Simple Life

Life In the Slow Lanes

In praise of the snail’s pace


By Jim Dodson
The TED Radio Hour recently hosted a fascinating program devoted to the art of slowing down.
The program began with a public TV producer from Norway describing how a historic passenger train rigged with multiple wide-angle cameras documented the passing landscape during its daily run between Bergen and Oslo for seven hours and 14 minutes.
There was no voiceover or narrative explanation of the journey — merely the peaceful countryside passing in real time.
The train documentary became a runaway sensation.
What might sound like an elaborate April Fool’s joke turned out to be a ratings bonanza when an estimated 1.2 million Norwegians — roughly one-fifth of the country’s population — tuned in to watch Bergensbanen (The Bergen Line), giving birth to a new concept called “Slow TV.”
Since that time, similar programs have devoted eight straight hours to Norway’s “National Firewood Night,” 18 straight hours to salmon fishing, more than eight hours to people knitting and chatting, 60 hours to Norwegian hymn-singing and five-and-a-half days to passengers on a cruise ship.
The producers discovered, in essence, that viewers are longing for something authentic, something that minute-by-minute matches the pace of actual living, not manufactured “reality” shows that simulate or distort events in real time. In a world forever speeding up, Norwegians seemed eager to slow down and smell the roses — or at least watch them grow.
Another TED stage segment featured an efficiency-driven professor from The Wharton School of Economics who learned a valuable lesson in the art of procrastination — how “slowing down” can be a boon to personal creativity — from a pair of his business school students who took six months just to come up with a name for their proposed business idea, right up to the project’s deadline.
The company name the students finally came up with was Warby Parker, which evolved into a billion-dollar eyewear firm that was recently named the world’s “Most Innovative Company,” proving the timeless maxim that all good things come in time — and often require lots of it.
Among other insights professor Adam Grant gleaned from the experience — including his own subsequent efforts to teach himself to procrastinate — is that putting something aside often aids in refining the outcome; that human beings possess a better memory for incomplete tasks that stay active in the mind than hastily produced results; and that, in the end, our biggest regrets are not what we failed to accomplish — but what we never took the necessary time to try to do well.
“What some people call procrastination,” professor Grant says, quoting screenwriter Adam Sorkin, “I call thinking.”
In a world where feedback is as instantaneous as a nasty Tweet, the faster we move through our days, the professor concluded, the less inclined we are to pause and reflect on methods that might produce a better outcome.
As one who has consciously been “slowing down” for years, it was reassuring to discover there are others in the world who believe there is great value — not to mention improved perspective and sanity — in taking the time to do the job right, to slow down and think it through, to measure twice and cut once or simply stop and buy some of those proverbial roses, whatever cliché works for you.
Pausing to think about this, I do believe it was the house and garden I built on a forested hill in Maine two decades ago that brought this important lesson home to bear.
The year it took to clear the land and rebuild the ancient stone walls that once defined an 18th-century farmstead gave me time to conceive and refine the plans for the house, which took an additional nine months to actually construct with the help of a pair of skilled post-and-beam housewrights. Creating the interior of the house (which I largely did on my own — building walls and floors, custom designing and making bookshelves and the kitchen cabinetry) also underwent several revisions and took at least three more months to complete than planned. In the end, just about everything about that house pleased me and suited my young family perfectly.
In a sense, the forest around us and the ambitious landscape garden I subsequently set out to create conveyed an even more enlightening lesson about the value of taking one’s own sweet time.
Nature keeps her own clock, and a northern woodland can’t be rushed into leafing out in spring or fading away in autumn. Summer’s lease in Maine may seem all too brief while winter can feel maddeningly endless. And yet, as I learned, watching the seasons come and go at their own pace was like attending a seminar in the art of Slow TV, a chance to absorb the beauty and spiritual messages of a living world that follows an ancient dance as old as the stars.
Any gardener worth his composted cow manure understands that the life of a garden is a slow-moving and somewhat mysterious affair, relying on faith, patience and years, if not decades, of learning about plants and their needs from others who are wiser than you about the art of coaxing living things from the soil.
Even my work as a journalist and author — always facing one kind of deadline or another — reminds me of the importance to take my time and get the story right.
At the end of summer in 2017, I set out to travel along the Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia to Augusta, Georgia. I calculated that a three-week jaunt investigating the historic towns and people who reside along arguably America’s most historic Colonial-era road would give me a wealth of material for a book on the very road that brought my European forebears — and possibly yours — to the Southern frontier.
As of last week, I’ve officially clocked more than 2,500 miles traveling the 780-mile road and am now starting into my third year of researching the astonishing life of this ancient American pathway, constantly learning new things and unearthing stories that demand time to pause and take a deeper look, to linger and reflect, to pursue new leads and find the facts.
It’s been an unexpected and bewitching journey, to say the least, something akin to a personal Chautauqua that has immeasurably enriched my life and understanding of America. I shall almost hate to see it reach its conclusion, probably sometime in early summer when I finally cross the Savannah River at Augusta.
For the record, I’ve rewritten the book’s prologue and first five chapters at least half a dozen times already, discovering as I do how the work comes a little more alive and compelling each time out, proving strength resides in careful (and sometimes slow) revision. Hopefully, my brilliant young editor at Simon & Schuster will agree, whenever he finally gets the book.
Not for the first time, traveling the Wagon Road has also reinforced my self-awareness that I am a natural slow-lanes traveler who will always choose the winding two-lane roads if at all possible.
If past truly is prelude to the future — or at least the present — this instinctual habit was likely encouraged by my first job as a cub reporter at the Greensboro News and Record in the late 1970s. Placed in command of a DayGlo orange AMC Pacer staff car, my task was to find colorful characters and interesting feature stories for the Sunday paper in a 50-mile circumference of quiet countryside around the Gate City, a job that took me along winding back roads from Seagrove to the Blue Ridge.
Looking back, I realize those slow road adventures were an education unto themselves, a great way to begin my writing career. It was maybe the most fun job I’ve ever had.
All of which may explain why, as the world seems to speed up with each passing day, I remain a committed slow-lanes traveler who is in no particular rush to get where he’s going. What I supposedly lose in time by avoiding Interstates and super highways, I gain back double in terms of perspective and peace of mind by passing through beautiful countryside and small towns where time moves at a slower pace. Come spring, roadside produce stands seem to whisper my name.
Recently I flew a long way on an airplane, about a dozen hours in the air each way.
I took the slow way there and back.
Airports are increasingly noisy places with folks rushing frantically about. But once I’m in the air, locked in a silver bird soaring as high as 40,000 feet above the Earth, it’s such a pleasure to read an entire book or simply sit and think about life as I gaze out at continents of clouds.
On this trip, I discovered that one of the video channels featured its own version of Slow TV — 45-minute film loops showing either a serene rainforest or the restless ocean on the craggy Northwest Coast.
I watched both films — twice.
Someday I may graduate to “National Firewood Night” or 60 hours of Norwegians singing hymns, but for now that rainforest and restless sea worked their magic on my high-flying soul.
“Does anything actually happen in that movie,” my curious seatmate was compelled to ask at one point, unplugging from his action thriller.
“Not much,” I admitted. “Isn’t it great?” OH
Contact Editor Jim Dodson at

Food for Thought

A Springtime Soup

Simple. Seasonal. And richly satisfying.


By Jane Lear

Some soups require a lengthy list of ingredients and plenty of time on the back burner; they are worth preparing in a big batch so you can freeze a couple of quarts for another day. Leek and potato soup, however, does not need this sort of commitment. It’s an uncomplicated, almost austere, old farmhouse soup that brings out the best in two vegetables, and it’s easily cobbled together on the fly.

I made it the other day when a trip down the grocery store’s produce aisle yielded leeks with very fresh, relatively crisp leaves and long, stout snowy white stems. (Note: The longer the stems, the greater the amount of chopped leeks will be.) As soon as I got home, I prepped those beautiful leeks, along with some burly russet potatoes, straightaway. Then, as the soup simmered, I stowed the rest of my haul and set the kitchen to rights. Filling and fresh-tasting, the soup was going to be exactly what we wanted after a brisk walk on the beach.

In terms of flavor, the leek is the most nuanced and refined member of the onion-garlic clan — a real treat on the palate after months of winter’s storage onions. It’s sturdy, too: Left whole, with roots untrimmed, leeks will easily last a couple of weeks in the refrigerator if you wrap them in a slightly dampened kitchen towel, then put them in a plastic bag.

As for the potatoes, they have varying starch and moisture contents depending on their type. Russets, the standard baking potato, are high in starch and low in moisture. So-called “boiling” potatoes are low in starch and, you got it, high in moisture. Yukon Golds, with their yellow-tinged flesh, strike a happy medium in both categories.

Each kind of spud will make a delicious soup in its own way, but typically, if using boiling potatoes, you’ll need to add more salt, because low starch means a higher proportion of natural sugars. I buy organic potatoes when I can find them, and often leave on the skins unless very thick; it seems a shame to waste them, and they add to the rough-hewn character of the soup. (At the other end of the spectrum is crème vichyssoise, in which the leek and potato mixture is puréed with cream and served cold. This soup, which has great finesse and timeless appeal, was created by the French chef Louis Diat, who became chef de cuisine at the New York Ritz-Carlton in 1910. In 1947, he joined Gourmet magazine as the in-house chef.)

Although some leek and potato soup recipes say to simmer the vegetables in chicken stock and/or milk, I stick with plain old water. It’s cleaner tasting, and if you like, you can thin as well as enrich the finished soup with some milk or cream.

Leek and potato soup hits the spot for lunch — feel free to add slices of cheese toast, made with a good cheddar — but it can be extremely satisfying for supper, too. Try embellishing it with a handful of greens — spinach or lemony-tart sorrel, for instance, or finely shredded kale — and serve it with a plate of thinly sliced brown bread, unsalted butter, and smoked or kippered salmon.

I first had this combination long ago in Scotland, in a gray stone cottage framed by neat rows of blue-green leeks, and to this day the meal conjures long twilights, a crackling fire in the hearth, and the distant boom of the surf. In case you find yourself wishing for dessert, a rhubarb oatmeal crisp is as good as it gets.

Leek and Potato Soup

Serves 4

In the recipe below, the method for cleaning the leeks may sound finicky, but it’s not a place to cut corners. Leeks always have a certain amount of soil embedded in their multitude of layers because of how they grow. Rain splashes the dirt onto the leaves, then washes it down to where the stem (which is actually lots of tightly bound leaves) begins. The particles of soil work their way deeper into the plants as they mature. So take your time! Put on some music and embrace the process.

About 4 large leeks

About 1½ pounds of potatoes

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

About 6 cups of water

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Milk or cream to thin soup (optional)

Chopped fresh thyme, chives, chervil or tarragon for serving (optional)

1. Trim off the roots and dark green part of the leeks. Discard the tough outer leaf layer. Cut leeks in half lengthwise and thinly slice. Swish them around well in a bowl of cold water, then let them sit so that any soil or sand settles to the bottom of the bowl.

2. Scrub the potatoes and peel if desired. Quarter them lengthwise and cut into ½-inch pieces. Gently lift the leeks out of their bath with your hands and drain.

3. Melt the butter in a pot, add the leeks, and cook over low heat until the leeks are softened but not browned. Add the potatoes and water; season generously with salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are very soft, 30 to 40 minutes. They should be almost, but not quite, falling apart.

4. Smash some of the potatoes against the side of the pot to give the soup a thicker, smoother consistency, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, pulse a few ladles of soup in a blender, then return to the pot. Taste and think about adding some milk or cream. Or not. Tinker with the seasoning, adding a bit more salt and a few grinds of pepper. Ladle into bowls and scatter with chopped herbs if desired.  OH

Jane Lear, formerly of Gourmet magazine and Martha Stewart Living, is the editor of Feed Me, a quarterly magazine for Long Island food lovers.

Four-Leaf Clover Rag

How JoAnn and Bill Owings became guardians of a proud Triad legacy

By Nancy Oakley     Photographs by Amy Freeman

The view from the front porch, revealing a graceful fountain in the side yard, convinced JoAnn and Bill Owings to purchase their historic home on High Point’s Parkway some 30 years ago. “It was the yard,” JoAnn says emphatically. “The gardens were beautiful. You could see, even though everything was overgrown, this yard was beautiful.” Towering oaks, magnolias and other deciduous trees sheltered a massive lot — four lots, actually — choked with wisteria and fallen limbs. “Leaves were everywhere,” JoAnn recalls. “We didn’t even know there were boxwoods,” she adds. The condition of the house was equally daunting. “We walked through, walked out and shook our heads, and said, ‘There’s no way,’” Bill remembers. A litany of problems stemmed largely from plumbing leaks: “Holes in the ceilings — it was just gone in the living room and dining room.” The wall between the music room and dining room was literally falling down.

But on a second visit, the Owings began to reconsider. They both loved history and had always admired the Neoclassical architecture of the house, which they’d passed many times, living nearby in a smaller abode. But at that juncture in their lives, around 1990, with two daughters, a 10-year old and an infant, they were outgrowing their dwelling in the neighborhood so conveniently located near Bill’s base at High Point Medical Center where he works as an anesthesiologist. Ultimately, it was that view from the porch, with the brick walk and the fountain, its aqua-colored walls surrounding a sculpture of a mythical imp wrestling a fish that seized Bill’s imagination. “You can’t find this anywhere, anymore,” he says, referring to the Italianate water feature. “I think she put that in during the late ’40s, after World War II,” JoAnn reflects. “It’s almost as if she went to Italy, went on a trip, came back and said, ‘I can do that.’”

“She” was Lola Lee Blanks Hudson, and it appears there was very little she couldn’t do. An accomplished Tennessee belle, Lola with her sister LaVerne studied at the Memphis Conference Female Institute in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1903 before taking up teaching music in Arkansas. A photograph around this time reveals a bright-eyed young lady, her dark hair piled high in Gibson-Girl fashion contrasting with a slight impish smile. Lola acquitted herself well as “a musician of rare ability and marked talent . . . [possessing] a smooth, even touch and is worthy to be called an artist,” enthuses a reference letter from one of her teachers from American Conservatory of Music – Chicago. “They were wonderful piano players,” says Lola’s grandson William Pennuel (“Penn”) Wood, whose father Elliott Sherrill Wood founded Heritage and Henredon furniture companies, among others. Over the years, Penn Wood, vice president of Woodmark Originals for 19 years, has served High Point on a number of boards, including the N.C. Shakespeare Festival, High Point Arts Council as well as the statewide Museum of History Associates. “Mrs. Hudson read music,” Penn Wood recalls. “LaVerne played by ear.” They even cut a record, which he describes as “a hoot to listen to — a lot of ragtime.” In later years, as Bill Owings heard it, the sisters would invite the neighborhood children to play in the vast yard, with pocket gardens, a fish pond and Lola’s whimsical animal sculptures on Sunday afternoons. “And if they found a four-leaf clover the sisters would play them a duet,” he says.

But that was long after Lola had come to High Point as a young matron, having met and married another Tennessean, Homer Tyre Hudson Sr. He and his older brother, Charles Crump, better known as “C.C.”, would have an enormous influence on the Triad, and particularly Greensboro, with what began as a modest clothing operation, Hudson Overall Company, later renamed Blue Bell, which would morph into blue jeans giant Wrangler and give the city its nickname, “Jeansboro.”

As Penn Wood tells it, the boys’ father, a widely respected professor in eastern Tennessee, had died at an early age. Their mother remarried into the Graham family, which had North Carolina connections in Asheville and Pleasant Garden. When an aunt in Pleasant Garden died, leaving C.C. some money, the young man ventured east to the Gate City, taking a job sewing buttons at an overall plant, Hunter Manufacturing. “This work commanded wages of twenty-five cents per day,” writes Wood in a personal family history. He goes on to explain that the job afforded C.C. the opportunity to learn every facet of the business — from manufacturing and marketing to merchandising, sales and distribution. Thus, the young man was well-positioned, when his employer went out of business: With enough saved earnings to acquire a line of credit, he bought five sewing machines and, as many in Greensboro know, in 1904 set up shop above the former Coe Brothers Grocery on South Elm Street. Homer, living in West Virginia with Lola and their growing family, joined the enterprise.

Buying tightly woven “deeptoned” denim from Cone, the brothers fashioned work clothes so prized among the engineers on the trains pulling into the Gate City, just a stone’s throw from the Coe Grocery loft. They would frequent the fledgling business to buy overalls. On one of these visits — or so local lore has it — one of the train engineers asked about a brass bell on one of the Hudson brothers’ desks, perhaps a memento from their deceased father’s teaching career, with the curious blue patina from the denim lint. And so the legendary brand’s backstory, apocryphal or not, was born.

Relocating to different manufacturing sites throughout downtown Greensboro as it expanded, Blue Bell, by 1919, boasted 250 employees and operating expenses totaling more than $600,000. Wood writes. “ . . . what a boon to the local economy . . . the brand suggests a strictly Southern product; the cotton is raised here, the goods manufactured here and the overalls fashioned here.” That same year, Homer Hudson purchased the High Point Overall Company, which would be known for its Anvil Brand work clothes. Three years later, Homer and Lola Hudson built the brick Neoclassical Revival at the far end of Parkway, which they would dub “Home-Lea.”


“Parkway,” says Benjamin Briggs, executive director of Preservation Greensboro and native High Pointer, “was an earlier iteration of Emerywood.”  Before the latter subsumed the street, which became the busy thoroughfare it is today, Parkway — and particularly the corner where the Hudsons built  — was “kind of like a suburban estate,” Briggs explains. Not so unusual, considering this was the period when the power elite were fleeing grimy industrialized cities and dust-filled factories for literal green pastures.

Briggs has memories of seeing the overgrown gardens when he was child riding the school bus in the 1970s. “They were derelict and overgrown. Wooden features had rotted away. But the bones were still there,” he recalls. The Neoclassical house (now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a supporting structure for High Point’s Uptown District) is distinctive for that portico that so entranced the Owings. “There are some stylized details on the columns that are delicate; dental molding on the capital; a demi-lune window over portico; brick lentils over capitals,” Briggs offers. According to Penn Wood, the brick, and particularly its crisp white mortar pointing, was a source of pride for Lola Hudson. He indicates it in a photograph of Lola’s daughters, La Verne (Wood’s mother) and Hybernia, two bobbed flappers standing hand-in-hand in front of the arched doorway. The porch later served as the setting for a group photo accompanying a society feature in the High Point Enterprise. The story describes a bridal luncheon that Lola hosted in 1952, the year Homer retired: “Magnolias banked the mantel and were used elsewhere in the living room to which guests were invited on their arrival. Yellow snapdragons were combined with Madonna lilies and lacy gypsophila for the exquisite centerpiece used on the buffet table. . . After being served from the dining room table, guests found their way to the garden room, so named because it overlooks Mrs. Hudson’s lovely sunken garden.”

“She was a student of gardens,” says Wood of his grandmother, a founding member of High Point’s Mid-WeekGarden Club, established in 1923, for which and she and sister LaVerne would provide musical entertainments. He recalls touring destination gardens and sites like Natural Bridge, Virginia, with his grandmother en route to Washington, D.C., to visit relatives. “It was fascinating as a young boy.” He also remembers her visiting his mother in Sedgefield, where he grew up. One summer, he recalls, Lola planted her entire lower garden in soybeans. “Supposedly they put nitrogen in the soil. It looked so rural,” he laughs. “But as a gardener, she would have been interested in the nutrition of the soil.” Lola, after all, came from a long line of planters, starting with the Blankses of Tennessee, who were descended from early settlers along Virginia’s James River. Her parents, Francis Marion “Frank” and Jefferson “Jeffie” Lee Gill Blanks ran the Riverby Inn in Swannanoa in the 1930s. Wood notes that the family tended a large vegetable garden that would feed the inn’s guests.

He adds that Homer loved gardening as well, though most of his time was taken up with the overalls business. “We didn’t see much of him,” Wood recalls. “He was nose-to-grindstone and very nervous.” He remembers his grandfather as being a natty dresser — a must for an executive in the clothing and textile business — who acquired a new car every year, usually a Packard, though Wood does remember a luxury LaSalle.

After the sale of Blue Bell in 1926, C.C. Hudson sat on various boards and offered his service to several community and civic organizations, including the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce. “He grew roses,” says Wood. He recalls his great-uncle’s log cabin retreat, Idlewild, designed by architect Charles C. Hartman. It occupied a large wooded lot in the Gate City’s Kirkwood neighborhood before it was dismantled and moved to Snow Camp in 1994.

C.C. died in 1937, Homer, in 1959. Following his death, Lola invited La Verne, also widowed, to live with her. Penn Wood remembers a couple who served as caretakers, “Sandy the driver and Captola, the cook.” But as often happens, when people age, their houses do, too. Lola remained on Parkway until her death in 1974 (LaVerne had died two years prior). By then the house was already falling into disrepair. Subsequent owners did little to keep the place up. Pipes leaked. Ceilings crumbled. The yard became a veritable jungle, as Briggs witnessed from the school bus during his youth, and as the Owings had noticed.

But once they committed to buying “Home-Lea,” which was living up to its punny moniker, they were determined to restore it to as close to its original incarnation as possible, right down to some of the accents, such as a crystal chandelier. “My kids were like, ‘Oh! Let’s put something modern in here!’” JoAnn laughs. But she and Bill remained steadfast in their mission. “Because of the history of this house — we both love history — we didn’t do anything to change its structure,” JoAnn explains, as she stands in its front hall where curved stair banister and inviting sunny living room with chintz coverings intersect. To the right an unusual arched doorway framed by dental molding leads to a compact music room, dominated by a grand piano boasting photographs of the Owings’ grandchildren, and behind it, built-in shelves filled with china. Beyond that is an elegant dining room abutting one of the few changes, a fully updated kitchen. “But,” JoAnn continues with a grin, “We had a lot of remodeling to do!”

So much remodeling, in fact, that it would be two years before the Owings could move in.

A good bit of the work involved replacing fallen molding and restoring the plaster ceilings damaged by water. “It’s a good thing we did it in the ’90s,” says JoAnn, “because today you can hardly find the [crafts]people anymore. Some pieces had to be copied.”

They modified the fireplace slightly, swapping its simpler brick firebox for rich, dark green marble, but kept the plaster medallions just above it and the dental molding along the mantel. These are flourishes that Benjamin Briggs says are distinctive among High Point homes of that period. “You see things in High Point that you don’t see in other cities,” he notes. Populated with wood craftspeople, it’s how this area became a great treasure of detailing.” And how High Point’s residents developed a keen understanding of different varieties of woods. “There are more wood types,” he continues, offering black walnut and tiger oak as examples. He goes on to explain that High Point’s woodworkers were also skilled at creating illusion, using one kind of wood, such as poplar, to create the look of another.

This trick bears out in the pine paneling of the Owings’ sunroom, which they use as a den. Because of its rosy hue, it appears to be made of cherry. “It was built on in 1948,” says Bill of the addition. They know the precise date because during the remodeling they removed some damaged wallpaper inscribed by the craftsman who hung it. The inscription, JoAnn remembers, “said something about World War II, and he had signed his name that he had done this wallpaper in 1948. He had the neatest handwriting!”

She goes on to say that the room is the Owings’ favorite, and they use it “all the time,” for relaxing, watching TV and growing several plants, like the Meyer lemon tree, which produced enough fruit for lemonade last Thanksgiving.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of the space. Large south-facing picture windows — their original Venetian blinds refurbished — look out onto the wooded portion of the vast lot below. This would have been the “garden room” alluded to in the High Point Enterprise article chronicling Lola Hudson’s luncheon. With seven heaters warming the room from a water-based system, also original (though the Owings did add air conditioning to the house during the remodeling), the room “stays so nice in the winter,” JoAnn notes. Conversely, the ample shade from the veritable forest outside keeps the temperature down in the summer. “There’s incredible shade,” says JoAnn. “If people only knew: Don’t cut your trees down! It’s truly 10 degrees cooler. And the breeze comes through, and you’re protected from the bad winds, because the leaves take the wind.” And as Bill observes, “Even though you’re in the middle of town, in the summertime, when the trees come out, you really can’t see anybody’s houses.”

Another curious feature of the sunroom: cork flooring. “That was Dad’s idea; his office at Heritage had cork floors,” says Penn Wood, explaining that their inspiration came from the Whalehead Club, a 1920s-era duck-hunting lodge in Corolla, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. “Between the dogs and the kids we’ve had, it doesn’t last,” JoAnn observes, showing some areas where the cork has pitted. “But I’m keeping it. The sound quality [of the room] is incredible.”

One might think kids and dogs would be incompatible with a historic house, but JoAnn maintains just the opposite. “Didn’t they build them then for families? For a lot of people? Big halls, lots of staircases, lots of rooms, not bumping into each other,” she posits, as she climbs the stairs to the second-floor bedrooms, some adorned with the accouterments of their four childrens’ formative years: fishing rods, prints and mementos of Bald Head Island, the family’s longtime vacation spot. A decidedly feminine room — painted a pale shade of lime with floral accents — occupies one corner. Next to it is a nursery for when the Owings’ empty nest fills up with visiting grandchildren, and one level up is an attic converted to an apartment. “Our eldest son got to move to the third floor and that space. He probably had some good parties up there!” Bill jokes.

The master on the second floor, directly above the cork-floored sunroom, is another rare change the Owings made: enclosing what used to be a sleeping porch. The room is simply appointed, save a delicate avian pattern on the drapes, as if the decorative birds have flown in from the surrounding trees outside.

Its windows face west, overlooking the expanse of green lawn that abuts a side street. Glimpses of a plastic pink ribbon marking an electric fence around the periphery of the entire property, all four lots’ worth, suggest the presence of the latest member of the Owings’ family: a boisterous 6-month-old Australian Shepherd named Baxter. From the upper patio just outside the kitchen door, he can be seen bounding across the grass toward the fountain and the brick retaining wall currently being repointed by an Archdale mason. Closer to the house is a pond, one of the Owings’ few additions, with two graceful ibis sculptures. Baxter serpentines around Bill as the two make their way up the gravel driveway below. “He ate my furniture! It was wicker,” JoAnn laughs as she points to a sitting area facing south, overlooking the woodsy portion of the yard, dotted with daffodils in early spring; a tree house, where the Owings’ children and now grandchildren play, is set farther back. Around the corner is a dining table where the family takes meals in warm weather. It overlooks the fountain and pond below. JoAnn points to the moss growing on what was once Lola Hudson’s cement table. “There’s plenty of moss around this house. It’s beautiful, like an enchanted garden,” she muses. She says she and Bill have added little to the yard since they uncovered it all those years ago. “Gosh, we must have 70 or 80 English boxwoods,” he says, expressing concern about a blight that’s currently tearing through Virginia. Understandable, considering the blight could imperial an unusual feature, an arched hedge on the opposite, east side of the house that shields an open side porch.

“It’s exciting to watch the family put the gardens back,” says Benjamin Briggs. “It’s much appreciated. So appreciated, that JoAnn was invited to join Lola Hudson’s old stomping ground, the Mid-Week Garden Club. But then, things have a way of coming full circle. On occasions when Penn Wood or his brother, Chuck, are hosting visiting relatives, “we take them through the house and yard,” says Bill. “They think somewhere in the backyard is a fish pond. I’ve never turned it up. That’s why we built our own little pond in there.” The Owings stopped stocking it with goldfish years ago, because, “the cats in the neighborhood ate those,” JoAnn explains. But no feline would dare enter the premises with Baxter patrolling it, charging around the boxwood hedge, down the brick walk to the fountain and across the lawn, pausing to roll on his back on the cool carpet of grass. Who knows? Maybe one day he’ll turn up a four-leaf clover. And if he does, no doubt the faint strains of a ragtime duet will echo up and down Parkway and through the towering shelter of trees.  OH

Nancy Oakley is the senior editor of O.Henry.

Scuppernong Bookshelf

Greensboro Bound Literary Festival

Year Three

Fred Chappell, Lee Smith are among the literary lights who will shine in the Gate City’s celebration of letters


By Brian Lampkin

In 2018, a passel of intrepid volunteers set out to create a major literary festival in Greensboro. Three years later, the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival continues to bring writers and readers together across downtown every third weekend in May.

This year’s Festival runs May 14–17 and once again a slate of more than 60 writers will carry on a conversation with the literature lovers of the Gate City. We can give you a quick sneak peek at the highlights of this year’s gathering but look for a full schedule in next month’s O.Henry.

Our keynote events begin with our opening celebration at the Weatherspoon Art Museum on Thursday, May 14. Premiere selections from the forthcoming film documentary on the life and work of Greensboro’s Fred Chappell will be screened, and a roster of writers will roast Chappell in person. Expect rollicking retorts from both Fred and Susan Chappell to close the evening. Chappell is the most decorated literary figure in Greensboro history (sorry O.Henry), and has won the Bollingen Prize, the T. S. Eliot Prize and was the Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 1997–2002.

Our partnership with the UNCG Libraries brings us the remarkable Nnedi Okorafor as our Friday, May 15, feature event. Okorafor is the author of a series of science fiction, afro-futurist and young adult books, along with a series of Black Panther graphic novels for Marvel. Her awards are too numerous to list, but include a Nebula and a Hugo for her novella Binti, the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel for Akata Warrior and the 2011 World Fantasy Award. This event will be held in the Elliott University Center on the UNCG campus.

Friday, May 15, will debut our first fundraising lunch with Greensboro Bound authors. On the lovely grounds of the Double Oaks Bed & Breakfast, we welcome Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle in conversation. This is a ticketed event and will include a copy of Smith’s new novella Blue Marlin along with lunch supplied by Greensboro chef Kerrie Thomas. For tickets see All other Greensboro Bound events are FREE.

The real madness begins in earnest on Saturday morning, May 16. It all starts with a character parade at 9:30 at the Cultural Center (200 N. Davie Street), which will lead to a performance by the OrKIDStra in the Hyers Theatre inside the Cultural Center. And then the authors take the stages! The children’s and young adult line-up includes 2020 Newberry winner Alicia Williams (Genesis Begins Again) the prolific Alan Gratz (Ban This Book, The Brooklyn Nine, The Refugees), Amy Reed (The Nowhere Girls), Scott Reintgen (the Nyxia series) and a dozen more. And don’t forget the noontime tradition of a performance by the Greensboro Opera.

On the adult side, the decisions about what to attend will be difficult as we bring 45 writers to our stages: the Van Dyke Performance Space, Hyers Theatre, Greensboro History Museum, Tanger Center, Triad Stage, International Civil Rights Center & Museum, Scuppernong Books and Harrison Auditorium on the North Carolina A & T Campus. These events will spread cross Saturday and Sunday and will include Casey Cep (whose book The Furious Hours was a personal favorite of 2019), Paris Review editor and author of The Cactus League, Emily Nemens, Democracy in Chains author Nancy MacLean. Also scheduled are panels on prison writing, a panel called “Read Romance; Fight Patriarchy,” and a panel on philanthropy and the arts (sponsored by the Community Foundation and hosted by the Tanger Center). We’ll have 2019 Walt Whitman Award winner and Greensboro native Leah Green here and poet laureates galore: Louisiana, North Carolina and the United States. Yes, our keynote Saturday night event will be former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Collins appearance is at 7 p.m. at the Harrison Auditorium. See for ticketing information.

Our 2020 Festival concludes on Sunday, May 17, with “A Tribute to Toni Morrison” at 6 p.m. at the Harrison Auditorium. We’ll have the Toni Morrison Society presenting along with long-time Morrison personal assistant John Hoppenthaler, Malaika Adero and a special surprise guest to be announced in these pages next month.

We can’t wait to get it all started. Literally. We’ll have a special prefestival event with Moroccan-American writer Laila Lalami. Lalami’s 2015 novel The Moor’s Account was a Pulitzer and Man Booker finalist, and her 2019 novel The Other Americans was a National Book Award finalist. Lalami will be here to talk about her new book, Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America, which is being released two weeks early just for this important event. Her appearance is sponsored by the UNCG University Libraries and will be held in the EUC Auditorium on April 15 at 11 a.m. Tickets can be located here:

Make plans now to attend one of the major literary festivals in the Southeast. And bring your friends and relatives from literature-desperate towns across America. We promise a city-wide conversation Greensboro can be proud of.  OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.

O.Henry Ending

The Borrowers

Old or new, houses are fleeting things

By Cynthia Adams

In the children’s fantasy novel The Borrowers, charming tiny people named Arriety, Pod and Homily Clock, inhabit the hidden spaces within a rambling Victorian. In reading it, I grew addicted to old houses and the luscious worlds they contained.

Pop loved them too. We would ride through Concord’s historic district, populated by the Cannon textiles family and other prosperous folk. There were Greek Revivals, Italianates or Gothic Revivals mixed with an occasional bungalow — to cleanse the palate after all those riches.

“Look at that amazing slate roof,” he sighed as we once slid along Concord’s North Union Street, slowing to admire Pop’s favorite, a Second Empire beauty clad in yellow.

“Bee-yootiful. Never have to replace those,” he pointed out, his green eyes shining.

He was especially enthralled when the slate roofs were glittering black in rain.

“Oh, my Lord,” he would moan with pleasure, nearly wrecking the car.


Once Pop was house-looking and lost control of an old pickup as I stood beside him on the seat with my arm hooked around his neck, sucking on my little pinky. Seatbelts were not yet a thing, certainly not in farm trucks. The driver’s door suddenly popped open and he fell out. In an instinct learned from breaking horses, Pop held onto the steering wheel, managing somehow not to get himself killed, as my very pregnant mother was jostled up and down in the seat, banging her head.

I pulled my pinky out of my mouth, round-eyed, watching my Daddy do something incredible!

We crashed into a streetlight. The dusty old Dodge truck added another ding to the hood — the hood that saved us “from ruin,” as my mother screamed.

The medics ignored my heavily pregnant mother to race to me, laying me carefully on the lushly manicured lawn of the house my dad had lusted after.

“She’s fine,” my mother mumbled, explaining my oddly stained lips as they checked my vitals only to discover that Welch’s grape juice had left my little lips rimmed in blue.

It was a ranch, we discussed years later. Too new. Not worth all that trouble. Pop and I shared a fetish for old houses, old furnishings, estate jewelry, glassware, china . . . anything old. Even old people. Especially old people.

As Pop negotiated with my mother to have a fifth child, he agreed to buy a newish ranch in what was colloquially known as Hell’s Half Acre.

Hell’s Half Acre had very little formal architecture to recommend it.

Our mother wanted the ranch enough to keep the bargain. The Fletcher house had Mod cons: a sunken living room, massive marble fireplace, and lots of tiled floors, including porches and patio.

It wasn’t our thing, but it was definitely Mother’s.

Meanwhile, they acquired Pop’s homeplace, a two-story ruin with double porches and gingerbread trim.

As Pop poured himself into this house it burned to the ground. The uninsured loss was devastating and yet another nail in the coffin encasing my parent’s dying marriage.
The arsonists were never caught.

Today, my husband and I live in a house that is approaching 100 years. It is not so elegant as Second Empire, nor entrancing as Italianate. It is a solid house, with a recently replaced slate roof. Like relationships, seems it wasn’t impervious to the ravages of time.

Our parents never resolved their architectural (and other) differences. Later, the Fletcher house burned, too.

Turns out, we, too, are only borrowers.

And those houses smolder on, haunting dreams.

Ruined, much longed for, things. OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O. Henry.

True South

Fixer Upper

Or maybe just sit this one out


By Susan S. Kelly

Not long ago, I spent six weeks in various casts and splints and slings and supports after surgery to attach seven screws and a plate somewhere in the vicinity of my wrist. I broke some bones dancing on New Year’s Eve, OK? (“How?” a friend asked. “You fall off the pole?” Hilarious.)

Lugging around what essentially amounted to the same heft and girth of an L-shaped Duraflame log nearly up to my armpit gave me new respect for the handicapped. Being unable to bend an elbow or wrist means you’re unable to do those things which you ought to do — like fasten a seatbelt or put on a bra — and also unable to do those things which you ought not to do, like lick your finger after gouging it into pimento cheese, or gouging your ear canal with a Q-tip.

But what really took a hit, and left me lots of time to reflect upon, was grooming.

As a general rule, I like to blame my faults and flaws on other people, or circumstances beyond my control. That I’m a first child, say, so I had no older sister to teach me, or older brother to tease me, about the finer points of making an effort to look good. Or that I went to an all-girls boarding school, where dorm competitions were less about field hockey and Latin test scores than how long we could go without shaving our legs. Instead, I’ve realized that, as a friend once described someone: “She’s just not fixy.”

Being “fixy” means thinking about what you’re going to wear. It means putting on makeup, changing your earrings, and switching pocketbooks occasionally. I have a fixy sister, and she always looks good. When I commented on this fact, she said, “That’s because your appearance isn’t a way of life for you yet.” I had no comeback for this.

Day in, day out, I make so little effort that when fellow gym rats see me at a legitimate social function, they do a double take. Not because I look so good, but because the contrast is so . . . startling. My other sister and I worked out together the other day, and afterward I mentioned that I was going to run some errands. “Like that?” she asked incredulously, referring to how I looked and what I was wearing. This, from someone who smeared her lips with a pat of butter during a long overseas flight because they were chapped.

“Yes, like this,” I answered. And she’s from a much smaller town, by the way.

Still, every now and then I get a spasm of self-improvement. After pregnancies, for example. Being pregnant is like having a remodeling project going on in your house. What with the dust and paint cans and tools and tarps lying around, you eventually just yield to living in squalor. Being pregnant is the same: You just give up and get accustomed to being slovenly. So afterward, I’d go through a six-month spate of major effort. Until the evening I was leaning toward the mirror to apply mascara and the 4-year-old came up behind me, put his arms around my legs, and proceeded to drag his nose across the back of my black skirt. The snot trail defeated me. Ever since, I’ve kept a black Sharpie nearby. Works equally well when the whitening toothpaste (see, I do try . . . ) flecks land on your clothes and leave bleached polka-dots.

When my daughter was 8, I asked her to remind me, every time we got in the car, to put on lipstick. And she did. “Mom, put on lipstick.” “Mom, put on lipstick.” “Mom, put on lipstick,” she said, until the monster I’d created drove me insane. “Never mind!” I finally screeched after two weeks. Clearly, I’ll never be like a friend who spent a wad on an advertised “all day” lipstick, and whose first question after she swam up out of breast-reconstruction surgery anesthesia was, “Is my lipstick still on?”

During one visit to my fixy sister, I asked for a demo of how she put on her makeup. She summoned me to the bathroom, where she’d laid out all her brushes and bottles and utensils like surgical instruments, including a thingie that looked like a teeny-weeny version of a clamdigger rake, or what my grandmother would call a cold meat fork. Turned out the thingie was to unclump her eyelashes. Halfway through the how-to, I decided I’d rather just die on the operating table. She even has specific potions to clean her makeup brushes, a chore she has somehow managed to get her cleaning service to perform. And here I thought dusting baseboards was a big ask.

Having grown up with only sisters, I always thought my husband would be charmed by my grooming accoutrements and rituals — such as they are — the way I was (once upon a time long ago) charmed by his shaving routine and shoe-shine procedures and so forth. Wrong. Here is a person who has said to me more than once: “You self-destruct every time you go into a beauty parlor.” There’s no point in telling him that they’re called salons these days; the man doesn’t own a pair of jeans.

I do like a manicure, though if my usual choice of fingernail color had a name instead of a number, I’m pretty sure it would be called “pallor.” But massages and facials? Eh. I had my first and only massage while visiting a friend in Palm Beach. The masseuse did it up right: scalp to soles kneading, complete with creams and lotions. An hour later, when we emerged from the spa for some swanky shopping on Worth Avenue, I looked like some Medusa who’d thrashed out of an oil spill.

On another jaunt, I was one of a half-dozen lucky guests invited on a trip to Paris for a friend’s Major Birthday. As soon as the plane was aloft, everyone else reclined their seats, declined their dinner, spritzed their faces with a moisturizing/refresher mister, and put on their sleep masks, as if choreographed. I was aghast at the waste of a first-class flight. Fortunately, my seatmate felt the same way — quelle horror, as Holly Golightly would say — and we spent the rest of the night brushing up on our French with the steward: Garçon! Un autre vin, s’il vous plaît. I’ll take another wrinkle and another glass of wine over beauty sleep anytime.

I don’t know. It’s a puzzle. Genes would dictate otherwise. An oft-told family tale concerns a still-frigid day in March when my grandmother was going to a luncheon, as one did in those days. When she came to the door wearing a short-sleeved silk spring suit, her friend (like my sister) looked at her, aghast.

“Aren’t you cold?” the friend exclaimed. 

“Yes,” my grandmother replied. “But I look good, don’t I?”

All in all, it’s just easier to not be fixy. Which, all in all, is just another word for lazy.  OH

Susan S. Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and a proud grandmother.

Last Laughs

Just in time for April Fool’s Day, our naturally funny correspondent takes a look at the past, present and future of comedy in the Gate City

By Billy Ingram     Photographs by Sam Froelich

Have you heard the one about a city that didn’t take itself too seriously, so much so that it launched many a comedic career?

Greensboro may not exactly be perceived as a hot bed of hilarity, but over the years, a lot of first-rate acts have originated in the Gate City. In fact, it is where one of the greatest comedy routines of the 20th century originated as this magazine recounted in December 2015,  “What It Was, Was Football” by Andy Griffith, was recorded live at the Plantation Supper Club in 1953 and perfected at a little-known recording studio atop the original location of Moore Music Co. on Market Street. That cornpone-infused 45 disc catapulted “Deacon” Andy Griffith to superstar status, remaining to this day one of the best-selling comedy records of all time. It was influential as well, inspiring generations of comedians from Bill Cosby to Jeff Foxworthy.

Two decades later, in October of 1973, Gate City native Rick Dees rocketed all the way to No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with the novelty tune “Disco Duck.” The very next year writer Harry Ruskin wrote a book entitled Comedy Is a Serious Business. He was right and in coming years it also became big business. Beginning in the late ’70s, nightclubs featuring standup comedians began to flourish in big cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Within a decade there were thousands of Laugh Factories, Improv Asylums, Punch Lines, and Catch a Rising Star–style rooms scattered around the country. Especially in those larger markets, club owners discovered that societal misfits with a warped worldview and an overwhelming desire to express themselves on stage could prove to be a cheap source of labor.

It wasn’t until 1996 that our city was blessed with a proper comedy venue. That’s when Paul Talley opened his nightclub for yuks on Holden near Spring Garden. Not that it was his plan. “Out of the blue, two guys come knocking on my door and say they were with the Comedy Zone circuit, a chain, a very loose chain, and asked if I had considered doing comedy in this vacant building I had here.” Talley was already operating Arizona Pete’s located across the parking lot. “I said, ‘Sure.’ I had no idea what I was doing,” Talley admits.

The enterprise proved a great deal more involved than owning a country-western themed dance club like Arizona Pete’s, “There’s far more management and execution needed for a comedy club,” Talley says. “You’ve got the reservations, showtimes you need to adhere to, performers have to be here on time, you’ve got hotels. . . after a year or two we kinda figured it out on the fly.”

As a chain, Comedy Zone has its own booking agent with a stable of comedians who rotated throughout its various franchises. A system with national booking agents allows Comedy Zone to host name acts like Norm MacDonald, Andrew Dice Clay, Chris Tucker and Chris Rock. “We’ve had on the bigger guys, we get them on occasion,” Talley notes. “If they want to do a smaller club on an off-night, we’ll have them once a month or so.”

Jennie Stencel is the proprietor of the city’s most intimate comedy club, The Idiot Box. After bouncing around in different locations, it appears to have found a niche on Greene Street next to craft-beer provisioner Beerthirty.

Why a comedy club? “My husband [Steven Stencel] and I performed together in Chapel Hill,” Stencel replies. “We started having children and were working for somebody else, so we took a few months off from doing comedy and thought ‘This is horrible.’ So we moved here and opened Idiot Box.”

As for their mission, “The Idiot Box exists to grow the local comedy scene,” Stencel says. “So we book a lot of locals and we do trainings and bring in national acts also. We have improv on Saturday. When we started having Open Mics, we had five or six new comics and now our Open Mic sells out a lot. We do one on Thursdays always and we do one on Friday nights sometimes.”

Comedy Zone also emphasizes homegrown humor. “We do very few national acts here, once a month maybe,” Talley says. “The price is only $10 a ticket which is insanely cheap. If you had a national act it would be 30, 40, 50 bucks. Our acts, they’re all funny as can be, they’re just not quite famous yet.”

Talley also understands the importance of priming the pump. “We do have an amateur night once a month,” he says. “We get 150, 175 people in a crowd, which is strong for a Thursday night. We do about eight to 10 locals then we put on a bigger act up there to close the show. The problem is, from a club’s perspective, it’s a little tough to make money on it.”

Comedy Zone’s amateur nights have led to some major talent rocketing to shooting star status. “Jourdain Fisher [back-to-back winner of The Ultimate Comic Challenge] started here. He’s now writing for Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show monologue,” Talley tells me. “Chico Bean got his start here as an amateur. He’s now very big on Wild ’N Out, the MTV show.” B-Daht (102 JAMZ’s morning show) and A&T alumnus Darren Brand, who goes by Big Baby, were also featured on Wild ’N Out.

Chemistry nightclub drag performer Heidi N Closet will join 12 other contestants on Ru Paul’s Drag Race this year. Cee-Jay Jones, Ben Jones and King David all tour extensively, each owing their careers to our comedy scene. As for some of the up-and-comers, just tune in to ROCK 92 every Friday morning to “2 Guys Named Chris.” Their presence on the airwaves, says Talley, “is tremendous for us.”

The 2 Guys Named Chris Comedy All-Stars are all Comedy Zone alums.

Chris Wiles is another well-known working comic with local ties, “I’ve been with Carnival Cruises since 2001,” Wiles tells me from somewhere in the Caribbean.  “It’s been my main source of income since 2009. With multiple television appearances, including season 3 of Last Comic Standing, his way up the laughter ladder was not atypical — just get up in front of folks and start slinging jokes.

“I was a junior in high school,” says “A teenage nightclub called Islands in Winston-Salem was opening up in 1989. I went in to audition as an actor and spent about an hour with the owner and he goes, ‘Man, you’re really funny. Have you thought about doing standup?’ I said, ‘Look man, if you’re going to pay me and put me on stage I’ll do anything.’”

The owner of Islands and the high school student sat down and wrote what they thought was five minutes of the greatest standup comedy ever. “It was a really strange setup,” Wiles says of Islands. “The music would be playing, kids would be dancing, then three times a night the DJ would stop the music and go, ‘OK, it’s time for comedy’ and I would be on the stage. They’d put the light up and the kids would gather around the stage. I would do five minutes of comedy and then they’d go back to dancing and playing video games.”

Wiles was managing Dominos Pizza and Papa Johns when our Comedy Zone opened in ’96, another local comic introduced him to Paul Talley and he ended up becoming the house emcee there for the next 13 years. “I’ve got a neat following [in Greensboro]. They always show up,” Wiles says. “This Valentine’s weekend I had the fastest sellout of any of my shows. They’re from all walks of life, all ages, I’d say the average crowd is between 23 and 60 years old.”

Shared laughter unites people, at least you’d think so. Then again, it may be true what George Orwell once famously said: “Every joke is a tiny revolution.” Fifty years after Lenny Bruce tested the limits of performance art, in today’s pearl-clutching atmosphere, where scolds and trolls garner attention for themselves not by creating something but via expressing outrage over the slightest slight, what are the limits to what can and can’t be expressed in public?

“It’s much worse now than it was in 1996,” Talley says. “Before, there were just some things that were offensive. Everything now is offensive. Twenty years ago, you could tell a joke without offending people. There are certain things I tell my comics to avoid. Politics, religion — you’re gonna be funny to half the people but you’re going to piss off the other half.”

“The world is definitely different,” says Jennie Stencel of The Idiot Box. “For our improv shows, our goal is for people to come and have a night out and have fun. Nobody really wants to talk about politics. They yell it out, they think they want to hear about it, but you have to agree with everyone 100 percent now. We could be the same political party, we can mostly agree, but I like this candidate and now we’re not friends anymore!”

“We kind of figured it out,” Talley says. “Some people might say, ‘He offended me, he said this. . . ’ I thought, ‘Well, that’s reasonable.’ Everything was a surprise when it was all new.” While there’s no desire to stifle a performer, “There are certain things, certain words that, in this market, we really don’t want them to say.”

Stencel has noticed a seismic change in the national sense of humor over time. “If you go watch comedians in the ’80s,” she offers, “Famous people, the terminology that was P.C. then is just not OK now. They weren’t terrible people in the ’80s. Now they’re great people, but what you were allowed to say was different and how you said it was different as well.”

Disparate age groups even think different things are humorous. “You could have amateurs come in and make fun of millennials,” Stencel says. “Well, if it’s an audience full of millennials they’re like, [‘Ugh’]. We have a lot of young people come here to have a good time and if it’s not really funny, it’s just insults.”

Surely college campuses, those bastions to an open-minded understanding of the world writ large, would be a safe haven for the free expression of ideas. On the contrary, it’s been more than a decade since comedians like Chris Rock, Larry the Cable Guy and Jerry Seinfeld swore off doing shows on college campuses lest they find themselves buried in an avalanche of grievances from butt-hurt snowflakes.

“The college crowds have become overly sensitive,” Chis Wiles notes. “I think they forget they’re coming to a comedy show. Without tragedy there is no comedy, without conflict there is no comedy.” The last place Wiles played a college gig was Virginia Tech. “That was about six years ago and even then they were becoming a bit sensitive,” he says. “You can’t talk about homosexuality, can’t talk about race, you can barely talk about sex on a college campus which is weird because, you know, outside of going to learn something I thought that’s what college was for, sex.”

Another factor, Stencel believes, “It’s just easier to perform your comedy in a venue that’s intended for comedy.”

This level of selective outrage is a worldwide phenomenon. In 2015 almost two dozen staffers at the French humor magazine Charlie Hebdo were gunned down by religious fanatics because of a cartoon they published.

Numerous studies over several decades consistently inform us that a fear of public speaking is an American’s worst nightmare . . . more terrifying than death, financial ruin, or (shudder) clowns. Besides being an effective way to improve one’s oratory skills, I’ve been told that The Idiot Box’s weekly improvisation classes are highly entertaining. “Comedians are a fun group of people to be friends with and work with,” Jennie Stencel insists. “That part of my job is way more fun than probably a regular job. Everybody’s cool and interesting and smart.”

I myself tried standup once, back in the mid-1970s, when I convinced club owner Bill Griffin at the Hilton Underground to let me go on before the band on a Friday night. The Underground was one of those darkly lit, smoke-filled, shag-carpet-on-the-wall joints but it never occurred to me that my 17-year-old self would get heckled by one of the seven drunkards right out of a W.C. fields movie scattered about the 20 tables at 7 p.m. in the evening. As a result, my five-minute act became a minute, 45-second routine. At least the hippie musicians liked it.

Who knows, had I succeeded at standup, perhaps I’d be cruising from one tropical sandy paradise to another just like Chris Wiles. “I’ve gotten to the point now that I’m not a big fan of beaches anymore,” Wiles confesses. “I’m more about the mountains because I’ve been on every beach out there.”

That’s the punchline. Say g’night Gracie.  OH

According to IMDB, Billy Ingram is an actor, producer and editor best known for The Nathan Stringer Summer Music Show. He’d like to think otherwise.


Herb-An Sprawl

Greensboro’s popular herb sale transplants to downtown digs


It was thyme for a change.

A few years ago, a thriving patch of herb enthusiasts — the Greensboro-based North Carolina Unit of the Herb Society of America — had outgrown the site of its annual spring sale. But the idea of uprooting a 30-year tradition, and the group’s biggest fundraiser, from the Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church caused the wringing of many garden-gloved hands.

“It was a big move for us,” says longtime member Kathy Schlosser. “People knew where we were and how to find us.”

Come Thursday, April 16, followers can sniff out the re-homed sale, literally, at the newly renovated Greensboro Farmers Curb Market, where live plants will blanket the former armory, producing a free aromatherapy session. “It smells fabulous when you walk in,” Schlosser says.

The sale sprouted just a couple of years after the local unit — still the state’s only chapter of the national organization — was founded in 1982. It was a heady time for herbs. French-born nouvelle cuisine had landed in America, and Martha Stewart’s Entertaining, had just hit the shelves.

Riding the wave of savory, Greensboro herbies potted their own plants to hawk from a member’s garage. A couple of springs later, they transplanted the sale to the fellowship hall of the Greek church, where it flourished. Local commercial growers were contracted to meet the demand of some 800 customers.

This year, as always, growers will truck in the usual suspects — need we sing the line from Scarborough Fair? — along with many varieties of fan-favorite basil, and harder to find plants such as cardamom, marjoram, lemon verbena, bee balm, lovage and bay.

The Heritage Plants section will offer other selections from the members’ gardens, and vendors will sell beeswax candles, garden sculptures, tools and the like.  Proceeds from the sale will used to fund club projects such as community college scholarships, the Edible Garden at the Greensboro Children’s Museum, and the Healing Gardens at Cone Health Cancer Center.

In a time when voluntary groups struggle to gain and retain followers, the herb society holds steady with nearly 80 members.
“I think what holds us together is we all love to have our hands in the dirt,” Schlosser reflects. “But it’s not just gardening. We care for each other.”

Herbs to live by.  OH

— Maria Johnson

See disclaimer page 25. For more information go to

The Shimmering Art of Louis C. Tiffany

Classic lamps on display at Reynolda House

By Jim Moriarty

While on one hand it could seem as though Louis Comfort Tiffany was born with a silver glasscutter in his mouth, the son of the founder of Tiffany and Company created, over his lifetime, an entire genre of decorative art so ubiquitous, so singularly chic and stylistically distinctive that his name alone has come to represent the thing itself. It is the de rigueur description of any leaded glass shade. Say “Tiffany lamp” and you need say no more. All the rage one day, passé the next, fashion may be fickle, but the art endures.

The intimate gallery space at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem will house an exhibit of Tiffany’s finest work on loan from the Neustadt Collection at the Queens Museum in New York. The traveling exhibition opened in late March and continues through June 21. Tickets are $18 and available at

“The decorative arts are accessible to everybody,” says Phil Archer, Reynolda’s director of Program and Interpretation. “To have a gallery with the light actually shining through the works of art will be new for us and make it a very magical space. It just fits at Reynolda because of the natural setting of the gardens. We wanted the exhibition in the spring for that reason. Come and see all the flowers, then come inside and see all the flowers.”

The show comprises 20 of the most celebrated examples of Tiffany’s lamps and, interestingly, three forgeries that serve to demonstrate the difference between faux Tiffany and authentic works. There’s a display demonstrating the steps in the creation of the lampshades and biographical information on the key personnel at Tiffany Studios — chemist Arthur J. Nash and designers Clara Driscoll, Agnes Northrop and Frederick Wilson — who all made meaningful contributions to the artistry of the lamps.

Also part of the exhibit are five Tiffany windows and, separate from the exhibit, a display of Tiffany vases purchased by Katharine Reynolds on view in the Reynolda House itself.

The role of Driscoll, née Clara Wolcott, who was in charge of the “Tiffany Girls” in the glass cutting department and is responsible for the design of two of Tiffany’s most remarkable lamps, Wisteria and Dragonfly, only came to light in the first decade of the 21st century when Martin Eidelberg, an art history professor from Rutgers University, discovered her letters archived at Kent State University.

“She was an Ohioan, so her papers ended up at Kent State,” says Archer of the letters Driscoll sent home from New York. “The family evidently had almost a chain letter system where Mom would send a letter to Clara, she would send it to her sister who would send it to the brother and they would all add to it. It was better than group texting.”

While Tiffany may not have been solely responsible for every design, “The concepts were Tiffany’s,” says Archer. “The aesthetic was Tiffany’s. The kind of color palette and the combination of colors and details and opacities were Tiffany’s. It’s almost like Mozart writing a piece and then conducting the orchestra. He’s not playing any of the instruments. Everybody else is making the music but the original concept is his. They bring a lot of creativity to how they play it — though that may not be an exact metaphor because some of the concepts, like the Wisteria lamp, were Driscoll’s.”

Born in 1848, the slight, delicate son of Charles Louis Tiffany could have slid seamlessly into the family business. “He had every opportunity to take over from his father and be the lead jeweler and luxury goods maker in New York,” says Archer. “The primrose path was laid out for him.”

When the younger Tiffany was enrolled at Eagleswood Military Academy in New Jersey, he met and studied under the painter George Inness. The effects would be profound. By the age of 19, he had become a founding member of the American Society of Painters in Water Colors and had begun to exhibit his work at the National Academy of Design. He traveled to Europe and North Africa and would be particularly influenced by what, at the time, was called the “Orientalist” style.

“When I first had a chance to travel in the East and to paint where the people and the buildings are clad in beautiful hues, the pre-eminence of color in the world was brought forcibly to my attention,” Tiffany said later. One of his better-known paintings, Snake Charmer at Tangier, Africa, expressed Tiffany’s interest in the play of light and color. It was exhibited at Snedecor’s Gallery in New York in 1872 and later at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. It remained in Tiffany’s personal collection until 1921, when he donated it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

While still painting, Tiffany drifted into design and decorating. At the same time, he had become enthralled by the possibilities of glass as an art form.

“Tiffany hated modern glass because it was too clean,” says Archer. “He wanted glass like archeologists were digging up in Syria and Lebanon. It was like opals. It had color and shimmer. He hired chemists to really develop all of these different colors and ranges. The beauty that he found in that glass and trying to replicate it becomes the story.”

Tiffany didn’t paint on glass — “staining” it only rarely, usually in faces — he painted with glass. The use of metallic oxides allowed for the development of the range of colors that distinguish his work.

“Standing by the glass workers, he had them fold the glass on itself and pinch in places to achieve the effect of magnolia blooms in a window of his library at the Tiffany Mansion,” writes Julia Tiffany Hoffman, a great-granddaughter. “A pulled rod of glass was slightly melted and scrolled on the glass to effect vines, stems and spiderwebs. Louis used just the right color combination of paper-thin glass bits to achieve a painterly quality . . . Molten glass was pressed thin and then stretched to effect the impression of light shining on snow. When working on a window, he would have his glass house make sheets of glass that had several colors running through them, then find the perfect area and orientation to express the petal of a tulip or the leaf.”

In addition to the inspired glassmaking, the creation of Tiffany’s lamps was aided by the innovative use of copper foil. “Instead of having heavy lead connectors,” says Archer, “they were able to use much, much finer connectors. There’s a lot of artistry in the creation of the glass, and there’s artistry in the cutting and piecing it together.”

Tiffany was also receiving commissions decorating American palaces for Gilded Age royalty like Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Henry and Louisine Havemeyer. He decorated Mark Twain’s house in Connecticut and the interior of the old Lyceum Theatre on Park Avenue South in New York. He collaborated with the famous — and infamous — architect Stanford White on a house for the Tiffany family. He did the Ponce de Léon Hotel in St. Augustine, Florida, and Chester A. Arthur’s White House.

“Tiffany would design from soup spoon to chandelier,” says Archer. “He was creating almost complete works of art in these houses. But upper middle-class people could afford the lamps. They ended up propelling Tiffany Studios financially. In his lectures, Tiffany almost never referred to his lamps. He would talk about these huge projects and the large windows. The lamps were sort of the bread and butter.”

Tiffany believed nature should be the primary source of design. “Every really great structure is simple in its lines — as in Nature — every great scheme of decoration thrusts no one note upon the eye,” he wrote. Having outlived two wives and three of his eight children, in his final years Tiffany’s ultimate project was his estate on Oyster Bay on Long Island — Laurelton Hall, 84 rooms on 600 acres. He designed every nook, cranny and garden.

Punctuality and orderliness were valued traits. He owned seven white linen suits, one for each day of the week. A tennis player and avid photographer who never saw a speed limit he wanted to obey, the giant of Art Nouveau attempted to stick his finger in the dike of modernism with the establishment of the Tiffany Foundation, devoted to helping aspiring artists.

“Paintings should not hurt the eyes,” he cautioned them. By the time Tiffany died in 1933, much of his wealth had evaporated in the crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression. Laurelton was sold in 1945, and the land subdivided.

In 1957, the largely abandoned great house, containing some of Tiffany’s finest windows, burned to the ground. It took two days to melt the art of a lifetime.  OH

Wandering Billy

Judy (and Eloise) in Greensboro 

One week after performing in Greensboro, Judy Garland finally made it over the rainbow

By Billy Eye

“Kay is my best critic and severest friend.” — Judy Garland

Bred to be an entertainer, like Tarzan raised by the Great Apes, hers was an almost impossibly insular existence. Frances Gumm, rechristened Judy Garland as a youngster, was a wholly manufactured product of a stage mother who pushed her relentlessly and a movie studio that wound her up chemically in the mornings then spun her down at night.

The biggest box office star on the MGM lot, she starred in 27 films in 14 years. In her 20s in 1950, as Garland began having difficulty coping emotionally (how could she not, under the circumstances?), the studio coldly spat her out into a world she knew nothing about. As a working professional earning millions for her bosses, she’d never attended a proper school, written a check, bought a train ticket, or negotiated a contract.

By the end of the ’50s, the 37-year old star was considered washed up in Hollywood, the nail in her professional coffin hammered shut after A Star Is Born flopped. Her albums were failing to chart and a lawsuit she was embroiled in with CBS kept her off television. Stricken with an inflamed liver, Garland was told by doctors she’d live the rest of her short life as a semi-invalid and never work again.

Yet she soldiered on. New managers got her out on the road in 1960 for what was billed as Garland’s “That’s Entertainment!” tour. No opening acts as in previous public appearances, just Garland fronting a 28-piece orchestra.

The singer would later declare 1961 to be the best year of her life.

In March of 1961, she paused that globe-spanning tour to shoot her emotionally raw scenes for Judgment At Nuremberg, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. Afterward, back on the road, she headed down south for shows in Atlanta, Birmingham, Alabama, and Charlotte before arriving in Greensboro for the tour’s final performance on April 17, 1961.

Ticket prices ranged from $2 to a high of $3.75 ($17–$32 in today’s dollars, what a bargain). Some among the 2,400 ticket holders, it was reported by The Greensboro Daily News, were perturbed that the venue was switched at the last minute from the Coliseum to the smaller War Memorial Auditorium. This mix-up led to laughs when Garland sang her opening number lyrics, “If you feel deceived, don’t get peeved.” She joked that she too thought the show was in the main room, only discovering she was in the wrong place, “When I found myself alone!” But, because of the overflow, 240 lucky concertgoers got to watch from the orchestra pit.

Her throat was a bit hoarse that night but still vocally strong. The singer was somewhat plump but much trimmer than in past years when audiences gasped when she took the stage. Apologizing for her voice at one point, “I picked up a strange fungi in Atlanta,” she quipped as she popped what one reviewer called ‘a white lozenge’ (likely Ritalin) into her mouth, then reportedly carried on singing stronger than ever according to local press reports, an electrifying performance lasting 2 hours and 15 minutes.

For the first act “Little Miss Show Business” wore a tight black dress with a bright, hip-length jacket over tight sleek, black silk tights, switching to a multicolored beaded jacket over black slacks for act two. As she waved goodnight, hundreds of screaming fans rushed to the edge of the stage, arms outstretched, begging Judy to continue singing. She rewarded them by strutting back into the spotlight for two encores, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Swanee.”

Joining Garland in Greensboro that night was her closest confidant, Kay Thompson. In addition to being a groundbreaking nightclub performer, Thompson was somewhat of a movie star herself with a scene-stealing role in the musical Funny Face (“Think Pink!”). But she may be best known today as the author of Eloise, about that precocious, cosmopolitan preschooler reigning chaos down from “the room on the tippy-top floor” of the Plaza Hotel.

I recently reached out to Sam Irvin, author of the definitive biography Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise for insight into Thompson’s relationship with Judy Garland. “Most of all, Kay built up Judy’s confidence,” Sam tells me. “Judy felt relaxed and comfortable in Kay’s presence. Kay offered a reassuring smile of encouragement from the wings or from a prominent seat in the theater where Judy knew to look for her.” After all, he says,  “Kay had been an extended family member ever since she began coaching Judy at MGM in the 1940s and had been named the godmother of Judy’s first-born, Liza [Minnelli], in 1946.”

In her live performances, Garland’s strike-a-pose delivery — stamping stilettos, one arm akimbo as the other scissors the air above her for those dramatic finishes — was pure Kay Thompson, who possessed an innate ability for dissecting a song, twisting it inside out, wringing out drama, pathos, hilarity and histrionics between the notes where no other performer had imagined they existed. Entertainers from Frank Sinatra to Andy Williams relied on Thompson’s singular musical arrangements to punch up their acts.

Kay Thompson could reimagine a cool jazz standard like “As Long As He Needs Me,” then transform it into a veritable “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” causing audiences to jump to their feet as if they’d lost control of their senses.

“Kay Thompson was Judy Garland’s eternal, beloved and well-worn security blanket,” Irvin continues. “Whenever Kay was with Judy on tour, they would rehearse and fine-tune the songs in her repertoire. Kay would give her pointers on how to stand, how to move, how to gesture, how long to hold a note — and when not to. Every detail was scrutinized under Kay’s magnifying gaze and Judy trusted her judgment and taste more than anyone in the world.”

While in The Gate City, the two entertainers undoubtedly dissected the concert that night in anticipation of Garland’s Carnegie Hall debut in one week’s time. Between the Greensboro gig and April 23rd opening night, Thompson retooled the act, choreographing Garland’s every move on stage.

Carnegie Hall changed everything, a musical achievement so unprecedented it’s often referred to as, “The greatest night in show business history,” most certainly the greatest comeback of all time.

Within months, the soundtrack album on Capitol leapt to No.1 on the Billboard pop chart, remaining there for 13 weeks, the first double LP to ever go gold. Judy at Carnegie Hall went on to win five Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Garland being the first female entertainer to do so.

Judy Garland was back on top, only this time, in contrast to her MGM days, living life on her own terms.

I’ll let Sam Irvin have the last word: “After Judy’s death in 1969, Kay took charge of Liza and encouraged her to step out of the formidable shadow of her mother and become a star in her own right, with an iconic style uniquely hers. Obviously, both Judy and Liza looked up to Kay and wanted to be like her,” Irvin says. “And Kay looked up to Judy and Liza, and wished she had their star-quality and vulnerability. They needed each other. It was a match made in heaven. Or “Pure Heaven,” as Kay would say whenever she heard or saw something that pleased her. It was a phrase that Judy yearned to earn from Kay — and she did. Often.”  OH

Billy Eye would like to thank writer/producer/director Sam Irvin who took time from directing a motion picture to provide us with a peek into the lives of two show biz giants. His book, Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise, is a magnificent literary triumph. Irvin co-executive produced one of Eye’s very favorite motion pictures, Gods and Monsters.