He said, ‘What are you going to do with it?’ I said, ‘I dunno, but I’ll figure it out.’ He said, ‘Well, that’s pretty stupid.’”

A smile floods Cherry’s face: “Now, he loves it.”

Maybe that’s because the adult in Cherry didn’t take long to figure out that he could build a treehouse for himself and his son and rent it out when they weren’t using it.

Soon, he added more leafy lodging.

It also didn’t hurt that Cherry named two of the cabins — Nona’s Nest and Chico’s Hideaway — for his parents, who live in Charlotte. Nona means grandmother in Italian. Chico was his father’s nickname in the Navy.

The other cabins bear the names of dear ones, too.

The Miss Molly is named for Cherry’s daughter, now 10.

The Big Nick — a treehouse and adjunct “guest house” joined by a deck — honors his son.

The Sweet Ashley is named for Cherry’s wife, a kindergarten teacher in Concord. The cabin resembles a one-room schoolhouse.

One of the earthen huts is named Mimi and Papa’s, for Ashley’s parents in Winston-Salem.

The other, Lucy Lu’s Hobbit House, is a nod to the family’s 7-pound Yorkshire Terrier.

“She runs this place,” says Cherry. “She’s the mayor.”

The Lucy Lu might be the most distinctive cabin with its round door and porthole windows peering out from a slope near the main road.

“I came up with that all on my own,” says Cherry. “I saw a picture online of a house built into a hill, and I said, ‘Hell, I’m gonna put a hobbit house in there.’”

The newest treehouse is The Tolson, named for Cherry’s buddy, Doug Tolson, a carpenter who comes from California to help Cherry and a crew of local workers build the cabins at breakneck speed.

“We bust it hard,” says Cherry.

The Tolson went up — literally 10 feet up, into poplars and maples and oaks — in just six weeks.

Cherry insists that the treehouses be supported in part by trees, which usually poke through holes in the decks. Underneath, the trees attach to the houses with sliding brackets that allow the trunks to sway with the wind without twisting the structures.

Cherry bristles at other hosts who bill their rentals as treehouses when the shelters stand on stilts alone.

“Some people build a house in the woods and call it a treehouse,” he declares. “That’s not a treehouse.”

Cherry and Tolson design all of the cabins, scratching out floor plans on napkins, graph paper, scraps of cardboard — whatever’s handy. Cherry sends the drawings to an architect in Charlotte, who polishes the plans, imports them to an app called SketchUp, and ships them back.

A few tweaks later, Cherry and his crew start swinging hammers.

The hideaways are approved by Rowan County inspectors, who also sign off on the well and septic systems. Along with locking doors and windows, most cabins feature a tin roof, wood siding, a deck with furniture, and an outdoor fire pit. Hammocks and swings dangle under the decks.

Inside, the decors are what you might call grain-positive, with wood paneling, wood floors, wood furniture and wood flourishes such as gnarly branches deployed as wall art.

Cherry and his son build all of the furniture, bridges and railings from trees that fall on the property.

“We slab ’em up and make tables and benches,” he says.

Some guests compare the Treesort experience to glamping, or glamorous camping.

“It’s the best parts of camping with all the first-world comforts,” says Lynn O’Neill, the mom of 8-year-old Katy.

O’Neill and her partner, Kathryn Hodskinson, booked one night in a treehouse as a treat for Katy, a fan of the Magic Tree House books.

“We haven’t been anywhere for a year and a half,” said Hodskinson, recounting a stretch of online living because of COVID.

“We needed 24 hours of no Wi-Fi,” added O’Neill.

On the way to China Grove, they stopped at the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer. They spent a low-tech evening around the treehouse, reading and cooking hotdogs and SpaghettiOs over a camp stove outside. They used oversize Jenga blocks, which were left on a deck table, to build a house for Katy’s plush toy, Peanut, a mouse from the Magic Tree House.

Hodskinson gave Peanut to Katy as a memento of the trip.

“We’re talking about coming back in the fall, when the colors change,” says Hodskinson.

Just down the dirt road, sisters Jennifer Todd and Amber Kozlowski, both of whom live in the area, were preparing to check out of The Big Nick duplex after a birthday sleepover with seven girls, including Todd’s daughter, Addison, the honoree who was turning 11 in a few days.

The guests included Addison’s cousin, Savannah, along with Addison’s friends Remi, Makenna, Sophie, Kierra and McKinley.

For dinner the night before, the preteen tribe roasted hotdogs and s’mores over the fire pit.

Guided by fireflies and bistro lights strung up around the cabins, the girls played hide-and-go-seek in the woods, twirled in swings and watched Barbie videos on their phones until their batteries died; alas, the flat-screen TV in their cabin was hitched only to an antennae and DVD player, not to cable or dish service.

They fueled their all-nighter with Goldfish crackers, Cheetos, cupcakes, Cheerwine and an occasional foray outside to throw each other’s Crocs clogs off the deck. There also was a brief interlude with a yellow jacket wasp that crashed the party.

A good time was had by all, except the dearly departed yellow jacket. The cabins — though hot and stuffy at times despite electric fans and split-unit heating and cooling — passed muster with their “rustic vibes,” according to the girls.

“My favorite part was just being in nature,” says 8-year-old Savannah.  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine. She can be reached at ohenrymaria@gmail.com.

Fred Chappell The Movie

Fred Chappell The Movie

Local writers know there’s a treasure among us. A forthcoming film celebrates the life story of Greensboro’s beloved Fred 

By Ross Howell Jr.

Readers and literary types sometimes don’t know what to make of Greensboro author Fred Chappell.

One day Chappell might translate an ode by Horace from the classical Latin into English just for fun. In the past, he collaborated with the late George Garrett to create a cult sci-fi movie classic. He wrote a fantasy novel where the protagonist makes a living stealing people’s shadows. Yes, their shadows. He’s written a story based on Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, which his former student, writer Marianne Gingher, adapted for a puppet show. He’s received a poetry award shared by some of the most significant American poets of the 20th century. And he’s written poems and stories set in the Appalachian Mountains that break your heart with their beauty and wisdom.

Being a literary type, I call Chappell, telling him I want to write an article. He’s polite and self-deprecating.

“Oh,” he says, “There’s been so much about me. I don’t think people want to hear me drone on and on.”

Then he pauses.

“You know,” Chappell says, “this fellow, Frierson, is making a film. I think some writers put him up to it.

“They’re just trying to torment me in my old age,” he chuckles, “but it might be interesting.”

UNCG professor of media studies Michael Frierson laughs when I tell him how I was put on his trail.

“Fred’s not into tooting his own horn,” he says.

Frierson’s a local boy who attended Grimsley High School with this magazine’s founding editor, Jim Dodson. While an undergrad philosophy major at UNCG, he took one of the university’s first graduate courses in filmmaking with the late John Jellicorse, who was head of the drama and speech department, and author Anthony Fragola, now a media studies colleague of Frierson’s at UNCG.

Photograph courtesy of Fred Chappell
Photograph courtesy of Fred Chappell

After a six-week stint in law school — “I hated it,” Frierson says — he eventually received a Ph.D. in film at the University of Michigan. He taught at Loyola University in New Orleans for five years before an opportunity at UNCG enabled him to return to Greensboro with his young family to be near his parents.

Frierson — who has written a book about film director Tim Burton —teaches film production, animation and editing, and has produced short films for Nickelodeon, Children’s Television Workshop and MSN Video.

And he’s no stranger to documentary films.

Frierson completed an historical documentary on Charleston, South Carolina, and an hour-long film documentary on New Orleans photographer Clarence John Laughlin, best known for his Surrealist photographs of the American South. Frierson’s most recent film, FBI KKK, is a documentary about his father, Dargan Frierson, an FBI agent in Greensboro, and his relationship with George Dorsett, a chaplain for the United Klans of America, who was an FBI informant during the apex of KKK’s power in North Carolina.

It was Terry Kennedy — director of the M.F.A. writing program at UNCG and editor of The Greensboro Review — who suggested Frierson make a documentary film about Chappell. It may have helped that Kennedy had a little grant money to start up the project.

Regardless, Frierson was sold on the idea, and chipped in grant money from his own department.

“You can make the case that Fred Chappell is likely the most important living writer in the state,” Frierson says.

Additional grant money came from short story writer, novelist and journalist Michael Parker, a native of Siler City who taught at UNCG for 30 years and was about to retire.

Photograph courtesy of Jan G. Hensley
Photograph courtesy of Jan G. Hensley

With initial funding in place, Frierson began the project the same way he’d begun work on all his documentaries. He set out to learn everything he could about his subject.

“I had to educate myself about the person,” Frierson says. “I’m from Greensboro, so Fred knew my Dad, and he knew me — but not really.” He explains that he needed to learn the historical context, what happened when, so he “could figure out thematically what’s the most important stuff.”

Frierson brought in public relations professional Ron Miller, who’d written the script for an earlier project. A writer and journalist, Miller was the book page editor at the News & Record for many years. He and Frierson are long-time friends, since their daughters are the same age.

“When Michael said, we ought to do Fred Chappell, I said, yeah, we have a national treasure living here in Greensboro, and hardly anybody knows it,” says Miller.

“Ron really crafted the story part,” Frierson adds. “Initially I’d thought the documentary would just be ‘a day in the life of Fred,’ but he’s a very private person, so you can’t just burst in on him with a camera.”

As research continued and more and more individuals agreed to be interviewed, patterns emerged.

“Most of the people who talk about Fred are in awe of his erudition,” Frierson says.

Chappell’s knowledge of world literature — classic to modern — is encyclopedic. His command of poetic and narrative forms is stunning. And his ability to easily summon that knowledge is uncanny.

Frierson recalls a classroom anecdote where a student had used a literary allusion, but didn’t seem to grasp its significance. When Chappell asked the student why he’d used the quote, he couldn’t answer, so Chappell went to the blackboard and wrote out the entire passage from memory, word for word, explaining its importance.

In an interview with Frierson, author Lee Smith commented on how well-read Fred is, “but you’d never know it if you met him in a bar somewhere.”

“She’s funny,” Frierson grins.

Some place Chappell “at the leading edge of the whole Appalachian writers’ movement,” Frierson adds. He explains that Chappell’s novel, I Am One of You Forever, changed the way some writers viewed the use of fantasy in realistic fiction about the region.

Dan Pierce, a professor of history at UNC Asheville, has written books and articles about Appalachia. In his interview with Frierson, he comments on Chappell’s importance.

“When Fred comes along, there is this very self-conscious movement that wants to explain what Appalachia is, what Appalachian people are, and what they aren’t,” Pierce says. “Fred’s very much a part of that — to show that Appalachian people aren’t just a bunch of ignorant, inbred, banjo-pickin’ hillbillies.”

And there’s Chappell’s decades of teaching.

“Fred taught at UNCG at the M.F.A. program for 40 years, so he had hundreds and hundreds of students who became writers and teachers,” says poet Susan O’Dell Underwood, professor of English and director of the creative writing program at Carson-Newman University. “He’s had a huge influence on so many grateful readers, writers and students,” she adds.

Over the last year and a half, Frierson has videotaped and transcribed more than 50 hours of interviews with 34 individuals — comprising writers, literary critics and historians who have been influenced by Chappell and his work, not to mention Chappell himself, along with his sister, Becky Anderson, founding director of HandMade in America, a community development organization located in Western North Carolina.

And that’s not all. Frierson tells me he’s shot some 16 hours of location video — including drone footage of the mountain farm where Chappell was born and his hometown of Canton, along with a scene at the church where Chappell and Susan, his wife of 62 years, were married. In addition, he’s gathered more than 2,000 historical and family photographs and archival recordings to help illustrate Chappell’s life story.

Once you’ve seen Frierson’s documentary, you’ll know what to make of Fred Chappell.

You’ll know we’re lucky to have him. 

To watch the trailer for Fred Chappell: I Am One of You Forever, and to receive updates on the documentary’s release date and screenings, visit www.fredchappellmovie.com

Ross Howell Jr. is a freelance writer in Greensboro. His favorite children’s book? Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.


Top feature photograph by Bob Cavin

A brave new world: Into the New

Into the New

by Frances Mayes

Illustration by Gerry O’Neill


During the pandemic, I became enthralled with The New York Times word game, the Spelling Bee. I’d never been attracted to crossword puzzles, Mensa quizzes or those already-penciled-in Sudoku squares in airline magazines. I’d rather read a book. But there I was at midnight, spending good hours I should have used on my nascent novel, staring at seven letters that must be arranged into words. At least I could excel at finding the pangram — the word that uses all the letters.

What I couldn’t do at all was imagine what my fictional characters Charlotte, Lee and Annsley possibly could be up to in their imagined world, given that a plague was loose in the real world. Their concerns seemed of no concern.

But I was learning dozens of new words such as lambi, boba, libelee, doggo and ricin — words that proved useless outside of boosting me from “amazing” status to “genius.” Ah, genius. What an accomplishment, that is, until the next morning when the new puzzle appeared.

Many friends also had developed obsessive activities. My husband, Ed, seemed always to be mowing the grass, even measuring the height so it remained at 2 inches. My friend Susan tore through several Indian cookbooks, leaving containers of spicy food at our back door constantly, and an Amazon truck pulled up daily at our across-the-street neighbor’s driveway. She was shopping maniacally.

Those of us who were lucky survived that suspended and puzzling and frustrating siege. Remember wiping off grocery bags on the porch? Remember when fashion masks in silk prints appeared? Remember those annoying suggestions to keep a gratitude journal? For decades, we’ll be puzzling through this aftermath of grief, its effects on students, what refusal to believe the virus existed means, the incalculable, staggering losses, the global politics, on and on. Per ora, for now, as the Italians always caution, we are reassessing, realizing that we are lucky to do the things we so took for granted.

Are we in a Brave New World?

By metabolic nature, I’m a traveler. After having covered a lot of the globe and written many books about place, of course I knew that those journeys play a major part in my life. During confinement, I chafed. I started spending hours researching the history of Cyprus, the accommodations at Machu Picchu, a hike from Bratislava to Prague.

Working on the Spelling Bee one week about eight months into house arrest, I came to an impasse. Instead of forming the usual words, I saw that I was picking the letters for “London,” “Rome,” “Miami,” “Hawaii.” Not allowed, any place names, but my travel gene was taking over. I couldn’t get “bountiful,” “exciting,” “texting” but adamantly typed in “Paris,” “Kenya,” “Greece.”

Travel, it turns out, isn’t just what I like to do, it’s who I am. Did others find such truths?

I pushed my novel to the back of my desk — bye-bye Annsley, Lee, Charlotte — and began writing about home. Where’s home? Why leave home? What happens when you do leave home? Why do memories of various homes come back over and over in dreams? How do you make a home? The pull of this subject, so unlike my novel, took over my days.

I quit pouring that second, third glass of wine with dinner; I exercised; I lost twenty pounds. Despite all the activity, the desire to go, just go, became overwhelming.

Ed and I donned N95 masks and traveled to our home in Italy. I felt like we held our breaths the entire way. We were allowed in because we have residency cards. Everyone greeted us like returning Olympic stars.

We quarantined at our home, then lined up for entering the negozio di frutta e verdura for groceries, enjoyed our friends within the limits of our houses, harvested our olive crop, and, before returning to North Carolina, spent two days in Rome prior to departure.

Rome alone. I walk. All day. At night. Walking the soles off my shoes. In this slowed, surreal scape, here’s Rome washed clean, the city showing its beauty unalloyed. I revisit favorites of mine, even though many are closed — Bramante’s Tempietto on the Janiculum Hill, the Baroque extravaganza Palazzo Colonna, the chalk pastel palazzi on Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, kiosks of botanical prints and severe engravings of ruins at the Mercato delle Stampe, Gelateria del Teatro for sublime gelato of lavender and white peach, or cherry, or orange and mascarpone. Who can choose?

At Trevi fountain, Ed and I stand there alone. For the first time in decades, I toss a coin. In Piazza Navona, too, I can hear the musical splash of water from the Four Rivers fountain and walk around the lovely ellipse of the ancient stadium. The great Marcus Aurelius, copy of the second-century bronze rider, atop his prancing horse at Michelangelo’s Piazza del Campidoglio, gains in majesty as he surveys a vacant piazza. Totally real, Rome feels imagined, conjured as one of Italo Calvino’s invisible cities.

     Eerie. There’s a lone woman with red fright-wig hair wobbling along the sidewalk with a basket of oranges; the familiar aroma of dark coffee wafting out of a bar, where the barista stands polishing glasses for no customers. The sky is a color a watercolorist might mix, find it too milky pale, and decide to stir in another dollop of cerulean. Trajan’s Column seems to tilt against rushing clouds. The forum appears doubly ancient, columns white as bleached femurs. Church bells send out circles of silver sound. The sculptural pines, the vulgar magenta bougainvillea, the surprise of palms.

Because Rome was still “yellow,” low-risk but cautious, some restaurants are open for lunch outside. We order both the fried artichokes and the artichokes with tender homemade pasta. We’re talking about whether anything of this Rome can be carried forth into normal times. We remember the day we showed our grandson 18 fountains in one day. We remember that Keats rode a pony around the Piazza di Spagna in his last weeks. We remember an apartment we rented with a roof garden that looked down on a clothesline with flapping giant underpants. The waiter forgets our glasses of wine, apologizes, and brings over a whole bottle. (That’s Rome.) I’m thrilled to see Rome like this: an unforgettable, once in a lifetime experience for this traveler.

I hope never to see Rome like that again.

After a day, I missed the scramble to see what’s on at the Quirinale, new restaurants, friends toasting at wine bars, shopping for shoes, tracking down 10 things on my to-see list. All this amid a chaos of sirens, horns, weaving motorcycles, tsunamis of tourists, overflowing garbage bins, buses spilling out groups from all over the world, silly goofs trying to get in the fountains. Life. People, annoying, glorious people.

Back at home, the bleak holiday season arrived, then in January, hallelujah: the vaccine. A quasi-normal life recommenced.

Am I grateful for this period of solitude, introspection, focus? Not a bit. I’m grateful that no one I love died, that’s it. Let’s not whitewash: the period was relentlessly awful and a flash of panic washes over me when I wonder if it will happen again.

What remains? Is there no silver lining? Yes, the major takeaway: a heightened awareness of carpe diem, seize the day. I love so many people; have I said so enough? All the posts and emails showed friends making their level best of the situation. I saw anew their humor, resourcefulness, brilliance, thoughtfulness and determination. They signed off not with “ciao,” or “xoxo,” but now with “Love you,” “Miss you,” “Always and Forever.”

Don’t forget this, I told myself, when we’re back at Vin Rouge and JuJu, toasting and chatting and exchanging plans, feeling invincible. We are not invincible. The drastic happened. Don’t forget the lively crowds in Istanbul, the subway crush in New York, the swarms reveling in the extreme beauty of Cinque Terre. Living their lives. Keep the table set, keep the antenna alert for friends in need, keep working to know what’s really going on, keep the rosé chilled, write the check to someone running on ideals, say you are dear to me, order the flowers, the Georgia peaches, the book I just read that X might enjoy. Oh, I do this, but now, my effort doubles and cubes.

Brave New World — we know Aldous Huxley’s depressing novel and his title has been used and used, ironically and seriously. Maybe used up. He took the words from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the whole quote is now somewhat lost. The last half of the sentence is best. Miranda speaks, “O brave new world, that has such people in it.” What mind-bending losses.

Memento vivere, remember to live. We go on now, together. You are dear to me.

I didn’t give up on the daily Spelling Bee but if I can’t be a quick genius, I click over to visit Annsley, Lee and Charlotte. They’ve been waiting a long time to resume their lives. When last seen they were arising from the table after a dinner party, about to make enormous changes. I think they are ready.  OH

Frances Mayes is a novelist, poet and essayist known for work including the New York Times bestseller Under the Tuscan Sun. She and her husband split their time between North Carolina and Italy.

Favorite childrens book: The Secret Garden intrigues me still.

A brave new world: The World is Still the World

The World is Still the World

Fiction by Daniel Wallace

Illustrations by Lyudmila Tomova


On our last day at the beach the sun came out, and the fog, which for that whole week had draped the shore in a veil of cotton, burned away: we discovered there was an ocean here, after all. It wasn’t blue, really, closer to black, but when the waves flattened out across the beach, the water was perfectly clear and full of minnows and tiny crabs.

The shells were just so-so, mostly shards of something that used to be beautiful, like ancient pottery washed up from the ocean floor, there to remind you the world was old.

I’d like to say that these discoveries inspired in us a recognition of our own mortality, but the truth was it just felt good to have the sun on our shoulders as my wife and I — so young, newlyweds in fact — walked across the warming sand, hand in hand. She was wearing a black two-piece, simple and very small, and so striking that even the women we passed couldn’t help but stare. Her hair (thick and chocolate brown) was in pigtails, and somehow this girlish maneuver heightened her brazen but effortless display of pure, glorious womanhood. I was invisible in the best possible way.

“I’m glad our honeymoon wasn’t ruined,” she said.

I stopped walking and looked at her. “I didn’t know it was even close to being ruined,” I said. “We’ve made love like a hundred times, read three novels and watched an entire season of The Walking Dead. That’s almost perfect.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I didn’t mean ruined. But you can’t go back and tell people that it was foggy and it rained the whole time and you read and watched TV. It sounds gloomy.”

“You skipped the part about making love.”

“Because you can’t tell people that, either.”

“No,” I said. “Let’s tell them it was sunny every day and we swam with the dolphins.”

“But that would be wrong,” she said, and we laughed. Somehow this had become a joke: saying but that would be wrong after every wrong thing we talked about doing. I have no idea why or how, but it was hilarious to us, just to us, the way that something that clearly isn’t funny becomes funny for reasons impossible to explain. “That being said, I’ll totally never forget that ride we took on the humpback whale.”

“Because it’s unforgettable. We’ll tell our kids about that.”

“Little Johnny and Marie.”

“I thought we’d settled on Zeus and Hera?”

“I just think that might put too much pressure on them, honey.”

I slapped my forehead, and a few grains of sand fell into my eyes. “Of course, you’re right. Why did I never think about that? Sometimes I feel like I knew nothing until we met.” Pause. “At least I know you’re a goddess.”

She squeezed my hand. “Keep ’em coming,” she said.

“Don’t worry. We’re good for the next ten years at least.”

“Whoa. You stockpile flatteries?”

“Flatteries are my specialty.”

“Oh no,” she said, in a husky whisper, knocking against me with her shoulder. “No, they’re not.”

How long had we been walking? I had no idea. I stopped and looked behind us: I couldn’t see our hotel or any landmark at all. Civilization had disappeared behind the curve of the shore. I could imagine that we were on a deserted island, looking toward the horizon for a rescue we knew would never come. I don’t know what she was thinking, but she had that faraway look in her eyes as well, and as I looked into them (her eyes were the color of ivy), the tail end of a wave chilled my toes. I almost gasped it was so cold.

She turned to me.

“I’m going in,” she said.

“No way.”

“I could never live with myself if I went to the beach and didn’t get in. I would be ashamed for the rest of my life. You’re coming in, too.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You’re my husband now,” she said. “You have to. It was in our vows.”

“Those vows were ambiguous.”

“On purpose, just for occasions such as this.”

She let go of my hand and took a deep breath, girding herself. I took a step toward the water myself, but with her hand on my stomach, she held me back.

“I’m first in,” she said. “I’m always first in. Ever since I was little. That’s what I want on my tombstone: First In, Last Out. Remember that.”

“I will.”

“I’m serious,” she said, and she studied my face. “You’ll remember?”

“I’ll remember. But I didn’t know that about you.”

“Well,” she said. “I guess there’s a lot you don’t know about me.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

But she was already gone. She ran into the water, whooping, and kept running as fast as she could, but slowed as the water got deeper. She pushed into it until she couldn’t walk at all, and then she dove under, disappearing completely for what seemed like a long time. Then she reappeared about five yards out, the bigger waves rolling against her back, lifting and releasing her, up and down, up and down. I think she was smiling.

We’d planned a big wedding, with friends and family coming in from all over. There was going to be a band and your choice of chicken or fish or veg, and a first dance and a sound system that could turn even my mousey 80-year-old Aunt Muriel’s voice into that of a roaring lion. But all that was postponed, of course. We’d talked about waiting, to do what we’d hoped to do just a little bit later. When things got back to normal. But we couldn’t wait a minute longer. We were married at the courthouse, with our two best friends, witnesses to our contract, safe behind a Plexiglas wall. Now here we were at the beach, in the days just before summer, the rest of our lives ahead of us. Six days of fog and rain, one day of sun, and then the rest of our lives.

She waved, I waved.

“Come and get me if you dare!” she yelled into the wind, my freckled goddess in the wine-dark sea, the woman who had already told me the words she wanted on her tombstone when death does us part. I wanted to tell her what I wanted on mine, too, but the water was cold, and she was already so far away.  OH

Daniel Wallace is the author of six novels, including Big Fish and, most recently, Extraordinary Adventures. He lives in Chapel Hill, where he directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of North Carolina.

Favorite childrens book: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett.

A brave new world: The Stitch Around Her Mouth

The Stitch Around Her Mouth

Fiction by Etaf Rum 

illustration by Marie-Louise Bennett


The stitch was starting to come undone, shedding fine, thin threads at the corners of her mouth. For as long as she could remember, she had never seemed to notice it — a ribbon the color of dust woven tightly around her lips. It had been there ever since she was a child, ever since her mother taught her how to roll her first grape leaf, ever since her grandmother read the thick, musty grounds of Turkish coffee at the bottom of her first kahwa cup. By the time she did notice it, she was a mother herself, devoting her energy to her husband and children, her feet firm in the fabric her family had sewn. When she awakened one morning to find the stitch unraveling, a wild terror overcame her. She dared not tug at the loose ends of her stitch in fear her world would unspool.

She paused to think now as she hurried to complete her chores before her children returned from school. What was it that had snagged her stitch loose now, after all these years? She wondered if she had done something wrong. The worst thing a woman could do was question her condition. Her mother had told her that once. Only she’d barely been thinking lately. She knew such freedoms were the province of boys and men, not for women, whose delicate fibers were spun like webs on the kitchen curtains like a daily reminder. Not for a woman whose life was a tight pattern overlapping her mother’s. There was nothing to think about. Things have always been this way.

She closed her eyes to the image of her 7-year-old face as she waited in line at the fabric store. Mama had prepared her for the stitching tradition the way Mama’s own mother had done before, wrapping her unruly hair and staining her hands with rust-colored henna. While all the other young girls had locked their eyes on the brightest ribbons, her gaze fell quietly on a strand as pale as wheat. She snatched it, gripped it close to her chest. She thought if she must endure the numbing and needling, the pain that comes with saying words too full, the swallowing of thoughts, the stitch should at least blend in with her olive skin. Others should never know.

She stood over the stove now, her afternoon chores completed. The steam from an ibrik of mint chai prickled her stitch. She felt her mouth stiffening, a burning sensation around the edge of her lips. In the distance, she could hear the sound of a school bus, then her two children approaching — a boy of 8, a girl of 6. She tucked her thoughts away. She didn’t want them to notice her loose stitch, confusing them, or worse, igniting their curiosity. She had no answers to the questions they might ask.

The oven clock read 7 p.m. by the time she finished helping the children with homework and cooking dinner. More than once she considered calling her husband to ask when he would be home. But each time she stopped herself. It would be unseemly to question him, to ask where he was or what he was doing as if he wasn’t working the way she was working. Only what if he wasn’t? She teased her loose stitch with the tip of her henna-stained finger before pulling it away. No, she shouldn’t question such things.

Growing up, Mama had said the stitch would make her more desirable, not only in the eyes of men, but also women, who were taught to see beauty in lips that were tightly sealed. Yet it was Mama who originally suggested that she choose a ribbon that would blend in. A plain ribbon will help you endure the pain, Mama had said, holding her hand at the fabric store, steering her down the fig-colored aisles. She could see other mothers in the aisles too, smiling as they helped their daughters select their ribbons. Some ribbons had the luster of pride and joy; others had a glow of satisfaction. But not hers. She had wondered why her mother steered her to a ribbon that was barely visible, and why she even needed to get a ribbon at all. What would happen if she decided not to get a ribbon, like some of the unstitched women she knew? She wondered what her world would be like without a stitch around her mouth.

The next thing she knew, the thought escaped her lips. “What if I don’t want to get a stitch?”

“Nonsense,” Mama said, shaking her head.

“But not every woman gets stitched,” she said, frozen in the center of the aisle. “The woman who reports the news doesn’t have one. Or the widow who opened up the pharmacy in town. Or even the girl who lives a few blocks away from us.”

Mama fixed her with a glare. “This is the way things are, daughter. It’s always been this way.”

Soon after the stitching she began to feel a burning sensation in the corners of her mouth, the quiet ripping of flesh. She did what she could to dull the pain, swapping out words, shortening thoughts, sometimes even getting rid of ideas altogether. Some words, she realized, would never be hers to say. Maybe her mother was right. After all, women were woven with a fabric meant to endure the knots and coils of their lives, like carrying the bulbous world in their center. The stitch was just another natural difference, another law of womanhood.

Now there was a sound at the front door, then the twist of a lock, and quickly she turned off the faucet, dried her hands, tucked a strand of dry hair behind her ear. She felt the tip of the dusty wheat ribbon tickle her hands, like the touch of her grandmother’s finger when she read her palms as a child. What would her grandmother say if she knew her stitch was coming undone? What would Mama say? Surely they would tighten it. Her stitch was supposed to last a lifetime, a legacy passed along generations. A loosened stitch was the ultimate disgrace, a shame that would swallow her family whole. Wasn’t it her grandmother who said that no good can come from a wide-mouthed woman? And hadn’t Mama agreed, unquestioning, stitching her lips before she learned how to question? Well she was a mother now, to a daughter whose mouth would soon need stitching. She swallowed a lump in her throat. She didn’t like to think of it.

Her husband awaited her at the kitchen table, glancing at her with knitted brows. There was a silence between them, one which she had learned not to mind, and she hurried to pour the lentil soup into four bowls. A blanket of steam covered her face and she withstood the temptation to open her mouth, if only for a moment, and stretch the stitch loose. She could feel her children watching her and she didn’t want them to see her this way, opening her mouth in such an unnatural position, the contortions of her face the opposite of womanly. No — there are some moments a child will never forget, like the sound of a mother’s tears, roaring like rain against the roof. Her children shouldn’t have to feel what she felt now, a mountain of memories clung to her chest. She decided she would only stretch her stitch when no one was watching.

Somehow at the dinner table, she could hear her grandmother in her ear, the same way she had heard her as a child. Sayings and lessons, like fortune cookies hanging from her ears. “A woman belongs at home,” her grandmother would say. “No good will ever come from a woman thinking.”

Her husband cleared his throat, bringing her back to the room. “I have to travel for work tomorrow,” he said.

“Where to?” She let the words leak through her stitch as if by accident so as not to make her mouth hurt. It was a trick her mother taught her.

“A conference in D.C.,” he said, shoving soup into his mouth as if to purposely end the conversation.

She said nothing, having learned from a young age to find safety in silence. She placed a crumb of bread between her slightly parted lips and clenched hard.

Dinners were the same every night, with her husband sitting at the end of the table and all three of them curled around him like children. More often than not, one of them would signal her, and, as if wired to be true to her nature, she would drop her food and leap with eagerness, refilling cups and bowls, smiling to the rhythm of clinking spoons. Look how much they need me, her tender heart would whisper as she scurried around the table. Delighted, her husband would look at her and smile as if to say: Look at the family we’ve created, you and I. Look at what we’ve done.

Only tonight, huddled around the dinner table with her family, she could hear another whisper: What has she done?

The question grazed her stitch, bitterness on her tongue. She looked up at her daughter and felt a tide of guilt rolling in her chest. For a long time, she studied her daughter’s face, resting her eyes on the dull brown mole on her left cheek. All she could think of was the fine needle, slithering up and down her lips like a snake. Soon her daughter would be 7 years old, and what could she do then? She couldn’t stop it. Lately she had begun to think the stitch was the reason she only had two children. Her mother-in-law never missed an opportunity to remind her to get pregnant, as if she had somehow forgotten her duty. In fact, she closed her legs purposefully at night, feigning exhaustion or sleep, or when she was particularly distressed, a desperate sadness. On those nights she felt an ache swelter not only from her stitch but from a place buried inside her. But now, looking at her daughter’s mouth, thinking of what was soon to come, never had she felt a pain deeper than the shame of mothering another girl. She wondered if her son knew how lucky he was.

Her husband, noting the strain on her face, scrunched his eyebrows in a knot. “Is there something wrong?”

She met his eyes and instantly turned red. Had her face betrayed her? Had her thoughts escaped her stitch? “No, no,” she whispered. “Nothing’s wrong.”

He lowered his gaze to the bowl, stirred the soup fiercely before scooping a spoonful into his mouth. Swallowing at once, he said, “There’s something on the corners of your mouth.” He handed her a rag. “Here, wipe.”

Calmly she took the rag from his fingers and pressed it against her stitch. She looked at the stain: it was blood.

Her husband stared at her in silence before clearing his throat. “Careful now,” he said, reaching over to tighten her stitch. “The children and I need you around.”

At that, her children looked at her in their usual way, their eyes glistening with the past and future as if always to remind her. It was as though they’d made a permanent mark upon her heart from which she could never escape. No, she would never escape. In awe of herself, she swept the thought away. Wasn’t she a believer of God, a believer in His will? If He wanted her this way, with this stitch around her mouth, then surely it was for the best. Besides, did she want to be like some of the unstitched girls she knew, still in their mother’s house, unmarried — or worse, divorced — an ocean of shame in their ribs? Of course she didn’t want that. Yet within herself, she didn’t understand why she couldn’t be happy. Inside she could hear all the women, and all the women she could hear were tired. She bit the inside of her lip, swallowing her thoughts. She could hear a whisper in her ear. Be thankful, or God will take it all away.

The days passed and her stitch kept bleeding: at the dinner table, during the day, whenever she stopped to think about it. Only when she wasn’t thinking did she seem to forget the uncomfortable grip around her mouth. But soon enough she would remember, feeling the heaviness in her mind sink into her lips whenever she spoke. Then the sound of a stitch unraveling, then the taste of blood. Sometimes it felt as if her mouth was only one stitch away from slitting all together, as if at any moment a thought would come and undo everything. Her life as she knew it. She became afraid. Then she began to wonder: Perhaps it’s all my fault. Perhaps I am being unreasonable. And even though there were no noticeable changes in her, all she could think of was what would become of her life if she let the stitch unravel. This fear had become an everlasting whisper in her chest which no amount of thinking could get rid of.

Four months passed. The day had finally come. Outside, the sky hung oppressively low, suffocating her. Quietly she reached for her daughter’s hand as they walked into the fabric store. The room was made of glass, with gold circles glistening across the walls. Between the brightly colored aisles, she thought she could hear, very faintly, the silent sounds of sorrow. She let go of her daughter’s hand. From a distance she watched her reach for a dusty pink ribbon, almost identical to her own. Her heart swelled in her chest. She could feel her stitch ripping open, blood leaking from her lips, desperate to spare her daughter. But she said nothing.

How she sewed the ribbon, how she stitched her daughter’s mouth — none of that could she remember later. Only one thought came to her now: the mild expression of submission painted on her daughter’s face as if it had been given to her since birth. Alone, she studied her own stitch in the mirror with shame. She ran her fingers along the edges of her lips, dug them into the corners as if to rip the ribbon out. Trembling, she tried to keep from screaming. She could taste her mother on her stitch and it made her weep.  OH

The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Etaf Rum was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She has a Masters of Arts in American and British Literature as well as undergraduate degrees in Philosophy and English and has taught undergraduate courses in North Carolina, where she lives with her two children. Etaf is also the founder of
A Woman Is No Man is her first novel.

Favorite childrens book: Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss.

Poem August 2021

Snap the Whip

          Winslow Homer (1872)



You know the game: everybody

runs hard as they can, holding hands,

and then the boy on the near end

suddenly stops, sets his feet hard

against the ground, and the others

swing, like a gate made of children,

swinging faster the farther out,

fighting centrifugal force now

to keep from being flung away,

flung out of the sudden circle

this line of children has become

a radius of, and those farthest

out have to hang on for dear life.

What saves them is how tight they and

their friends can hold on, and for how

long. The farthest from the center

need the strongest friends.

— Millard Dunn

Millard Dunn is the author of
Places We Could Never Find Alone.

Wandering Billy

Tippling and Tenpin

And a trip down memory lanes


By Billy Eye

One of the advantages bowling has over golf is that you seldom lose a bowling ball. — Don Carter

Downtown’s newest entertainment destination combines two of my favorite pastimes — bourbon and bowling. One of which Eye indulge in daily, the other . . . not so much. But that’s likely to change.

For decades, the corner of South Elm and Lewis Street was the site of a very Sanford-like junk shop, a veritable island of misfit washers and dryers, where doorless refrigerators went to die. You won’t believe that was ever true when you check out downtown’s latest sensation: Bourbon Bowl where, on opening weekend, so many alky lovin’ alley cats jammed the place that it was forced to close for restocking.

Nationwide, bowling began catching on in the 1800s but didn’t migrate as far as our fair city until the mid-1930s, when Greensboro Bowling Center debuted in the 300 block of North Elm. This was back in the days when “pinboys,” one to a lane, stood at the ready to manually reset the 10 plastic coated Maplewood pins after every frame, then roll balls back up the gutter. Hardly a coincidence that bowling came to Greensboro a year after the state allowed for the sale of beer in public after an almost 30-year prohibition. Within a few years, Downtown Bowling Alley at 111 East Washington Street opened for “duck pin” competition (a slight variation on the game preferred by many). It was located behind where Thousands of Prints presently stands.

Charging just a quarter per game, these two venues catered to a decidedly blue-collar clientele where, every week, competition between local bowling leagues reigned. Employees at Sears, Roebuck and Co., for instance, would square off against competitors from Guilford National Bank, or Rustin Furniture builders would go head-to-head with Bocock-Stroud’s clothiers.

In the mid-1950s, pinboys became one of the many professions to be rendered obsolete by automation with the introduction of AMF’s automatic pinspotters. By that time, bowling had earned a somewhat seedy reputation. After 25 years, our alleys had declined into smoke-filled caverns; burgers sizzling on flat-top grills while hot dogs rolled for hours on end before some cigar-chomping dipsomaniac stuffed them into soggy buns before plopped them onto white, waxed paper reeking of nicotine.

In the ’60s and ’70s, thanks in part to televised matches broadcast on weekend afternoons, bowling attained nationwide fad status, further ignited by Boomer families looking for wholesome entertainment. To fill that void, modern, streamlined facilities were introduced in Greensboro, beginning in 1959. You may recall Fair Lanes Friendly Bowlarama (later Brunswick Triad Lanes) located at the northeastern edge of a newly opened Friendly Shopping Center. Or O Henry Lanes on East Bessemer, next to the slot car races and Monroe’s Drive-In. And don’t forget Coliseum Fair Lanes on High Point Road. In the ’70s, with some 52 million Americans participating, bowling became the number one participatory sport in the nation. That’s when the sprawling Piedmont Bowling Lanes moved to their current location on Holden Road, with 40 wide lanes, a nursery and a pristine snack shop.

In the mid-70s, I frequented Brunswick Triad Lanes at Friendly primarily to finger their wall of pinball machines. I was struck by the Atomic Age design of the bowling alley itself, complete with stainless steel accents and multi-colored, molded plastic chairs from its 1959 Bowlarama days still in use. After three decades, Brunswick Triad Lanes moved to Oak Branch Drive off Wendover. There, management subsequently installed disco bumper cars, a Lebowski-like lounge and an ungodly retro-candy shop stocked with tooth-rotters you haven’t run across since high school.

Bourbon Bowl’s six lanes may seem a bit claustrophobic compared to AMF All Star Lanes or Triad Lanes (both still going strong) but, then again, I’m not convinced the competitive-sporting aspect of this establishment was meant to be the star attraction.

A joint whose name contains the word “bourbon” should stock a wide array of distilled mash, right?

“We have pretty much everything,” confirms Bourbon Bowl’s bar manager, Travis Tindall. “Irish whiskey, special Japanese whiskies, name brands like Rabbit Hole, Glenlivet, Macallan-aged-18-year scotch, Van Winkle, Hendricks, Blanton’s and Lonerider, a North Carolina blend.” Serious about their whiskies, BB offers 125 brands and will have added another 110 bottles by the time you read this. “Some of the rarer whiskeys that we can find, that we can get ahold of, we plan to get,” Tindall says.

The bar, said to be the longest in the city, allows patrons to imbibe indoors or outside while lounging on its enormous patio while enjoying waterfalls framed in rusted metal, distressed brickwork and random industrial accoutrements. The menu, to be expanded later, includes finger food stalwarts like tacos, shrimp skewers, burgers, salads, wraps, dips and an array of, yes, fried cheeses, some with interesting culinary twists.

Lanes rent for $40 an hour, plus a few bucks for shoe rental. On every occasion I’ve wandered by, Bourbon Bowl has been packed, appealing to families around the dinner hour when even small children can join in the games with the help of bowling ramps and bumpers to ensure at least a few of your tot’s pins will be knocked over. Starting around 10 p.m., young professionals begin congregating around the bar.

“The crowd is ravenous,” Tindall tells me. “Whenever a business nearby lets out for the night, service workers and customers roll in here in waves.”

And with such potent potables as the Moscow Mule, the Manhattan or, perhaps, a Smoked Old Fashioned, it’s little wonder.

“The orange zest soaks up the mahogany and cherry wood flavor and adds a different level of intensity,” says Tindall of their Smoked Old Fashioned. “You can smell it all throughout the restaurant.”

The staff is populated with pros who’ve served for years at other local hotspots. “This is probably the most talented group of bartenders I’ve ever known,” Tindall says. “I’ve been from here to Philadelphia, and these guys have forgotten more about bartending than most people learn in their entire lifetime.”

Not your Old Grand-Dad’s experience, but they do have a bottle of that behind the bar.  OH

Billy Eye comes from a long line of discerning bourbon drinkers.

His favorite children’s book, In The Night Kitchen, Maurice Sendak’s tribute to Winsor McCay, does not contain a single mention of alcohol.


A Majestic Wader

Wood storks become a more common sight


By Susan Campbell

Believe it or not, although fall is still a way off, the summer solstice has passed, and for some of our birds, the breeding season is over. Many have begun wandering ahead of their southward migration. At this time of year, we have a few species that actually move in a northerly direction during mid-summer. The wood stork, one of North Carolina’s newer breeders, is one of these.

Wood storks are large, white wading birds, a bit smaller than great blue herons. They have heavy bills that curve at the tip. In flight, they are very distinctive. Not only do they fly with their head and neck outstretched, but their tails and flight feathers flash black. They are frequently spotted soaring high in the sky on thermals, not unlike hawks and vultures.

These birds forage not only for small fish, crustaceans and a variety of invertebrates, but also reptiles and amphibians, as well as occasional nestlings of other species. Wood storks are visual hunters that search for movement in the shallows. They also may sweep and probe with their bills in murky areas until they feel prey, and then they will snap their mandibles shut and swallow the food item whole. It is not unusual for them to shuffle with their feet and flick their wings to disturb potential meals in muddy water.

Unlike their European kin, storks here nest in trees — not on chimneys. Also, as opposed to legend, these birds do not mate for life but pair up on the breeding grounds each season. They can live a long time, however: The oldest known (banded) bird from Georgia was over 20 years old when it was re-sighted in South Carolina.

Stork nests are bulky stick-built affairs located over water, often in cypress trees. However, any sturdy wetland tree species may be utilized. Both parents are involved in construction. Grassy material will line the nest that is, quite uniquely, adhered together with guano. It will take almost two months for the one to five young to reach fledging. Not only will wood storks nest alongside others of their kind but they tend to be found in colonies with heron, ibis and egret neighbors.

The wood stork is becoming a more common site in the Carolinas, breeding locally in freshwater or brackish, forested habitat. They prefer locations with an open canopy, since they require a good bit of space in order to negotiate a landing. There are now two large nesting colonies of storks on private property: one at Lays Lake (Columbus County) and Warwick Mill Bay (Robeson County). These lakes have been home to nesting storks for less than a decade. I would not be surprised if pairs are using a few other remote sites in the southeastern corner of the state. Stork numbers have been growing rapidly as the bay lake habitat seems excellent for raising chicks. Following fledging, however, family groups may move away from the nesting area to wet habitat where food is plentiful. In dry summers, that movement may be significant — and in any direction.

In our state, the largest concentrations of individuals show up annually at Twin Lakes in Sunset Beach (Brunswick County) by mid-summer. They can reliably be found in and around the eastern pond. The birds seem to like probing the flats on the back side of the pond, away from the golfers on Oyster Bay Golf Links. Also look for them loitering in the stout trees along the shoreline into early fall. But do not be surprised if you happen on one, or perhaps a small group, in any wet area from marshes to farm ponds or golf course water hazards in the Piedmont or Sandhills. Wood storks are unique and majestic waders that deserve a special look!  OH

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

Favorite children’s book: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Roald Dahl.