O.Henry Ending

O.Henry Ending

The Gift of the Fan Belt

What goes around . . .

By Harry Roach

Note from the editor: This was second place in our 2023 O.Henry Essay Contest.

In the summer of 1969, I was driving a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair. Yes, a Corvair, not a Corvette. Manufactured from 1960–1969, the Corvair was America’s first and only automobile with an air-cooled, rear-mount engine. That engine was the heart of the vehicle, and near the center of this story.

After a long day trip to a state park in southeastern Missouri, my wife and I were in the Corvair, engine off, waiting in line for a ferry to carry us across the Mississippi River to southern Illinois. We chatted and laughed, recounting the highlights of the day.  From the ferry landing, fields of corn flowed north and south to the horizon, filling thousands of acres of bottom land between the river and the levee. I could say that the scene reminded me of that ominous Stephen King story, but he didn’t write it until 1977.   

With the late afternoon sun behind us, we could see the ferry crossing toward us from the east bank, slow as a tortoise on vacation. It was carrying its maximum, just nine cars. On our side, the Corvair was seventh in line and, because the ferry did not operate after dark, ours would be the final crossing of the day.

As the ferry maneuvered toward the slip, drivers ahead of us started their cars. I turned the key in the ignition, the engine immediately fired up. Bang! What was that? Red lights on the control panel lit up like a Christmas display. I got out and opened the hatch over the engine. The Corvair had thrown its fan belt. Late on a Sunday afternoon. Miles from nowhere. We were stuck.

The fan is essential to an air-cooled engine, and its belt also runs the generator and the power steering. I was thinking maybe we could coast down the incline and onto the ferry, then, after the crossing, get help pushing the car up the ramp onto the Illinois shore. Where we’d probably have to sleep in the car. Not a bright prospect.

“Can I help you, buddy?” It was the guy in the truck behind us. Who happened to be a Chevy mechanic. Who also owned a Corvair. And had a Corvair fan belt in the back of his truck. What were the odds? Our miracle mechanic installed the new belt so quickly that we were ready to roll just when it was our turn to board. My wife and I were two very thankful people.

Years later, I was on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, driving a different vehicle with an air-cooled rear-mount engine: a Volkswagen bus, the vehicle of choice for happy hippies, van campers and large families on a budget. By then, I had learned how to install a fan belt, change the plugs, adjust the timing, and other rudiments of amateur automobile maintenance. A quarter mile ahead, a red VW bug sat sadly on the shoulder of the road, its open engine hatch gaping at three perplexed women. Their bug had thrown its fan belt. I got out my tools and spare belt and in 15 minutes had those very thankful people back on the road. And I, too, was grateful for the opportunity to return the gift of a fan belt bestowed by that miraculous Samaritan so long ago.  OH

Harry Roach and his wife, Liz, live in downtown Greensboro, where they spend a lot of their time dancing.

Tea Leaf Astrologer

Tea Leaf Astrologer


(May 21 – June 20)

They say the longest trek a soul can take is the one between the head and heart. While this is doubly true for you, Gemini, suffice it to say that the Venus Cazimi on June 4 is going to expedite your journey. While you’re used to staying camped out in the frenzied chambers of your own mind, get ready for a month that’s all about feeling. Despite past experiences, being vulnerable with others is not, in fact, your kryptonite. Bon voyage!

Tea leaf “fortunes” for the rest of you:

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

Easy does it.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

Two words: airplane mode.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

Take your vitamins.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

Don’t pick the scab.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

There’s treasure to be found.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

Listen for what’s behind the words.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Give yourself some grace.

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

Breathe into your belly.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

It’s going to be dicey.

Aries (March 21 – April 19) 

Hit the pause button.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

Just walk away.  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.

Sazerac June 2024

Sazerac June 2024

Unsolicited Advice

According to Simon & Garfunkel, June will change her tune. And according to the Gregorian calendar, she’ll change her season from spring to summer. Typical Gemini. So take your fae-thful friends and family to the arboretum and celebrate at the Greensboro Summer Solstice Festival from 2–10 p.m., Saturday, June 22. We’ve got some tips to help you make the most of this magic moment. Fairy thee well!

Make like a mermaid and scale up on the water intake or you’ll be one parched pixie. Don’t worry — porta-potties abound. As do adult beverages — you know, for hydration.

Speaking of sweat, three words: waterproof body paint.

Show a little elf control? Not here. Let your inner fairy fly for the day — glitter, wings and all!

The evening culminates in an outstanding fire show, where the lawn at Lindley Park turns into gnome man’s land. Set your derriere on your fairy chair on the early side for a stellar view.



Photograph © Greensboro History Museum Collection

Window to the Past

Ready oar not, summer is arriving later this month. Lake Brandt has been welcoming water lovers since 1925.

Sage Gardener

We hope you’re sitting down, because according to The New York Times, “2024 is going to be a really exciting year in cabbage.” Celebrity chefs are stir-frying it, banking it into beds of hot coals and, in Asheville’s Good Hot Fish restaurant, adding it to pancakes served with sorghum hot sauce.

My momma used to braise it in bacon grease, a technique I’ve since discovered seals in the mustard compound that cabbage shares with horseradish, onions and mustard greens — the very compound that, according to the Times, “can make your house smell like a 19th century tenement” but has become “the darling of the culinary crowd.”

Mom, you always did know what was hot and what was not — and that everything tastes better with bacon.

Mark Twain observed that “cabbage is nothing but cauliflower with a college degree.” Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts — in the same family as kale, broccoli and bok choy — have both recently had their moment in the superfood spotlight. Now, it’s cabbage that’s taking center stage on white tablecloths in New York and L.A.’s elite boîtes, going for $18–20 as an appetizer paired with the likes of anchovy breadcrumbs and brown-butter hollandaise. Try serving one of those instead of corned beef and cabbage next St Paddy’s Day.

Brassica oleracea, aka wild cabbage, though not mentioned in the Bible and apparently unknown to early Jewish cuisine, is “a plant that has accompanied mankind throughout the ages,” according to The Oxford Companion to Food. Prized by the Egyptians and Romans, it was sacred to the Greeks, purportedly springing full-grown from no less than Zeus’ own sweat — perhaps because of how it smells?

I’ve grown it only once or twice. I’ve never had well-drained, sandy loam, which it prefers. And being an organic gardener, by the time my cabbage begins to head, aphids, flea beetles, cabbage loopers, diamond-back moths and cabbage maggots get a lot more of it than I do. Besides, cabbage is incredibly cheap, organic or not, even when purchased in a farmers market. (I find N.C. mountain cabbage particularly tasty and it makes terrific sauerkraut. North Carolina, by the way, grows something like 12,000 acres of cabbage a year.)

So remember, you heard it here first (unless you read The New York Times story): “Among the food-forward, cabbage fever is rising.”

        David Claude Bailey

Growing Goodwill

Survey four of the Triad’s youngest residents and one of them will tell you they face food insecurity. Share the Harvest board president Linda Anderson, a retired educator, does her best to improve that grim statistic. Sometimes, she says, it’s as simple as grabbing a hoe or driving a truck.

“There are times during the growing season when our gardens are overflowing with vegetables and we don’t know what to do with the excess. This is when Share the Harvest can help both the gardener and the individuals in need,” says Anderson.

Anderson says donations have grown since 2012 from a few community and church gardens donating food to local nonprofits into an expanding program benefitting organizations, collecting and distributing food to the needy via various programs offering meals and food pantries. For its 10 core volunteers, the need has motivated them to collect, coordinate and distribute donations from groceries, restaurants, gardens, farmers markets and even N.C. State A&T University’s farm.

From May through October, the growing season, they collect, aggregate, then store fresh products at a central collection site for distribution.

“In the beginning, the first year, we had 1,200 pounds of veggies. Last year it was 15,241 pounds received.” See sharetheharvestguilfordcounty.org for more information. 

                                              By Cynthia Adams


Dear Editor,

OK, I look a little grumpy, I admit. How would you feel after eating dirt in the dark for 17 years?

If you find my surreal red eyes deeply disturbing, I say, “Good!” It’s not like anybody asked me how I wanted my DNA arranged. You think your kids are so cute. They don’t even have exoskeletons! No wonder you’re running them to the ER every other day.

A cicada’s life isn’t much when you think about it. In 30 days’ time above ground, the most dramatic thing that can happen is having a cat or dog eat enough of us to spew up a blob of legs and wings on somebody’s living room carpet. Or having kids trap us in Mason jars to amplify the sound. Like that’s really a science experiment. Stick to the fireflies and leave us alone!

This spring, all you heard was “Total Eclipse! Won’t be another until 2044!” Everybody bought special eyeglasses and threw a party.

Well, this summer, not only are we 17-year cicadas emerging, but our 13-year cousins are, too. Guess the last time that happened. 1803, when Thomas Jefferson was president. You know, author of the Declaration of Independence. How about throwing a cicada celebration, we, the people?

And who’s this Harry Blair joker, anyway? When in our conversation did I grant him permission to reproduce my likeness? Please spare me the public figure argument. I’m a bug!

You’ll be receiving a letter from my attorney.


    A. Cicada, Esq.

Just One Thing

During a residency at Charlotte’s Village at Commonwealth, muralist and fine artist Liz Haywood decided it was time to try “something totally different, something to inspire me to branch out of my comfort zone.” Her focus up until then had been on the “many different faces” of diversity, she says. And that something different? Space exploration. The twist? A series she’s calling “Alien Worlds”: “By using a palette of warm pinks, purples and sunset hues, I bring an updated feel to a subject often seen through a masculine lens.” No surprise. Haywood is constantly doing her own dive into the unknown through film and literature. “I’ve basically read every science fiction novel available,” she notes with a laugh. Her canvas offers her a way to imagine the world beyond and bring it back to this planet through a feminist lens. Just as space is full of unanswered questions, Long Walk Home, seen here, is also open to interpretation, she says. “She’s walking into the distance. You don’t know — is she walking back to her ship? Or is she leaving and going somewhere else?” Haywood encourages her viewers to use their own imaginations. This painting is part of her second iteration of “Alien Worlds,” on display at GreenHill Center for NC Art’s “LEAP: Artists Imagine Outer Space” exhibition. “Space is the next frontier,” she muses. “I hope we venture out with open hearts and curious minds.” And does she hope to explore space one day? “I need to be around people ,” she says. “If my dog and my boyfriend and other people could go, then yes!” Info: lizhaywood.com

Chaos Theory

Chaos Theory

Curb Alert

Freedom, fear and fahrvergnügen

By Cassie Bustamante

The first car I ever bought myself — with funds matched by my parents — was a brand-new 1997 little black Jetta, purchased right after I finished my freshman year at Wake Forest. One of my close friends, Krista, had a similar car she called LBJ; so I dubbed mine LBJ Jr.

“Junior” was my ticket to freedom. Far from my Massachusetts home, that car and I made many scenic drives to Pilot Mountain, an area that reminded me of the rolling New England countryside. Cruising, windows open and mix CD blasting, was all the escape I needed when undergrad life felt overwhelming.

Over 20 years later, with kids who are just shy of my age then, it’s time to pass my current car, a 13-year-old cherry-red Ford Flex, aka station wagon on steroids, onto my son, Sawyer, and get myself a new ride. Neither of my eligible children has a license yet, but both Sawyer and his younger sister, Emmy, are permitted.

Fondly recalling my travels with Junior, I book an appointment at the Flow VW dealership. My only rule? No bold colors. I’ve had enough of people telling me they spotted me in my bright-red bus. Let that be Sawyer’s problem soon, God willing.

Behind the wheel of a dark gray 2021 Touareg, I’m smitten. It seems — at least compared to the 2011 clunker I’ve been schlepping around in — to have all the bells and whistles. Seat warmers and steering wheel warmer? It might be June, but my cold winter hands will thank me in December. But practical Chris, along for this car-shopping ride, wants to visit another dealership before going home to confer.

“What’s there to discuss?” I ask in our kitchen that evening. “I liked the first one. Sold!”

“This is a big decision,” he replies, hoping I’ll put a little more thought into my choice. Where he likes to take time to assess all angles, I go with my gut.

“The moment I sat in it, I knew. It’s got everything — even a sun roof!” I exclaim. “Plus, loads of people drive gray cars — no one will know it’s me!”

Later that week, we sign on the many dotted lines and make it official. In the parking lot, keys in hand, my heart races, giddy with excitement. Chris zips off, homebound, while I take time to adjust mirrors and seats.

I start the ignition, open the sun roof and cruise home, wind whipping strands of silver hair every which way. I pull into the driveway behind Chris’ car and open the door to the anxious faces of my three children and Chris all asking, “How was it?”


Fourteen hours after completing our purchase, Chris offers to take 16-year-old Emmy on a driving lesson. My recommendation? Grimsley parking lot, perfect for pulling into and backing out of spaces, a skill she needs to practice.

“Do you wand to play car Tetris, or do you think it’s safe parking in the street?” I ask, apprehensive about passing drivers accidentally scraping it.

“It’ll be OK for a little while,” Chris assures me, knowing I am headed to the office shortly.

Brand-new car now nestled into the side of the street, I turn my attention back to my open laptop, waving as Emmy and Chris exit.

A moment later, I hear it. A light thud. Not a crash, but strange and alarming. My gaze follows the sound to outside, where Chris’ small white SUV is angled directly into the left rear of my VW.

“Are you even kidding right now!” I shout to no one. Breathe. Maybe they’ve just hit the bumper.

Chris marches from the passenger to the driver side. Even from my vantage point, I can see Chris’ clenched jaw, fighting back a stream of frustration. Red-faced, Emmy bolts inside in a blur. Her bedroom door slams, followed by the click of her lock.

Meanwhile, Chris reverses his car, and my own drops about a foot back down to the ground. Nope, definitely not just a little love tap.

I feel the rage bubbling up and there’s no shoving it back down as Chris walks in the front door. “What were you thinking?!” I scream. “She’s not ready to back out of our driveway! And my car, my new car, was right there!!!!”

Chris does not rise to meet my level of emotions and calmly says, “She did great backing up. She put it into drive and then saw a car coming behind her and panicked.” Like a deer in headlights, she froze, foot off the brake, and rolled right into my car.

Exasperated, I leave him to deal with the insurance filing for not one, but two cars — his is in even worse shape than mine — and turn my focus to the real damage control.

I stand outside Emmy’s door. “Can I come in?”

“No!” she says between sobs.

“I’m not mad, Emmy. I just want to talk.”

A click. I’ve been granted entrance.

“I told Dad I wasn’t ready,” she hiccups. “I didn’t want to pull out of the driveway!”

“I know,” I reply, rubbing her back. “Look, you’re OK. The car will be OK. And on the bright side, you — and my car — have had your first fender bender. It has to happen at some point and why leave home to do it!”

She’s calming down. “I’m just really sorry.”

“This is not your fault, Emmy. They’re called accidents for a reason,” I say calmly. Then, with fire behind my voice, “It’s 100 percent Dad’s fault!”

That coaxes a laugh out of her. And I know in time, we’ll all be laughing about it.

A year later, we all see the humor in it. A core family memory for sure. We’re still slowly chipping away at having two more licensed drivers in our household, but, one day, we’ll get there. And those new-driver nerves? They’ll be replaced by the exhilarating thrill that comes with facing the open road, outstretched before you, beckoning you to enjoy the ride.  OH

Cassie Bustamante is editor of O.Henry magazine.

Life’s Funny

Life’s Funny

Just Doo It

The long way around a colonoscopy

By Maria Johnson

One of the pleasures of writing for O.Henry is hearing from readers who say, “That’s such a classy publication.”

Well, nothing lasts forever.

To be fair, the magazine remains a classy book. But this space, this month, might soil that reputation a tad.

So if you’re one of those people who likes to pretend you never doo, and even if you do doo, it doesn’t stink, please skip this column. But if you’re like the rest of us, and you’d try anything to avoid a colonoscopy, read on.

I’ll start with gratitude: I’m one of the lucky ones, intestinally speaking.

I have no family history of colon cancer, and therefore it was an option for my physician’s assistant to prescribe a noninvasive screening kit called Cologuard.

I had used earlier versions, and lemme just say that poo technology has come a long way since those first at-home tests, which were basically a few sheets of gift-wrapping tissue and some popsicle sticks.

Other advances — in cellular communication, point-to-point shipping and pharmaceutical-based musical theater — have made the process a true reflection of our times.

Recently, for example, I saw a television commercial that featured an animated box bearing the stylized letters “CG,” a sort of modern-day Kool-Aid Man, skipping through scenes where random adults, who all seem to know each other, converge in a park and sing the Cologuard song joyfully.

The chorus: “I did it my way.”

Somehow, I don’t think this is what Frank Sinatra had in mind.

But back to my tale.

My PA tells me she will have a test sent to my home.

About a week later, I get a text announcing that my kit is being shipped. Save the date!

Another text informs me when it’s delivered to my doorstep. For once, I’m not worried about porch pirates.

The next text reminds me to do what needs to be done.

Yet another text leans on me even harder. It says my provider is awaiting my test. I envision my bright and busy PA wondering — maybe over lunch— “Where is Maria’s poop sample?”

I am not moved.

The CG people know it. A brochure titled “Let’s Get Going” arrives in the mail, complete with diagrams and step-by-step instructions.

I flip through the brochure, which, I must say, editorially and graphically, is very well done.

I even open the Cologuard box, which rests on my bathroom counter, and unpack the contents.

First, I encounter a heavy-duty plastic bracket that I mistake for packing material. It’s so sturdy — and seemingly multipurpose, with a large hole in the middle — that I make a mental note to save it and hang it on the pegboard above my husband’s workbench. Never mind the stamped instruction to “Place Under Seat.”

Next layer: a sheaf of paper with 30-plus pages of instructions and inserts with the latest updates.

I start reading and get so nervous I have to go immediately. The test will have to wait for another day.

In the meantime, coincidentally, I see my OB-GYN for an annual exam.

She asks if I’ve done a Cologuard test recently.

“Funny you should ask,” I say. “It’s in progress.”

“In progress?” she probes.

“On my bathroom counter.”

“Oh yes, that’s where I put mine,” she says. “For about a year.”

My kinda doctor.

“The instructions stopped me,” I confess. “So much to read.”

She waves her hand.

“Just follow the diagrams. Like putting together a piece of furniture.”

“There are a lot of pieces in the kit,” I continue. “And when you’re done, you have to drop off the box at UPS.”

“And you know that they know what’s in there,” she said, barely suppressing a smile.

“And you know there have been mishaps!” I add.

So now, we’re laughing, my doc and I, about the potentially leaky life of Cologuard returns. And suddenly, there and then, I resolve to do it. The test, I mean. At home.

A couple of days — and a couple of cups of coffee — later, the time seems right. I go straight to the diagrams, referring to them as I quickly assemble a small plastic chamberpot over the toilet bowl.

I feel increasing pressure about hitting the target. I read on and hit another stressor: The volume of my contribution can be no greater than the liquid preservative that I’m supposed to pour over it.

Great. A mathematical word problem.

Dancing in place, I pick up the bottle of preservative, which says it contains 290 milliliters.

This really helps.

The instructions also warn against drinking from the bottle, which tells me that some poor souls have done this, hoping, I suppose, to shortcut the preservation process.

Obviously, Cologuard has heeded the advice of lawyers rather than, say, Charles Darwin, in writing these instructions.

I have dallied long enough. I dive in, hitting the brakes at an estimated 290 milliliters of relief, and add the liquid preservative.

At this point, I wonder why the kit doesn’t include a test for stomach cancer, because I nearly hurl at what I’m shipping to some poor unfortunate soul at Exact Sciences Laboratories on Badger Road in Madison, Wisconsin.

I apologize silently and seal the container tightly.

Not one hour later, I receive another text:

“Urgent reminder: Complete and ship your Cologuard kit ASAP.

Was there a camera in the box, too?

I hustle to the UPS store, chuck the box onto the scale, snatch a shipping receipt with eyes averted, and drive off in search of my tribe who, I’ve been led to believe, have done it their way, and are joyfully singing in a park somewhere.  OH

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

Wandering Billy

Wandering Billy

Remembering Gangrene-sboro Days and Nights

Or how to get your foot into show business

By Billy Ingram

“They [The Beatles] had no idea who we were. I walked over to John Lennon and said, ‘John, a lot of people mistake me for you.’ He laughed. I had the Zulu haircut. There’s a great photo of them playing with my hair.”     — Marty Allen

The first superstar I ever met was Andy Williams, who bounced me on his knee at The Plantation Supper Club on High Point Road, or so my parents reminded me ad infinitum. I was 2 years old at the time. Ten years passed before I met another celebrity . . . and I’ll wear the scar from that encounter until my dying day.

Early one Saturday morning in 1968, I found myself pedaling barefoot up Northwood to Greensboro’s newest Winn-Dixie at (what is now) 1616 Battleground, a large retail center fronted by Main & Taylor and Huntington Learning Center. The reason? On hand to greet the fine folks entering the home of “The Beef People” that day, Winn-Dixie had booked Las Vegas comedy headliners Allen & Rossi. No idea why. Maybe they were playing the Plantation.

Even though Allen & Rossi’s blunt-force attempts at laughter largely left me cold, I still wanted to roll my grapes over two real Tinsel Town TV stars. Comedian Marty Allen and singer Steve Rossi blended their two disparate acts in 1957, not-so-coincidentally a year after the incredibly lucrative Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis nightclub act busted up. As a result, Allen & Rossi became the most successful of a multitude of Martin & Lewis imitators that chased that improbable dream of sold-out club dates and marquee dominance. Like Deano, Steve Rossi was a handsome, statuesque Italian crooner (“Al Di La”) plagued with a befuddled-looking, bushy-headed nincompoop, Marty Allen, complete with his own lame catch phrase: “Hello Dere!”

A mainstay of The Ed Sullivan Show, Allen & Rossi were on the broadcast the night The Beatles made their American debut. Infiltrating some 700 talk and variety shows in the ’60s, they were perhaps best known for the summer of ’66 big screen flop The Last of the Secret Agents?, a lethargic James Bond spoof where Nancy Sinatra languished as the film’s femme foil. That movie was directed by a true legend — a guy I had the pleasure to collaborate with years later — Norman Abbott (The Munsters, Sanford and Son).

In one of mankind’s greatest leaps in technology  — that is, until the impending moon landing — when Winn-Dixie customers at this location stepped on a rubber mat at the entrance, those heavy, metal-framed doors whooshed open automatically. Land o’Goshin, I don’t believe anyone ’round here had ever witnessed such a mechanical marvel. At least, I hadn’t. When those doors swung open with no effort for the little old lady in front of me, she stopped, looked skyward, then whispered, “Thank you, Jesus.” (I may be wrong, Big Bear at Lawndale could have boasted the first automatic doors, but bear with me.)

As I approached the famous comedy team, who were meandering by WD’s meat display, Allen spun around unexpectedly, crushing the big toe on my left foot under the heel of his impeccably shined black, patent-leather shoes, the kind I’d only seen gangsters wear in movies. As I cried out in pain, Allen sneered, looked over at his partner, muttering under his breath, “Can you believe people walk around barefoot in a grocery store? What kind of hick town is this?!?”

In all fairness, it really wasn’t that unusual for kids to wander around everywhere shoeless back then, before “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” signs began popping up. I probably wasn’t wearing a shirt either.

Pedaling painfully home, I showed the injured toe to my dad, who declared it fine. A week later socks began sticking to that scabbed-over appendage, but my parents, who, as was the style of the day, took an arm’s length approach to raising children, assured me everything would be OK. When red vines began creeping up my leg, I once again asked if this was still in the vein of what they considered normal. Dad, who had served in the Army (quite literally, he was a Mess Sergeant), recognized immediately that a serious infection was underway. We secured an emergency appointment with a podiatrist, who told us in no uncertain terms, “Obviously the foot will have to go, but we might be able to save the leg.” I told the doc, “Oh, heck no! That’s not gonna happen.”

That podiatrist proffered what admittedly was a long-shot solution: There may be a chance to save my foot by soaking it in scalding water and Epsom salts pretty much every waking hour. Doc operated on my big toe, carving away the worst of it, as well as half of the toenail in the process, then wrapped that melange in so much gauze I had to cut an opening out of the tip of my left Topsider to accommodate the bulk.

Returning to Mendenhall Junior High (Home of the Mustangs!) on Monday, teachers were sympathetic to my plight, until I limped into Coach Loflin’s gym class. Perpetually clad in a gray polyester polo shirt with the requisite whistle around his neck, Loflin was a pretty decent guy, sterling I suspect, but had this annoying habit of bestowing demeaning nicknames on classmates who weren’t athletically inclined; his chosen epithet for me was “Stick” (I was skinny, sue me). That wasn’t so bad. He referred to another kid as “Chigger.”

Spying my crutched hobble upon entering his inner sanctorum, Loflin bellowed, “Everybody gather around!” then whistled. “Stick is trying to get out of gym class with some dumb stunt or another.” So sure I was faking, Coach instructed everyone — even the girls dressed out in their faded blue bloomers — in the gymnasium to assemble around me as he knelt down and began unbraiding that bulbous bandage.

As yellow hues that Pantone still hasn’t replicated slowly emerged, Loflin glared up at me and said, “You’re good, Stick, but I’m onto you!” He continued unraveling until coming close to the bloody red center of my tootsie pop — then he began re-raveling.

Mere months after rubbing elbows and toes with the rubes at Winn-Dixie, Allen & Rossi split up suddenly. Exiled to a kitchen stool mornings and evenings before and after school, I dunked my digits in that scorching Epsom salt brew for a month or so before getting the podiatrist’s all-clear.

One would have to employ the Hubble Telescope to detect what is today a minute defect on the toe of what many forensic pathologists consider to be a flawless physique. That minor imperfection nonetheless serves as a daily reminder to steer clear of two-bit gagsters wearing mobbed up footwear.  OH

Of the six books published by Billy Ingram thus far, two are (mostly) about Greensboro history — Hamburger² and Eye on GSO — both breezy summer reads. The author can frequently be found weekends enjoying the lobster bisque at The Pied Pier.



Easy Listening

But the whip-poor-will is harder to spot

By Susan Campbell

If you live adjacent to wet woods well away from the city, I am betting that you have been treated to a loud, repetitive call at dusk — probably for some weeks now. The raucous, distinct vocalizations most likely originate from a medium-sized, extremely well camouflaged bird. Not surprisingly, the endless three-syllable chants of “whip poor will” are made by the Eastern whip-poor-will. But make no mistake: This bird is as hard to find as it is easy to hear. Its mottled gray, brown and white plumage makes it virtually invisible either perched on a low branch or, as it does more often, sitting on the forest floor.

Should you scare up one of these birds or catch a glimpse at dawn or dusk, you will see that little about their plumage really stands out. Whip-poor-wills have a distinct white throat patch as well as pale coloring on the corners of the tail but otherwise are quite dull. The outer tail patches on males are white but buff-colored on the females — otherwise they are identical. One other important difference is that only the males do the calling.

In early spring, whip-poor-wills make their way north from winter locations ranging from Central America to perhaps as far north as the Gulf Coast. Their overland route, which they cover at night, brings them up through the Southeastern states quite early in the season but, by the time they arrive, larger insects have already taken flight. This is critical given the fact that they dine solely on bugs. Their huge mouths scoop up a variety of invertebrates, including moths, beetles, grasshoppers, fireflies, and even wasps and bees. They are known to feed all night long if there is a full moon. Whip-poor-wills are versatile hunters, searching for prey items in leaf litter or, at times, rotting wood.

Because they spend most of their time flying in the forest, whip-poor-wills require open terrain like the open pine woodlands of the Sandhills region. Nests are simple scrapes on the ground made by females who typically lay two marbled eggs that are amazingly camouflaged in the leaf littler. Although it is the female who incubates, the male may perform a convincing distraction display at the nest site to lure would-be predators away. It is curious to note that nesting may be delayed so that hatching coincides with the full moon when the parents can spend more of the night hunting insects for their growing family. Young whip-poor-wills will move from the nest after hatching, perhaps to avoid predation.

Unfortunately in the East, many whip-poor-will populations have been in decline due to habitat loss. Woodlands continue to be replaced by both agriculture and, even more so, housing developments. Human activity has significantly reduced potential territories here in central North Carolina. But where they hang on, their summertime chorus rings loud and clear.  OH

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

Almanac June 2024

Almanac June 2024

June is a luscious muse, generous with her wisdom, lips to the ears of all who seek her.

Want to know how to dance? Move as the dragonfly moves, she whispers, guiding your eyes to shallow waters. Iridescent wings shimmer in hypnotic circles. The pond reflects the magic back.

In the meadow, the muse beckons a gentle wind. Be danced, she sings among the rolling grasses. Let the movement find you.

Artists: Dip your brush in milkwort and rosinweed. Watch sunlight transmute meadow-beauty. Express with the boldness of spider lily.

Poets: Attune to the frequency of bees. Can you taste the earth through your fingertips? Spend the day supping honeysuckle and catmint, then cover your legs in clover pollen.

It’s all for pleasure, the goddess intones. You cannot do it wrong.

See for yourself.

Study the language of lark sparrows. Become fluent in butterfly pea and blooming thistle. Chime in with a choir of cicadas.

Dress yourself in Queen Anne’s lace. Map out the route of a swallowtail. Translate the essence of snap beans and squash blossoms.

Let listening be an artform. Or seeing. Or tasting. 

How fully can you receive the richness of sound and color? The texture of nectar on your tongue? The depth and sweetness of these early summer days?

It’s simple. Surrender to the wild beauty. Let it move you. This is the mastery of June.


It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.   — Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, 1941

Night Bloomers

The full strawberry moon rises on Friday, June 21 (one day after summer solstice). What could be dreamier than a near-full moon on a midsummer’s night? Enter the moon garden. Breathe in the earthy-fresh fragrance of evening primrose (Oenothera laciniata). The sugary sweetness of moonflower (Ipomoea alba). The citrus-laced ecstasy of night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum).

While not technically a night bloomer, the timeless aroma of gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) is anything but subtle. Awash in the gentle glow of moonlight, the delicate white blossoms of this evergreen shrub are a wonder to behold. Linger among them. Tell them the quiet longings of your heart. If you lean close, you just might hear their secrets, too.

Puck & Co.

Nature spirits have long been associated with the magic of summer solstice. Fae folk in particular. But what kind of mythical being is that?

The rosy maple moth is as storybook as it gets. With its woolly body, bushy antennae and candy-like pink and yellow coloration, this small silk moth is nearly unmistakable. As its name implies, maple trees are the preferred host for this visual wonder, which can be seen fluttering near forest edges throughout the state.

Perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of one this month. Though who’s to say it won’t be Puck, stirring up a bit of mischief?  OH