Happy Campers

Greensboro native Alice Zealy remodels recreational vehicles with verve

By Maria Johnson     Photographs by Amy Freeman


Relaxing on a pale turquoise sofa under a window that frames a soothing mosaic of tree leaves, Alice Zealy and Eric Ellington are the picture of domestic tranquility.

Across the room, a 50-inch flat-screen TV murmurs country music videos. A ruddy dog named Ruby snoozes on the couch beside Zealy. A larger black-and-white pup named Dega — as in NASCAR’s Talladega Superspeedway — sprawls on a faux-fur dog bed that meshes perfectly with the room’s teal-white-and-gold color scheme. Zealy describes the couple’s aesthetic as sleek, modern and whimsical. A slim round antique table, adorned with a band of metal filagree, stands nearby. Colorful fish swim across the wall. Two clear, acrylic bar seats snuggle up to a counter. A gilded sunburst mirror reflects the morning sun.

It matters little to the couple that their home encompasses a grand total of 350 square feet, rolls on wheels and hitches neatly into the bed of a hulking GMC pickup truck.

“This is probably my favorite home ever,” Zealy says, smiling at Ellington.

“Me, too,’ says Ellington, smiling back.

They’re two happy campers.


Zealy started her business, Rain2Shine Ventures, earlier this year. Her public — meaning her Instagram and Facebook followers — fairly demanded it after she spent much of COVID’s darkest days remodeling her own camper and posting starkly different before and after pictures.

“I got about 2,000 likes and shares,” says Zealy, 40, a Greensboro native. “People were saying, ‘This is the nicest remodel I’ve ever seen. It should be in a magazine.’”

Followers drooled over her kitchen and bath upgrades.

Zealy kept most of the original dark wood cabinetry, but transformed it by sanding, priming and using an industrial paint gun to spray on several coats of gleaming white acrylic latex. Dingy vinyl wallpaper got the same treatment.

Up came the ratty, beige carpet. Down went luxury vinyl plank flooring in driftwood gray.

Counters were resurfaced and, in the case of the breakfast bar, fitted with hinged Corian leaves.

Out went the skimpy stainless-steel sinks and dated faucets — in went a porcelain farmhouse sink with gooseneck faucet in the kitchen, while the bathroom got a stylish waterfall faucet and glass vessel sink.

Zealy installed tile backsplashes in both rooms and decked the bathroom floor with gold-trimmed porcelain tile. Real tile, which some RV renovators eschew because of the heft.

Never mind the weight of real tile, Zealy says. Just take out some of the heavy, bolted-down furniture that most campers come with.

“Every camper we’ve ever done, we’ve never put back in as much weight as we’ve taken out,” she says, implying the upward trajectory of her business.

Last month, she was renovating her sixth and seventh clients — quite an accomplishment considering that she had never set foot inside a camper until she was 30 years old.


She came from a “house” family.

Her father, Sam, was a partner in Wrenn, Zealy and Kirkman, a Greensboro real estate and property management business.

Her mother, Jane “Peppermint” Zealy, was a second grade teacher with a keen eye for interior design.

Daughter Alice spent summers helping the family business by cutting grass, sweeping stairwells and managing yard sales stocked with the belongings of vanished and banished renters. As a sideline in high school, she made jewelry for family and friends.

After taking design courses at N.C. State and UNCG, she worked at the Belk department store in Friendly Center. She started by selling shoes, worked her way up to management and found her bliss in visual merchandizing.

She also incorporated her jewelry business, Alice’s Chic Boutique, which caught the eyes of vendors who supplied gift suites for the Emmy and Golden Globe awards. They invited her to design jewelry that would be given to celebrities.

“The idea is that someone wears your jewelry, they tweet about it and you get the brand awareness,” Zealy says.

Actress Angela Bassett, an Emmy nominee in 2013, wore one of Zealy’s pieces, a lacy black cut-out necklace, at a benefit gala that year.

The Hollywood exposure earned Zealy a few minutes of fame. The local newspaper and a couple of television stations sent reporters to interview her.

A woman approached Zealy in Friendly Center and asked if her distinctive necklace was a piece by Alice.

“Uhhh, yeah,” said Zealy, who was taken aback. “I’m Alice.”

“Oh, my God!” swooned the woman.

Zealy laughs at the memory, putting a hand to her chest in mock admiration of herself.

“I was like, ‘Am I the Michael Kors of Greensboro?’” she says, invoking the name of a popular jewelry designer.

Zealy led a comfortable existence. She and her then-husband lived in a 3,700-square-foot home with a swimming pool off Westridge Road. They traveled frequently in a camper, the first one Zealy had ever set foot in, to watch NASCAR races.

When the couple split, he bought her share of the camper.


Not knowing what she wanted to do — other than be free to travel — Zealy took the settlement and bought another camper that was advertised on Facebook Marketplace. By then, she had visited 20-some campers in-person and had viewed hundreds online.

Ellington went with her to check out a 2003 Holiday Rambler, a so-called fifth wheel because the trailer attaches to a U-shaped hitch, or fifth wheel, in the bed of a truck.

Inside, the camper was — to use Zealy’s word — nasty. Surfaces were yellowed by cigarette smoke. The carpet was stained and reeked of dog waste.

But structurally the camper was in good shape, and the motorized slides that expanded the trailer sideways when parked — two slides in the living room and one in the bedroom — worked fine.

“It’s a really well-built piece,” says Ellington, 58, a NASCAR team veteran who owns Ellington Rod & Custom, a shop that builds street-legal hot rods in Archdale.

Zealy sealed the camper deal with $7,500 cash in February 2020, and they towed the Rambler to Ellington’s shop, where Zealy worked for six or seven months to transform the camper into the RV of her dreams.

Ellington, her new partner in life and work, made sure the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems functioned well, while Zealy exercised her artistic ability.

“I got the freedom to do what I wanted to do,” she says.

Ellington supported her, expecting that he would enjoy the outcome.

“I said, ‘Whatever you want to do,’” he says.

“I make things pretty, and he makes things work,” she adds. “But I’ve learned a lot. I can make things work now, too.”

“Absolutely,” he says, smiling at her.

Zealy took her time, carefully documenting her improvements on Facebook and posting links to the sources of her material. She felt no pressure to wrap up.

“There was nowhere to go because of COVID,” she explains.

When she finished the transformation, she and Ellington ditched their plan to buy land in the country, install electrical and plumbing hook-ups for the camper and eventually build a house on the property.

They decided to live in the camper. Full time. They rented an annual spot and a bought a membership in the Thousand Trails campground in Advance, near the Yadkin River.

The campground — which boasts two swimming pools, volleyball courts and horse trails — is part of a national chain of campgrounds.

They can afford to travel more. Their scaled-down lifestyle sips income.

Monthly expenses run $350 to $400, says Ellington.

He’s elated at the change. He used to live on a small farm in Gibsonville.

“If I wasn’t working at the shop, I was feeding horses and chickens, and bush-hogging pastures, and getting up hay,” he says. “I always wanted to go and see.”

Now, he and Zealy are part of a recreational vehicle boom that started before COVID and gained steam during the pandemic. Camping allowed for social distancing, and more people worked from home, wherever that happened to be.

“If the job allows you to, why wouldn’t you?” says Zealy. “You see more young people, rather than retired people, coming into campers and vans now . . . This generation — I call them the Instagram Generation — they want the experiences.”

“They want good pictures,” Ellington adds with a smile.

Zealy sensed an appetite for splashier RV interiors, and she saw that very few businesses specialized in that kind of design. Some RV repair shops offered remodeling, she says, but fashionable upgrades were not their forte, and they charged more than she intended to.

As COVID waned, Zealy launched her business.

She named it Rain2Shine Ventures after the nicknames that her father, Sam, who died in 2007, gave her and her sister, Mary Knox: Rainbow and Sunshine, respectively.

“He would have loved to be here, doing this with me,” Zealy says. “He was Mister Handy. He could do just about anything.”

She carries on his spirit in her work.

“There’s times when I’m out there, in the campers by myself, that I talk to him,” she says.

For a young couple in Wagram, N.C., she’s upfitting a Winnebago with heavy duty dog kennels. The couple will use the vehicle to transport rescue dogs.

“My goal is to make it nice enough that they can do adoption fairs on the bus,” says Zealy, a supporter of the rescue organization. “We’ll paint and do little paw prints. It’ll be beautiful. I want it to be happy.”

For another customer, a friend, she’s reviving a tiny, British-made 1969 Sprite camper.

“It was just a hull of parts,” says Ellington, describing the vintage trailer’s condition when Zealy’s friend bought it. “I think she gave $250 for it.”

“It’s gonna be adorable,” Zealy promises. Sitting in her favorite home, she’s as radiant as a rainbow.  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. Email her at ohenrymaria@gmail.com

Beloved Possessions

The Liberty Cap

A Greensboro family’s surviving link to the Battle of Guilford Courthouse

By Jim Dodson

“Frankly,” says John Forbis with a laugh, “it’s been in our family so long I never thought much about it when I was growing up — just that it was passed down through many generations in the family. My father kept it in his sock drawer forever before it migrated to a top shelf in his bedroom closet.” 

“It” happens to be a simple stocking cap properly known in Colonial days as a “Liberty cap” that belonged to Forbis’s Revolutionary War ancestor, Col. Arthur Forbis. 

Local lore holds that Forbis — farmer, family man, church elder and Patriot militiaman — fired the first shot at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781. There, a mix of local militia and Continental troops under the command of General Nathanael Greene engaged British General Charles Lord Cornwallis and his troops in a day-long fight that hastened the end of the American Revolution. 

Though Cornwallis technically won a pyrrhic victory, he lost a quarter of his troops and was forced to limp to Wilmington in order to rest and refit his exhausted army. Five months later, outnumbered and outfought, the British General surrendered following a three-week siege at Yorktown, Virginia, bringing the war to a close in favor of the Americans.

In 1926, William Forbis, John Forbis’ uncle, presented his Revolutionary ancestor’s sword and knitted stocking cap to the Greensboro History Museum. The cap was probably a homemade affair created from a woman’s loomed silk stocking embroidered with knitted wool, typically worn beneath a soldier’s hat for warmth or a simple reminder of home. It became one of the new museum’s earliest artifacts.

Many years later, the historic cap returned to the possession of the Forbis family until John’s father, Arthur Forbis, was persuaded by the late Bill Moore, the museum’s director, to return it to the museum on permanent loan, where it remains on periodic display to this day.

“It’s provenance is remarkable and tells a wonderful story,” says Susan Webster, the museum’s Curator of Textiles. “According to our colleagues at the Smithsonian, it may be the only surviving Liberty cap in existence that’s fully intact. That makes it not only extremely rare — but a precious possession that connects 11 generations of a local family to one of the most important events in the nation’s history — the fight for our independence.”

Webster explains that the Forbis cap has been intensely researched and debated over the years by a number of leading conservators and textile experts. Careful efforts have been taken to clean and restore sections of its silk fabric. One intriguing aspect of the cap is what appears to be a darkened section of the cap that was believed to be a bloodstain from a wound Col. Forbis received during the battle. Several forensic teams have tested fibers from the stain, but as of yet are unable to confirm or deny it is actually blood. 

Arthur Forbis was a father of six children and elder of the Alamance Presbyterian Church, formed in 1762. During the tense days preceding the war, the Piedmont simmered with hostilities between area Tories (loyalists to the Crown) and their Carolina Whig counterparts. In 1775, at age 29, Forbis, credited with being one of the finest marksmen around, joined a local militia formed by Cols. John Paisley and Daniel Gillespie as a captain.

According to both legend and documented accounts, Forbis — who received a battlefield promotion to Colonel during the fight — was in the first line of Greene’s troops with the Guilford militia. Before he was severely wounded in the neck and fell, he brought down a British captain approaching on the Old Salisbury Road. 

“The story I always heard as a kid was that he lay on the battlefield for a couple days,” says John Forbis, “until a man he knew named Shoemaker — a Tory sympathizer — found him and ran a bayonet through his leg and side.”

Three days after the battle, as family members began to recover the dead and wounded, the sister of a man who served with Forbis recognized him. She put him on a horse to take him home — only to be met by Forbis’s wife, Bettie, who was making her way to the battlefield.

According to family accounts, Dr. David Caldwell attended the gravely wounded man and suggested amputating his leg, but Forbis refused. He died three weeks later and was buried in the Alamance Presbyterian Church Cemetery, where you can see his gravestone today.

“I heard the story as a boy growing up on our farm over in Alamance County,” says John Forbis, a former Greensboro mayor and lifelong collector of fine antiques and unique historic artifacts. “But having the cap he wore always gave our family a very personal connection to Arthur Forbis, a living link to his incredible story. You can’t place a value on that. To me, it’s priceless.”  OH

Do you have a Beloved Possession – priceless or otherwise – that means something important to your family story? We’d love to hear about it and maybe share it with O.Henry’s readers. Email our managing editor at cassie@ohenrymag.com.


Rhododendron Therapy

A cure for grumpy old men

By Ross Howell Jr.

This time of year in Blowing Rock, when visitors jam sidewalks, hiking trails and trout streams, a grumpy old regular like myself can start to nurse a grievance.

Midst the bustle, I resent the tourists’ mutts all sporting better haircuts than mine.

Then, like the Balm of Gilead, rhododendrons turn grievance to delight.

The rhododendrons paint neighborhood streets, parks, escarpments and hollows with purple, pink or orange hues. Listen, and you hear the drone of pollinators. Lean close, and you savor the delicate fragrance.

“I shall never forget so long as I live the day we discovered that plant,” John Fraser Jr. commented to the biographer of his father, John Sr., the Scottish botanist credited with finding and cataloging hundreds of North American native species.

In 1799 young Fraser accompanied his father on his sixth voyage across the Atlantic, another expedition in search of plants that could be taken back to England, propagated and sold through the family business.

“We had been for a long time traveling among the mountains,” Fraser said, in “a fog so dense that we could not see further than a yard before us.”

As the Frasers reached what was likely the peak of Big Bald Mountain, “the fog began to clear away, and the sun to shine out brightly,” Fraser continued. “The first object that attracted our eye … was a large quantity of Rhododendron catawbiense in full bloom.”

In natural areas the extent of the rhododendron thickets — sometimes called “hells,” a term that quickly feels apt if you’ve ever tried to make your way through one — can be surprising, especially given the dizzying slopes the thickets often cover.

Rhododendrons are especially effective at colonizing places that are — well, between a rock and a hard place. After a rockslide, for example, they will be among the first plants to take root in the rubble and debris.

Each year Grandfather Mountain hosts an event called “The Remarkable Rhododendron Ramble,” a celebration of summer, when guides lead guests on 20-minute hikes to observe the splendid array of blooms and learn about the history, characteristics and importance of rhododendrons in the mountain’s varied ecological domains.

This year the daily Rambles are scheduled for 2 p.m. from May 28 through June 4. The culminating event, according to Landis Taylor, assistant vice president of marketing and communications with the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, is an “All-Day Rhodo Ramble on June 5.”

Activities that day include 20-minute Rambles on the hour starting at noon through 3 p.m., along with kids’ crafts, information tables and “a special presentation given by a staff naturalist who specializes in botany,” Taylor adds. All these programs are included in the regular price of park admission.

Since there is nearly a 1,000-foot change in elevation from Grandfather Mountain’s base to its peak, visitors have a wide window of opportunity to see rhododendrons in bloom in different park locations.

Most plentiful on the mountain is the same one first noted by the Frasers more than 200 years ago, the -(R. catawbiense). Its deep purple blossoms appear from early to mid-June — depending upon the elevation — and can be found all along Grandfather Mountain’s trails and main road.

But there are other native species that can also be seen.

The pink-shell azalea (R. vaseyi) has a delicate pink blossom and can be found growing on the mountain in late April or early May, just before the Rhododendron Ramble. It can be seen at the Half Moon overlook, as well as at the Forrest Gump Curve picnic area.

Rosebay rhododendron (R. maximum) displays very light pink flowers and typically blooms in late June, though usually a few show blossoms during the Rhododendron Ramble. Linville Bluffs, across the park’s main road from the Wilson Center for Nature Discovery, is a prime spot to take them in.

But to my mind, the most spectacular of the rhododenrons is the flame azalea (R. calendulaceum), ranging in color from yellow to orange to peach or red. You can see it at Grandfather Mountain’s entrance gate and at Split Rock in late May through July.

See? I haven’t written a single disparaging word about doggy haircuts.

Rhododendron therapy works.  OH

Ross Howell Jr. lives in Greensboro but spends a fair amount of time in Blowing Rock. For more information, visit www.grandfather.com/the-remarkable-rhododendron-ramble/.

O.Henry Ending

A Shot of the Dark

A Brief History of an Espresso Obsessive

By David Claude Bailey

It was at Friendly Shopping Center’s Potpourri gift shop that I purchased the shining brass apparatus that turned my yen for European espresso into an obsession. It was a flip-drip, Neapolitan coffee maker that I fueled with Medalgia D’Oro, which always smells ever so slightly — and invitingly — of burnt anchovies.

A gruff Frenchman pulled my first cup of espresso in a bar in Cherbourg, where the rising sun fell on dock workers throwing back shots of espresso and something vile in tiny, little glasses. Hitchhiking across Europe at 16, the intensity of Europe’s café experience and the potent black jets of java rocked my world.

But my mother had prepared me for espresso in my hometown of Reidsville by keeping a percolator on our stove reheating and re-perking coffee. As the day progressed, a dark slurry coalesced so potent it triggered endorphins before I knew I had them.

Since then, I’ve led a coffee-centric life, preparing gallons of the stuff in a succession espresso machines and pots, one of which I backpacked into the Grand Canyon. I remember in the ’60s and ’70s when espresso in fancy American restaurants was accompanied by a lemon peel and cube of sugar that you dipped into your brew. I had espresso in Greenwich Village and Pike Place Market before Starbucks existed. I spent a week in Trieste at Illy’s Università del Caffè learning barista skills for an article for Delta’s in-flight magazine, Sky. Later, Dennis Quaintance kindly did not fire me after an enthusiastic coffee consultant and I recalibrated the machines at Green Valley Grill, triggering a fire storm of complaints from regulars whose coffee was suddenly kicked up several notches. I’ve had inexpressibly bad espressos traveling in Peru, Malaysia, Greece, and, yes, even in Italy, France and Spain, from self-serve machines in gas stations.

But the oddest cup of espresso I’ve ever had was in Reidsville. A few years ago, I’d discovered that McDonald’s has decent espresso for $1.38 if you can coach the cashier to find it on the computer screen. For the longest time, the manager had to be called over to make it, but nowadays, most of the burger flippers are sufficiently cross-trained to realize all you have to do is hit the right button.

So one day on the way home from taking my sister hiking at Hanging Rock I informed her I was stopping at the Lucky City’s McDonald’s to have an espresso. “This is Reidsville,” she said. “They won’t know how to make it.” I countered, “If they serve coffee, which they do, they’ll have it.” She gave me that look that said, “you’ve always been bull-headed.”

I was able to help the cashier put in the order and got my endorphin receptors ready — as I waited and waited and waited. I noticed a gaggle of employees around the coffee machine. Finally, the manager came over to say that they were working on my order. After an eternity, a chagrined clerk came forward with my espresso. “Something’s wrong with our machine,” he said. “It took forever to get your cup full, but here it is.” It was luke-warm and instead of an ounce and a half of java, the cup brimmed with at least ten espresso shots pulled one after another.

You can go home again, but you might not get a decent cup of espresso.  OH

Contributing Editor David Claude Bailey concedes that you can get an excellent cup of espresso in downtown Reidsville at Sip Coffee House.


Diving for the Anchor

When you were my living father, I thought of you as you,

alone. Now that you’re long dead, I think of you and me

as us, together, not that we were closer than most

fathers and sons who can’t say what should be said,

the unspoken words between them a great gauzy silence

ever after, as on the moonless night we fished the

Miles River, a tributary of the Chesapeake, skidding our

johnboat into an early autumn’s slacking, our fishing

rods angled on the gunnels. Nettles billowed the pilings,

cottonwood and locust sapped the brackish air as

the lulling water swirled us into an outgoing tide,

tugging us midstream where you tossed the anchor

overboard and heard it splash, no chain securing

it to the boat, the lead shank long gone in deep water.


“We’ve lost the damn anchor!” you swore to high

heaven, and as the outwash eddied us bayward you

stripped off your shirt, shoes, and shorts and dove in,

roiling the dark water to gulp you under into perfect oblivion,

leaving the child I was alone with night sounds — a screaky

covert of moorhens, cicada crescendos, the coo and stutter

of a cormorant — and I knew, at that moment, you were

the bravest man who ever lived. I could feel your fingers

probing the busted soda bottles, tangled tackle, and rusting

beer cans, groping amid the grass eels, hogfish, and bristle

worms. I held the longest breath I’d ever held and prayed,

prayed, for your deliverance, and mine. And sure enough

the surface riffled, the waters parted, and you burst

foaming into still air, anchor in hand, and clacked it

onto the sloshing deck, pulling yourself free of the current,

your body slick with river slime, and grasping the oarlock,

rolled into the rocking boat.


I sighed my only true sigh, longing for the wisdom

you’d dredged from the foulest netherworld, testimony

that life is more than the taking in and letting out

of breath by a father and son adrift beneath a thin haze

of stars. Having plumbed dead bottom, you’d been

resurrected to impart a consoling truth, a glistening

coin I could tuck in the pocket of memory. You obliged:

“Wish I had a nickel,” you said, “for every kid who’s

pissed in this river.”

— Stephen E. Smith

Stephen E. Smith’s most recent book is A Short Report on the Fire at Woolworths.


Stranger in Town

Mississippi kite finds new regions

By Susan Campbell

Seldom do we hear of good news when it comes to the status of our migrant bird populations. But there are species that are actually expanding their ranges as a result of human alteration of habitats. The Mississippi kite here in the Southeast is one. This is a handsome raptor of wooded terrain that feeds mainly on large insects. It was found breeding in the floodplain of the Roanoke River in the late 1980s. The next region where it was detected happened to be here in the Sandhills. And now it can be found in the Triad as well as other locations in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain.

These are small, sleek raptors that are very maneuverable. Adults are a mix of gray and black with long, tapered wings, a relatively long, squared-off tail and a delicate, hooked bill. Immature birds are streaked brown with barred tails. They are birds built to catch rapidly moving, aerial prey. Grasshoppers, beetles, dragonflies and even bats are targets when hunting. They also feed low to the ground when small reptiles and mammals are abundant. In late summer, as they are preparing to head south, large flocks can be seen foraging over large open areas such as farm fields where flying insects are abundant.

Although they breed here, Mississippi kites winter in South America. As well-studied as the species has been in the United States, little is known about them after they leave. Although they collect in large groups in the south-central U.S. and travel to southern Brazil and northern Argentina, their ecology is a question mark. But we have good data on the Midwestern and Southeastern populations, both of which are expanding. Everything from increases in pasture lands, golf courses and parks adjacent to mature woodlands are providing opportunities for nesting.

An increase in nesting around human habitation means an increase in kite interactions with people. And this can actually be problematic. Mississippi kites are very aggressive when it comes to defending their nests and young. I have been on the receiving end of warning whistles given by territorial individuals a number of times. Furthermore, they will readily dive bomb perceived threats — and this includes humans. I was very startled one summer several years ago to not only observe a new family on the farm where I was living in Southern Pines, but to also be buzzed by one of the adults. I was shocked by how quickly I was attacked and how close the bird came to my head. A very effective defensive maneuver for sure!

Late in the summer, kites will amass at rich foraging sites before they migrate southward. These sites may be north or west of the breeding grounds. Dozens can be seen alternately soaring and wheeling around above farm fields where an abundance of large insects such as grasshoppers, locusts, and beetles are found. If you happen upon one of these locations, it is quite a sight to see. For whatever reason, few areas consistently attract kites from year to year. One spot that is reliable in the N.C. foothills (oddly enough, since they do not breed there) is Irma’s Produce fields in McDowell County —right along I-40. If you are passing in late July or early August, it is well worth a stop. Not only do the birds put on quite a show, but I hear that Irma’s fruits and veggies are a treat as well.

There is much interest in documenting nesting Mississippi kites here in North Carolina. Should you know of a nest site or see adults or immature kites in the next few months, please drop me an email. These are beautiful and fascinating birds and certainly worthy of special attention.  OH

Susan Campbell would love to hear about your wildlife sightings and receive your photos. She can be contacted by email at susan@ncaves.com or by phone at (910-585-0574).

Tea Leaf Astrologer


(May 21 – June 20)

You’ve heard the boiling frog myth. Stick a frog in a pot of boiling water and it will jump out; but stick one in cool water that is gradually heated and, yep, it cooks. Don’t go meddling in the wrong pot, Gemini. And, certainly, don’t get complacent there. Known for their clever and charming nature, this ever-babbling air sign has a knack for nosing their way into other people’s business. Consider turning that devotion inward before things get slimy.

Tea leaf “fortunes” for the rest of you:

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

Give it time. The wound becomes the medicine. 

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

It was never about the honey.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22) 

Ditch the training wheels.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

You’ve mastered subtlety. Don’t be surprised that no one’s noticed.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

Let the patterns clash.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

Maybe take it down a notch. 

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Reply hazy. Try again.

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

Does the phrase “dirty laundry” mean anything to you? 

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

More porch swings, less mood swings.

Aries (March 21 – April 19)

You’re cutting against the grain again.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

You are what you eat. Try adding some flavor.  OH

Zora Stellanova has been divining with tea leaves since Game of Thrones’ Starbucks cup mishap of 2019. While she’s not exactly a medium, she’s far from average. She lives in the N.C. foothills with her Sphynx cat, Lyla. 

Wandering Billy

June is Busking Out All Over!

Cuttin’ up With Colin Cutler

By Billy Eye

“When I first came to Nashville, people hardly gave country music any respect. We lived in old cars and dirty hotels,
and we ate when we could.” — Loretta Lynn

Colin Cutler is one of those individuals who devoted his life to music from an early age. Like many who choose that path, his passion started at church. “I was 5 years old,” he tells me. “Mom put me up in front of the congregation to sing an Amy Grant song, ‘Angels Watching Over Me.’” He was 9 when he picked up the trumpet, played that until about 16, then mastered the guitar. “I wanted to be a metal head like, you know, Eddie Van Halen,” Cutler says. “In college, I got into more acoustic music. One of the guys I was doing chapel music with had been in a Bluegrass band down in Raleigh. I figured out that the writing I was doing fit that music a lot better.”

Cutler moved to Greensboro from Virginia in 2014 to attend UNCG, aiming for an M.A. in English which he completed at Fort Bliss while serving with his National Guard unit, releasing his first album, Nelson County Wayside, just before deployment to Qatar and Romania. Having written short stories and poetry since his teen years, Cutler realized, “Songs are just poetry put to music.” He says, “And I’ve always loved great songwriters — Paul Simon, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, the songs that Patsy Cline wrote or chose for herself.”

Ultimately this bushy-haired musician decided he’d rather fly solo, for the most part anyway. “I’m about 23 or so when I saw Kelly Wills, who does a lot of my graphic design, playing a clawhammer banjo and I was like, that’s what I want to do. That’s a very Piedmont style of banjo.” Instead of falling into the local bluegrass scene, Cutler found himself in Greensboro’s Old Time scene.

Whereas bluegrass is dependent on an entire band to weave melodies, clawhammer style is like a simultaneous blend of melody and rhythm, very similar to flat-picked guitar. As Eye understand it, clawhammer differs from three-finger-style-guitar picking because the strings are being hammered, using the thumb and the back of the index or middle fingernail, making the hand look claw-like. Our very own multiple Grammy-winning artist Rhiannon Giddens plays clawhammer banjo in the Old Time music style.

Old Time was developed in the late 1800s into the ’20s and ’30s, whereas bluegrass didn’t really gain popularity until the 1940s. “UNCG has the Old Time Ensemble, and the Piedmont Old Time Society is based in Greensboro,” Cutler notes. “The Triad, with its proximity to the Blue Ridge, is a hub for the traditional clawhammer banjo-driven, Old Time music, which is a more rhythmic style than the finger-picking of bluegrass, a sound more predominant in the Triangle.”

You may have encountered Colin Cutler playing and singing while out in public. “I busk quite a bit,” Cutler says. “I started cutting my teeth playing at the farmers markets when I was living up in Virginia.” Recently he’s been busking at the Corner Market in Lindley Park (it has since moved to Sunset Hills), the Curb Market on Yanceyville and the Cobblestone Farmers Market in Winston. “Actually, that’s how I met my girlfriend.”

The art of busking goes back to ancient days. Many centuries ago, Geoffrey Chaucer captured that spirit in The Canterbury Tales, a grand tradition of troubadours wandering hither and yon, sharing stories and songs. “It’s a moment of vulnerability and intimacy that isn’t available when you’re on a stage,” he tells me. Cutler compares it to church bells, sort of setting a surround-sound rhythm: “The music is there for anyone who needs it or wants it, and it’s often a pleasant surprise what you get back from it.”

This summer Colin Cutler is spearheading the East of Nashville in the Round series in The Crown at the Carolina Theatre. “We’ve got it lined up monthly through September,” he tells me. “Basically a diverse group of songwriters from all over the region, a couple of locals and a couple of out-of-towners for each show.” Cutler’s June 19 event at The Crown will bring together Momma Molasses from Bristol, Tennessee, Greensboro local Matty Sheets and Emmanuel Winter out of Charlotte.

“That’ll be a cool mix,” Cutler says. “Emmanuel’s a bit more of a jazzy violin player who does a lot of looping and stuff. Matty’s very roots-based, but also moves into rock ‘n’ roll and punk. He’s very much a mainstay of the local scene.” Having recorded an untold number of albums, the ubiquitous Matty Sheet’s Open Mic Night, currently at The Green Bean downtown every Tuesday night, has been a local tradition for decades. “There’ll be musicians up on stage in the round. After one person plays one of their songs, the next person does their song and so on. Usually about a third or halfway through they get a feel for each other and start cracking jokes and telling stories. It’s a good time.”

Of special interest to me is Momma Molasses — aka Ella Patrick — a singer-songwriter originally from Carthage in Moore County, North Carolina, where she immersed herself in Piedmont Blues. She describes her style as, “Warbling county-folk, tear-in-your-beer ballads; toe-tapping, finger-picking and sweet soundin’.” Momma Molasses’ County Folk style is about as twangy as music gets, with loads of clutch-poppin’ fun, while at the same time conveying a level of sweet intimacy. Her rolling contralto warbling has been compared to Mother Maybelle Carter and early Janis Joplin. Check her out on ReverbNation.

In 2021, Colin Cutler released his latest album, Hot Pepper Jam. I asked about the significance of that title. “I did a lot of gardening when I was up in Virginia and then when I moved down here,” Cutler says. “And everything died but the hot pepper plants.” With an abundant crop, he began jamming in a different way to pass the time during the shutdown.

Thanks to a grant from Arts Greensboro, a new album is in the works for this fall, a collection of tunes based on Flannery O’Connor short stories. “It will be more acoustic, more towards blues rock. I’ve had a lot of interest from Flannery O’Connor scholars.” In fact, in May he sang some of his songs in the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival.

In addition to playing at East of Nashville in the Round at the The Crown on June 19 and July 17, Cutler — as he does periodically — will pull together a full band to perform at Gardens at Gray Gables in Summerfield on June 29. Earlier in June on the 22nd, he will be playing solo at Foothills Brewery in Winston-Salem. I’ll do my best to be there to enjoy the great chow, the laid-back atmosphere, Cutler’s clawhammering vibes and the crisp acoustics.  OH

This month Billy Eye releases a new book about Greensboro past and present, Eye on GSO, a compendium of past Wandering Billy columns from the last six years in O.Henry. Available at amazon.com or through your favorite bookstore.

Simple Life

The Incomplete Gardener

We dream and scheme — and forever learn

By Jim Dodson

Over the past five years, I’ve been building a garden in the old neighborhood where I grew up, a garden of shade and light beneath towering oaks, and my third effort at a major landscape project.

Each one has been distinctly different from the one before it. The first was a woodland retreat I built on 15 acres atop a sunny coastal hill in Maine, carved out of a beautiful forest of beech and birch. I was a new father when the gardening bug bit with emphasis, inspired by the British sporting estates and spectacular public botanical gardens I routinely visited in my work as a golf editor and outdoors correspondent for a pair of national magazines.

My children spent the first decade of their lives on that hilltop, living in a rugged post-and-beam house I built with my own hands and never expected to leave. It was, or so I told myself, my dream home and private garden sanctuary, the last place on earth I would abandon. My own growing obsession with gardening even inspired me to spend two years researching and writing a book about the horticulture world, the beautiful madness that overtakes those who fall in love with shaping landscape.

It was difficult to say goodbye to that little piece of heaven, but life changes when you least expect. That’s an important lesson of living. When I had an opportunity to come home to the South and teach writing at a top Virginia university and start a trio of arts magazines across my home state of North Carolina, I didn’t hesitate.

Next came a cottage on two acres in Pinehurst that we inhabited for a year with the full intention of buying. The property came with a charming but wildly overgrown garden and an aging swimming pool. Over a full year, I liberated a handsome serpentine brick fence, rebuilt the garden and enclosed the property with a new wooden fence and gate. We also updated the pool and enjoyed it for the span of one lovely summer. Our golden retriever, Ajax, particularly enjoyed the pool, taking himself for a dip every morning and floating for hours on his own air mattress.

The problem was the cottage. It was built over a forest swamp and turned out, upon the required inspection for sale, to have massive mold below decks. The entire structure had to be immediately evacuated and gutted. We took a bath on the deal, a gamble, and lost a small fortune. But such is life. One lives, learns and moves on.

The mid-century house we bought six years ago in the Piedmont city where I grew up was built by the Corry family — a beautiful California-style bungalow that was Big Al Corry’s dream house. Mama Corry was the last to live in it, and the family was thrilled when they learned we were buying it because I had grown up two doors away from the Corry boys.

As we approach six years on the grounds, restoration of the house is nearly complete. Sometime later this summer, after I finish the stone pathways and install a new wooden fence and gate, my latest woodland garden will be complete as well.

Or will it?

One of the lessons I’ve learned from building three ambitious gardens is that a garden is never complete — and neither is its creator.

We don’t just grow a garden. It continually grows us.

I think of this phenomenon as the garden within.

We scheme and dream, we build and revise, we learn from the past, forever growing.

As my friend Tony Avent, the gifted Raleigh plantsman once told me during the five weeks we spent together hunting aboriginal plants in the upland wilds of South Africa, no garden — or gardener — is ever complete.

“You’re not really a serious gardener until you’ve killed a lot of innocent plants,” he pointed out, “and learned from the experience. You just have to get down in the dirt and do it.”

I blame verdure in the bloodstream and dirt beneath my fingernails for this earthly addiction, probably a legacy of the old Piedmont family of rural farmers, gardeners and preachers from Alamance and Orange counties that I hail from. When I was a kid, both my parents were devoted amateur landscape gardeners. My father’s thing was lawns and shrubs, and my mother was widely admired for her spectacular peonies and roses come May and June.

A few years back, about the time Ajax the dog was enjoying his daily floats in a swimming pool we rebuilt but never owned, a lovely woman who purchased my family’s home got in touch. She was planning to sell the house in order to move into a senior adult community — and wouldn’t I like to come and dig up some of my mom’s spectacular peonies?

I thanked her and promised I would soon drop by, shovel in hand. But, sadly, I got so busy with work and travel, I failed to get there before the house was sold and the peony row was plowed under by the new owners.

Another life lesson from the garden — everything in life has an expiration date. Delay may cost regret.

But sometimes, when you least expect it, another opportunity comes along, a chance for more growth.

This latest garden saved my sanity during the lost days of the COVID pandemic. It’s designed for hot summer days now upon us, cooled by more than 20 flowering trees I’ve planted around the property, creating my version of an urban woodland retreat — a Scottish vale, as I imagine it — where birds gather to feed each evening and the aging gardener sits with a fine bourbon in hand, still scheming and dreaming.

In the meantime, this month, the new peony row I planted last summer in memory of my mom — using the same small wooden-handled pot she used to plant things in her garden — should really be something to see.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

Home by Design

Better My Biscuit

A mother and daughter come together over a happy meal

By Cynthia Adams

Mama was a big reader, and we talked books until her end. Her bedroom was overtaken by John Grisham novels. Yet cookbooks and cooking became her favorite topics of conversation.

Digesting cookbooks is a distinct pleasure. Writer Ruth Reichl beguiled the most reluctant cooks with purring, perfect prose, that lured us into the kitchen.

Our family kitchen was a soul-killing level of ugliness, with appliances, counter tops and linoleum flooring all matching in a lurid avocado-green. The wall phone was the color of canned peas. Stark fluorescence meant none of that greenness could hide. Still, Mama failed to see the point of modern, sculptural kitchens — ones with cavernous fridges, sky lights, waterfall counters and commercial stoves “But nobody cooks!” she would splutter.

What Mama saw were hot ovens and years spent rolling out biscuit dough and making gravy.

Our kitchen was poorly equipped, given that she produced as much food as the equivalent of a small cafeteria: No double ovens nor toaster oven. No microwave, because, well, radiation. The fridge was small, requiring manual defrosting. When the dishwasher died, Dad refused to waste good money repairing it, claiming “we have plenty of dishwashers” — giving us daughters a hard stare.

Otherwise liberal, he was a chauvinist pig on the topic of women and cooking, once lamenting I would never marry unless I found a man who did not like to eat.

“Or find someone much older,” he advised. “A lot older. He won’t expect you to cook.”

Mama had married a man who did expect cooking. On rotation were dishes meant to sate hearty appetites. She made her version of spaghetti sauce, supplemented by glugs of catsup when low on tomato sauce (also deployed in meat loaves that bobbed in bubbling fat). She concocted vats of chow mein, a peculiar church cookbook interpretation no Asian person would recognize. Pot roasts, chicken and “stew beef” were tenderized in a pressure cooker.

Mostly, Mama fried fish, chicken and pork, seldom draining fat. On Saturday, Dad grilled marbled steaks, giving her a break. By the time Dad’s arteries shut down at age 61, Mama had already moved on, done with life as a short order cook. She later moved to a Cornelius townhouse nearer grandchildren, acquiring a galley kitchen painted a buttery yellow. At 91, Mama now survived on Boost, ice cream sandwiches and dainty cubes of Cheddar cheese impaled on toothpicks. We began bringing her McDonald’s biscuits over her protests. When my brothers visited, she still felt the urge to pull out the rolling pin and make biscuits. Mama grew so slight and weak, she sometimes fell backwards opening the oven. One visit, I mentioned that humorist Rick Bragg was in Athens, Georgia while I was working there, promoting “The Best Cook in the World,” honoring his own mother, Margaret.

Mama shot an arch look. “So, I know you don’t think I’m the best cook in the world,” she said, fishing. Clearing my throat, I recited her greatest hits: chocolate cake, ambrosia, corn soup and the McClellan family vegetable soup.

“You hate my biscuits,” she accused.

“I’m not a biscuit person, Mom,” I said — a rookie mistake.

“I’m not either,” she retorted testily, “but that didn’t stop me from getting up and making them for five children. Every. Single. Morning.”

Years ago, I blurted out my preference for — wait for it — toast.

“Your mother made canned biscuits, because real ones were too much trouble,” I ventured. But Mama was not in a fighting mood. Instead, she laughed over Bragg’s devotion to the cuisine of Possum Trot, Alabama.

“You know,” she confided, her voice quaking as if she was about to betray a state secret. “McDonald’s sausage biscuit is really not bad at all. I actually like them.”

Her eyes widened. And we collapsed into giggles as if this were easily the funniest joke in all the world.  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry.