Chaos Theory

Chaos Theory

Dirty Laundry

It’s all about knowing when to fold and when to hold

By Cassie Bustamante

I recently came across a meme that depicted the sign for infinity, a sideways figure eight. Above it read: “The symbol for laundry.” Accurate, I thought. With three kids, it’s never-ending.

But I can’t complain because before we were even married — when we were living in sin in the nation’s seat of sin, New Orleans — my husband, Chris, and I set up a system that has worked well now for over 20 years.

Of course, “set up” is a bit of a stretch. We didn’t exactly thoughtfully lay out a plan. It went more like this:

Freshly laundered clothing strewn on the bed in front of me, I begin folding a pair of Chris’ jeans in half the long way and then into thirds. My hands, well-manicured and soft, no visible signs of aging (Hey, this is my memory, OK?), maneuver while my Sony CD player shuffles through discs. Absentmindedly singing along to Frou Frou’s “Let Go,” I’m in the sort of meditative trance only a tedious task can produce.

Suddenly, Chris’ judging eyes bore into me and pull me right back into my body. I can see him biting his lip, trying to hold in whatever it is he’s thinking. After a beat, he says, “Can you pass me those jeans?” And he proceeds to shake them out and meticulously refold them, seams aligned exactingly.

Frankly, I should have seen this coming. Our relationship began — brace yourself — when Chris was my boss and I was his intern at the Hanes Mall Abercrombie & Fitch kids’ store back in 1999, just a few years after the most infamous intern scandal of our time. He was the one who taught me how to fold the perfect denim wall. There was a science — an art form, really — to lining those pairs of jeans up just so. When stacked in the wall together, they were the perfect height, filling the space between shelves, each pair a uniform thickness.

“What’s wrong with how I did it?” I ask. Though, honestly, I know I’ve never quite mastered the art of folding clothes with that crisp prêt-à-porter look he’s capable of achieving. (Don’t tell him that. We don’t need any gloating around here.)

“I just like them, um, a certain way,” he says, clearly choosing his critiquing words carefully to maintain unwedded domestic bliss.

“Then why don’t you fold the laundry?” I sputter, not really a question, mind you.

“OK,” he answers and, surprising me, immediately takes over.

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I stifle any witty retort — a real challenge for me — and simply say, “OK, then. All yours.”

From that moment on, Chris has been designated laundry-folder in our house. It’s a role that fits his very particular Virgo personality to a tee, a perfect use of his skills.

And, in the end, we both win. He gets his denim folded just the way his heart desires. And I get out of untangling and sorting endless piles of laundry. Well, mostly. I do have to refold my T-shirts because I have learned that Marie Kondo’s method really does make it easier to find clothing in a stuffed drawer. But I’ll never whisper a word about it. He can keep his job.  OH

Cassie Bustamante is editor of O.Henry magazine.

All in the Family

All in the Family

A 1970s time capsule in New Irving Park

By Cassie Bustamante

Photographs by Amy Freeman

It was like a little time capsule,” Alejandra Thompson de Jordan says, recalling the first moment she and husband Andrew Jordan stepped foot in what would become their home. While many big-city dwellers looking to relocate to a quieter, idyllic location would see a mountain of renovation work to be done, these former Manhattanites saw a home with history worth saving.

Nestled on a rare 2-acre lot in New Irving Park, the “Worsham House” amenities and decor are reminiscent of what you might see on television’s Mad Men. Tan grasscloth wallpaper, an intercom system, a tangerine-colored, midcentury freestanding fireplace, and even a built-in-the-wall turntable are just a few of the intact relics that remain 50 years after its construction. Originally drafted by architect G. Donald Dudley, the 1972 home was designed to be, according to its original plans, “a residence for Mr. & Mrs. Jack W. Worsham.” And it stayed as such until Jack, founder of several companies including Southern Plastics Engineering Company, passed away in 2019 at the age of 93, 11 years after his wife, Mary.

“It was his dream house,” says the Worshams’ only son, Len, who recalls moving to the house at the age of 15 after growing up in “a little tiny house” on Newlyn. Not only was it his father’s dream, but it was his design. “Don [Dudley] drew up the actual architectural plans, but it was dad’s brainchild.”

With four children (Len and his three sisters), Jack seemingly designed the home with entertaining in mind. “Mom was a great cook,” Len recalls of his mother, who was known for her coconut custard pie.

When Jack and Mary first bought the property and were in the process of building, one small building existed: “the little house” as the Worsham kids came to call it, as compared to the one Jack designed, “the big house.” Before their new, approximately 6,000-square-foot house was complete, Jack and Mary often entertained on the property. It “was a party house before the main house was ever built,” says Len.

The Worshams even started what became a yearly tradition until about the time of Jack’s death — a neighborhood block party. And while they were often surrounded by friends and family, what Len and his siblings remember as one of their fondest memories of their parents is, in contrast, a quiet moment from their twilight years. “As they got older, in their 70s and 80s, they just loved to sit on that back patio and listen to the birds chirping and watching the sunset.”

With Jack and Mary now gone, the vacant home, listed by the Worshams’ children, sought a new family, one that would breathe life into it as the Worshams once had. While Alejandra and Andrew were “not even flirting with the idea of living in Greensboro,” her older brother, Clifford, co-founder and president of Thompson (formerly Thompson Traders, a local company that creates artisan-made metal sinks and fixtures imported from Mexico), had another notion. He would often send her house listing links. His hope? That she’d leave her role as Chanel’s director of marketing for a job as vice president of sales and marketing with his company. And Andrew is no stranger to moving. Born in Colombia, he relocated often — living in Argentina, Atlanta, Brazil and even Hong Kong — throughout his young life due to his father’s executive position at Coca-Cola. Plus, on sabbatical from his role as Compass real estate’s general manager of agent growth, he could live anywhere.

The seed was planted. Then in March 2020, the world shut down due to COVID, and Andrew, a very pregnant Alejandra and their then 2-year-old daughter, Ale, left their 1,300-square-foot Manhattan apartment temporarily to stay with her parents at the Sedgefield house she grew up in. Clifford, meanwhile, stayed hot on his pursuit, but, Alejandra says, their home was in New York.

When Clifford sent her the listing for the Worsham house, however, she and Andrew contacted the Zillow agent and booked a tour — “for fun.”

The property itself wowed them. “After living in a box in Manhattan, we were like, what is this? Farmland?” Alejandra says with a laugh. Indeed, according to Len, the property was originally named “Worsham Farm” and the family once had ponies, cows and chickens.

In New York, Alejandra and Andrew were thrilled to have a single tree they lovingly named Greta outside of a window of their fourth floor apartment. “Here we can’t even count the trees, let alone name them!”

For Alejandra, it was love at first sight. Meanwhile Andrew loved the main floor, but felt the basement level was strange. “Maybe if the downstairs didn’t exist, it would be great,” Alejandra recalls him saying. Her answer? A playful “Just don’t go down there, problem solved!”

Even though Alejandra was head-over-heels and Andrew could picture himself living in this house, the couple were not ready to commit to the idea of leaving New York. But after the baby of the family, Rafa, was born in September 2020, they realized they were here to stay, close to her family and closer to his parents, who are retired and living in Atlanta.

In February 2021, just after leaving Chanel, Alejandra accepted the position with the family business and, at the same time, co-founded ESTAS, a beauty brand that focuses on scar care, something Alejandra knows about after undergoing C-sections. Everything was set in motion, but the Worsham house was under contract by then.

They put in an offer on another house — “a fine house for now.” And then, fate intervened. While visiting Andrew’s parents, they got word that the Worsham house was back on the market. “The stars aligned,” quips Alejandra. With the Greensboro real estate market on fire at the time, she and Andrew jumped.

Since moving in, the couple have worked to make the home theirs while preserving its heritage, even purchasing some of the existing furnishings with the sale of the house. Their New York belongings could fit in the living and dining room of their new home, Alejandra notes, so having some furniture in place was helpful.

“I love things with history. That means so much more to me than a brand-new, polished, pretty, perfect thing,” says Alejandra. “I want the story, so I think that’s probably part of the reason I fell in love with this house.”

While maintaining original characteristics was crucial, Alejandra and Andrew did make a couple of major changes. The carpeting on the main level was all pulled up and replaced with hardwood floors because of Alejandra’s allergies. Even the entry’s spiral staircase was carpeted, hiding usable wood underneath. “My dad, my glorious dad,” says Alejandra, “he sanded and stained all this wood and put it back on the stairs for us.”

Now, the staircase is a thing of beauty sitting just in front of a large entry wall that features original grasscloth paper. The rest of the entrance has been decorated to complement the home’s existing details. A cowhide rug rests on a warm toned parquet floor. Against an earthy gray stone wall, a gold-and-black mirror hangs above a sleek cabinet in the same colors. Large brass figures of the “Three Wise Monkeys,” a gift from Alejandra’s mom, represent “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.” And the statement lighting? A gold-and-cut-glass sputnik chandelier the couple brought from their entry in New York.

The other staircase sits at the end of a long hallway and was also carpeted and walled in, with a single door at the top, making it feel like the entrance to a dark cave — “like the scary basements from Stranger Things.” To make it feel more welcoming, they removed the carpeting and opened up the wall, adding a railing and a new-to-them modern black-and-gold chandelier purchased at Red Collection.

In fact, walking around the house, Alejandra points out several pieces that are vintage and second hand, many purchased and many given to her. In the dining room, a pair of glass-doored cabinets house vintage tableware passed down from close family friend “Aunt” Sharon: vintage Lenox dishes that had been Sharon’s mother’s treasured wedding china and Gorham silver.

In the living room, two petite white sofas brought from New York face each other. A third sofa — a long, striped piece with 1970s-style lines — creates a conversation area centered on a stone fireplace. And, as it turns out, that one was scored for about $100 from Red Collection’s sale room. Alejandra had it reupholstered with inexpensive deadstock fabric. It’s flanked by two Asian style mother-of-pearl inlaid stools, also from Red Collection. And it all works seamlessly together, each couch featuring a mix of black, white and metallic-toned pillows.

Alejandra credits her “designers, with air quotes” — her mother, sister Samantha and Clifford’s wife, sister-in-law Martha — for helping her create a cohesive look that integrates the home’s inherent features. Martha, in particular, helped put together the living room.

While Alejandra sits on the board of GreenHill Center for NC Art and has quite the eye, she notes that “beauty is subjective.” And when it comes to art, she feels the same as she does about houses and furnishings. Echoing her earlier words, she says, “For me, it’s always the story.” She prefers to know the artist personally or to have learned something about the artist that pulls her into their narrative. Much of the art around the house, such as a vibrant Linda Spitsen painting and pieces created by sculptor Marta Tornero (whom she calls “Tia” Marta) has been made by family and friends.

In the family room, Alejandra points out a large gold-leaf and painted plywood piece over the fireplace. It was a gift from Martha, who, as it turns out, is an artist. Although she created it with their New York apartment in mind, it appears as if it were made for this home.

The wall of bookcases features several smaller pieces of art, including another Martha original. Looking at a large, colorful framed painting, she says it was a wedding gift from her “Aunt” Ingrid Cassuto, an “art aficionado” who once sat on the Weatherspoon’s board. The wall also features special pieces that Martha has brought back from Mexico, a nod to Alejandra’s heritage. Her mother, Alejandra Thompson, founder and creative director of Thompson, was born and raised in Mexico, just 10 miles from where the Purépecha artisans work in copper and metals.

The bookcase cabinets have a unique feature that is likely thanks to Jack Worsham’s trade. “These are plastic doors and they look like wood,” says Alejandra, pointing out the same is true for the home’s bathroom cabinets. Alejandra wonders, did they come from Southern Plastics?

“We’re not sure,” says Len, adding, “It was within his capabilities with the equipment he had.”

With its natural grasscloth paper, warm woods and collection of textiles in oranges and reds, the room has an organic, collected and global feel. Alejandra says she was never before keen on this color scheme. Their old apartment featured a lot of white and gold. But, she says, “This house has made me an orange lover.”

And she’s not the only one. In the main bedroom’s closet, Andrew’s traditional button-down shirts hang side by side, with a small section dedicated to funkier vintage patterns and bolder colors inspired by the home. Prior to living here, Andrew “would never wear anything that wasn’t navy blue.” But now? “The house has changed him,” says his wife. And while it took him a little longer to get there, he’s absolutely fallen in love with the house, too.

This house, it turns out, has become a labor of love for Andrew. “It’s his third child,” Alejandra says. Did he have DIY skills before moving here? Nope, but he’s watched a lot of YouTube videos. Plus, she adds, “He’s smart, likes learning and figuring things out.” In fact, the barn that once housed the Worshams’ ponies has become Andrew’s mancave. “It’s covered in tools. It’s his happy place!”

Downstairs in the finished basement the theme of entertainment flows. “If these walls could talk,” muses Alejandra. She imagines the Worshams were “the ultimate host and hostess.” And these basement walls do tell a story.

On one side, there’s a huge recreational space, complete with green turf, putting holes for practice and, tucked into the corner, a tiki bar. While the golf theme was original, Len notes that the tiki bar was added much later, in the early 2000s, he believes.

At the same time, a very large — Alejandra approximates 40-foot — hand-painted tropical ocean-scape mural was added to the wall opposite the tiki bar. And the artist, Greensboro’s Barbara Richardson, added clever, personal details. A sailboat at sea features the name “Worsham,” and on the far end a painted tiki bar mimics their own.

The other end of the basement steps back in time and welcomes guests to a 1970s lounge area. “The Butterfly Bar,” as Alejandra calls it. Why? Because of its original black, orange and gold butterfly wallpaper. Most of the furniture came with the house — the orange, black and white swivel bar stools, the lounge-style curved gray-and-black sofa, piped in, wait for it, orange. There’s one exception, though: In front of the sofa sits a gold-and-black glass circular coffee table made by Thompson, of course. “Everyone in my family has one.”

On the wall behind the, you guessed it, 1970s burnt-orange formica bar, there’s a handy feature not seen so much these days: A dumbwaiter leads up to the kitchen, where original wooden cabinets create an “L” around a tiered original island. A table-height counter was once surrounded by barrel chairs, but Alejandra prefers to keep it open and use it for serving.

Instead, Alejandra’s added a hand-me-down blonde midcentury set, passed down from her father’s parents. “It was in complete disrepair.” She adds proudly, “My husband brought it back to life.”

For now, most projects are maintenance since the couple admires the designs of the home’s original owners. However, Alejandra has a project in mind to bring in a little of her own family’s history. Standing inside the guest bathroom, she says, “Let me show you what my dream for the bathroom is.” She holds up a unique brass sink, featuring a metalwork lizard, made by Thompson. “I want to change this countertop and I want to put this sink in there.”

There’s one project the couple happily passed along to Andrew’s parents. That “little house,” as the Worsham kids called it? It needed a lot of love to once again be a usable space. “You know the big car bows?” asks Alejandra. She put one of those on the front door and they gifted it to Andrew’s parents, who are thrilled to have a space of their own when they visit their now-closer family.

“When Andrew was little,” says Alejandra, “he told his dad that when he grew up, he was going to build a treehouse next to his house and that his dad could live there as an old man.” Now, it looks like that childhood dream has come true. With carte blanche, Andrew’s parents turned the guest house into a more modern and cozy place where they can stay for days at a time without ever feeling like they’ve overstayed.

And, as an added bonus, Alejandra says, she and Andrew will sometimes get a sitter and go hang out in the guest house to relax with an “at-home” date night. While the “big house” was made to host loads of people, it’s nice to have a literal backyard getaway that offers serenity, with a nice buffer of trees between the two.

Just as the Worshams once did, Alejandra and Andrew entertain often. Her parents, her siblings and their children frequently come over. “Our house is the family country club,” quips Alejandra. And in the summers, the backyard is full of life, its pool full of kids. “It’s the best — my family are my favorite people,” says Alejandra.

A year-and-a-half after purchasing the home, Alejandra and Andrew invited the Worsham children over for a celebration that included Alejandra’s extended family as well. Len recalls the joy he and his siblings felt in seeing a new family in the home their parents dreamed up and built. “We saw that they loved the architecture, were interested in the history of it, and they had small children. And her brother lived around the corner,” he says. “We just knew.”

Knew what? That they were the right family for their parents’ house. “Jackie, she had tears in her eyes,” recalls Alejandra, her own eyes watering, “and she said, ‘I think Papa picked you guys for this house.’”

“That’s possible,” Len pauses and laughs. “Yeah, that’s really possible.”  OH

A Few Questions for Greensboro’s Mr. Baseball

A Few Questions for Greensboro’s Mr. Baseball

Donald Moore’s Extra Inning

by Jim Dodson

After 22 years at the helm of the Greensboro Grasshoppers as both president and general manager, Donald Moore opens the 2024 season in his new position as President Emeritus of the organization he helped create. A longtime figure in the Gate City’s sporting scene, Moore was a three-sport star at Page High in the early 1970s, playing baseball, football and basketball. He was lucky to play under two North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame coaches — Marion Kirby and Mac Morris. In the 1990s, Moore was involved with the Greensboro Sports Council and chaired the city’s high school basketball tournament for many years. Then along came the Hoppers. With a new season on the horizon, we caught up with Greensboro’s genial son — the man with a plan to bring baseball back to the Gate City — and asked him to reflect on his own journey around the bases.

Since the ballpark opened in the spring of 2005, how many fans have passed through your turnstiles?

It’s rather amazing. Somewhere close to 7 million fans have visited the ballpark. That’s a high compliment to the baseball fans of Triad.

Tell us how it all started.

It all started with a phone call from Jim Melvin in July of 2001. I was working in real estate development at Uwharrie Point and commuting 53 miles a day, six days a week. The development was winding down and I was trying to think of what I would do next. That’s when Jim called out of the blue wondering if I had interest in joining the baseball team as part of an investment team that bought the team and wanted to build a new stadium downtown.

What were the early days of the organization like?

To begin with, we were based over at Memorial Stadium in an office that was like a dungeon that had no windows. It was a pretty grim place. We had three seasons over there. The team nickname at that time was the Bats, and they had God-awful colors — black and purple. So, we changed the name to the Grasshoppers in the fall of 2004 to open the new stadium in the spring of 2005 with our affiliate, the Marlins. I’d always thought the colors of the University of Miami were so cool — green and orange. The Marlins came up and played an exhibition game.

Do you remember opening day?

Sure do. We opened with an exhibition game. Every seat in the stadium was taken. Our attendance was almost 8,000. It was a beautiful, sunny and cool spring day. The fans were ecstatic and couldn’t believe what an incredible ballpark they had. The credit goes to Jim Melvin, Len White, Cooper Brantley and the rest of the private investment group. Things really took off from there and have never stopped.

It’s been pointed out that the stadium was a key component in the redevelopment of downtown Greensboro. How do you feel about that?

I’m proud of the economic impact that the ballpark has had on downtown and in Greensboro at large. In the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, downtown was a ghost town. I think the stadium was just part of that rebirth. So much has changed since then. We have a new $100-million plus development rumored to be coming. I’m glad we could be part of that.

Best memories?

Oh, gosh. So many in 22 years. A lot of games and a lot of weekends. But it’s been fantastic. We won the league championship in 2011, a storybook finish. We won 17 of the last 20 games and got into the playoffs on the very last day of the season. Then we went to Savannah and won the title down there. The first championship since 1982. We also held the ACC tournament here three times — 2010, 2012 and 2014 — and packed the house. In 2012, we hosted the State-Carolina game here on a Saturday night and set a record for the state of North Carolina collegiate baseball — more than 10,000 fans. The Marlins also came two more times in 2010 and 2015. Those were all special days.

What sort of things did you learn along the way?

I learned early that we are in the entertainment business. Baseball at this level is family entertainment. Probably half our fan base has a family pet. I remember thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if we could get a dog into the mix?

Then along came Miss Babe Ruth.

That’s right. She was born November 5, 2005. I found her at a local breeder, and we had a press conference to say she was going off to spring training in March of ’06. She made her debut carrying baseballs in a bucket out to the umpires in August that year. The fans went crazy. She loved it, too. We retired her in 2015 after 649 straight games. I wrote a letter to the National Baseball Hall of Fame to offer them Babe’s original ball bucket. They were delighted to accept it. Today, it’s the only nonhuman artifact in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

How about the other four-legged baseball fans?

We had Master Yogi Berra, our only male in five dogs. He was a real cutup, always carrying a ball in his mouth. I would shoot a ball into the outfield, and he’d run and get it, and then race back through the tunnel. One time in ’09, Yogi stopped and left his business on the field. The fans loved it but the umpire tossed him out of the game. I wrote and sent out a press release pointing out that Yogi was the first dog ever to be ejected from a professional baseball game. It went crazy. Within a week, Yogi was in Sports Illustrated, and he and I were on Fox & Friends.

Lou Lou Gehrig joined us in 2012 and worked up until her passing in 2020. She became our office dog. She was followed by Little Jackie Robinson, who never got into the routine and became our office administrator. Willie May Mays joined us in 2022. Willie’s great, loves the whole thing, and the fans love her.

So how do you feel stepping back from all of that?

It’s bittersweet. I tell you, though, if you surround yourself with good people it makes it easier to go. I hired everyone on our staff and know what talented and committed people they are. Sure, I’ll miss it. But I’ll be around, checking in from time to time. It’s a good feeling to know you’ve made a difference in someone’s life. I run into fans all the time who have great memories of this place. Not long ago a father came up to tell me that I gave his son a baseball 15 years ago. It’s a small thing like that that you remember most.

So how are the Hoppers looking in 2024?

You never quite know. But it’ll be lots of fun. So, come on out.  OH

Kicking It at the Curb

Kicking It at the Curb

Kicking It at the Curb

For 150 years, Greensboro’s farmers market has cultivated community

By Ross Howell Jr. 

Photographs by Lynn Donovan

The best description of what the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market feels like was written back in 1994 by Dorothy Mason — now retired professor emerita of geography at N.C. A&T State University. She was a loyal market customer then and still is today.

“On any Saturday morning in July, the old National Guard Armory building is the busiest place in the city,” Mason writes.

“Before 6 a.m., shoppers have gathered outside the entrances, while vendors unload their trucks and carry in boxes of green beans, tomatoes, corn, cut flowers and potted plants, baked goods, jams and soap,” she continues.

“By 7 a.m., the scene can best be described as ‘a rump-bumping crowd.’ There is a festival atmosphere as shoppers select produce and vendors weigh it, talking together like old friends. Shoppers block the aisles, their bodies enlarged by bags and flower containers, as they stop to chat with friends.”

But, she notes, the market is about more than just the fresh veggies and homemade cakes. Mason adds. “It is a social event which brings people of a range of socioeconomic backgrounds together.”

Prof. Mason’s description was written for a study she presented at an annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers. Her interests were the market community, the human relationships it nurtures and the ways the market helps preserve regional cooking traditions.

Ever the academic, Mason brought the receipts to support her observations. She had administered questionnaires to 384 shoppers and conducted interviews with the market manager and many vendors and shoppers. She found that 74 percent of those polled had shopped the market for five years or more and 32 percent for 20 years or more. She discovered that more than 20 of her subjects had been coming to the market for 40 years, and three had been coming for an astounding 50 years.

In interviews, Mason had subjects who recalled being brought to the market as children, and one who identified herself as a fourth-generation shopper.

Mason also asked people open-ended questions about why they came to the market. Respondents commented on the freshness and quality of produce, supporting local farmers, nostalgia for a simpler time and — interestingly — the crowd.

“Crowd! This is the greatest reason,” wrote one respondent.

I like to peek into the nooks and crannies of history. And history helps us understand that the farmers curb market is much more like a tree than a building, more like a marriage than a location. It’s a living community within our city, benefiting us all.

To give you an idea of how long ago the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market was founded — when it first opened in 1874, our O. Henry magazine namesake, William Sydney Porter, was still enrolled in his aunt Evelina Henry Porter’s elementary school.

The most comprehensive account of the origins of the market is found — strangely enough — in a two-segment radio address delivered in 1951 by the Honorable Robert Haines Frazier, mayor, to WCOG listeners.

Mayor Frazier’s Greensboro roots ran deep. His father, Cyrus Pickett Frazier, had been a professor and long-time trustee at Guilford College, a superintendent of Greensboro city schools, and a successful real estate entrepreneur.

Mayor Frazier was born in Greensboro, raised in a Quaker household and became a Greensboro attorney. When he was elected to office, he succeeded textile industrialist and philanthropist Benjamin Cone, an individual well-known for his commitment to the local community.

The mayor notes that on May 13, 1874, a committee was appointed to look into establishing a market. Subsequently, the city purchased a lot and constructed a building accommodating 20 vendor stalls on the east side of the business district.

Frazier adds in painstaking detail how the stalls were rented at auction, the financial terms of stall rental, the requirements for stall cleanliness and maintenance, the market official who decided where vendors would hitch their horses and wagons, and the city ordinance written to prohibit random street vending of the “fresh meats, fresh fish, butter, eggs, poultry, vegetables, melons and fruits” to be sold during the hours the market was open.

In 1875, a special market house for fish mongers was added. A review of revenues revealed that the costs to create the market had been a good investment for the city. But the market’s success was blemished by its very popularity.

According to the mayor, “loungers” and “gossip” were problems.

“So great did the nuisance become that many of our ladies refused to go there,” Mayor Frazier told his radio audience. But the market clerk was given police powers and the city passed an ordinance “against idleness and loafing,” granting the mayor’s office with the power of enforcement. The problems soon diminished.

Then, misfortune struck on the morning of May 27, 1888, when the market house and all records, maps and furniture were destroyed by fire.

A year later, the decision was made to rebuild, using the walls that had survived the fire, and plans were made to put water in the market house and a drinking fountain in the public square.

By December 1901, the board of aldermen detailed new rules and regulations for the market, which operated until 1906 and then closed, evidently due to management problems.

When the farmers market reopened in 1922, it was in the open air on Commerce Place. Vendors parked their trucks or wagons on the curb selling items from the tailgates or running boards of their vehicles.

The location changed a couple of times in subsequent years, but, according to Mayor Frazier, the market returned to its Commerce Place location in the 1930s.

And, as happened after its original opening in 1874, the market’s success created problems. Business grew and spread into an alley extending all the way from Commerce Place to Eugene Street. With no central market building, the growing congestion and confusion were unmanageable.

Remarkably, in some of the most challenging days of World War II, the Greensboro Council of Garden Clubs “expressed the need for an adequately housed farm produce market,” the mayor tells us.

At a city council meeting in February 1943, a group of citizens presented a petition signed by 12,000 individuals “asking for the establishment of the market in the old Tobacco Market Warehouse on Commerce Place.” A commission was charged with studying the issue, and in January 1944, the city authorized “$65,000 in Market House bonds” to raise funds for “remodeling and equipping” a building.

On its opening day, June 24, 1944 — just days after the D-Day invasion — the new farmers curb market saw a crowd of 2,000, possibly the largest to gather at a single market up until that point. Greensboro’s mayor at the time “dedicated the market to the community as an influence for closer urban-rural relationship and greater production and consumption of native products.”

A look at the newspaper clippings on file in the Greensboro History Museum reveals even more about the synergy between the market community and the city community.

An article from the Greensboro Record, Feb. 7, 1962, carries the headline, “City Takes Over Armory Monday for Market Use.” In 1963, the curb market was moved from its Commerce Place location to its current one — the old National Guard Armory building on Yanceyville Street.

In the history museum’s files I also came across an October 1995 article in a newspaper section designated, “Irving Park Magazine.” The piece was written by Betty Taylor, who gives an overview of the history of the market and includes a photograph of “Margaret Rumley and Shirley Rumley Broom.”

Many curb market customers — myself included — remember the late Margaret Rumley simply as “Mom.” She sat on a kitchen stool at her stall greeting generations of flower buyers alongside her daughter, Shirley, who was first photographed by a newspaperman at the market selling a pie to a customer when she was 9 years old.

With all that history and the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market’s 2024 sesquicentennial celebration in mind, I set out on a cold Saturday morning in February for Yanceyville Street.

Theresa Mattiello, the new market manager, was just months into her new position when the market sesquicentennial launched. She’s not new to the market, though. For four years she worked a stall with Tea Hugger, selling a variety of hand-blended teas. Trained in graphic design, Mattiello also did social media work for the previous farmers market manager.

Mattiello lives in Glenwood and practices micro farming, growing plants in raised beds and utilizing vertical space to increase production. She’s representative of a new generation of urban gardeners who encourage others to think of their grass lawns as potential “yardens,” where fresh food can be grown within more traditional landscaping.

Standing alongside Mattiello in the “Info Hub” stall are two market employees. Shane Henderson is a student at N.C. A&T State, majoring in civil engineering and public health, and Abigail Miller-Warren is taking classes in sustainability at GTCC.

All three are young and enthusiastic — and their smiles are infectious. They’re handing out flyers announcing sesquicentennial events. This month, look for the annual plant sale and an Earth Day Fair.

Special events will continue monthly throughout 2024.

“It’s very exciting,” Mattiello tells me. “We managed to stay open during COVID with our mobile market, kind of a drive-through — but we did lose some vendors.”

Mattiello networks with current vendors, customers and the greater community to recruit new vendors.

“We’re always reaching out to farmers younger than 40 and farmers who grow more exotic vegetables to broaden the selection of produce available,” Mattiello says.

After accepting a flyer from Miller-Warren, I decide to browse.

First, I meet Garland McCollum, who’s at a stall right by the market entrance. His big hands are wrapped around a pair of long-handled pruning shears that he’s sharpening.

McCollum is there with Massey Creeks Farm, an operation specializing in sustainably-grown, grass-fed meats and eggs. He tells me the Rockingham County farm has been in his family since 1749.

“All I ever wanted to do was farm,” McCollum says.

After graduating from N.C. State with a degree in animal husbandry, he returned to the farm, where tobacco was still the main crop. But he wanted to raise livestock. Over time, he moved into growing hogs under contract and eventually discovered the possibility of selling his pork and lamb direct to consumers at the farmers market.

“I started sharpening implements here to pass the time when business was slow,” McCollum says. “Then I found out people really needed the service.”

Next I move to the Chéngers stall, occupied by Jo Ann and Bob Smith, whose daughter, Trina Pratt, owns the business and is also an adjunct professor in kinesiology at N.C. A&T State.

Jo Ann tells me that Prof. Pratt’s business name honors her son, Ché, who was born when she was still in graduate school.

“When he was a baby, he would not eat baby food,” Jo Ann says. “So Trina started making applesauce for him at home.”

“Are these soups?” a customer asks.

“Yes,” Bob answers. “Asian vegetable, butternut squash, chickpeas and tomato bisque. Vegan, all-natural, no preservatives, no additives.”

The customer ponders a selection, and Jo Ann processes the purchase.

She tells me many customers are older.

“Our bodies go through changes,” Jo Ann says. “That’s the other idea behind the name of the business. Regardless of age or health, people can eat my daughter’s food.”

A chef now helps develop recipes and the business sells soups, smoothies, juices and baby foods.

Dr. Pratt’s foods must do the job. Her son, Ché, steps up to the stall, now a handsome young man a good 6 feet tall.

Near a corner of the market building I spy a stall with some beautiful cold-weather vegetables. Lukas Hoey of The Hoey Farm introduces himself. He’s a bearded, genial young man, a first-generation, urban farmer who began his career as a chef.

When health issues precluded him from continuing in the restaurant business, he started farming.

“My kids help, my wife helps; we’re a family farm, but I’m the one primarily doing it,” says Hoey, who’s been a vendor for two years. “I love it.”

He explains that he has a greenhouse located by the coliseum. After starting plants there, he moves them to High Point, where a friend has a half-acre of land that she allows him to farm.

In his stall, he points out Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, Swiss chard, curly kale and collards.

“We also do some micro greens, which are very healthy, like a super food,” he says. “We focus on things that grow really fast, things that are quick to harvest. Things that are a little niche.”

The market has proven to be a good pivot for Hoey. “I see familiar faces, customers from my restaurant days, but this is a much healthier setting for me. I’ve never looked back.”

Next, at a crafts stall, I’m eyeing elegant, hand-painted stones and wooden pieces, brightened with precise beads of color, and then, I’m gazing upon a face familiar from years ago when I worked at Replacements, Ltd. — where she still has her day job.

Viktoriya Saltzman.

A native Ukrainian, Saltzman is the owner of Dew Drop Rocks. She grew up in the town of Mariupol, on the sea of Azov, now famous for its ferocious resistance to Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

After a hug, she asks, “You see those eggs?” She points to them.

“Those two eggs, the wooden part, they came from Mariupol,” Saltzman says.

“My mom sent me from Ukraine,” she continues. “I receive the package like a week before the war.”

Saltzman admired their shape and painted them. “But I’m not going to sell them ever because they’re just part of my home. I keep them for someday . . . ” and her voice trails off.

She shows me selections of her work — jewelry boxes, ornaments, painted stone whimsies. She tells me the baby girl I remember from pictures is now a 17-year-old.

Next I stop by a stall with a man selling local honey. Turns out, he’s something of a market legend.

Bill Mullins is a 93-year-old retiree from the insurance business and the owner of Quaker Acre Apiaries. He’s been coming to the farmers market as a vendor for 55 years.

“Seems like when I started coming, we were outside at Commerce Place,” he chuckles.

Mullins tells me he got interested in bees as a boy in Alabama.

“My father was a general insurance agent, and he had a good friend in the mountains of Kentucky,” Mullins says. “He’d take me with him when he’d go up there to visit. And the friend kept honeybees.” Mullins recalls watching the honeybees while the men talked.

“And that’s what got me interested in bees.”

I ask Mullins how he feels about the farmers curb market after 55 years selling his honey here?

He muses for a moment.

“I’ve been here so long, nearly everybody here is a friend of mine,” he adds. “It’s just a very friendly place.”

Finally, I decide to join a short queue of customers waiting to purchase fresh shrimp and fish from George Smith of Smith Century Farm & NC Fresh Seafood in Gibsonville. Since no one’s behind me, we have a moment to chat.

“What Bill Mullins was telling you about is what we vendors call competitive camaraderie,” Smith says.

He tells me the 250-acre farm has been in his family since the late 1700s.

“I’ve got pencil drawings from the 1800s and a picture of the old home place around 1850 with everyone standing in front of the old log house dressed in their Sunday best,” Smith says.

His grandparents started coming to the market 91 years ago.

“I started coming in 1973,” Smith says. “I was 13 years old and came to help my grandmother. I got the bug and I’ve pretty much been here ever since.”

Another customer appears and I let Smith tend to business.

So I’ll close with the same advice that Mayor Frazier gave his WCOG radio listeners back in 1951.

“Today the Greensboro Curb Market, which has been termed the ‘largest producers’ curb market in the State,’ is a popular place for both our country and city folk,” the mayor said. “You’d be surprised how many shoppers are on hand at 6 o’clock on Saturday mornings.”

Early is best for top selection. And where else can you go in Greensboro to become part of a unique community that’s been around for 150 years?  OH

For more information on the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market, go to or search Facebook for the handle Greensboro Farmers Curb Market.

Fooled Ya Foods? Imposter-ble!

Fooled Ya Foods? Imposter-ble!

As both serious foodies and suckers for cooking shows, the team at O.Henry is smitten with Kids Baking Championship, a Food Network competition that features youngsters whipping up confections in the kitchen. Our fav episodes? Hands down, the “Dessert Imposters” theme, which features sweet treats that resemble savory entrees. A hearty meal of meatloaf, catsup and mashed taters? Think again — it’s chocolate cake dressed with strawberry coulis and a dollop of buttercream. Inspired, we asked our own “In Good Taste” contributor, Jasmine Comer, to plate up some of her own deceptive dishes that’ll leave your taste buds pleasantly bewildered.

Savory Sundae

Hot temps are just around the corner here in North Carolina. Nothing cools you off like a scoop or two of chilled, hand-dipped — mashed potatoes? That’s right, this “ice cream sundae” is nothing more than tubers. To make, mash potatoes with milk and butter for an extra smooth and creamy finish. Stir in brown food coloring to give it a chocolatey appearance. Refrigerate before scooping. You can even experiment with other root veggies. Beets would give you the look of a berry sorbet. Top it off with chocolate sauce — oops, gravy — and what any sundae needs, a cherry (tomato) on top.  OH

Golden Nuggets

Every kid’s favorite meal or the Golden Girls round table discussion treat? Though these crisped-to-perfection nuggets appear to be chicken, they’re actually made from cheesecake. To make, use refrigerated, homemade no-bake cheesecake, and — with clean hands, of course — dig in and grab a chunk. Mold into nugget-like shapes and roll in graham cracker crumbs. Even though there’s no baking, there’s pretty much zero risk of Salmonella. Pair with “ketchup,” aka cherry dipping sauce.

Sushi Sweets

Hmmmm, something looks fishy here. Think again! If you go coconuts for sushi, you’ll gobble up this sweet spin on a savory, tangy Asian bite, where fruit takes center stage, standing in for sushi-grade fish. Sweet chunks of mango, kiwi and strawberry are wrapped in — is that rice? — sweet sticky coconut rice! For a touch of added crunch that screams “tempura,” toss toasted coconut flakes on top. And no matter how you roll, sake’s always a great complement. 

Simple Life

Simple Life

The Ever-Changing Garden

May the work never be done

By Jim Dodson

The spring gardening season officially got underway this year with the necessary removal of a 70-year-old red oak tree that threatened to fall on my garage office. Being a confirmed tree hugger and septuagenarian myself, I felt for the old boy having to come down. But I’d probably have felt worse — perhaps permanently — had the old fella decided to fall on my office with me in it.

Such is the fate of an ever-changing garden, which is a redundant phrase since every garden everywhere is ever changing, if only by a matter of degrees. Any gardener worth his mulch will tell you that the work is never finished. There’s always some new problem to contend with or a fresh inspiration incubated over dark winter days to finally put into motion. We are, as a result, forever incomplete gardeners, revising and learning as we go.

In my case, this year has been all of the above — new problems, fresh inspiration and learning as I go. As the result of the day-long operation to remove “Big Red,” as I called the elderly oak, half a dozen young plants just awakening from their winter nap had to be dug up and set aside so the crane removing the tree could navigate a path across my backyard garden, churning the ground up as it went.

I took this as a sign from on high that it was time to make several big changes in paradise. The first move came on the east side of our house where a trio of formerly well-behaved crape myrtle bushes were suddenly running amok and threatening to blot out the sun. The task of digging them out of the cold January ground proved the wisdom of Robert Frost’s elegant aphorism that the afternoon knows what the morning never suspected — i.e. that some tasks that were easy in the morning of youth prove to be monstrously difficult in the afternoon of age.

Still, I’m nothing if not a committed bugger when it comes to getting my way in a garden. After several hours of intense work with pick and shovel, all under the watchful eye of Boo Radley, the cat who suns himself in that particular part of the estate on winter days, the monstrous shrubs finally came out and I went in for a much-needed lunch break, muddy but triumphant.

“My goodness,” said my wife, stirring soup. “Who won the fight?”

You see, back in the “morning” of my gardening years — that’s five different gardens ago, by my count — Dame Wendy always found it highly amusing that I treated garden work like a full-contact sport, where blood of some sort was inevitably shed. In those days, I was so into clearing trees and rebuilding the ancient stone walls of a vanished 19th century homestead that once existed where our new post-and-beam house stood, I rarely noticed cuts, bruises or even gashes that needed a stitch or two. In those faraway days, all I needed was a long hot soak in our 6-foot Portuguese clawfoot tub, plus a couple cold Sam Adams beers to put things right.

These days, in the metaphorical “afternoon” of life, the cuts and bruises are fewer and the cure for sore muscles comes via a hot shower, a change of clothes and a nice afternoon nap with the dogs  — though I have been known to wander outside just before the dinner guests arrive and get myself dirty all over again.

I think my sweet gardening obsession comes from a long and winding line of family farmers and gardeners, abetted by a childhood spent in several small towns of the South where I stayed outside from dawn till dusk, building forts in the woods, climbing trees, damming creeks and digging earthworks under the porch for my toy armies. More than once, I had to be hauled out from under the porch for church with my “good” Sunday pants streaked with red clay.

My mother, poor woman, nicknamed me “Nature Boy” and “Angel with a Filthy Face.” Worse than death was having her spit on a handkerchief to wipe a smudge of soil off my cheek as we entered the sanctuary.

Despite the damage from removing Big Red and heavy winter kill in both my side and backyard gardens this spring, I’m always nicely surprised by the resiliency of my suburban patch.  One day, I’m looking at a bare perennial bed and the next, dozens of green shoots are coming up. The daffodils never fail to rise nor the cherry trees bud. The hosta plants miraculously return. The dogwoods burst into bloom and the azaleas erupt in technicolor glory.

This annual choreography of springtime is a nice reminder that we human beings do the very same thing. Nobody escapes hard winters, actual or metaphorical. The weather of life beats everyone down at some point or another. But slowly and surely, we re-emerge as the days lengthen and the sun grows warmer. Soon the sheer abundance of blossom and green makes a body forget the cold months of unseen struggle to get here.

Though I am an unapologetic fan of winter — my best season for writing, thinking and planning new adventures in the garden — the happiest time for this incomplete gardener comes when I see what managed to survive the winter and has come back with new vigor and surging optimism. Such sights make my old fingers itch to get gloriously dirty.

This spring, there will probably be a new garden shed surrounded by ferns where Big Red once stood, and old Boo Radley will have a new perennial garden full of flowers in which to sun himself on cool summer mornings. I may even finally finish the cobblestone pathway I started last year.

The job in a garden, you see, is never done. And that’s just the way I like it.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

Art of the State

Art of the State

Gateway to Mysteries

John Beerman deeply sees and paints the natural world

By Liza Roberts

Right: White House From Studio Winter Sunny Morning, 2024 15.75 x 17.75 in. Oil and acrylic on canvas

Before John Beerman paints a landscape, he studies the place that’s caught his eye and picks a particular day and time. Maybe it’s a low-lit evening in fall, or maybe it’s a morning hour that only exists over a span of days in spring, when the angle and energy of the sun provides a certain glow. And then he goes there, day after day, at that appointed hour, building his painting bit by bit until the moment is over — the hour has passed, the shape of light has changed, that bit of season is gone.

One spring morning not long ago, he arrived at a field at Chatwood, the Hillsborough estate owned at the time by his close friend, the author Frances Mayes. Beerman arrived well in advance of his chosen hour, because it takes some time to set up his easel. He has a wonky system of clamps and slats to hold boards in place that will serve as a perch for both his canvas and his paint. His paint is of his own making, too: It’s a homemade egg tempera, created with pigment and egg yolk that he keeps in an airtight jar.

To accompany him on one of these plein air excursions is to realize that Beerman doesn’t just look like Monet at Giverny, with his straw hat, wooden easel, linen shirt and leather shoes, but that he sees like Monet: He views the natural world with the same kind of reverence. Beerman studies the landscape as if it had a soul, character and moods. He learns its nuanced beauty out of a deep respect — and only then does he paint what only he can see.

“I have always found the natural world a gateway to the greater mysteries and meanings of life,” Beerman says. At a time when the world faces so many problems, he says, “it’s important to see the beauty in this world. It is a healing source.”

Beerman has often ventured to notably beautiful places around the world to find this gateway. To Tuscany in springtime, coastal Maine in summer, the glowing shores of Normandy or the estuaries of South Carolina. Recently, he is choosing to stay closer to his Hillsborough home. “Sometimes I feel rebellious against going to those beautiful places and painting those beautiful sights,” he says. “My appreciation and love of the North Carolina landscape continues to grow. I feel we are so fortunate to be here.”

This year, so far, he has been painting the views from his studio windows. “I am struck by the idea that every day the sun moves across the sky, the seasons change,” says Beerman. “I’m looking at one house in five different versions throughout the day.”

The particular house on his easel now is a millhouse currently under renovation. He has a bird’s-eye view of the millhouse from his second-story studio, but it constantly evolves with the men working on it and the light that suffuses it. What Beerman is painting, though, isn’t “a house portrait,” but an attempt to capture “the luminosity of that particular light.” Also compelling him is the energy of the project at hand: “The guys working on the house are just as interesting to me,” he says, so he has begun to paint them into the scene, even though figures have rarely appeared in his landscapes.

Left: White House From Studio Winter Morning with Figure, 2024.
15.75 x 17.75 in. Oil on canvas

Middle: Rooftop and Trees From Studio, Winter Sunny Morning, 2024 11.75 x 11.75 in. Oil on linen. 

Right: Winter Dusk From Studio Window, 2024 11.75 x 11.75 in. Oil on linen.



The ability to revisit the subject of his fascination day after day as he completes a painting is a refreshing change, he says. Typically, he’d paint small oil sketches in the field, then bring them back to the studio to inspire and inform his large oil paintings. Here, he can continue to study parts of the house, the men and the project that elude him; he can “get more information” as he goes.

But if his proximity to his subject has changed, Beerman’s essential practice has not.

“I’ve always felt a little bit apart from the trend,” he says. “I love history. And one also needs to be in the world of this moment, I understand that. I’m inspired by other artists all the time, old ones and contemporary ones . . . Piero Della Francesca, he’s part of my community. Beverly McIver, she’s part of my community. One of the things I love about my job is that I get to have that conversation with these folks in my studio, and that feeds me.” Beerman’s work keeps company with some of “these folks” and other greats in the permanent collections of some of the nation’s most prestigious museums as well, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and governor’s mansions in New York and North Carolina.

The paintings that have made his name include celebrated landscapes of New York’s Hudson River early in his career (he is a direct descendant of Henry Hudson, something he learned only after 25 years painting the river), of North Carolina in later years and of Tuscany, where he has spent stretches of time. They all share a sense of the sublime, a hyperreal unreality, a fascination with shape and volume, space and light, a restrained emphasis on color and an abiding spirituality.

“Edward Hopper said all he ever wanted to do was paint the sunlight on the side of a house,” Beerman says. “And I so concur with that. It’s as much about the light as it is about the subject.” A painting of the lighthouse at Nags Head includes only a looming fragment of that famous black-and-white tower, but it’s the glow of coastal sun Beerman has depicted on its surface that make it unmistakably what and where it is.

“With some paintings, I know what I want, and I try to achieve that. And other paintings start speaking back to me,” he says. Beerman’s talking about another painting, of a wide rolling ocean and a fisherman on a pier. As he painted it, childhood memories of Pawleys Island, South Carolina, came into play: “In this old rowboat, we’d go over the waves. And in doing this painting, that came in . . . ahh, maybe that’s where I am. Sometimes it bubbles up from memories that are right below the conscious.”

The rhythm of the work he has underway now suits him well, he says: “I’ve traveled a good bit, but I’m a homebody. I like cooking on the weekends, and making big pots of this or that. I love being able to walk to town, or ride my bike to town.”

And he’s eager to stick close to his chosen subject. “I love the long shadows of the winter light,” he says. “I want to capture it before the leaves come back on the trees. I have that incentive: to get in what I can before the leaves come back.”

Whatever he’s painting, Beerman says he’s always trying to evolve: “One hopes you’re getting closer to what is your core thing, right? And I don’t want to get too abstract about it, but to me, that’s an artist’s job, to find their voice. I’m still in search of that. And at this time in my life, I feel more free to express what I want to express, and how I want to express it. I don’t feel too constrained.”  OH

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

The Remix

The Remix

Who ever said you needed a matching set?

Photographs by Amy Freeman

Styling by Amy Freeman and Cassie Bustamante

With the season of brunches, showers and casual backyard gatherings upon us, we wanted to take a moment to remind you that some of the prettiest tables are set with a cohesive yet random mix of dishes, florals and produce. Just pick a color story, choose a theme and then? Let your imagination run wild. We scoured High Point’s Boxwood Antique Market and Greensboro’s Twin Brothers Antiques for an eclectic array of dishes, platters and inspired accessories. Then we hit the grocery store for fresh flowers and vegetation. The result? A feast for the eyes.


Putting the “gold” in goldfish, this collection of mismatched white-and-gilded dishes allows a quirky plate to draw the eye. Hints of blush and tangerine play off the fish’s colorful scales.

Tea time! Classic blue-and-white blends seamlessly as long as the tones are similar. Set the mood by placing themed books on the table — open to certain pages or stacked in a collection as a centerpiece.

What’s black and white and red all over? This eye-catching table with a fashionable French and equestrian mix featuring hints of gold — classy and casual at the same time.

Green represents new beginnings. Invite someone you’ve just met over and share a spread in mixed greens, featuring simple details and botanicals, plus hints of blush. Gold butterflies add a touch of whimsy, but birds would fly just as well.

Snacks on the beach? Yes, we shell. Sometimes all you need is a charcuterie board, woven baskets, oceanic-inspired serveware and a smattering of seashells and starfish to create a casual picnic that feels just like a day at the beach.

We did say to let your imagination run wild! Take your guests on a safari at this table, where zebra and leopard motifs stand out against simple black-and-white dishes. Bring in color by playing purr-fectly off of the feline’s orange-hued pattern.

Poem April 2024

Poem April 2024


My father taught me a civil trick.

If you get caught during a rainstorm

at a downtown restaurant, just ask

the bartender if someone left a black umbrella. They will present you with

a cardboard box chock full of them.

It is not a lie: Someone really has left behind each one. You have left many. Part of the loophole is to make sure to give that umbrella to someone who needs it, or at the very least, leave it

in a shady vestibule, on the coat rack next to that sad windbreaker. Otherwise it doesn’t count. Now they could call this all a life hack, but I consider that lacking. The process of inheritance is about so much more than getting what you need.

            — Maura Way

Maura Way’s second collection of poetry, Mummery,
was published in November 2023 by Press 53.

Omnivorous Reader

Omnivorous Reader

The Color of Music

Symphony of Secrets plucks at the heartstrings

By Anne Blythe

Brendan Slocumb, a composer-turned-novelist with deep ties to North Carolina, hopes to one day be “the Stephen King of musical thrillers.” That’s what the author of Symphony of Secrets and The Violin Conspiracy told Katie Buzard, an Illinois Public Media arts writer, in a 2023 interview.

With two books in his repertoire from the past two years and a third due out in 2025, the gifted writer is well on pace to keep up with the “King of Horror,” whose first three books were published in a three-year span. Slocumb’s most recent, Symphony of Secrets, has been chosen as one of the 2024 selections for North Carolina Reads, a statewide book club created by N.C. Humanities, a nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, because of its exploration of “racial, social and gender equity, and the history and culture of North Carolina.”

The book is set mostly in New York but features visits to Oxford and the Granville County public library. Building on some of the same themes from his first book, Slocumb continues to explore the torment of institutional and everyday racism in his second as he toggles between the present day classical music world and the 1920s and ’30s in New York.

The novel opens with Frederic Delaney, a deflated early 20th-century composer whose plummet from stardom was almost as rapid as his meteoric rise, going through his pre-concert ritual 16 hours before his death — Champagne poured into two glasses and a toast to a photograph of his as yet unidentified collaborator.

We are quickly introduced to professor Bern Hendricks, a musicologist at the University of Virginia who has been consumed with Delaney (a composer of Slocumb’s invention) for much of his life. He knows every piece, all the operas and songs to the most minute detail.

Bern is deep into one composition, enjoying the layering of the alto and tenor saxes over the French horns — and the “French horns’ epic battle with the trombones, when the horns fought for supremacy, but the trombones would, in just seconds, kick their asses” — when he is summoned by the august and influential Delaney Foundation. It’s the organization that shaped Bern’s life from his early days in Milwaukee as a “poor bologna sandwich-eating kid with a beat-up French horn” to the respected academician he has become.

The foundation has uncovered what is believed to be the original draft of Red, a long-lost Delaney opera and an enigma of modern American music. It doesn’t take much coaxing to lure Bern from the Charlottesville campus to the foundation’s plush New York offices, even with the hush-hush of it all. His task is to authenticate Red, the final piece in Delaney’s Rings Quintet, a series of operas inspired by the yellow, blue, black, green and red rings of the Olympic flag.

What he discovers, though, with the help of Eboni Washington — a brilliant, sassy coding whiz from the Bronx — is a gripping history with the potential to destroy both the reputation of the composer Bern idolizes and the foundation interested in preserving an untarnished image of Delaney.

Central to the plot line is one of the most interesting characters of Slocumb’s Symphony: Josephine Reed, a neurodivergent Black woman from North Carolina with a gift for music. She arrives in New York in 1918 with a small, crumpled piece of paper in her gloved hand. We find out why she has traveled all that distance when she rounds a street corner and hears “a trombone, a clarinet and then a trumpet lifting itself up like a benediction, blessing the air with a run of notes that Josephine breathed in like the smell of the earth after a spring rain.”

She hears the sounds of the city — the subways, elevator doors, automobiles, the wind blowing through tunnels  — in musical scales. “The wind whistled in a wavering B-flat up to an F-sharp,” Slocumb writes.

What further sets Josephine apart is how she sees music in colors: pinks, blues, greens, hints of brown, red and more. She has an innate vision and makes distinctive doodles on composition manuscripts that lead to the creation of masterpieces for which she never was credited — Delaney was. It was a photograph of Josephine that Delaney saluted shortly before his death.

Reed becomes a captive in an industry that devalues her because of her skin color and uniqueness. Though she eventually sheds her fragility and finds the confidence to stand up for herself, Josephine’s life comes to a tragic end. With her death, the story of the true composer of the celebrated Delaney operas remains buried until Bern and Eboni find a shipping trunk in the basement of one of Josephine’s distant relatives, and the real source of the operatic sensation that won global acclaim is unearthed.

Slocumb, who grew up in Fayetteville and got a degree in music education from UNC Greensboro, plucks at the heartstrings of his readers throughout Symphony of Secrets. In this fast-paced and galvanizing musical thriller, he reminds us that what’s past is, indeed, prologue, that white supremacy, cultural appropriation and access barriers that existed in the 1920s persist.  OH

Anne Blythe has been a reporter in North Carolina for more than three decades covering city halls, higher education, the courts, crime, hurricanes, ice storms, droughts, floods, college sports, health care and many wonderful characters who make this state such an interesting place.