Sazerac July 2024

Sazerac July 2024

What’s Cooking?

It’s been 35 years since entrepreneur Morris Reaves launched his revolutionary drive-through restaurant concept, opening the very first Cook Out on Randleman Road, where the aroma of fresh grilled burgers still bellows from the chimney.

Reaves got his start in the restaurant business as a short-order cook for Waffle House before becoming the youngest Wendy’s franchisee at the age of 20. In the 1970s, to obtain that franchise, Reaves appealed directly to Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas. Initially hesitant, Thomas remembered that, as a young man two decades earlier, Col. Harland Sanders had taken him under his wing (pun intended), granting him the Kentucky Fried Chicken lease that jumpstarted his career. (Among many other innovations he came up with, it was Thomas who convinced the Colonel to appear in KFC’s commercials.)

While he cooked up that original Cook Out concept in his home state of Florida, Reaves chose our fair city for the rollout in 1989. With expansion into 10 Southern states since then, 117 locations in North Carolina alone, you could cruise up to a different Cook Out menu board every day for a year and still not visit them all.

How does Cook Out compare with another beloved regional chain, the West Coast’s In-N-Out Burger? No contest. Because burgers and hot dogs aren’t the only lure. Cook Out not only has the best barbecue sandwich for my money, it’s also famous for offering N.C.’s own Cheerwine — on tap in states where the beverage isn’t distributed — along with something like 40 flavors of milkshakes including cappuccino, hot fudge, blueberry cheesecake, watermelon (in July and August only) and, had he lived to enjoy it, a Peanut Butter Banana shake that would surely have enticed Elvis to the nearest location. Morris Reaves and his son Jeremy, who serves as current CEO of Cook Out, are reportedly deeply spiritual Christians, so much so that every beverage cup comes imprinted with a Bible verse.

For such a sprawling enterprise, Cook Out is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to press and publicity. Neither father nor son has ever granted even a cursory interview, nor does the company employ a spokesperson. The marketing department declines to answer the phone or return calls.

What’s next for the restaurant chain? We hope you’re sitting down for this: indoor seating, apparently. There’s already a Cook Out dining room in Kernersville and, rumor has it, the former Mrs. Winner’s on Summit Avenue will be our city’s first sit-down site.

      — Billy Ingram

Strike a Paws: Pet Photo Contest

Does your cat’s expression say, “Mr. DeMeow, I’m ready for my claws-up?” Perhaps your Fido is especially photogenic. Or your Beta is fishing for its moment to shine. Whatever feathered, finned, furry — or even hairless — pet you call yours, take your best shot! From now through July 22, you can upload a photo of your beloved critter to our website’s contest page. Voting will open on July 16. But that’s only half the fun. Pet-loving O.Henry readers will be invited to vote on the finest photo, so make sure you beg friends and family to cast their ballots! The winner will fetch a $100 gift card from our contest sponsor, All Pets Considered; plus their photo will appear in our September issue. We’ll be printing several contenders as well, so — who knows? — your pet could be on their way to Sunset Boulevard after all. Visit ohenrymag.com/contests for details and to enter.

Window to the Past

Photographs © Carol W. Martin/Greensboro History Museum Collection

Where’s my TV dinner?

Unsolicited Advice

Backyard barbecue season is upon us and Dad’s raring to put some cheeseburgers on that new grill he just got for Father’s Day, along with his “This Guy Lights Our Fire” apron. But your daughter just announced she’s vegan and your son is lactose intolerant, so how about tossin’ some non-carnivorous alternatives to tube steak  and juicy burgers? We’ve got some ideas that are sure to sizzle.

You heard it here in May from our resident Sage Gardener. Cabbage is having a moment. Cut it into slices, brush on EVOO and sprinkle it with seasonings. Might we recommend Montreal Steak Seasoning? It’s like lipstick on a pig, minus the pork. Note: discriminating vegetarians say, “All cabbages are not created equal. The freshest heads feel heavy and are compact for their size.”

A portobello mushroom cap fits perfectly inside a hamburger bun. Coincidence? We think not. And will it fill your porto-belly? We also think not. Unless that cap is stuffed with, say, plant-based sausage.

Looking for something you can put your satisfying, blackened grill mark on? Tofu. Its rubbery quality will simulate that overcooked steak Dad’s famous for. And the “hot” trend is to freeze it before grilling it? Cool, eh?

Lastly, grill your kids (but not in the way Jonathan Swift recommended). You’ve got questions. They’ve got answers they’re probably not as readily willing to share as they are to pass you that plate of charred cabbage.

Sage Gardener

Best-selling American novelist Belva Plain once said, “Danger hides in beauty” — as in poinsettias, lenten roses, bleeding heart, larkspur and lantana — all stunningly beautiful and all poison.

And whoever said, “If danger comes from anywhere, then your eyes must look everywhere,” surely had a house full of children, pets — and plenty of plants. 

C’mon. You’ve heard it before, but here’s a friendly reminder in this, our issue focusing on pets: Even an itty-bitty amount of an ingested lily plant — any part, the stem, flower, leaf — can trash a kitty’s kidney. Your furry friend munching on one or two sago palm seeds can suffer vomiting, seizures and liver failure. Azaleas and rhododendrons, if snacked on, can lead to coma and death from cardiovascular collapse. The  ASPCA’s got a top-17 DON’T-EVEN-THINK-ABOUT-IT list (www.aspcapro.org/resource/17-plants-poisionous-pets). Still, the association’s Animal Control Center ended up assisting more than 400,000 animals in distress in 2022, up from 2021. And it’s not just plants. The top-10 toxins include recreational drugs, OTC meds and, yes, chocolate: https://www.aspca.org/sites/default/files/top_10_toxins_2022.png (who leaves chocolate lying about?).

And please. Keep your children from eating berries from the holly, yew, jack-in-the-pulpit, juniper and pokeweed plants, as tempting as they may look. And no castor beans. (The horrifying poison ricin is made out of castor beans.)

“Away! Thou’rt poison to my blood,” said Will Shakespeare. So before you go hog-wild with houseplants or that garden extension this summer, remember what happened to Romeo and Juliet. Go wisely.
  — David Claude Bailey

Home Grown

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

The Dog Who Owned Us

Goodbye to a good girl

By Cynthia Adams

Paintings by Dana Holliday


Left: Zoe loved to wear a circus-like collar and do tricks 

Right: Kip was a take-charge (versus a take-commands) dog . . . who wore his authority seriously


A gray February fog clung to us as we walked. Our shoulders slumped in the slackened posture of sorrow. Clasping hot cups of coffee couldn’t ease the chill; the worst of the cold was soul deep. 

Our eyes flickered towards one another, then slid away to the marsh grasses our two dogs sniffed, then to the sea beyond. Zoe, a gentle-natured mutt, stumbled, stiffly hinged as if her body parts no longer worked together as a coherent whole. Once, she had moved with loose-limbed grace.

Kip, the younger, trailed slowly and I tugged at his leash, wondering. With a canine’s exquisite sixth sense, did he grasp the reason for our sad silence?

Zoe came from humble beginnings as a “pound puppy” 16 years earlier at the Guilford County animal shelter. She was a terrier mix, part Australian shepherd; the greater part was a sweet mystery. 

When we had first sought a pet, I produced a picture of a small terrier torn from a magazine long ago. My husband pocketed it, and so began frequent forays to the animal shelter. 

“I’ll find our dog,” he assured. “Just be patient. ” On weekly walks through the shelter, the picture in hand, he did.

The story of our charismatic Zoe’s adoption — how my husband got into a lottery with others who also wanted her, then lost out — only underscored the pleasant shock when Zoe was discovered there again, returned. (“She found us. It’s because she was meant to be ours all along,” Don explained.) 

Amazingly, Zoe was a look-alike to the dog in the now dog-eared picture.

Initially, she was so well behaved she wouldn’t even bark. Don coaxed her with pats, treats and constant assurances that she was “a good — no — a wonderful girl.” 

Zoe wanted nothing more than to please and be pleasing. In her, we discovered a clever dog quickly mastering David Letterman’s stupid pet tricks (she unfailingly chose the larger of two bills when asked!). Zoe also trained us well. 

What she loved most was to walk twice daily — even on several-mile-long treks. She also had endless reserves of gratitude, sweetly thanking us for small favors with devotion. Her bright eyes seemingly welled with gratitude. Initially healthy, Zoe battled with nerve sheath tumors in middle age. But inoperable retinal disease left her completely blind. By age 12, cognitive changes began as well, then deafness.

She had found her voice, and used it — now barking at nothing. Still, Zoe demanded twice-daily walks along routes so frequent they had names, so familiar she needed neither her sight nor hearing to follow them. The “Homer route” looped past the home of a corgi Zoe liked. The “Belle route” passed a sweet yellow lab’s home. The “Weaver” looped past a business park. In Zoe’s older age, a half-mile loop in front of the house could only be managed in a no-hurries gait. 

Our slightly younger terrier, Kip, had pancreatitis. Both geriatric dogs’ medical files grew thicker. Both required carrying up and down stairs. 

Left to Right: Zoe and Kip

We discovered Zoe was in renal failure while vacationing at the coast. The kindly emergency vet gently advised: “It is time.”

We determined to make those final days Zoe’s best. We took exceedingly slow walks, keeping to our routine. We gave her cheeseburgers. No matter what special wine we uncorked, nor what gorgeous, pink-tinged sunset played out that weekend, we soldiered on, miserable. Kip sniffed Zoe’s frail body knowingly. 

The appointed day arrived with impenetrable fog low over the Intracoastal Waterway. As Zoe sniffled and snuffled the marsh grasses, I snapped one last picture with my cell phone. Her eyes showed a ghostly blue-white, otherworldly iris.

Zoe had chosen us 16 years ago; now, it was our final gift to surrender her to the sweet hereafter. The vet stroked her, too, as Zoe’s eyes closed. She left us as she had come to us, in trusting innocence. 

A good — no — a wonderful girl.  OH

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

Animal Tales

Animal Tales

Mr. Moon Meets His Match

Just who has nine lives here?

Story and Illustration by Marianne Gingher

I’m reading peacefully in bed one night when my cat, Mr. Moon, struts into the room, a small, limp mouse dangling from his jaws. Oh dear. Of course, I praise him — after all, it’s what cats are supposed to do to earn their keep, right? They’ve been dispatching vermin from human habitats since before the ancient Egyptians, and the Egyptians deified them for their efforts. My cat drops his little trophy on the rug and preens.

I slide out of bed, fetch tissue to shroud the victim before removing it. Mr. Moon’s nudging the poor thing, hoping it will resume their play date. I do feel sorry for the mouse in some tender Snow White way, until suddenly it leaps from the dead and is on the run again. Eeek! I jump back in bed and watch the rodeo of cat-and-mouse for a good 10 minutes before the cat loses it again beneath the bathroom radiator. He’s clasped it in his paws several times, tossed it, carried it in his jaws, set it down and waited for it to sprint again and again. Has he talked the mouse into being his pet?  The mouse appears to have figured out that pretending to be dead for a few minutes will leave his adversary puzzled and less inclined to play rough.

But this is not Mickey’s Playhouse. There’s a life-or-death drama going on in my bedroom. Now I hear them scuffling near the bathroom — Rocky Balboa vs. Jiminy Cricket — then all is quiet. I can see the cat sitting on the rug, his tail twitching, waiting for the critter to catch its breath and declare game on! But the mouse has other plans and eventually Mr. Moon abandons his vigil, curling himself at the foot of my bed. Believe it or not, I turn out my light. Everybody’s exhausted, and I trust that my cat’s got my back should the little pipsqueak revive.   

In the morning, Mr. Moon doesn’t revisit the crime scene. He believes his mouse toy is broken. I check behind the radiator and see it lying there, lusterless, still as a stone. I follow Mr. Moon to the kitchen, feed him, eat my breakfast, read the news and sip a second cup of coffee before I remember my grave chore. Back in the bathroom, paper towel in hand, I stoop over the radiator. But Houdini the Mouse has vanished!

I’m always cheered by the prospect of tiny besting big: mouse besting cat, David besting Goliath, Ukraine besting Russia, little Greta Thunberg calling out world leaders on laxity regarding climate change. Small is beautiful, some of us folks used to say in the ’70s.

These days of big seeming to gobble up small every place we look, I think rooting for the underdog — or mouse, in this case — is irresistible. Its valor and escape artistry are inspiring, its ferocious will to live. I could write a poem! But wait, I’ve still got a mouse in my house.

“Oh, Mr. Moon,” I call. “Let’s catch that mouse, pal!”

He’s grooming himself in a living room chair, getting ready for his morning nap. “Let’s?” he says. “Did you say ‘Let’s?’ Don’t make me laugh.” 

Off I go on my lone safari to find that clever mouse and diminish (humanely) its small but potent influence as it wanders at-large through my house. “Courage!” says Mr. Moon, grinning his crescent grin like the Cheshire cat he’s not.  OH

Marianne Gingher has published seven books, both fiction and nonfiction. She recently retired from teaching creative writing at UNC-Chapel Hill for 100 years.

Pleasures of Life Dept.

Pleasures of Life Dept.

Blast from the Past

Or why chemistry sets are no longer fun

By David Claude Bailey

In October of 1957, my parents and their 11-year-old son — that would be me — walked out into our backyard to watch Sputnik-1 arch across the sky. And so began the Reidsville Rocket Boys Space Race.

Admittedly, years earlier, all my friends and I had acquired chemistry sets manufactured by A.C. Gilbert, the man who invented the Erector Set. That was way before they removed all the fun stuff from the sets — saltpeter, sulfur, sodium ferrocyanide! and, I’m not kidding you, uranium dust. My friend, Jack, and I had been experimenting with gunpowder (a simple mixture of saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal) for months, as in lighting a trail of it to streak across the ground like in Western movies, perfect for scaring cats, dogs and sisters.

That was also back in the good ol’ days when boys could buy almost any chemical from their friendly local apothecary as well as dynamite fuses from the hardware store — not to mention dynamite itself if you were only old enough.

The firecrackers and smoke bombs we made with gunpowder were disappointing, but it did not take long for our inquiring minds to begin designing miniature rockets. We’d take one of those cardboard tubes fused on coat hangers to keep pants from having a crease in them, fill it with gunpowder and close one end. Once fins were added, it soared out of sight.

Half of the fun was thinking we were conducting our launches in secret, but surely our parents learned of our purchases from the owners of the hardware store and apothecary. I now suspect they thought they might be raising budding space engineers — or even astronauts. After all, on January 31, 1958, America successfully launched into orbit the cylindrical Explorer 1, 80 inches long compared to Russia’s pitiful “beach ball,” only 23 inches in diameter —  which prompted more trips into the backyard.

My mom mailed some of the drawings covering my school notebooks to my uncle Bob, who was studying civil engineering at Georgia Tech. He amped them up into what looked like professional, technical blueprints. After I took them to school, I walked  around for a few days convinced I was an aerospace genius.

The space race in Reidsville soon mirrored the Cold War. Jack’s cousin, Fred, spied on his older brother and another cousin to provide us with intel regarding their potentially more advanced technology. Erector Sets were cannibalized to build launch gantries; we discovered that match heads glued to flashbulb filaments could ignite a dynamite fuse from a safe distance.

Meanwhile, just as we were foolishly considering trying brass plumbing pipes in place of the clothes hanger tubes (never mind the danger of exploding shrapnel or the elementary physics principle that what goes up comes down), Jack and I connected with some outside support. Across town, Carl, whose parents were at least a generation younger and cooler than ours, had helped him assemble an extensive chemistry lab in the furnace closet of his family’s stylishly modern, flat-roofed house. The shelves were lined with bottles of chemicals imprinted with scientific-looking typefaces. Beakers, flasks and test tubes covered a counter on which sat an actual Bunsen burner. Carl demonstrated how, when you mixed zinc dust and sulfur, the result was a propellant several times more powerful than gunpowder.

And so, on a Saturday morning, four of us were closeted in his laboratory-furnace room, where he promised to show us his methodology. We started out with a bottle of zinc dust into which we mixed increasing amounts of sulfur. When the mixture was perfect, a sample of it, when introduced to the flame of the Bunsen burner, would burn with an intense and blinding white flash. Some advice: Do NOT use the eraser end of a pencil, which a member of our elite test unit (who will go unnamed) happened to have in his pocket, because erasers are flammable, as was the zinc-dust-and-sulfur. The ensuing explosion blew both double doors of the furnace room wide open and turned the glassware of Carl’s chemistry set into little bits of silica that we combed out of our hair for days afterwards. Why we all were not blinded, I’ll never know.

Somehow our enthusiasm for our rocket projects began to dim after that. Jack, in particular, seemed to lose interest. However, I recently learned that his father had effectively shut down our launch operations by bribing Jack with a used Hamilton “Tank” watch, in the style of the ones worn by WWI tank drivers. Although a history buff, Jack now feels that he sold out cheaply. He remembers that the watch’s style wasn’t 1950s hip. Plus, the dial’s Roman numerals left Jack, neither good at math nor foreign languages, guessing about what time it really was.

So, we did not, in fact, end up becoming astronauts or aerospace engineers, though Carl went on to become a highly popular high school science teacher. Jack, soaring to heights few of us could have imagined, is now one of the nation’s top immigration lawyers. I came closest to going into orbit by becoming an aerospace editor for Cocoa TODAY, covering the Space Shuttle. And although I’d like to say that our friend, the eraser-head igniter, became a Navy Seal demolition expert, in truth he avoided the military altogether and ended up building some of the most innovative houses in Chapel Hill.

Arms races may last forever, but not so for little boys. Secret propellants and proprietary fins “make way for other toys . . . one gray night it happened,” like Puff the Magic Dragon, our launches were no more — replaced by Boy Scouts and basketball. And once we learned what girls were for, our rockets ceased to roar.  OH

David Claude Bailey raised daughters and, while he never taught them how to create explosions, did blow their minds with his extensive knowledge of Latin.

Almanac July 2024

Almanac July 2024

July is the scratch of wild bramble, a rogue rumble of thunder, the snap, crackle, pop of grasshoppers on the wing.

The soundtrack of summer is alive and swelling. As the temperature rises, the cicadas turn the dial from lusty to deafening. Gentle crescendos are for the birds.

Catbird sings of blueberries. Mockingbird, too. Red-bellied woodpecker gorges on fruit.

Among ditch daisies and dancing grasses, meadow-beauty and blooming Joe Pye, the crickets declare their sole intention. It’s time now, they announce. Let’s do this! We came here on a mission!

Life wants to live. All beings know some version of this tune. The dream of every cricket is next summer’s mating song.

In the garden, mantis munches on June beetles. Honeybees serenade black-eyed Susans. A watermelon whispers that it’s time, now. 

One look and you know it’s true. Still, you give the rind a solid thwack.

Yep. Music.

As you gently twist the whopper from the stem, the cicadas scream with primal knowing.

This is when you choose to slow down. Feel the weight of swollen fruit as you hold it close. Give thanks for the soundscape, the sweetness, the sweat on your brow.

Despite these endless summer days, the transience of this season is palpable.

Let’s do this, the crickets trill. It’s time now. Life as we know it depends on us.

 

Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the tree house; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.    — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

All That Glitters

Grab the binoculars. A Mars-Uranus conjunction will grace the Eastern sky an hour before sunrise on Monday, July 15. Look to Taurus (the white bull) for this rare glimpse of two planets, seemingly close enough to kiss.

On the subject of shining moments, jewelweed is having one this month, too. In other words: It’s blooming.

With its small-but-showy orange flowers (they do look like tiny charms dangling from slender stalks), you’re likely to spot this native medicinal along forest edges — especially near poison ivy. As Nature has arranged it, the sap from jewelweed leaves and stems can be applied topically to help soothe itchy rashes. Simply brilliant.   

En Plein Air

Did you know that National Play Outside Day is celebrated on the first Saturday of every month? This Fourth of July weekend, turn off the screens. It’s time for some old-fashioned yard fun. Hopscotch. Double Dutch. Corn-shucking on the porch.

Bust out the freeze pops. The hammock. The threadbare picnic blanket.

Is your kid the next egg-and-spoon race champion? Watermelon seed-spitting extraordinaire? Double-dog dare you to find out.   OH

Botanicus

Botanicus

The Jewelweed Experiment

One man’s weed patch can be another’s wild garden

By Ross Howell Jr.

Ross Lackey is the first person I ever heard use the word “curating” to describe sustainable agriculture and landscaping. I met him years ago on a tour at Juneberry Ridge, a 750-acre spread just outside Norwood. Lackey thinks of farmers and gardeners as stewards, responsible for the elements that nature provides — earth, stone, water, trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers — protecting them, nourishing them, arranging them so they are presented in the most beautiful, sustainable and balanced way possible.

We gardeners are curating all the time. We thumb through our collection of catalogs, scroll websites and visit nurseries, selecting this or that bulb, flower, shrub or tree for its size, shape and color, and thinking about just where we want to plant it.

But, one day, I wondered, what would I get if I stopped gardening in the traditional way and simply curated nature?

“You’d get weeds,” the gardener in you just blurted.

And you’d be exactly right.

My Blowing Rock garden offered the opportunity for an accelerated and diverse experiment. The land slopes steeply from the crest of a high ridge, where the wind howls like a wolf in winter and eddies in the woods below, just beyond our split-rail fence.

My first spring there, I’d noticed jewelweed — eager, lime-colored, round-leaf sprouts — all along the rail fence. I recognized it from my days on the farm, where it grew by the creek next to our springhouse. Just as I’d been taught as a boy, I dutifully whacked down the sprouts with a string trimmer.

But the first year of my experiment, I let the jewelweed grow and reveled in its waist-high profusion of foliage and orange, red-speckled, pitcher-shaped flowers, where bees and other pollinators droned from morning till dusk. Hummingbirds fed on the jewelweed, too, one even keeping a perch in a wild cherry tree by the fence.

And once I put down the weed whacker, I found that the howling wind planted other gifts.

It blew seeds from mullein, milkweed, thistles and dandelions. It blew seeds that yielded the pink blossoms of fleabane and the yellow blooms of tickseed. It blew native daisies, clover, sundrops and yarrow.

Wild violets popped up here and there, and I moved them together in small beds, for effect. I discovered Jack-in-the-pulpit and Christmas ferns in the shade of a white oak by the fence.

As summer progressed, I found black-eyed Susans volunteering, along with wild asters, Queen Anne’s lace and bushy St. John’s wort. Later, the garden was dazzling with the delicate spikes of low-growing, rough goldenrod, along with the bursts of bloom atop 6-foot-tall spikes of Eastern goldenrod.

As the wild garden created itself, something was blooming somewhere in it throughout the growing season.

These days, with my experiment well into its third year, I’ve become a more active curator.

Thanks to gardening friends in Greensboro and Blowing Rock, I’ve added wild geraniums, mountain mint and wild ginger. I’ve purchased and planted purple coneflowers, Eastern columbine and oakleaf hydrangeas, plus a fire azalea bush and redbud trees.

In the fall, I cover the art in my natural museum with leaves and hardwood bark mulch, leaving the seed stalks for the birds and critters. In spring I administer a modest dose of composted cow manure and more mulch.

I’m happy. My wild garden looks happy.

All because of a conversation with Ross Lackey.  OH

Ross Howell Jr. is a contributing writer. Ross Lackey and his wife, Tiffany, a chef, are headquartered at Holly Hill Farm in the community of Whynot, near Seagrove, where Lackey offers land design consulting and services. Tiffany recently opened Seagrove Café, where her cinnamon buns are in high demand. For more information, visit www.hollyhillfarmnc.com.

Memento Mori

Memento Mori

The affirming life of Leslie Deaton

By Cynthia Adams 

Photographs by Amy Freeman

The ache for home lives in all of us,” wrote poet Maya Angelou. “The safe place where we can go as we are . . .” 

For Leslie Deaton, sanctuary is a Dutch Colonial in the historic Fisher Park district. “My story is one of breath-stealing tragedy, but also love in its wildest form, of soul-crushing pain and new mercies every morning,” she says. On leave as a Northern Guilford High School counselor, she’s fighting cancer while drawing comfort from her beautifully realized retreat.

The home, a slate-gray charmer, tells a visual version of Deaton’s story. This is a place of meaning, its well-appointed rooms say. Of warmth. Of joy.

As she found it only a few years ago, it was move-in ready, which was a particular boon, after a sensitive and full restoration by Dunleath residents Camilla Cornelius and Stephen Ruzicka. 

“The house was built in 1922; it looked great,” she praises. Cornelius, who formerly housed a counseling practice there, presented Deaton with four pages of itemized renovations, including specialty faucets.

It was a turnkey home with curb appeal, given the on-trend gray exterior with crisp white trim. “So perfect for me,” Deaton adds, having bought the property in August 2020, “in the heart of COVID.” 

She made the move well before she became ill, and a year before she lost her only child, William Walton Finch, at age 23.

“Losing my son . . . ” she falters, explaining. “He took a Xanax that was pressed with Fentanyl on July 28, 2021. I believe that is why I have cancer. I just could not endure it.” She pauses. “The love of my life. My only child.” 

Her son graduated a semester early from N.C. State University with magna cum laude honors, she adds. Nothing fit.

She sighs raggedly. Tears fall.

Deaton understands those tears are therapeutic and necessary. Ironically, she has seldom been able to enjoy much leisure time at home prior to her illness, given a busy professional life. 

Fueled by her longtime work with young adults, she has continued to speak to students and anyone who will listen about the lethal threat street drugs pose to young people, even after a shocking diagnosis last year.

She believes “the trauma of losing Will opened me up to invasion. Losing a child is a different type of loss.” Losing an older child is no less challenging, she says. “It’s different.” Two people in her life who lost children subsequently “ended up with breast cancer.”

In February 2023, she chose to share her son’s story with 700 students, parents and educators at Northern Guilford. She was joined that night by Amy Neville, a California parent who lost a 14-year-old son. 

“Tragedy would hurl me without warning into a spotlight I never in a million years asked for but felt required to assume in order to tell the most soul-crushing story of my lifetime.”

Publicly, she drew back the curtain on pain following the loss “of my sun, my moon and all my stars — my beautiful son and my only child.” The title of her presentation? One Pill Can Kill.

In a televised interview with WFMY-TV, Deaton shared the nature of her personal trauma. “I got the absolute worst phone call of the human experience. I was informed that I lost my child to a horrific poison, Fentanyl,” she explained

She met Jane Gibson at Authoracare while grieving.

“I was touched by the love and the pride she shared with me about her son,” says Gibson, a recently-retired staff member. “And despite her great sorrow, she was not crawling away into a hole.” Even though it was a busy time in the academic year for her and her students, it was clear to her that “she would find healing by providing counseling support for these teens. What an amazing, loving woman!”

As long ago as 2022, Deaton began experiencing persistent stomach pain. Late that year, nagging back pain worsened.

“I was trying so hard to resist painkillers,” she recalls. “To honor what I’d been so vocal about.” Instead, she bought a new mattress to help her back, still suspecting she also had a stomach ulcer. 

“Then we got new office chairs. Each member of our counseling department had back complaints . . . But guess what? I still had agonizing pain.”

She turned to Ibuprofen, Tums and a heating pad in order to make it through the work day. “One morning in May [2023], our well-intentioned counseling secretary stood at my desk and said, ‘I’m not going to move until you call the doctor.’”

Deaton eventually capitulated, seeking help. When a radiology interventionist proposed a nerve block to alleviate back pain, she tried it.    

It helped briefly. Then her pain roared back. 

During follow-up, her blood work was normal. But an endoscopy and a CT scan detected a large mass in her pancreas. 

Deaton was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer on May 31, 2023. “I was told to get my affairs in order while I still had cognition.” When she learned her diagnosis, she was at home alone. It was a phone call “that cruelly propelled me off my axis once more.”

“Yes, I know I have a terminal diagnosis, but I don’t know what that means,” she says calmly, gazing out a kitchen window. “I could be in a car wreck today,” she says unemotionally. Outside, colorful plants await planting in a garden she plans to call “Will’s Garden.”

She makes plans and continues home projects.

“I’ve not asked my life expectancy from my doctors, and the reason I haven’t is, I feel it’s a guess, at best. I’m focused on today. Today is a gift,” she muses. Shortly after her diagnosis when she realized she wouldn’t be going back to work in the fall, she recalls deliberating over “this silly little rug from Ballard Design. And my friend, Jane Harrill, was here. And she said, ‘You’re going to be here a lot. If that rug gives you happiness, get it.’”

Harrill is Will’s former kindergarten teacher, explains Deaton, as well as an artist. She helps Deaton following treatments. 

Deaton’s close, longtime friend, Todd Nabors, who met her at First Presbyterian church, agrees with Harrill. 

“We’re the same age,” he says. “We’ve been friends forever.” They see each other nearly every Sunday. Deaton admires his aesthetic and relied upon his point of view when it came to her home.

Nabors, who works for furniture company Thayer Coggin and also consults on design, offered similar advice. “Beauty matters,” he told her.

And so, Deaton ordered the sisal rug. 

Deaton has always found “feathering her nest” therapeutic. Years ago, she frequented Summer House, a home decor shop. There she met Kaylee Phillips.

Phillips, who now works in antiques and collectibles at Carriage House, says, “She collects beautiful things. And along the way, she collects beautiful friendships.”

“Beauty does matter to me. And surrounding myself with joy and cheer is a medicine of sorts. It’s a therapy. It’s treatment,” says Deaton. There’s sorrow here, too, of course: the elephant in the room, as the expression goes. Yet there’s an aura of peace, too, and light. It streams through the house’s many windows.

At home, the gentle colors of a spa surround her.

Along those lines, she has selected a fabric with which she wants to reupholster an upstairs den chair. The room is softly feminine, accented with the pastel art she collects. Inside sit her desk, a vintage French chair found at Carriage House, along with a television, chaise lounge and cushy seating. After treatments — a more aggressive regimen of chemo and radiation began in April — she often rests here.

She cocoons here in the beautiful room, sometimes tossing a toy to her dog, Charley, whom she shares with her dad, and Virginia, her cat.

She resists staying in bed when under the weather, and refuses to recover in pajamas but prefers regular clothes. To be as normal as possible. “When I go to treatment, they say, ‘We love seeing what you come in wearing.’” Deaton takes pride in this, saying it is a form of self-care.

Even while wearing yoga pants, she stacks delicate beaded bracelets along her arm — many are gifts from devoted friends.

She refuses to give in or stop making an effort.

This applies equally to her personal environment.

She has just chosen a new fabric by Elliston House for a favorite bedroom chair. “The company is owned by [Greensboro residents] Morgan Hood and Ally Holderness. And I just admire them for taking that leap of faith,” she says of their venture into business.

“At times I’m tethered to that chair.” 

She chose Elliston House for Roman shade fabrics in the same space and the company’s wallpaper to line a breakfront she uses for storage. She’s deliberating another Elliston House fabric for an often-recovered armchair.

She, perhaps, values art and personal mementos above all else. Art is present in every room, as are personal touches. Many of the works she’s acquired have been created by local and regional artists.

Winston-Salem artist Carolyn Blaylock is a favorite. She collects North Carolina artists Bee Sieburg, Libby Smart, Sharon Schwenk, Sue Scoggins, Helen Farson, Amy Heywood, Yvonne Kimbrough, Crystal Eadie Miller and Murray Parker. She describes their styles as “warm and inviting.” She treasures pieces by artist (and fellow educator) friend Harrill.

Virginia artist Martha Dick and Georgia artist Lisa Moore are also part of her collection.

Favorite places and influences?

Deaton admires the Carolina Inn, in the “most classic of ways.” (She’s a UNC-Chapel Hill grad.) She loves “going room to room and seeing the differences.”

Home magazines are a constant source of inspiration. She again mentions former home decor shop Summer House. “It had a great influence. I loved it.” She uses painted pieces acquired there, including chests and breakfronts. 

Once, a man delivered something to her prior home and exclaimed, “You’ve shopped at Summer House!” 

“Everybody who’s ever encountered her loves her,” says Phillips, musing about the friendship that originated in that store. “We’ve all become friends with her. It was deepened due to the connection with our children,” she adds.

Often, too, Deaton finds Randy McManus’ floral shop “very therapeutic for me.” 

She picks up a small plate displayed in her den, found in a Pawley’s Island shop in 2019. 

“It simply says, ‘Tell stories.’ It’s funny because I didn’t buy it initially, but it popped into my mind several times before our departure, so I scooped it up on our way out of town, never dreaming of its significance, completely oblivious that it would ultimately become my life’s theme song.” 

Deaton still considers her home a creative outlet and she now has time to contemplate every detail. She considers a colorful pink Elliston House lampshade. (Pink is a favorite color. There is even a pink Keurig coffeemaker on the kitchen counter and a pink leopard print sisal on the kitchen floor). 

She just replaced the upstairs bath’s colorful mirror with a high gloss white-framed one. Satisfied, she says it calms the effect of a lively wallpaper.

This is part of “living my life,” she explains. Design, color and beauty bring her great joy.

When Deaton walks into her son’s former bedroom, her voice is softer. “His special, special things,” she says quietly. “I just had to totally redo it . . . ”

She pauses, as if she is seeing the room as it was before it became a guest room, adding a white Matelassé coverlet, crisp linens and French blue accents. One wall displays diplomas, pictures and mementos from her son.

Everything in here is something about Will, she says.

After his dad left when he was young, Will and his mom had years together. “We had such a unique and special relationship. I weep. And I will never stop weeping. I tell people, I do not cry over my cancer, but I cry over Will.”

She reads aloud framed stickies he wrote to her, struggling with her emotions.

“I have beautiful portraits of him,” she says of her son. “I am so thankful.”

Friends who know of Deaton’s loss and health issues have donated wallpaper, fabrics, bedding, a specially monogrammed neckroll with Will’s initials from Matouk bedding — even a special commission by Triad artist Amy Heywood. 

“She gave that [painting] to me. Came into the home, looked at all my art. And that’s what she created.” Fresh flowers appear at her doorstep. Letters with donations arrive from strangers.

“Never did I dream when I redid this room that so many different people would be using it to stay with me,” she continues, lingering in Will’s former room. She is pleased when they tell her they find peace here.

If memories of Will are the dominant focus of her home, the underlying theme is serenity.

The lighting fixture in her room was a gift from a friend. “It’s a very visual comfort,” she says. “It’s so beautiful at night.” This is a real place of sanctuary, she repeats.

She picks up and cuddles Virginia, the blue-eyed rescue cat. “She has a little dot on her nose,” Deaton says delightedly. She imagined her “walking up Virginia Street. to find me.” 

Deaton rehabilitated her. She is epileptic, Deaton says, and takes phenobarbital; once, a well-meaning friend almost gave her Virginia’s medicine. She winces, but smiles, quipping, “Wonder what that would have been like?” 

The downstairs rooms are tasteful yet casual with cream-colored walls, accented with French finds, collections and artwork. The eating nook off the kitchen had original benches and table, which she decided to keep but stash in storage. It was original, and Deaton says she didn’t want “to be disloyal to the Ruzicka’s renovation.” While she would “never get rid of it,” she stored it in the basement so she could add a table that better worked for her 6’3”-tall son when he lived with her.

Each room in her home sparks a return to the subject of her son.

Will chose to enter treatment at Fellowship Hall, she says quietly, standing in the breakfast nook where they ate together when he was staying here. 

He had completed treatment for addiction. Will had just qualified for Navy Seal training, “when this all happened.” Deaton would never know if it was his first relapse either. At the time, her son was living in Charlotte and doing incredibly well, according to his roommate. He had, for months, endured miles of running and swimming. “He doesn’t fit the mold,” she stresses.

Nonetheless, Deaton extols the virtue of a recovery program. “But when you are 22, and everything about socializing is a drinking event . . .” 

Alcohol, she explains, lowers our inhibitions. “And opioids are the worst. Instantly addictive. I’m not minimizing alcohol,” she stresses, “but it’s a different beast.”

“It’s a tragic, tragic story,” she says. “An incredible, stinging hurt and [emotional] pain followed him,” she says. “But Will was definitely trying to find a way to deal with that pain. And he went at it the wrong way.”

“But he was always outstanding, and he will always be my greatest accomplishment,” she says. 

Coping with extreme pain, Deaton has had to learn how to handle her own fears regarding painkillers. She credits the Palliative Care Program at Cone for guidance.

“Dr. Beth Golding took me under her wing and has gotten control of my pain,” says Deaton. Controlling pain enables her to walk again, go to the grocery store, to do chores. “Transformative,” she adds.

She recalls Dr. Golding saying “we don’t see thriving in pancreatic patients. But you are doing life.”

With Deaton’s pain lessened, she occasionally found diversion working a few hours at Watkins Sydnor, a home store. Earlier last year, she even managed 5-mile walks from Fisher Park to Irving Park, feeling completely energized.

“For me, time with my friends is what matters. It’s not about stuff. Funny, because this article is about stuff, in a way. But what this disease has taught me is that time together is all that matters.”  OH

Dog Is Love

Dog Is Love

Sedgefield Presbyterian Church laps up its new congregational canine

By Maria Johnson 
Photographs by Mark Wagoner

It’s been several weeks since 79-year-old Sue Lucado could make it to church.

She had a cold.

She had guests.

She had COVID.

It’s been one thing after another, but she’s here, at Greensboro’s Sedgefield Presbyterian Church, this Sunday morning. She steps into the vestibule and receives an unusually robust welcome.

She is sniffed

She is licked.

Her shoelaces are tasted.

In an instant, Lucado’s expression changes from somber to smiling.

She leans over and sticks a hand into the mass of apricot curls dancing around her feet.

Two gleaming brown eyes look up.

Two floppy ears emerge.

A finger-length tail covered with wispy tendrils thumps the carpet.

The furry swirl slows enough to reveal Chloe Grace, the church’s 3-month-old, 8-pounds-and-gaining, congregational dog.

Genetically speaking, Chloe Grace is a cavapoo, meaning she’s part poodle, part King Charles Cavalier spaniel.

Spiritually speaking, she’s heaven-sent.

“She’s the most beautiful thing,” Lucado gushes. “Bless her heart!”

The good news about Chloe Grace reached Lucado a couple of weeks ago, when she cut the pup’s picture out of a church newsletter, stuck the picture on her refrigerator, and made an announcement to her own beloved dog, Katie, a Yorkshire terrier.

“I said, ‘Katie, we have a little friend at church,’” she says.

Now that Lucado has met Chloe Grace, she is smitten.

She takes a program from human greeter Paul Durant, who owns the dog with his wife, the church’s pastor, Rev. Kim Priddy.

“You know me and dogs,” Lucado tells him. “I like them better than people.”“Don’t tell anyone, but me, too,” Durant confides playfully.

Lucado nods, still smiling, and finds a pew.

 

Priddy, the shepherd of this flock, swiped the idea of a pastoral pup from a friend, Rev. Michelle Funk in Pennsylvania.

Funk, who got a church dog last year, had toyed with the idea of a congregational canine for years. Using a therapy dog for church work made sense to her, but when she pastored a church in Burlington, N.C., a few years ago, she had two beagles.

“Neither of them was church therapy dog material,” Funk says in a phone interview.

“You know beagles. They follow their noses. They’re very loving, but they have a mind of their own.”

Then, in 2022, she was called to her current church, Heidelberg Union Church in Slatington, Pa.

The time and place seemed right.

One member trained seeing-eye dogs and often brought the trainees to church. A past member had attended with his personal service dog, who sometimes sat in on messages for the children.

“Dogs in church was not a new concept in this congregation,” Funk says.

She resurrected her hunt for a four-legged staffer. Her research turned up a handful of pastoral pooches nationwide. The cavapoo breed, known for being warm, intelligent and hypoallergenic, was a popular choice.

Funk visited a reputable cavapoo breeder and brought home a 4-month-old pup that her family — fans of the Harry Potter franchise — named Muggles.

At a pastoral retreat last year, Funk told Priddy about taking Muggles, in his first week on the job, to see a church member who was living at home under hospice care.

Funk placed Muggles in the woman’s lap. As the woman stroked Muggles’ soft coat, she opened her heart. Words poured out.

Muggles knew what to do. He relaxed, stayed put and let the woman talk.

She was scared of dying, she said. She had things she wanted to do in life. As faithful as she was, she wondered if God would be present at her passing.

Funk reminded her of Jesus’ words on the cross: “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

She reassured her that fear and doubt were normal.

She prayed with the woman.

It was clear to Funk that Muggles had helped the woman tap a vein of emotion that she, the pastor, might not have been able to reach alone.

The story lit a fire in Priddy, who’d grown up with dogs and owned dogs when her three children were young.

“I knew that dogs made people happy, but when Michelle talked about her visit, I realized the potential of reaching church members in a new way,” she says.

She ran the idea past her husband, Durant.

“I said, “As long as it’s for a purpose . . . ’” he recalls.

Historically a “big dog person,” he agreed to getting a smaller, more portable cavapoo — with a mature weight of 15 to 20 pounds — for the church gig.

Priddy pitched the plan to her session, the congregation’s ruling body. She told the story of Muggles.

If she got a similar dog, she said, she would bring the dog to work, take it to visit sick and homebound members, and have it certified as a therapy dog as soon as possible.

The idea was consistent with other forward-leaning projects that Priddy has backed to improve the church’s outreach, relevance and membership — an Earth-care committee; a yoga class that meets during the Sunday school hour; guest speakers on the war in Gaza.

Like many mainline churches, the Sedgefield congregation has shrunk over the last several decades. Today, riding an uptick following the doldrums of COVID, there are about 85 active members. About half are seniors. Many live alone.

A dog, Priddy hoped, would comfort those who missed touching and holding another living being.

She also aimed to delight children in the church’s preschool program and signal to potential members that the congregation was open to new ideas.

The session agreed unanimously.

On a Friday in March, Priddy and her husband brought their 8-week-old bundle of joy home from a breeder in Charlotte.

That Sunday, they toted the puppy to church.

Priddy invited church members to vote on a name for the dog by dropping dollars into red Solo cups bearing the names suggested by children of the church.

After the service, $125 in votes were tallied. The top two vote-getters were Chloe and Grace.

 

“Helllllllo, Miss Helen,” Priddy singsongs as she steps through the door of an apartment at the River Landing retirement community in Colfax. “I’ve brought all kinds of guests today.”

Across the room, church member Helen Boyer, 98, sits in a recliner with her feet up, watching daytime television.

“Where’s Amazing Grace?” She calls out in a bright voice. “I call her Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace is better for a church dog.”

Priddy leads the pup into the studio, detaches a leash and lifts the dog into the chair with Boyer, a stalwart church member who attended services regularly until she gave up driving about seven years ago. These days, she watches on YouTube or, if her daughter is with her, on Facebook Live.

“Get up here, Amazing,” says Boyer, whose manicured fingers slide into the pastoral pup’s curly coat and begin massaging. “How are you, missy? It’s been a while.”

Soon, Boyer is talking about how she misses the dogs she used to own — what good company they were and how they kept her on her toes. One dog, Suzy, a Doberman, lived with her when she moved to a cottage in the retirement community 20 years ago.

Suzy died about 10 years ago, but Boyer still feels close to her.

Literally.

“She’s over there, in that drawer,” Boyer says, pointing to a bureau that holds her beloved dog’s ashes. “She’s going to be inurned with me.”

Chloe Grace is not impressed. She nibbles Boyer’s unguarded toes.

“No biting!” Priddy says, removing her charge.

Priddy pulls out a bag of treats and hands some to Boyer. For a tasty price, they finish their visit peacefully.

In closing, Priddy scoots closer to the recliner and offers Boyer a hand in prayer. She thanks the Lord for this time together, for Boyer’s devotion to the church and for the opportunity to talk about their dogs.

 

Ask almost any question about Chloe Grace, and the answer is probably “yes.”

Has Chloe Grace had any accidents at church?

Yes, but none in the sanctuary. As of this writing.

Did Chloe Grace participate in this year’s Easter egg hunt?

Yes. She quickly found a candy-filled egg, at which point Priddy and Durant pulled her from the hunt.

Has Chloe Grace been invited to children’s birthday parties?

Several. One girl requested the gift of being chased around her party by the puppy.

Do adults drop by the church just to see Chloe Grace?

Yes. The clerk of session, Karen Johnson, who is retired and lives near the church, sometimes texts Priddy to see if she has brought the pup to work. If the answer is yes, Johnson heads to the church.

Are people sometimes disappointed if Priddy shows up to a church meeting alone?

Yes. “I thought Chloe Grace would be here,” they say sadly.

Does Durant tease his wife that more people come to church to see Chloe Grace than to see her?

Yes. Priddy’s reply: “I don’t care, as long as they come.”

Does Chloe Grace attend Sunday services?

Yes. Usually, she hangs out in the back of the sanctuary with her usher-dad, Durant, and her clerk-of-session-pet-sitter Johnson.

Does Chloe Grace help take up the offering?

Yes. She has a flair for opening hearts and wallets. Someone suggested training her to stare at people until they drop money in the offering plate — and to bark if they don’t give enough.

Does Chloe Grace occasionally run under the pews, causing a visible ripple of heads turning to catch the flash of fur under their feet?

Yes. Sometimes, they step on Chloe Grace accidentally. She seems to forgive those who trespass against, and on, her.

Does Chloe Grace have a time-out spot for when she is too excited?

Yes. See the playpen in the church library.

Does Chloe Grace have an Instagram account?

Yes, @chloe_the_spc_pup. Follow her colleague, Muggles in Pennsylvania, @pupminhuc.

Are there members of the church who aren’t crazy about dogs in general, or Chloe Grace in particular?

Yes, probably. But they haven’t whined to the leadership.

Do people seem to be smiling more around Sedgefield Presbyterian these days?

Definitely. Johnson credits Chloe Grace with lifting spirits.

“She’s a ray of sunshine for people. When she greets you, how can you not have a better day?” she muses. “She doesn’t care if you’re walking with a cane or if you’re in a wheelchair, if you’re 2 feet tall or 5 feet tall, if you’re Black or white, gay or lesbian. She doesn’t care. She’s there to give you love, like God is.”  OH

Omnivorous Reader

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

Civil War: Past and Present

Erik Larson’s The Demon of Unrest

By Stephen E. Smith

Books about the American Civil War sell themselves. Publishers know there’s a loyal audience eager to buy reasonably well-researched volumes about the most tragic event in American history, and that’s enough to keep the bookstore shelves stuffed with warmed-over and newly discovered material. But how does a Civil War historian appeal to a broader audience? Simple: link the events explicated in his book to the present or, even better, to the future.

Erik Larson’s The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War purports to do just that. Larson states in his introduction: “I was well into my research on the saga of Fort Sumter and the advent of the American Civil War when the events of January 6, 2021, took place. As I watched the Capitol assault unfold on camera, I had the eerie feeling that present and past had merged. It is unsettling that in 1861 two of the greatest moments of national dread centered on the certification of the Electoral College vote and the presidential inauguration . . . I suspect your sense of dread will be all the more pronounced in light of today’s political discord, which, incredibly, has led some benighted Americans to whisper once again of secession and civil war.”

The major news networks have been quick to focus on the book’s possible implications, and Larson has appeared on cable news, NPR, and at bookstores and lecture venues across the country to address the possible parallels between the people, places and events of the spring of 1861 and those of the upcoming presidential election.

Which begs two questions. First, is The Demon of Unrest a well-written, thoroughly researched history deserving of the intense scrutiny it is receiving? And second, does the history of the fall of Fort Sumter offer readers insights into the cultural and political divisions in which Americans now find themselves?

The answer to the first question is a resounding yes. Larson is a conscientious researcher, and everything he presents “comes from some form of historical document; likewise, any reference to a gesture, smile, or other physical action comes from an account by one who made it or witnessed it.” He has analyzed a myriad of primary and secondary sources and produced a narrative that proceeds logically from chapter to chapter, illustrating how a false sense of honor and faulty decision-making on both sides of the conflict facilitated the terrible suffering that would be occasioned by the war.

Larson accomplishes this by drawing on the papers and records of the usual suspects — Mary Chesnut, Maj. Robert Anderson (Fort Sumter’s commander), Lincoln, Edmund Ruffin, Abner Doubleday, James Buchanan, Gideon Welles, William Seward, etc. — but he also delves more deeply than earlier historians into more obscure sources, all of which are noted in his extensive bibliography. Much of what he discloses will be revelatory to readers of popular Civil War histories.

The disreputable activities of South Carolina Gov. James Hammond are a startling example. (Hammond is credited with having uttered the oft-repeated “You dare not make war on cotton — no power on earth dares make war upon it. Cotton is king.”) In May 1857, Hammond, an active player in the Fort Sumter narrative, was being considered to fill a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate, even though he was a confessed child predator who molested his four nieces. Hammond wrote in his diary: “Here were four lovely creatures, from the tender but precious girl of 13 to the mature but fresh and blooming woman nearly 19, each contending for my love . . . and permitting my hands to stray unchecked over every part of them and to rest without the slightest shrinking from it.” Hammond not only recorded his misdeeds, he disclosed his indiscretions to friends and suffered no negative political consequences when his pedophilia became public knowledge.

Larson reminds readers that Lincoln’s election also occasioned a demonstration at the Capitol. The crowd might have turned violent, but Gen. Winfield Scott was prepared: “Soldiers manned the entrances and demanded to see passes before letting anyone in. Scott had positioned caches of arms throughout the building. A regiment of troops in plainclothes circulated among the crowd to stop any trouble before it started.”

In a lengthy narrative aside detailing Lincoln’s trip from Springfield to Washington, Larson reveals that the president-elect had to hold a yard sale to pay for his journey to the inaugural and that despite precautions to ensure his safety, an elaborate subterfuge had to be undertaken to sneak Lincoln into the District of Columbia. He was accompanied on the trip by detective Allan Pinkerton, who was determined to foil a supposed plot to assassinate Lincoln before he could be sworn in.

What readers will find most surprising is the degree to which the 19th-century concept of “honor” held sway over events surrounding the fall of Sumter. As South Carolina authorities constructed gun emplacements in preparation for a bombardment of the fort, mail service continued with messages to and from Washington passing through Confederate hands without being opened and read. While attempting to starve the fort into surrender, the city of Charleston also attempted to accommodate the garrison with deliveries of beef and vegetables, which Maj. Anderson rejected on the grounds that such resupply was dishonorable.

After months of political finagling, the fort endured an intense 34-hour bombardment before being evacuated. Neither side suffered any dead or wounded; thus, the battle that initiated the bloodiest conflict in American history was bloodless.

The second question — Do the events that followed Fort Sumter’s fall suggest that violent consequences will likewise follow the 2024 presidential election? — is easily answered: No. Cliches such as Santayana’s “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it” or Twain’s “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” short circuit critical thinking. Nothing is preordained.

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, who knows something about the Civil War, recently addressed this question in a commencement speech at Brandeis University. The text of Burns’ address is available online, and readers who believe we’re headed into a second civil war should read what Burns has to say.

The obvious message conveyed by The Demon of Unest is clear: Human beings are foolish, arrogant and too often given to emotional irrationality that’s self-destructive. There’s nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes got that right.  OH

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of seven books of poetry and prose. He’s the recipient of the Poetry Northwest Young Poet’s Prize, the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for poetry and four North Carolina Press Awards.