Pleasures of Life Dept.

Pleasures of Life Dept.

The Kindness of Strangers

Found in unlikely places

By Ronald Winter

Note from the editor: This was our 2023 O.Henry Essay Contest winner.

I suppose I should tell you right away that this took place during a war, and wars are more likely to make the evening news for acts of inhumanity rather than human kindness.

It was November 1968 in Quang Tri, South Vietnam, a beautiful place that at the moment in question for many was lethal. The U.S. Marine Corps maintained an airstrip there that served as a staging point and northernmost helicopter base for operations in the Demilitarized Zone or the Laotian border, both of which were major infiltration routes for communist troops from North Vietnam.

I arrived there in May with the Marine helicopter squadron I had joined nearly two years earlier in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Since then, the tide had definitely been turned against the communists after the so-called “strong points” defenses envisioned by the former Secretary of Defense had been replaced by a highly mobile interdiction strategy, which required lots of helicopters flying thousands of missions.

But on Nov. 28, 1968, Thanksgiving Day, the action subsided as a mutually agreed upon, and mutually distrusted, ceasefire took place for 24 hours. I had been trained as a helicopter electronic/electrical technician, but also volunteered to fly as a door gunner. So each month I spent half of my time fixing helicopters and half flying in combat.

But on this day, our job was to simply deliver canisters of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, desserts and beer to outposts and landing zones in our area. The aromas of  those meals tantalized us all day as we visited landing zone after landing zone, giving the Marine infantry the first hot meal many had seen in weeks, if not months, making it the toughest duty I had seen in the more than 200 missions I had completed thus far.

By mid-afternoon we were done, and it was back to Quang Tri, where the Seabees had completed construction of a mess hall for us. We couldn’t wait to dive in to our own Thanksgiving dinners. After our post-flight duties, a group of us headed for the mess hall where, to our dismay, we found not a noisy jam-packed hall full of Marines scarfing down turkey dinners, but an empty building and, even more distressing, a barren chow line, devoid of anything but crumbs left from what obviously had been a sumptuous feast.

I think we went into a collective shock, which wasn’t helped when we approached the mess sergeant, a senior NCO, asking where the meals were for the flight crews. “Should have gotten here earlier,” was his caustic, wholly uninformed and certainly unsympathetic reply.

We drifted back to the squadron enlisted living area as dejected a group of Marines as could be imagined. It looked as though C-rations was going to be it for us — packaged meals that are unappetizing at best, even when heated, and not belonging in the same universe as a turkey dinner.

As I sat on my cot and pondered the ramifications of what we had just experienced, the door to my hooch burst open and in strode Billy Bazemore, another electrician and a relative newcomer to the squadron, who also had been flying that day and had just discovered that in his absence mail had been delivered, including packages from home. Billy, who had an incredibly ebullient personality, especially considering our current situation, triumphantly reached under his cot, pulling out package after package.

He displayed a large, precooked, canned turkey and more containers with potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce — yes it was the canned variety, but really, where were we going to cook up fresh cranberries in that environment? — and more.

At his invitation a half-dozen of us gathered around Billy’s cot, bringing our own contributions from hoarded C-rations — pound cake, peaches, fruit cocktail, even turkey loaf — and adding them to the growing feast. Then the hooch door opened again and in came another electrician, Tommy Lenz, carrying an armful of Lone Star beer in 12-ounce cans that had been arriving from his mother in small batches to escape detection. He had been secretly saving them for such an occasion. Where Billy was outgoing, Tommy was taciturn, tall and lean — a Texan. But he had a huge smile on his face that day!

And just when we thought we had it all, I discovered that I too had received a package. Upon opening it I found to our great joy a Sara Lee chocolate cake that, thanks to modern chemical preservatives, not only survived the 12,000-mile voyage from upstate New York intact, but arrived reasonably fresh!

Most of us didn’t know the benefactors, who realized that Thanksgiving in a war zone might be difficult and did something about it. But they rescued the day for us and I have never forgotten our appreciation for them.

I wish I could say that this story has a happy ending, but five months later, on April 22, 1969, Tommy and Billy were flying as gunners together near the DMZ when their helicopter was hit by a command-detonated mine as it settled into a landing zone. They both died.

A month later, with more than 300 missions under my belt, I left Vietnam, physically unscathed. But more than five decades later, I still remember that Thanksgiving with far more detail than any other holiday meal during my time in the service.

I have lived a good life, far away from the war, in both time and distance, but I haven’t forgotten the people who created a memorable day for a bunch of Marines they never knew. And every Thanksgiving I stop for a moment, by myself, with no fanfare, and quietly raise a glass to them, and to Billy Bazemore and Tommy Lenz, to say, “Thank you. Semper Fi!”  OH

Ronald Winter is an author, He is a decorated Marine Corps Vietnam veteran who spent nearly 20 years as a print journalist, earning numerous awards and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. He is a public speaker, competitive powerlifter and media relations specialist, living in Eden, N.C.

O.Henry Ending

O.Henry Ending

A Fairytale Ending

I Think That I Shall Never See Myself as Other Than a Tree

By  Christine Garton

Our fourth-grade Christmas pageant offered an opportunity I yearned for — the role of a fairy! While I dreamed of wands and sparkling wings, I knew I would face competition from my pixie-like classmate, Anne. For days I practiced flitting about while singing, “I’m a fairy, so light and airy.” Alas, Anne received the fairy assignment, and our teacher proclaimed that “a big ol’ healthy girl” like me would play . . .  a tree. “Well,” Mother said, “maybe you will be draped with tinsel and wear a star on your head.” No. I was to wear my blue velveteen Sunday school jumper, stand in one spot and utter one line.

I first met Anne when the black taxicab picked us and the other 4-year-olds up for delivery to Mrs. Teensy Davis’ in-home nursery school. Memories of that year consist mainly of finger painting and two horrid little boys who terrified me by saying they were going to climb under the hood of Daddy’s car and kill him. For some reason my father did not take this as a serious threat, but Anne consoled me and thus became my friend.

The following year, Anne cut through her backyard to meet me, and together we walked to kindergarten. Anne was a tiny girl with blonde, Alice-in-Wonderland hair she wore in braids. At her temples I saw delicate blue veins, like rivers on a map. Mother said Anne was born “premature,” which I interpreted as “dainty.” Built like a fireplug with a Dutch-boy bob, I longed for braids like Anne’s, so I nagged Mother into allowing my hair to grow. Although the resulting plaits were so thin that rubber bands slipped off the ends, Scotch Tape worked just fine.

I coveted the sleek, black penny loafers Anne wore in first grade. I hated my spud feet, clad in sturdy, lace-up, tan Hush Puppies, and hooked my ankles around the legs of my desk to keep them out of view. I campaigned to convince Mother to buy me loafers. “You’d tear them up in a week,” she said. In retaliation, I rode my bike for an hour, dragging the toes of my Hush Puppies along the pavement, but the shoes were indestructible.

The after-school YMCA program yielded no outlet for my inner Thumbelina. President Kennedy had determined that America’s youth were soft, so an intense fitness regimen was inflicted upon us: “Go, You Chicken Fat, Go!” We performed sit-ups and jumping jacks. Bird-like, Anne flew to and fro in the potato relay as I plodded behind on turkey drumstick legs. I could barely hoist myself halfway on the climbing rope, while Anne skittered up and down like a spider.

I mostly gave up any notion of being like Anne. I worked at kicking a ball hard and swinging a softball bat. I beat up the runty boy across the street who called me “Moose” and eventually outgrew my stocky phase.

Years later, reeling from an abrupt end to my marriage, I found myself rearing a son on my own. No time for fairies, daily life was consumed with his care and paying the bills. But I was determined to make sure my boy was rooted securely by his mother’s love.

In his early teens, my son applied for a job at the boys’ summer camp he had loved throughout childhood. One day, I received an unexpected phone call from the camp director wanting to discuss a junior counselor position. “You know, Grey had to describe his hero on the job application,” he said. “His hero is you.”

My perplexed silence prompted him to continue.

“He wrote about the big tree in your backyard where you hung his swing. He said like that tree, you are strong and give him support, but with the swing, you also let him fly.”

After thanking him and hanging up, I pondered this revelation: Was I wrong all along? Perhaps being a tree was not the indignity I’d thought.  OH

Christine Garton is a staff writer for UNCG’s Advancement Communications. She holds great pride in the fact that her son earned the rank of Eagle Scout, albeit with her foot planted firmly on his derriere . . .

Tea Leaf Astrologer

Tea Leaf Astrologer


(April 20 – May 20)

While it’s true you tend to be a bit self-absorbed, who can blame you? Ruled by the planet of love, money, romance, art and beauty, your sensual nature is part of what makes you so utterly magnetic. This month, both Venus and Jupiter will amplify your charm factor, creating a “golden ticket” effect in relation to your wildest longings. Here’s the catch:
You’ve got to be willing to ditch your plans.

Tea leaf “fortunes” for the rest of you:

Gemini (May 21 – June 20) 

Choose a focal point.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

One word: hummingbird.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

Just take the ride.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

Step away from your comfort zone.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

Expect a miracle.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

Try slowing down.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

Mind your tone.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Read the care instructions.

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

Find your true north.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

Dust the fan blades.

Aries (March 21 – April 19) 

Let the butterfly come to you.   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.

Omnivorous Reader

Omnivorous Reader

Sweet Memories

A year on the journey to adulthood

By Jim Moriarty

My freshman year in college was nothing like the one Stephen E. Smith writes about in his memoir The Year We Danced. And yet it was exactly the same.

For any memoir to rise above the level of that dusty old book sitting on the mantel in your grandchildren’s house, it has to reach a level of universality — no easy feat — and The Year We Danced does it without breaking a sweat. Except on the dance floor, that is.

Written with a touch of humor and a bit of heartache by one of North Carolina’s finest poets, Smith’s tale of his freshman year at, then, Elon College in 1965-66 is sweet without being sentimental, poignant without being preachy. While simultaneously being tethered to and free from his family back in Maryland, and with the escalating war in Vietnam a kind of constant buzz in the background, The Year We Danced is nothing less than the launchpad of a life, a survey course in Adult 101 — complete with its own soundtrack. Along the way we’re introduced to an endlessly entertaining cast of characters, drawn by Smith in distinctive, rich detail.

Smith’s father, the boxing coach at the U.S. Naval Academy, had taken control of his son’s college admission process in March and delivered the results in June like an uppercut:

“We were devouring Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks and oven-baked frozen French fries smothered in Hunt’s ketchup, our standard Wednesday evening fare, when he stared at me across the dinner table and stated matter-of-factly, ‘You’re going to North Carolina in the fall.’

“I froze in mid-bite, a flaky chunk of trans-fat-engrossed fish stick balanced on my fork. ‘I am?’

“‘Yeah, you’re going to Elon College,’ he continued. ‘It’s far enough away that you won’t be running home every fifteen minutes.’”

We are introduced to Grandma Drager, who “never forgave her wayward first husband and never passed up a chance to deliver a sermon on the evils of drink,” who travels 350 miles by bus to hand-deliver to a young man about to venture forth into the world a baffling bit of wisdom in six words, memorable only in their towering insignificance — “Promise me you’ll wear tennis shoes.”

Once at Elon, where Smith’s father delivers both him and the message that he doesn’t expect his son to make it through the first semester, Stephen meets his roommate, Carl, who has arranged his shoes in the closet alphabetically by brand and has a pricy collection of 30 or 40 bottles of men’s cologne in parade formation on top of his dresser. “Unfortunately, Carl was the loquacious sort. He was going to sign up for physics and run for class president in addition to majoring in German. Then he started in on his personal life. I had no choice but to lie there in the dark and listen to him brag about his girlfriend, who was a freshman at a college in Virginia, and how they were going to get married before the year was out, a notion that struck me as utterly demented.”

As it turns out, it becomes clear rather quickly that Carl could have benefited from one, or several, of Grandma Drager’s exhortations on demon rum. “In the time we shared room 218, Carl never once exchanged his sheets for clean ones, and the pile of dirty laundry on his desk had spilled onto the floor beside his bed and included many of the garments he’d so neatly arranged in the closet on the first day of orientation. He’d sold off most of his bottles of cologne for beer money, and, as nearly as I could determine, he’d quit going to class altogether.”

On the plus side, Carl became the subject of an essay written by Smith for the spine-chilling professor of English 111, Tully Reed. Smith picked a subject he knew and wrote the hell out of it. When the “The Making of a Derelict,” with copy as clean as anything that ever ran in The New Yorker, gained nothing better than a C– (the highest grade in the class), Smith screwed up the courage to find Tully in his office and ask the fearsome man why.

“‘It’s not A or B work,’ he said, shaking his head, ‘not for a college freshman.’ He handed me my essay, took a drag on his Lucky Strike and returned to slinging red ink.”

Smith’s dance partner, and surely one of the first honest loves of his life, is Blondie, an upperclassman (they weren’t gender neutral in 1965), who can power drink a PBR and dance until curfew, if not dawn. At their favored club, the Castaways, she takes flight. “As I watched, the simple truth dawned on me: We might be at a club where there was only one acceptable dance step, but if Blondie didn’t want to dance the Shag, she didn’t have to. She was beautiful, unique, and she didn’t give a damn about attracting undue attention. She wasn’t there to prove herself to anyone; she was there to have a good time, and she intended to do just that.”

Also unique, and on the other end of the spectrum from the fearsome Tully, was another English professor, Manly Wade Wellman, a prolific author who would eventually call the Sandhills home, just as Smith would and does. “Wellman was barrel-chested and wide-shouldered, his graying hair combed back from his broad forehead. His round, open face was accentuated with heavy eyebrows and a prominent nose below which was cultivated a tweedy, slightly skewed Clark Gable mustache. What was immediately appreciable was the peculiar way in which his eyes reflected light. The very tops of his dark irises flickered, suggesting an inner illumination. . . . If Wellman was insistent, he was also endearing. I was immediately convinced that this guy had a sincere interest in who I was and what I thought. He wanted to know about my latest writing project as if it were of immense concern to the literary community. ‘What are you working on?’ he asked.”

In a few short months, Smith had met both the carrot and the stick.

In the end, Blondie moves on. As all of our Blondies do. Then Smith gets the news that a boyhood friend has been killed in combat. “The spring of ’66 was early in the war, and although the weekly casualties were the highest since our involvement in Vietnam, I doubted anyone at Elon could name a friend who’d died in that distant war. I kept the news to myself.”

But not the sense of helplessness and futility. “I reviewed the times Barrie and I had spent together, my memory sliding from one image to another in no particular sequence — the hours playing hide-and-seek on dusky evenings in the little town of Easton, Maryland, the summer days I visited with him in Salisbury, where we skipped stones from the banks of the Wicomico. But what I remembered most vividly was a summer afternoon in 1957 — we were both eleven — when Barrie and I were singing our favorite top ten rock ‘n’ roll songs and I mentioned that I was fond of a country song, ‘The Tennessee Waltz.’ ‘I can teach you how to play it on the piano,’ he said, and then he sat down at the family’s upright Baldwin and with uncharacteristic purposefulness showed me how to pick out the melody on the white keys. It was a good moment to hold in memory, affirmative and focused, his casual smile, his fingers walking along the ivories.”

Smith’s memoir, to be released this month by Apprentice House Press, is packed full of good moments. If you know someone who is going to be a college freshman — or if you were ever young once yourself — this trip down memory lane is well worth taking.  OH

Jim Moriarty is the editor of PineStraw and can be reached at


Creators of N.C.

Creators of N.C.

The Late Drive Home

The music of David Childers

By Wiley Cash

Photographs By Mallory Cash

One chilly evening in early March, I parked in front of WiredCoffeeEspress in Kannapolis, North Carolina. I waited in the car for a few moments, wondering if I had the right place. The coffee shop sat in a strip mall between a discount store and a supermercado, and it seemed like a surprising spot to find one of my favorite living musicians on a Tuesday night. But then I remembered that I was there to see Mount Holly native David Childers, a universally beloved songwriter who is as at home sitting in on an intimate showcase of local musicians in front of a weeknight crowd as he is performing with the Avett Brothers in the Greensboro Coliseum.

Inside I found Childers already seated on the small stage, tuning his acoustic guitar and adjusting the harmonica holder around his neck. He and two other men about his age spent the next hour-and-a-half taking turns playing original songs, each performing five or six numbers. I knew most of the songs Childers played, but I couldn’t help but be struck by their beauty and nuance, how he was able to create rich tension between two lines that revealed a complicated duality that most songwriters aren’t capable of reaching for, much less grasping.

“There are moments of greatness,” he sang during his last song of the evening, “but this ain’t one of those.”

He could’ve fooled me.

By 10 p.m. Childers and I were sitting at a table on the sidewalk in front of the coffee shop as patrons loaded into their cars and trucks to head home for the evening, but not before several of them stopped by our table to say hello. One of them offered Childers condolences on the recent passing of Malcolm Holcombe, a singer/songwriter from western North Carolina whom Childers knew for years and who recently lost a long battle with cancer. Childers had honored his friend that evening by performing one of Holcombe’s songs.

“I’m sorry we lost Malcolm,” the man said.

“Yeah,” Childers responded, “but I think Malcolm’s in a better place.” He smiled a sly smile. “We’ll probably run into him.”

Holcombe and Childers came up together in the North Carolina music scene, two literary singer/songwriters who both seemed haunted by the South, its religious iconography, its mystery, and its hardscrabble economics. Both men released their debut albums in 1999 and spent the years before and after touring incessantly, making regular jaunts across Europe.

“I couldn’t get a gig around here in Charlotte,” Childers said, referring to a time when most bars wanted cover bands, not poets with guitars singing blue collar stories about mill closures and lost souls. “I was pretty much by myself, although I would get these bands together and eventually started getting gigs. One place was Dilworth Brewing. That let me get some experience because I started late.” Childers, in his mid-60s now, was around 38 years old when he began performing publicly while he and his wife, Linda, raised a young family, all while Childers worked 50 and 60 hours a week as an attorney in Mount Holly.

In 2007 he looked around and decided that life on the road wasn’t for him, especially when he realized that by the end of November he’d only spent four weekends at home during the entire year. There were things he wanted to do in Mount Holly: spend time with his wife and kids, work in the yard, paint.

“I’d been playing overseas, and there had been some good things, but there was a lot of disappointment, a very mixed bag. And I just realized, I don’t want to be in an airplane all the time or in strange hotels or riding in buses and cars. And Charlotte was changing, North Carolina was changing. The music scene was opening up, and I was getting more of a name, so I had more opportunities. Why fly all over the place if you can stay here and make a living?

“I don’t have the wanderlust anymore,” he said. “I don’t really want to go anywhere.”

And that makes sense if you listen closely to Childers’ more recent music, almost all of which is firmly grounded in the Mount Holly soil that rests along the Catawba River dividing Gaston and Mecklenburg counties. The songs from The Next Best Thing (2013), Run Skeleton Run (2017), Melancholy Angel (2023), and especially 2020’s Interstate Lullaby play like soundtracks of mill culture, zeroing in on the hope born in the post-war years of the 1950s and the despair felt once the lifeblood of local industries began to seep away.

“It’s there in those songs,” he said. “Those two emotions — hope and despair — they give you a conflict, and that’s a good thing to have in a song.”

A young man was standing nearby, and Childers looked up and saw him.

“Hey, man,” Childers said. He shook the young guy’s hand. “I’m glad you came out. I’ve seen you play.”

The guy seemed surprised and genuinely touched, and, before walking toward the parking lot, he invited Childers to an upcoming show. Childers promised to try and make it.

“That boy’s a hell of a songwriter,” Childers said.

We talked for a few more minutes, and then it was time for Childers to step inside the coffee shop to pack up his gear. I asked him how long the drive home to Mount Holly would take.

“It’s about 40 minutes,” he said. He stood from his chair and stretched his back.

I apologized for keeping him so long after the show ended.

“It’s OK,” he said. “It was a good show, and it was nice to chat.”

“I hope it was worth the late drive home on dark roads,” I said.

He smiled. “Hope and despair,” he said.  OH

Wiley Cash is the executive director of Literary Arts at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the founder of This Is Working, an online community for writers.

Home Grown

Home Grown

Angel on Her Shoulder, Nape and Wrists

Mama picks her pungent poison

By Cynthia Adams

My Mama was wild for big, strong fragrances, favoring those that grew stronger as the day grew longer. In terms of chemical warfare, Mama could have taken out a small village with her perfume alone.

For years, I questioned whether Mama had any sense of smell whatsoever. She navigated her Yank tank of a car with Avon perfume samples at the ready inside the trunk that seeped so powerfully into the interior, it would make my eyes water. Mama put the “stinking” into her Lincoln.

Typically, Mama didn’t wear the fragrances she briefly sold. No, she was a fan of more precious perfumes. Nina Ricci’s line was a long-time fave. But she was quick to jump ship in favor of celebrity-hyped scents. Joy became a favorite after reading it was then the costliest perfume on the market. She also favored anything worn by her style idols, Elizabeth Taylor or Joan Collins.

She positively flipped for Opium, a scent so powerful that I dreaded being in her vapor trail.

The last thing you wanted to do was hug Mama early in the morning. You, too, would wear Nina, Opium, Black Diamonds or her perfume du jour for the rest of the day.

Her fragrances tracked alongside a timeline of popular culture.

That changed when she remarried in her 70s after meeting a man who loved fragrances as much as she did. He would buy a huge (refillable) bottle of Angel for Mama and Polo for himself.

Between them, they could never sneak up on a person. You smelled them coming.

By then, Mama had abandoned all other fragrances for Angel. It still lingers on the clothing I saved after she “went to her reward” — its ironic name not lost upon her family.

All of which suddenly rushed back to me after entering a bathroom as a young woman exited. I had the equivalent of an olfactory flash back, including the gag reflex.

Covering my face with a tissue, I fled and immediately phoned an academic friend who positively excels at one topic in particular: pop culture. He shares the snappy sensibilities of late comedian Leslie Jordan. 

When he answered, his speech, always slightly breathless, was crackling with wait-till-you-get-a-load-of-this energy before I could even mention my prime reason for phoning — loathsome colognes. 

We immediately fell into our old-friends patter, talking over one another and half-listening, which is oddly comforting. These free-for-alls take peculiar turns that make us cry with laughter. 

I delight in dragging his intellectual self to my idiotic level, which is a bit like taking David Niven to a tractor pull.

But, this time, he was way ahead of me.

“Google ‘actors with dentures,’” my friend said with urgency, which admittedly threw me for a nanosecond, given our last chat was about Jimmy Carter, whom he had met on several occasions. For ages, he had hinted he might get me permission for a media visit to the Carter family compound in Plains, Georgia, where he had consulted on a preservation project. 

After a pause, he cackled with laughter — just as I feared he had lost it. 

I scribbled a note to myself as we nattered on, assuring him he’d just handed me a column idea. At least we were hewing to the general subject area of smells.

Assuring him I would google “dentures,” I steered him back to what was uppermost in mind: compiling a list of the worst fragrances of all time. Without hesitation, he ticked off the most odious of men’s colognes: Pub. Hai Karate. Polo. British Sterling. Jungle Gardenia. Straw Hat.

And hiccuped with laughter.

Delighted, I mentioned Tom Ford’s unisex fragrance — “F––––g Fabulous” — one which a clerk at Belk’s fragrance counter told me her store would not stock.

“Indecent,” she sniffed. I only knew such a scent as “F––––g Fabulous” fragrance existed because my niece spotted it at Charlotte’s SouthPark Mall.

“It stinks,” she texted, “but I sure want the bottle.”

Meanwhile, my friend zigzagged back to dentures, insisting Clark Gable’s horrid breath caused leading ladies to stuff their nose with cotton. (Explaining why Scarlet was so disgusted by Rhett?) A denture-wearing Tom Cruise and others surprised. (Go ahead. I’ll wait while you do your own search. I’ll be here when you return from that rabbit hole.)

Seeking bias-confirmation, I absently googled “most reviled fragrances” as my friend gabbed about the challenged chops of stars.

Angel popped right up. 

“Not very original,” posted a disgusted Reddit respondent, who just might be a chemist. “Angel, the progenitor of every sickly-sweet gourmand, its ramifications still being felt nearly 30 years later. OK, it wasn’t the first to use the caramel/chocolate ethyl maltol but it WAS the first to use it in those quantities, to that effect.” He ranted: “What makes it worse is that they squandered that bottle, that name and that beautiful blue color on THAT juice.”

Describing Angel as “carnal and sensual,” another Redditor claimed it was worn by model Jerry Hall. But I halted at the heading, “What perfume is good for body odor in monsoon?” Soap! my mind screamed.

For years I refused to wear any fragrance. It took most of early adulthood for my sense of smell to normalize after a childhood spent in mom’s flagrantly fragrant wake. Eventually, make-up maven Bobbi Brown created Beach, a clean, uncomplicated scent, reminiscent of Coppertone and sunlight. Fleeting, too, as a weekend idyll by the sea; it was truth in advertising, that name.

Some things, like Beach, wear well —
and, more importantly, fade like your favorite denim shirt. Some things grind. A lot like Cruise’s original teeth, come to think of it.

Meantime, my friend was still cracking on about celebrities and dentures. But my head, frankly, was lost in a fragrant cloud — one that had Mama’s name all over it.  OH

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



The Hidden Hawk

Looking for the elusive broad-winged

By Susan Campbell

All of us are aware of hawks in the landscape — no matter where in North Carolina we may be. We are fortunate to have a diversity of raptors in our state. These birds are formidable hunters that use their talons to grab unsuspecting prey of varying kinds. The most noticeable are larger species such as red-tailed hawks that sit in the open on stout branches or snags, and in the absence of natural perches, can be seen on fence posts or telephone poles. But there are hawks that are more secretive and spend most of their time hidden. One of these is the broad-winged hawk. This species is smaller in size and is more likely to be found in swampy woods. Happily, they are now returning from their wintering grounds in Central and South America.

These birds seem to enjoy the diversity of prey in wetter habitats. Mind you, I do not see these diminutive but magnificent birds regularly but, as with so many species during the breeding season, I hear them advertising their presence. Their call is a high-pitched whistle, unlike any other bird in our area. Being heard and not seen may be a strategy for these birds, given their smaller size: close to that of a crow. Often living within the boundaries of other, larger hawks — such as a red-shouldered — being less visible is a distinct advantage.

Not surprisingly, given their size, broad-wingeds often go unnoticed. They are birds of the forest and, given their dark coloration, blend in well with their surroundings. But that doesn’t mean they’re drab. These stocky little hawks have reddish heads and handsome barred underparts that match their boldly barred tails. Only the keenest of birders will likely spot them, unless they’re migrating, when they congregate in large numbers (even into the thousands) in certain locations. At these raptor “hot spots” the birds can be seen soaring in circles, forming large “kettles” on updrafts, gaining altitude early in the day. Broad-wingeds, like many other hawks, use upper air currents to make their long journey a bit easier. Unlike most of our local hawk species, these birds move back and forth between the eastern United States and central to northern South America during the year.

In the Piedmont, the species can be found in hardwood or mixed pine/hardwood forest. The courtship ritual is breathtaking, involving “skydiving” — circling high in the sky followed by a rapid dive. The pair will nest in the lower limbs of a mature tree, usually close to water or some sort of opening in the canopy. The parent hawks will feed their young everything from mice to frogs, lizards to large insects. Since broad-winged hawks are easily disturbed, they are rarely seen outside of rural areas.

Should you be out hiking at Haw River State Park in Browns Summit or at, say, Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve in Southern Pines, keep an eye out — as well as an ear — you just may spot an elusive broad-winged.  OH

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

Wandering Billy

Wandering Billy

A Building for a Song

Ivan Battle’s dream of musical education plays on

By Billy Ingram

“Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances.”
— Maya Angelou

There’s plenty of activity surrounding what’s become known as Midtown, where flashy attractions like Mac’s Speed Shop, RED Cinemas, Scratch and Doggos Dog Park & Pub are the obvious lures. Just behind those establishments, along a shady lane named Beaman Place, there’s a newly minted coffee klatch on the corner followed by two enchanting gift boutiques you really should check out.

Near the top of the crest on Beaman Place, Midtown is anchored by what has been one of this city’s creative bedrocks for more than four decades: The Music Academy of North Carolina. Serene on the outside, this two-story ensemble of studios, rehearsal and performance spaces is harmonically sonorous as you step inside. “Cool place!” is how seasoned musician Zac Richey described his experience, having won a guitar competition there when he was 15 years old. That mirrors others with similarly gratifying stories about fine tuning their skills in pursuit of dreams both large and small under the academy’s expert tutorage.

Armed with a UNCG degree in musicology and a doctorate from the University of Kansas, Ivan Battle — a musician, performer, composer and recording artist — was 25 in 1982 when he kicked off the first term at what was then called Greensboro Music Academy. With just two teachers and fewer than a couple dozen students, the organization operated out of his small home on Pisgah Church Road.   

As a teenager growing up in Greensboro in the early-1970s, Battle recognized that our fair city was, to a great extent, a virtual musical desert. He felt budding musicians, no matter their age or experience, would benefit from an academic environment employing a collaborative approach in addition to one-on-one instruction.

With the help of co-founder Rev. Joe Flora, former associate minister at First Presbyterian Church, where Battle played the organ as a youngster, Greensboro Music Academy grew exponentially over the years. Its success led it first into a two-story house on Bessemer, then, in 1988, to its decade-long headquarters on Westover Terrace, where Chipotle is today.

Described by those who knew him as “informal and playful,” Ivan Battle passed away in 1995, but not before witnessing enrollment top some 700 attendees. Still, that was a few short years before the academy moved into its current digs on Beaman Place, where Battle’s vision — that one day his nascent organization would occupy a suitably sized space dedicated entirely to musical education — began inching toward reality.

A quarter-century later, Music Academy of North Carolina remains a vibrant community asset for those with a song in their hearts

“The benefits of music-making are far reaching,” says executive director Kellie Burgess. “It makes us smarter, gives us more confidence, teaches us discipline and gives us an opportunity to express ourselves, to work with others.” In a recent partnership with Lindley Elementary School, MANC instructors discovered that non-English speaking kids learned the language much more quickly by singing words set to melodies.

Referencing our public school music teachers, Burgess insists, “I think they’re doing a great job. They just have a lot on them.” One of MANC’s major outreach efforts is providing sectionals to school choirs, orchestras and bands. For instance, Burgess mentions a recent trip to Ragsdale High to work with violin students. “We will do whatever we can do to build their confidence and help them hone their skills so that they can have a stronger collaborative group.”

Chris Rachal, director of student relations, touts the “top tier, well-educated in music teachers” on deck as one reason this nonprofit’s methodology is so effective. “I teach recording at the Music Academy,” Rachal says, noting he has both older and younger students. “I love both. I enjoy the younger students’ enthusiasm for learning and the older students’ willingness to learn something new.”

“We have the whole broad spectrum,” says Burgess. “Some younger students may not want to be here. You can tell because mom is making them play.” Others, though, are very ambitious and look forward to every visit, committing for semester-long courses.

“We meet students where they are, then just guide them on their own journey,” Burgess says. And the instructors each offer a unique curriculum and style. “We give them a good bit of guidance because sometimes students don’t want to play scales or don’t want to learn this or that, but we know it’s important that they do.”

The centerpiece of the first floor is a large recital hall, where Sunday recitals are often held. “We can also do workshops and group classes in here,” says Burgess. “We actually have a monthly jazz workshop. It’s free and open to the public and this is a perfect space for it.” (See for schedule.)

Participants in the jazz workshop have an opportunity to perform in a manner similar to a jam session. “It’s basically for students of any age who have an interest in jazz,” Burgess points out, “to learn more about the language of jazz, learn more about the history.” Unlike standard jams where the group plays one song after another, with individuals standing to solo, this program tends to be more free flowing. “We have so many young students and adult students that come not knowing anything about jazz. So we want to make sure they’ve got the right tools to navigate the sessions.”

It was relatively quiet when I toured the Beaman Place facility on a recent afternoon, most kids still in school. “We do have adult students and homeschool families that’ll come during the day,” Burgess explains. “Most of our students start trickling in around 2, 2:30, and hang around until about 7 or 8. Our core is private lessons — that’s what we’re probably most known for.”

Ivan Battle’s dream for a stable future of Music Academy of North Carolina became even more solidified just last year. “The Murphy family, Pam Murphy and her husband, Don, enabled us to buy our building in October,” Burgess says. (Pam Murphy is the owner of Greensboro’s flavor-maker, Mother Murphy’s.) “It was a huge donation and we’re very grateful for their commitment to music education and to the Music Academy and the community.” Being spared that monthly rental expense allows additional resources for extended outreach.

This summer, MANC will conduct its annual symphonic summer camp in harmony with Eastern Music Festival, held on the Guilford College campus. “We’ve been doing this one for, gosh, probably close to 20 years,” Burgess tells me. “Students get to visit the orchestra each day, sit and watch a rehearsal, and sometimes actually get up on stage with the musicians.”

Dreams do come true, it could happen to you . . . but it does take practice.  OH

An internet pioneer, Billy Ingram’s TVparty! was the first to combine text, pictures and embedded media via a web page, the experience we’ve now come to expect online, and the first to broadcast television clips over the net.

Poem May 2024

Poem May 2024

Beguiled by the Frailties of Those Who Precede Us

Scrub your face with a vengeance.

Brush your teeth till your gums bleed.

Comb your hair into a pompadour, braid it

into cornrows, buzz cut a flattop with side skirts,

spit-paste that cowlick to your forehead.

That’s how it begins, this becoming who you aren’t.

A twitch or tic or two you may inherit, but the face

in the mirror you recognized only once

before you’re beguiled by the frailties of those who

precede you — your wayward Aunt Amelia,

the lying politician, tongue flickering through his false

teeth, the long-legged temptress slyly sipping a latté

at the corner coffee shop, your scapegrace 

one-eyed Uncle Bill — all of them competing

for your attention, all of them wanting you to become

who they believed they were going to be.

Between intention and action, take a deep breath

and welcome the moment you become who you aren’t.

Slap on Uncle Bill’s black eye patch,

stuff those willful curls under Aunt Amelia’s cloche,

pluck your eyebrows, rouge your cheeks, bleach

those teeth whiter than light: then stare deep into

the reflection behind the mirror: who you’ve become

will trouble you, even if you shut your eyes.  

            — Stephen E. Smith

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of seven books of poetry and prose. His memoir The Year We Danced is being released this month by Apprentice House Press.

Life’s Funny

Life’s Funny

Getting Around to the Inner Game

Fifty years later, a classic book somehow seems wiser

By Maria Johnson

I pull up to the tennis courts late, worried that my friend will be miffed, even though this Saturday morning hitting session is just for fun.

The lag is no biggie, thank goodness.

The place is sparsely populated, and my pal is walking around the court languidly, phone pressed to her ear, engrossed in a conversation about her impending move.

She takes her time, which is fair and fine by me.

It’s a glistening spring day, and I take a few moments to soak it up.

The solid blue dome overhead.

The way my friend’s pastel Nikes leave footprints in the damp green grit of the synthetic clay.

The brush marks on the perfectly combed court.

The lacy overlay of snowflake-size petals blown from nearby Bradford pear trees, stinky but beautiful.

But stinky.

On the back fence, a mockingbird trills through his list of knockoffs.

A few courts down, the resident pro gives gentle reminders to his students.

I unzip my tennis bag, grab a racket and paw around until I feel the glossy cover of a book I’ve been meaning to give my friend, The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey.

The thin, pale paperback with a yellow ball on the cover — I wiped off another distinguishing feature, a coffee ring, before I left home — became a best-seller when it was published exactly 50 years ago, at the height of the 1970s tennis boom.

At the time, I was a teenager who was swept up in the wave, brandishing a steel Wilson T2000 racket, wearing a shiny Adidas track suit and racing around in featherlight Tretorn tennis shoes topped with pom-pom socks.

And yes, that was fly way back then. 

I don’t remember how I acquired the book — Did someone give it to me? Did I go to a bookstore and buy it? — but I do remember reading a few chapters.

What malarkey, I thought.

The author went on and on about Self 1 and Self 2.

Self 1 was the self-critical voice, the source of rules and judgments, shoulds and oughts, rights and wrongs, goods and bads.

It was the self that yelled, “You idiot!” when I missed a shot and occasionally hammered the fence with my T2000, though not too hard because a cracked racket head was not terribly cool — or practical for a girl who worked weekends serving hot dogs at a snack shack.

Like most teenagers, I was well acquainted with Self 1, who was chiefly concerned with performance and appearance.

I was not as chummy with Self 2, the home of curiosity, awareness, acceptance and a knack for learning by imitation.

The ability to find joy in play — that is, childlike play marked by getting lost in the process and not giving a whit about scores or what anyone else thinks  — lived with Self 2.

As a teen, I had no use for her.

I tossed the book aside, but for some reason I took it with me when I left home, boxing it up, unpacking it, not reading it I and repeating the cycle of neglect several times during the couple of decades when I didn’t touch a racket at all.

A few years ago, well into my second life as a tennis player, I unpacked a box of books and there it was. I started reading the yellowed pages and, this time, I couldn’t stop.

Gallwey, the author, had gotten a lot smarter in the intervening 50 years, and I wanted to share his wisdom with my friend.

She has finished her phone conversation.

“Here,” I say, handing her the slim volume. “Before I forget.”

She thanks me and slips the book into her bag.

We pluck a dozen of the brightest balls from a hopper, tuck them into our jacket pockets and start hitting short-court, service line to service line, to warm up.

We chat as we hit, taking quick stock of family, friends and the health of the aforementioned before tackling the pains of prepping a house for a move and discussing the merits of track lighting versus halo lighting.

The balls keep flying, arcing and landing inside the boxes as we dance around our shots. With our minds otherwise occupied, the rackets and the balls seem to be doing their own thing.

We back up to the baselines, too far apart for conversation now, and drop into long cross-court rallies.

Bounce-hit, bounce-hit.

The balls fly deep and fast.

My friend, a former college player, is nursing a shoulder injury and has no interest in playing flat out, which is great for me. In fighting form, in a real-deal match, she’d flatten me. That’s just the Self 1 truth.

But today, she just wants to hit, grooving her strokes without worrying about scores. In other words, she wants Self 1 to butt out.

Same here.

Bounce-hit, bounce-hit.

I blot out everything but the ball. By the time it lands on my side of the court and rises up, I can see the brand name spinning like a cyclone.

Gallwey — now 86 years old and set to release a hardback special edition of his softbound masterpiece next month — would say that by concentrating on the ball and giving Self 1 a job to do, I’m freeing up Self 2 to do what she knows how to do: Put the ball where it needs to go.

The rallies stretch. Five, 10, 20 shots.

We’re slugging the balls with topspin. And knifing it with slice. And hitting drop shots that curl up and die, leaving both the dropper and the drop-ee scrambling and panting with laughter.

“Oh, noooo . . . ” we yelp mid-sprint.

“You did NOT . . . ” we scold and take off. We applaud each other’s wicked shots by clapping free hands to string.

We are playing. Tennis just happens to be the game.

It’s tempting to say I’d like to banish Self 1 from all areas of my life, tennis and otherwise, but ’taint true. Making a little room for Self 1 strikes me as a good thing. The ability to kick yourself in the butt without kicking yourself to the curb is a valuable trait, as is judgment when it’s used, um, judiciously.

Plus, I like winning. Correction: I
luvvvv winning. It’s an addictive juice.

But this is also true: My Self 2 comes around more than she used to, and I’m always happy to see her. She watches more, listens more, lingers in the moment longer and tells Self 1 to shush and hold her horses.

Maybe Self 2 is emboldened by age to stage-whisper what experience has shown her: that she is not the game. Or the score. Or how well she hits that drop shot.

She is something else entirely.

On her good days, you’ll see her running around the court, focused and flowing.

On her best days, you’ll see her hanging with other Self 2s.

Today is one of those days.

“My God,” my friend says, smiling and breathless as we break for water. “I’m gonna miss this.”

“Yeah,” I say between gulps. “Me, too.”

We talk a little, pick up a few balls and head back out for another round of moments.  OH

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