Sazerac February 2024

Sazerac February 2024

Sage Gardener

With Valentine’s Day coming up, the Sage Gardener has been sitting by a crackling fire, reading about aphrodisiacs and anaphrodisiacs, to which The Cambridge World History of Food devotes 12 quarto-sized pages. (Anaphrodisiacs? Substances and foods that blunt sexual appetite — of particular interest to clerical scholars during the Middle Ages in respect to randy monks, friars and priests.) But back to plants and foods that encourage amorous behavior, as seen on the big screen when Tom Jones meets Mrs. Waters in a country inn and gastro-lust ensues.

Who knew, for instance, that sparrow brains were prized in 16th century England for their lascivious attributes? Granted, goddess of love Aphrodite considered them sacred and that they’re infamous for their uninhibited and public displays of affection — but sparrow brains? And sweet potatoes? Once upon a time, again in Jolly Old England, they were prized as “the venereous root,” probably because of their scarcity (or appearance?). Which is likely why so many once-exotic but now-every-day spices (cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, gloves, cinnamon and even pepper) were prized as aphrodisiacs. (I certainly see no effects from the gallons of chai I drink every morning.) I also learned that the French ate three meals of asparagus the day before their weddings as a libido booster. And that beets are a natural source of tryptophan, betaine and boron, something that’s hard to beet in the vegetable world.

I came of age in the ’50s and ’60s, when, as Jane and Michael Stern observe in their classic American Gourmet, “culinary sophistication conferred great powers of seduction on the gourmet.” Books such as Saucepan and the Single GirlVenus in the KitchenThe Naked Chef and Love and Dishes have, over the years, fueled amorous fires in so many bellies and hearts. The Sterns remember fondly how setting victuals ablaze — from flaming chunks of meat skewered on a sword to, look it up, coffee set on fire — kindles something primitive deep down in our psyches. And remember Swiss fondue and America’s obsession with oh-so-saucy-and-sexy French cuisine? It was an era when Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown wrote, “There is a relationship between food and sex. One appetite can feed the other in a never-ending cycle of sensation.” (Was it any wonder that my wife-to-be and I bonded on a picnic featuring roast duck and homemade gingerbread?) The Oxford Companion to Food confirmed what my decades of dining suggest — that “the concept of finding a truly aphrodisiac food is on a par with that of finding a crock of gold at the end of the rainbow.” However, there are few tried-and-true favorites my kitchen mate and I put on the table for anniversaries, birthdays and other special occasions.

Is there a more sensuous food than ripe strawberries, especially if you share a few double berries, taking just a half bite and sealing the deal with a sweet meeting of the lips? The botanical name for chocolate, Theobromo (food of the gods) cacao, is apt not only because of its stimulating chemicals, such as phenylethylamine and serotonin, but from the sheer sensual pleasure of having something melt in your mouth as it triggers endorphins in your brain. Teething and savoring the soft flesh of steamed artichoke petals, dipped in butter, is a sensuous ritual, as is dipping lobster into melted butter. And how about butter on just about anything? And then there are oysters, plucked steaming and sizzling from beneath a burlap sack atop a sheet of steel over a roaring fire — popped open and slurped with just a dash of tangy Texas Pete.

I could go on, but in an era when men and women endlessly troll the internet and haunt doctors’ offices looking for love, something a London physician observed in the 16th century comes to mind: “A good cook is half physician.”

                                      David Claude Bailey

A Heartfelt Cause? You bet

Six years ago in “The Light Within Us,” O.Henry writers highlighted several local individuals and organizations who were sprinkling Greensboro with goodness ( We recently caught up with Kathleen Little, who cofounded Hands for Hearts in memory of her son, Matthew Sullivan. Sullivan passed away in January 2014, a decade ago. At the time of his death, Sullivan, just 34, held a tight bond with his toddler nephew, Nicholas LaRose, who was born with multiple heart defects. To support children — like Nicholas — with congenital heart defects and to carry on the legacy of a young man who had “a heart that went on for days,” according to best friend Skotty Wannamaker, Hands for Hearts was brought to life. Now, 10 years after forming, the nonprofit organization is still beating strong. In fact, last year, Hands for Hearts took home the 2023 Duke Children’s Hero Award. Wanna take a gamble on how you can help? Practice your poker face and chip in for its annual Casino Night from 6 p.m.–midnight on Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Greensboro Country Club. Food, drinks, silent and live auctions, plus classic casino games? Count us in. Tickets:

Unsolicited Advice

Fun fact: Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, hails from North Carolina and served as minister for over 50 years at Cavalry Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. Since Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, we’ve come up with some ideas to help you show your feelings, no matter which language your partner speaks.

Words of Affirmation: There are just three little words your partner is longing to hear. “You were right.”

Quality Time: How about a movie night? You’ll spend almost an hour discussing what flick to pick only to decide there’s not enough time left to watch said film. But, hey, that was a good 45 minutes together.

Physical Touch: Big spoon, little spoon? Nah, give ‘em something less expected. High five, low five. Nothing says romance like a “Put it there, bruh.”

Acts of Service: Do you remember that Mr. Clean Super Bowl ad that went viral in 2017? Google it. The point is, there’s nothing sexier than someone else cleaning your house. Nothing.

Receiving Gifts: You are a gift. Remember that. And make sure your partner knows that, too.

Window to the Past

Photograph © Greensboro History Museum Collection

Milling around? A family poses on the porch of their house in one of the Cone mill villages. From the exterior, this house is almost a spitting image of the Glencoe mill home featured on page 60. Can you spot the major difference?

Chaos Theory

Chaos Theory


A surprising engagement

By Cassie Bustamante

I don’t like surprises — unless I suspect they’re coming — in which case, it’s no longer actually a surprise, eh? I am 100 percent that person who will go snooping in my husband’s side of the closet, riffling through his drawers as a stratagem to keep myself totally unsurprised. Chris has known this from early on in our relationship and has mastered the workaround.

So let’s rewind to Christmas, 2002, when we’d been together for almost three years — three years that involve me hopping from North Carolina to Tennessee, from Texas to Louisiana, following him around while living in sin. After dropping hints for almost two years, I decide it’s time to put a ring on it. When you know, you know.

But Chris, ever the practical Virgo, likes to have things clearly mapped before making big moves. Me? Once I’ve made up my mind, I leap and figure out the rest on the way.

When he asks me for Christmas gift ideas that year, I hand-write an elaborate list that reads something like this: “waffle iron, The Nanny Diaries, ring, bread machine, In Her Shoes, ring, J. Crew top, ring. . . ” On it goes, an exhaustive list of things he knows are marginal — kitchen appliances, books I can buy myself, random items of clothing — and the thing I really want repeated so many times it can’t be missed.

We’re spending our first Christmas alone, just the two of us and our beagle, Charlie. Chris is working and can’t get away to visit the parents and I’ve opted to stay with him in our New Orleans apartment. But I am OK with it because I know my ring is coming and, while I’m certainly not getting a Lexus, it’s going to be “a December to remember.”

In fact, a mysterious package — with “Do not open until Christmas” in his mom’s handwriting — arrives earlier in the month for Chris. I think I know what’s inside, but there’s no way to stealthily open and reseal it. Trust me, I would if I could.

On Christmas Eve, we share a romantic meal I’ve prepared of duck à l’orange, whipped rosemary mashed potatoes, a simple tossed salad and warm, crusty rolls. We pair it with a chilled pinot grigio. For dessert, a decadent apple pie. The apartment smells of citrus and cinnamon, just as it should at the holidays.

Christmas morning comes and I drag Chris out of bed, anticipating the diamond awaiting me. Instead, I unwrap every single book, sweater and kitchen gadget from my list. What’s not there? A ring.

Disappointed, I distract myself by breaking in the brand-new waffle iron, a top-notch Williams-Sonoma one at that, but this meal is not like the night before. I’m quietly fuming, the air of romance evaporated.

“Everything OK?” Chris asks.

“Fine,” I offer. It’s the answer I give when everything is, in fact, anything but.

He looks at me, but I avoid eye contact. “Anything I can do?”


We clean up in silence and Chris tells me he’s going to shower.

“Fine,” I mutter again and slink to the sofa to pout while sappy Christmas movies featuring happily married couples play on the TV.

Fifteen minutes later, I hear Chris enter the room, but don’t look up.

“Are you sure there isn’t anything I can do to make you feel better?” he asks.

“Nope,” I repeat. “Nothing.”

He approaches the couch and stands over me. “How about this?” In his hand he holds a small black box. Inside is a simple gold band with a single diamond. His great-grandmother’s, he tells me.

Holding back tears, I punch him in the arm, saying, “You’re such a jerk, but I love you.” He smirks, pleased with himself that he’s managed to surprise me after all.

As I write this story, I have to laugh at myself. I wouldn’t marry me — I was the jerk. But, 22 years later, we’re still going strong. So is our waffle iron. Some things were just made to last.  OH

Cassie Bustamante is editor of O.Henry magazine.

Simple Life

Simple Life

Winter Dad, Summer Son

How’s the weather? Depends on who you ask

By Jim Dodson

My son, Jack, phoned the other afternoon as I was enjoying an ounce of something superbly aged and watching from my favorite wooden chair under the trees as winter birds fed. It was a clear but cold afternoon, the kind I like. This day was also special in another way as well.

“Hey, Dad,” he said. “How’s it going?”

“Pretty well,” I said. “I finished the book today.”

“Congratulations,” he said. “I know that’s a big relief. Can’t wait to read it.”

“At this point you might be the only one,” I joked, pointing out that my editor at Simon & Schuster has probably given up on the book and forgotten my name.

“Oh no,” he said. “It’ll be just fine. You always say that.”

He was right about this. I’m naturally superstitious about completing books. They’re a little like children you spend years rearing, hoping you got things right, only to send them off into the wide world with gratitude and not a little worry. This was my 18th literary child, one I’d grown unusually close to over the years. Now this special child was about to leave me.

The book, a true labor of love, is about a pilgrimage I took along the Great Wagon Road, which my Scottish, German and English ancestors took to North Carolina. Foolishly, I thought I’d travel the historic Colonial road from Philadelphia to Georgia in roughly three weeks and take a couple more years to write about the interesting people I met along with whatever I learned about America, or myself.

In fact, it took nearly six years to complete the project, counting the two years off the road due to COVID. Even so, I was pleased to have finished the book, though — as is almost always the case — I felt a bit sad that the experience was over. Its fate was almost out of my hands.

So, I switched to our usual topic — the weather.

“How’s the weather there?” I asked.

“Great. Hot and sunny. Just the way I like it. How about there?”

“Cold and clear. Maybe some snow on the weekend. Just the way I like it.”

Jack laughed. “I always forget that. How much you love winter.”

My only son is a journalist and documentary filmmaker living in Lima, Peru, where, as you read this, it’s late summer. Before that, he spent nearly four years living and working in Israel, enjoying the heat and people of that ancient, violently contested land. Fortunately, he left a short time before the latest unspeakably horrible war between Israel and the Hamas terrorists erupted, an event straight from the pages of the Old Testament.

I knew he was worried about friends back in Israel and Gaza and wished he was back there helping to cover the war, where more than a dozen journalists have been killed. His mother, old man and big sister, however, were grateful that he wasn’t one of them.

In a world that forever seems to be coming apart at the seams, for the moment at least, I was glad that he was in sunny and warm Peru, a place I almost cannot imagine, but must be quite beautiful. Jack is fluent in Spanish and Arabic, a true traveler of the world.

Though I speak only English and enough French to get me in trouble whenever I visit France, he and I have many things in common — with one notable exception.

Jack was born on a warm August morning in Maine. He thrives in the heat and is an authentic son of summer, a northern New Englander who digs tropical heat and desert landscapes.

I was born on a cold, snowy morning in Washington, D.C., where my dad worked for the newspaper, a true-blue son of winter who thrives in early evening darkness, bone-chilling winds and lots of snow, a Southerner who could happily reside in Lapland, wherever that is. (I just googled it. Lapland is in Northern Finland. One of its largest towns is Santa Claus Village. Count me in!)

How upside down is that?

On the other hand, perhaps we’re simply fated to be this way. The ancient Greeks claimed unborn souls choose the time and place of their birth. Jack clearly picked the hottest part of summer to make his appearance, like his mama, a mid-July baby.

My mom was born in late January, traditionally the coldest part of winter. My birthday in February follows hers by just five days. She loved winter almost as much as I do. Jack’s big sister, Maggie, was born during a January blizzard. The morning we  brought her home from the hospital, I had to slide down a steep, snowy hill with her in my arms in order to reach our cozy cottage on the coast, as the unplowed roads were all impassable due to the heavy snow. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. Though she resides in Los Angeles today, I think she loves good, snowy winters almost as much as her old man.

Not surprisingly, we winter people are a relatively tiny tribe. A recent study of people in Britain determined that only 7 percent of its citizens claimed to be “winter people.” Then again, summer in Britain can sometimes feel like an endlessly cold and soggy winter day, one reason you find so many sun-burned Brits residing on the Costa de Sol and the Mediterranean at large.

University of Pennsylvania psychologist and author Seth Gillihan studies the effect of weather on people’s moods. In his book, A Mindful Year, he notes that there is a positive link between someone’s birth and preferred season. “People who are born in the winter, their internal clock seems to be set to the length of days in the winter,” he told

The internal clock of so-called winter people, he adds, “is not as affected as someone who’s born in the summer, whose circadian rhythm (the body’s 24-hour ‘internal clock’) is expecting a longer light period.” Among other things, he aims to debunk popular misconceptions about the so-called “winter blues,” pointing out that seasonal affective disorder — SAD for short — affects only a small percentage of the populations, less than 3 percent in the UK.

The idea that people who live in warm, sunny places are naturally happier than folks who reside in cold climates is challenged, he adds, by data that indicates Europe’s northernmost countries with the longest winters — Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden — rank among the continent’s seven happiest countries.

In a few weeks, North Carolina winter will begin to slip away. The welcome winter snows of my childhood here seem fewer than ever. The good news is that, by February’s end, my garden will be springing back to life, heralding my second-favorite time of year.

Winter will be coming on in Peru. I’m hoping my summer-loving son will decide to come home to share its glorious return with me.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

Wandering Billy

Wandering Billy

Hiding in Plain Sight

Seventy-five years of Lawndale Shopping Center and the oldest bar in Greensboro

By Billy Ingram

“He realized suddenly that it was one thing to see the past occupying the present, but the true test of prescience was to see the past in the future.”   — Frank Herbert, Dune

Seventy-five years ago, southbound transients riding the rails typically leapt from open boxcars around Cornwallis Drive as locomotives slowed their roll into Greensboro city limits. In 1949, those so-called “hobos” would have undoubtedly been surprised to encounter a row of storefronts that was rapidly devouring a major portion of a wooded oasis they’d been bivouacking in for decades. To accommodate this nascent shopping center, the city extended a boulevard running parallel to the tracks that previously began at Cornwallis, a street once known as Fairfield, rechristened in the 1920s as “Lawndale.”

A further encroachment on their leafy lair — directly behind that emerging retail corridor overlooking Irving Park Elementary — was a collection of handsome duplexes under construction on Dellwood Drive and a freshly carved cul-de-sac called Branch Court.

By the time I started third grade in the 1960s, that emerging shopping center from 1949 had become a bustling Lawndale Shopping Center. As an 8-year-old, I was expected to walk to my home on Hill Street from Irving Park Elementary, a 1.5-mile trek. Yes, uphill both ways and it snowed year-round. On school days, a quarter rested in my pocket to pay for cafeteria slop, but I skipped lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those days, new comic books were released, 25 cents being the exact amount required to buy two DCs (12 cents each with a penny tax). So as soon as the bell rang, I’d hightail it in the opposite direction of our house, to Lawndale Shopping Center.

Lawndale Shopping Center was a genteel, modestly upscale row of clothing stores, druggists, hair salons and neighborhood taverns in the mid-’60s, a lineup practically unchanged from the very beginning.

Entering Lawndale Shopping Center from Sunset, past Bill Blake’s Texaco, was Mr. & Mrs. Q-Ball (Elizabeth’s Pizza today), erected a full decade after the strip was fully completed in 1954. This was the city’s first and only co-ed pool hall, open until midnight and decorated in space-age splendor with blue-and-tangerine gaming tables, a pink-tiled ladies lounge and gleaming vending machines surrounding multicolored, molded plastic seating.

Nearby was The Pied Pier Lounge (Boo Radley’s Tavern now). When the waitress at Brown-Gardiner’s lunch counter left to tend bar there, it ignited a cause célèbre. That place was widely known to be a (gasp!) gay bar, although no such place was allowed to legally exist.

A few doors down was my fave place growing up, Franklin Drug Store (a Hookah lounge in 2024 — wait, what?!?). With seven locations around town, Franklin’s at Lawndale was almost 10,000 square feet, packed with nearly anything a kid could desire: a soda shop, two comic book spinner racks fronting rows and rows of magazines and paperbacks surrounding the opening for an escalator, which led to a cavernous toy store below that sold everything seen on the teevee and more.

Mom’s favorite clothing boutique was Gin-Ettes (Acme Comics today), specializing in the Mary Tyler Moore look during the 1970s. Sadly, that boutique closed in the late-1990s after more than 50 years. The optometrist’s office now next door was The Briar Patch, where I picked out my back-to-school Lacoste shirts as a preteen. My bristles were buzzed for the first time by Gilmer (Ed) Jones at Lawndale Barber Shop (it’s been the Hair Shop for decades).

For the most part, if you lived in Irving or Latham Park, your drug store of choice was either Brown-Gardiner or my parent’s preference, advantageously located in the Lawndale Shopping Center, Crutchfield-Browning, both offering speedy delivery and charge accounts so mom’s lithium ’script never ran out. And the liquor store was right next door to the drug store — how convenient? Both were located under what is currently the Hannah’s Bridge sign.

The Big Bear Super Market (“The Thrifty Store That Saves You More!”) anchoring this retail daisy-chain wasn’t just air-conditioned in the summer; it was refrigerated, a veritable meat locker. As soon as bare feet hit that store’s frosty Formica floor, you were engulfed in bone-chilling frigidity, no matter how hot it got outside.

Every purchase at Big Bear earned shoppers a scratch-off ticket listing three horses competing in three races in that Saturday’s 6 p.m. broadcast of Off To The Races on WFMY. If one of your designated nags came in first, you got $100; place and show netted a few bucks or S&H Green Stamps. Every week there was a fresh list with dozens of local winners posted.

Despite original tenant Scruggs Florists closing very recently, there is some comforting continuity. For instance, Head Hunter Salon has been styling and profiling in the same location for an impressive 50 years.

Surprisingly, there is one remaining original tenant from 1949: Lawndale Drive-In, by far the oldest bar in Greensboro, once a popular watering hole for Irving Park businessmen wishing to avoid country club stuffiness. This was affectionately known in those days as Mrs. Mac’s, referring to owner and barkeep Bernice McCloskey, whose husband founded this saloon in 1942 in a more rural setting before relocating here seven years later. After his untimely death, she became LDI’s proprietress.

Lawndale Drive-In was a happy hour bar then and it still is, only open from 4–10 p.m. on weekdays, longer hours on weekends. I vividly recall wandering past this joint en route to Crutchfield-Browning as a youngster, oftentimes to pickup Mother’s tampons and other icky stuff (how embarrassing!). Seemed like that barroom door was always open, the afternoon sun illuminating an unbroken row of men seated at the bar. I wondered then, “Can you make money doing that?”

My last visit was some 20 years ago, but what I discovered on a recent visit to Lawndale Drive-In is a proper but casual dive bar, populated primarily with long-time regulars who made this stranger feel welcome. A back patio was added in the 2000s when the place changed hands, but not much else is different from back in the day. LDI’s grandfathered-in decor and weathered wooden bar lends an air of warmth to the surroundings. More importantly, the beer is served refreshingly ice cold.

Is there more comfort in familiarity than in any contempt that it might breed? Looking back, a wealth of memories are triggered by Sach’s Shoe Store, G.I. 1200 surplus store, Sports & Hobbies Unlimited, Lawndale Music House, Warren’s Toyland, Piedmont Jewelers and Straughan’s Book Shop.

Well into the 1990s, randos could be found guzzling Thunderbird in what was left of the woods between Lawndale and Branch Court. There’s hardly a tree surviving today. And so what if pedal pushers and penny loafers have given way to hookahs and THC dispensaries? Lawndale Shopping Center remains to this day a disparate collage of locally owned enterprises, precisely as it always has been for three quarters of a century now.  OH

Billy Ingram wishes to dedicate this article to the late Linda Spainhour Cummings, a very talented artist and poet who will be fondly remembered at Page High’s 50-year reunion of the class of ’74.

Almanac February 2024

Almanac February 2024

February wakes us gently.

Deep in our late-winter slumber, we dream of wild violets and dandelions; the return of hummingbirds; the green and quivering kiss of spring.

Swaddled in ancient stillness, our hearts ache for warm earth and fragrant blossoms; snap peas and crimson clover; chorus frogs and velvet-soft grass. February knows. Still, we mustn’t be ripped from this rich and fertile darkness. We mustn’t be startled, forced or rushed.

As the pink breath of dawn illuminates a leafless kingdom, a barred owl pierces the silence with a rousing incantation. Within our womb-like chrysalis, we shift and wriggle, reaching for our wild longings, tilting our face toward the beckoning sun. Prayers for patience on her tongue, the wise one lets us sleep, stroking our hair as we flit between worlds.

Soon, the cardinal will sing of bloodroot, crocus and flowering quince. Soon, a mourning cloak will flutter among the bleak and frigid landscape.

As we drift toward this vernal threshold, February invites us to linger. She knows that our souls require deep rest. She trusts our natural rhythm. She softly guides a sunbeam to our winter-weary bones.

The bluebird scouts a nesting site. The red fox grooms her kits. As sure as the daffodils rise from naked earth, we will open our eyes, awakened by the quickening pulse of our inner spring.

I know him, February’s thrush,
And loud at eve he valentines
On sprays that paw the naked bush
Where soon will sprout the thorns and bines.   

— George Meredith,
    “The Thrush in February,” c.1885

Outside the (Chocolate) Box

There are flowers, and there is fruit. But if you’re looking to dazzle your green-thumbed sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, consider gifting a fruit tree, which ultimately offers both.

Apple, fig, persimmon, pear and plum are among the recommended fruit bearers for our state. Choose cultivars that thrive in the particular soil and climate you’re working with, plant it with a kiss, then let the tree enchant the gardener year after year.

Year of the Dragon

The Chinese (Lunar) New Year is celebrated on Saturday, Feb. 10. Get ready for the Year of the Wood Dragon, the last of which delivered Beatlemania and the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

If ever you’ve heard “The Great Race” fable — that is, how the Jade Emperor determined the sequence of the 12 animals associated with the Chinese calendar — then perhaps you recall the honorable qualities of the dragon (fifth sign of the zodiac), who stopped to help the creatures of the Earth rather than easefully crossing the finish line first. Those born under the Year of the Wood Dragon are the wayshowers. They’re here to dream up a better world, and have the vigor and drive to roll up their sleeves and get the job done.  OH



A Rare Winter Visitor

Keep an eye out for the snow bunting

By Susan Campbell

No bird in North America conjures up an image of midwinter like the snow bunting. These open country birds of the North are well adapted to cold and snow, as their name implies. The species is migratory and so may be found in the northern half of the U.S. in winter. Individuals are not at all a common sight this far south. However, they may show up here and there during the colder months. So, it is good to be aware — and know what to look for.

Snow buntings breed in rocky areas on the tundra during the late spring and summer. They nest in crevices between rocks, using moss and down to create a soft cup. In the fall, when temperatures plummet and the days shorten, these birds take off in a southerly direction for more hospitable locations. Typically, they show up in weedy fields and along lakeshores, but they can also be found at the coast on sandy beaches.

These birds typically have more white plumage in the summer — especially the males. This is the result of feather wear (not different feathers) during the cooler months after a post-breeding-season molt. Males are white with black backs, wingtips and tail tips. Females are grayish, but even they have white bellies and flanks. In winter, their plumage contains brownish hues such that they blend in well with the vegetation, as well as the sand or soil in their preferred feeding habitat. They are truly birds of the ground and so are rarely seen perched in trees or on wires. In flight, they are quite distinctive year-round with large white wing patches and white rumps. And if traveling with others, they will produce an array of odd, loud noises: They may rattle, buzz and/or twitter.

Single snow buntings may be easily overlooked. They do not tend to flush until the last second. Between the fact that they are so well camouflaged and that they tend to be silent, they are often missed even at close range. Furthermore, they are not typically found at feeding stations, preferring larger natural areas to backyards.

Although there have been no reports of these special little birds sighted in central North Carolina yet this season, there has been a flock of up to two dozen on the Outer Banks this winter. They have been observed feeding on the seeds of sea oats and other dune grasses since early December on the south side of Oregon Inlet. If you happen to be out that way in the next several weeks, you may be able to find them. Flocks may move around frequently, leapfrogging over one another as they search for their next meal. Simply stroll the dunes watching for movement around the vegetation, and be sure to listen for their raspy calls. The group sticks together by frequently vocalizing. Keep an ear out and you may be rewarded with a glimpse of this rare winter visitor. OH

Susan Campbell would love to hear from you. Feel free to send questions or wildlife observations to

Home Grown

Home Grown

And Just Like That…

I learned sologamy is a thing

Kicker: Marrying yourself is called sologamy. Self-marriage is legal in all 50 states. Yet it took a 5-year-old to tip me off.

By Cynthia Adams

While hacking at a tangle of ivy and Virginia creeper, our neighbor, Warren, approached the fence. He swung a toy sword while wearing the expression of someone who wanted to unburden himself.

When I complimented his red kicks, he solemnly nodded, his blonde curls bouncing, and studied his feet as if surprised to find them there.

His small fingers reached through the chain link fence to pet Patch, our Schnauzer. Generally friendly, Patch responded with a small growl, even as his tail wagged happily.

Like kids, dogs are unpredictable.

“Sorry, Warren,” I apologized. “He’s grouchy today.” 

“So is Baxter,” he pointed out, nodding. Baxter, a wire-haired rescue, is mercurial. We worked hard to end incessant fence fighting between Bax and Warren’s two dachshunds.

“How’s preschool going?” I asked, still weeding. Wrong topic.

He muttered something unintelligible. His frown deepened. Muddling along, I gathered the little guy was interested in planting vegetables. “Plant some popcorn,” I suggested, trying to elicit a laugh.

“You can’t grow popcorn!” Warren replied. But, after thinking, he changed his mind and his face brightened. “It’s corn!” 

So, I suggested he grow popsicles.

“You can’t grow those!” he protested, spluttering. Warren was a tough audience. “You have to go to the South Pole to get popsicles!” Nonetheless, he agreed to include me in his next polar order.

Garden and snacks exhausted, I again broached the subject of school. One girl in particular seemed to dominate Warren’s thoughts, but he struggled to explain how. I’ll call her Julia.

I gathered that Julia perplexed him — naturally, irritation can mask fascination between the sexes.

“You know what she said?” he asked, frowning and walloping a magnolia with his sword, venting his frustration. 

What might a precocious girl say? I couldn’t guess.

“She said Obama married himself.” He gave the tree trunk another hearty stab before fixing me with a long look. Waiting.

I mumbled, “Is that right?” 

Warren muttered something to the intractable magnolia, not bending to his will, and lashed it once again. 

“That doesn’t sound right to me,” I said, trying to read Warren’s reactions. “You can’t marry yourself.”

This was comic fodder. My mind flashed to a TV show from the 1960s, The Linkletter Show. It was the sort of comment Art Linkletter drew when interviewing kids ages 5–10 for a popular segment called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” 

But Warren had me thinking. 

Beyonce’s song, “All the Single Ladies,” pointed to a clue: Single women have long outnumbered married ones in the U.S. and in the U.K. 

Seems that sologamy, self-marriage, self-partnering had many names, and was legal and well documented.

When and where it began is unclear, but, in a 2003 episode of the dramedy Sex and the City, the main character, Carrie Bradshaw, declared she would just marry herself. Ostensibly to fight the unmarried woman stigma. Of course, that was fictional. Real life examples weren’t hard to find and include:

Supermodel Adriana Lima said “I do to me” in Monaco in 2017.

Actress Emma Watson “self-partnered” in 2019. 

Also, closer to home, American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino (from High Point) embraced sologamy by putting a ring on her own finger. Barrino later married Kendall Taylor — which self-marrieds can do — in 2015.

Bigamy? No. The self-married can legally other-marry.   

Singletons going the self-marriage route may or may not wear a wedding gown, may or may not buy themselves a nice ring, and may or may not have a wedding cake for their big day. But they report feeling affirmed, ready to vow eternal love henceforth. 

To themselves. 

“This is not a Bridget Jones-like tragic story,” wrote Ariane Sherine in a Spectator piece entitled “Marriage for One” four years ago. “If we can’t find a knight in shining armor, we make alternative arrangements.” 

Warren, abandoning his sword, was now on his trampoline, whooping and hollering. I mopped my brow, observing his spring-loaded joy, which didn’t require another to be complete.   

Perhaps young Julia’s wouldn’t either.

It was a new time.

Knight be damned.  OH

Cynthia Adam is a contributing editor to O.Henry magazine.

Tea Leaf Astrologer

Tea Leaf Astrologer


(January 20 – February 18)

Let’s be honest: The foundation is crumbling. So, too, are the walls. That’s Pluto in Aquarius for you, and for the next 20 years, the planet of destruction, death and rebirth will shake us to our collective core. You were, quite literally, born to show us a new way forward. When the North Node of Destiny links up with Chiron (the wounded healer) on February 19, there’s no stopping you from sharing your weirdest, wildest imaginings out loud. Bring on the renaissance, space cake.

Tea leaf “fortunes” for the rest of you:

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

A box of chocolates, minus the gooey, pink nougat.

Aries (March 21 – April 19) 

Three words: milk of magnesia.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

There’s more than one way to peel an orange.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

Try not to scare off the neighbors.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

Apply rose water.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

Gentle pressure will suffice. 

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

Soften the muscles in your face.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

What if there isn’t a wrong way?

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

Best not to skim the fine print.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

If you can’t laugh at yourself, there’s work to do yet.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Tighten your bootstraps.  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.

Art of the State

Art of the State

Feature image: Cham (Encounter No.9), 2023, Hand cut silk, acrylic, canvas mounted on wall, 84 x 120 in.


Sculpture in Silk

Kenny Nguyen’s unique medium weaves tradition with ingenuity

By Liza Roberts

“Every time I start a piece, I imagine there’s a body underneath it,” says Quoctrung Kenny Nguyen, a former fashion designer who makes rippling, three-dimensional sculptures out of paint-soaked silk. “Instead, there’s this absence of a body, in sculptural form. I think it’s beautiful like that.”

Torn into strips, dredged in paint and affixed to unstretched canvas, Nguyen’s silk segments fuse to become a malleable but sturdy material that he molds with his hands and pins in place. Every time he hangs a piece, he changes the pin placement — and with it the object’s shape, shadow and energy. Some have a “more architectural feel,” others are more organic.

These works explore and illustrate Nguyen’s experience with reinvention, cultural displacement, isolation and identity. His chosen material — with its direct ties to the cultural history of his native Vietnam, where the fabric is revered and traditional “silk villages” keep ancient production techniques alive — is a key component. “Identity is changing all the time,” he says, “and the work keeps evolving, in a continuous transformation.” It all begins with the fabric in his hands. “Silk is already a transformation: from the silkworm, to the silk thread, to a piece of silk. So it’s holding a metaphor.” More than one: “People see silk as a very delicate thing,” he says, “but actually it’s one of the strongest fibers on earth.”

Right: Encounter Series No.5, 2023, Hand cut silk, acrylic, canvas mounted on wall, (Approx.) 72 x 120 in.


Nguyen’s work has earned him solo exhibitions and dozens of awards, residencies, grants and fellowships all over the world. It began to take off commercially in a big way during the pandemic, when he began using Instagram to share images of his pieces, and after Los Angeles-based Saatchi Art named him a Rising Star of 2020, one of the 35 “best young artists to collect” under the age of 35 from around the world. He now has art consultants and galleries representing his work all over the country and in Europe, and has had to move his studio out of the garage of his family home and into a former textile mill to keep up with demand. He no longer works alone, with three assistants (all art students from UNC Charlotte) helping him with prep work, photography and studio management. His biggest challenge is no longer finding an audience; it’s managing the business.

Nguyen couldn’t have imagined this kind of success when he immigrated here in 2010 from Ho Chi Minh City with his family. He was 19 and had a BFA in fashion design from the University of Architecture Ho Chi Minh City. But he couldn’t find a job and spoke no English. “It was just a culture shock. You can’t communicate with anybody. You feel so isolated. Homeless, in a way. I was struggling,” he says.

Art called him. Nguyen enrolled at UNC Charlotte to study painting — Davidson artist Elizabeth Bradford was one of his teachers — and found himself yearning for a way to incorporate his own culture and passions into the work. In the end, the way those came together was a happy accident.

During the summer of 2018, three years out of UNCC, Nguyen had just arrived at an artist’s residency in rural Vermont, where he planned to continue painting the “very flat, very traditional” types of canvases he’d been creating until that point. He realized that in his rush to get out the door, he’d left a container with most of his colorful paints and brushes behind. In fact, he realized that he’d managed to bring only three materials with him: a bucket of white paint, skeins of silk and some canvas. “What can you do with that?” he wondered. He began ripping pieces of silk, dredging them in paint, affixing them to canvas, “and you know, it just happened.”

Left: Encounter Series No.1, 2023, Hand-cut silk fabric, acrylic paint, canvas, mounted on wall, 84 x 65 in.

Middle: Encounter Series No.9, 2023, Hand-cut silk fabric, acrylic paint, canvas, mounted on wall, 48 x 63 x 5 in.


Quickly, he decided he was on to something: “The material was speaking for itself.” Bits of transparent silk dripped off his canvases, letting light shine through. “I decided I didn’t want the frame anymore. I decided: Let’s sculpt it.”

To get there, though, he knew he’d have to manipulate his silk in new ways. “Silk has such a value in the Vietnamese culture,” he says. “For me, to destroy a piece of silk, to cut it into pieces . . . that’s a big deal for me. I pushed myself to do that.”

He hasn’t stopped. “The work is evolving in such an amazing way,” he said in late December. “I’ve just been in the studio nonstop, producing work.” Nguyen says that kind of work ethic has been crucial to his success. Some of it is rooted in his early years working in fashion while in school, some of it is hard-wired, and a lot of it is simply about his love of the work.

“The more that I work with the materials, the more I realize how it works and the more capacity I have,” he says. He’s experimenting with large-scale work, which can be challenging to mold in lasting sculptural forms, but not impossible. His largest works are now as many as 40 feet long, and he makes them in five or six different segments, which he then sews together. “It’s not evolving in a straight line,” he says. “There are a lot of tests, and a lot of failures. Little accidents happen, unexpected things happen, and I pick up on that.”

When he’s not working on commission for collectors with requests for particular dimensions or colors, Nguyen often goes right back to where he started, letting colors and shapes come to him intuitively, sometimes reworking old pieces that didn’t originally come together, pulling out paints he hasn’t used in a while, relying on instinct. His materials never stop inspiring his creativity. “It amazes me,” he says, “that the material, this silk, can hold a sculptural form.”  OH

This is an excerpt from Art of the State: Celebrating the Art of North Carolina, published by UNC Press.

Life’s Funny

Life’s Funny

Project Runway

Sitting on a tarmac is boring: Sitting beside a tarmac is another story

By Maria Johnson

“Here comes one!”

Conversation freezes and heads swivel to the horizon, where two bright beams glow, side by side, above a distant tree line.

“Oooooh, that’s a big one,” says our airplane-obsessed friend, whose birthday we are celebrating with a parking lot picnic beside a runway at Piedmont Triad International Airport.

The four of us, all empty nesters, are way beyond the age of coveting stuff. Well, most stuff anyway.

Experiences, time together, moments that morph into stories and embed as warm memories — that’s what we prize.

So, recently, our wee gang has been celebrating birthdays with daytime excursions that introduce us to new places and people.

During one of these forays, a friend who was not being fêted at the moment came clean about her obsession with all things aero. As a young woman growing up in Rockingham County, she tinkered with the idea of becoming a flight attendant. That dream never took off, but her fascination with soaring above it all persisted.

As an adult, she regularly asked flight crews for tours of cockpits; bought toy jetliners with battery-powered engines and lights “for the grandchildren.” She even bought a captain’s hat from a former Piedmont Airlines pilot.

Side note: If you ever want to see a bunch of 60-plus North Carolinians get misty-eyed, ask them about Piedmont Airlines. It really was the best. Sigh.

Anyway, our well-traveled pal also revealed how much she loved to watch airplanes take off and land. She said she liked to imagine who was aboard, where they were going, what it was like there, and what the passengers would do when they got there.

Escapism? Totally.

The rest of us knew what we had to do for her birthday: Find a place to watch planes come and go. I remembered that there used to be a diner near PTI where you could catch the action aloft. An internet search confirmed that the restaurant had closed, but a few clicks later, I landed on a website called, where jet-heads post their favorite viewing sites.

A recon mission was called for. One pal piloted. I co-piloted, translating the map app’s instructions because who the heck knows what 500 feet looks like when you’re going 60 miles an hour? Just turn left where that blue car is coming out.

We cased several parking lots, some right next to the runways. I’m quite sure we appeared on several security cameras.

To dispel fear — and reduce the odds of being placed on a TSA watchlist labeled “HUH?” — we waved at the control tower as we drove past. Several times.

Maybe it was the time of day, late one afternoon in the fading light of fall, but we didn’t see much action.

The next day, I stuck my head in at one of GTCC’s aviation training buildings, “yoo-hooed” my way down a hallway and found a darkened classroom where three young men sat at computer screens doing . . . we’ll call it homework.

“Hey, fellas, I know this sounds weird, but do y’all know of a good place to watch airplanes take off and land?”

“Yeah, I know a great place,” one of the guys said, popping out of his seat and walking over to show me a map on his phone.

He pointed me to a gravel lot off Old Oak Ridge Road.

I drove right over. Jackpot.

I dropped a pin and shared it with our foursome. We booked a date.

A couple of weeks later, we packed up camp chairs and a knee-high table.

One of us brought fruit and crackers.

Another brought Biscoff cookies and packs of almonds.

Another brought prosecco.

The birthday girl brought her captain’s hat, which she wore proudly as we cheered and waved at the passing planes.

They looked so small, even the big ones, when you considered that these sleek aluminum tubes carried so many people, each connected to their own constellation of lives. The passengers would scatter as soon as they claimed their bags, and yet, for a precious few ticks of the clock, they were on the same trip.

Was it any different on the ground, at our makeshift celebration only a stone’s throw from barbed wire and warning signs?

Between the drones and roars overhead, we turned to our seat mates and talked of the things circling our hearts. Of joys and worries. Of health and family and friends.

As we chatted, sunset painted the sky in neon pink and somber purple.

A flock of starlings, headed for their evening roost, rippled like a flag in the sky.

The nighttime lights of the airport emerged like the skyline of a city.

Other people came and went from the parking lot: a lone young man perched on his motorcycle; a middle-aged woman and her small dog; a young couple who spent most of their time taking pictures of themselves and their car.

Small eddies of humanity swirled and dissipated here.

We were one of those swirls, sitting in a tight circle on a dusty patch of gravel, wrapped in throws against the deepening chill as we sipped and nibbled, nodded and mmm-ed, rode the crosswinds of laughter and tears, and occasionally looked to the clouds and let our imaginations fly.

We were determined to enjoy the ride.  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine. Email her at