Scuppernong Bookshelf

The Cruelest Month

And why it’s good for us



By Brian Lampkin

Why do we read depressing books? What compels us to look at despair and think of it as entertainment? You’ll be hard-pressed to find a novel in the so-called canon of American literature that isn’t bleak, disturbing or downright devastating. One theory argues that reading about sorrow provides us with a little inoculation against the very real grief that’s coming for us all. We read as a way to prepare, as a way to get ready for the death of our parents, the loss of our friends, the overthrow of democratic governments. Perhaps we’ll be more ready, more able to emotionally deal with despair because we’ve read exquisite works that delve into it without looking away. We’re ready. We’ve been vaccinated.

And we all (OK, not quite all of us) want to be vaccinated. In this month’s column, we’ll look at books publishing this month and think of the ways they may offer some protection. From COVID and disease, for sure, but also from less tangible ailments of our current condition.

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, by Carlo M. Cipolla (Doubleday, $15).

The Laws:
1. Everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals among us.
2. The probability that a certain person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person while deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses themselves.
4. Nonstupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals.
5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

If only there were an inoculation against stupidity — I would have been spared so many awful decisions!

Women of the Pandemic: Stories from the Front Lines of COVID-19, by Lauren McKeon (McClelland & Stewart, $18). In Canada, women are leading the fast-paced search for a vaccine. They are leading their provinces and territories. At home, they are leading families through self-isolation, often bearing the responsibility for their physical and emotional health. They are figuring out what working from home looks like, and many of them are doing it while homeschooling their kids. Women crafted the blueprint for kindness during the pandemic, from sewing masks to kicking off international mutual-aid networks. And, perhaps not surprisingly, women have also suffered some of the biggest losses, bearing the brunt of our economic skydive. Through intimate portraits of Canadian women in diverse situations and fields, Women of the Pandemic is a gripping narrative record of the early months of COVID-19, a clear-eyed look at women’s struggles, which highlights their creativity, perseverance and resilience as they charted a new path forward during impossible times.

Broken (in the Best Possible Way), by Jenny Lawson (Henry Holt and Co., $27.99). As Jenny Lawson’s hundreds of thousands of fans know, she suffers from depression. In Broken, Lawson brings readers along on her mental and physical health journey, offering heartbreaking and hilarious anecdotes along the way. With people experiencing anxiety and depression now more than ever, the author humanizes what we all face in an all-too-real way, reassuring us that we’re not alone and making us laugh while doing it. From the business ideas that she wants to pitch to Shark Tank to the reason why Lawson can never go back to the post office, Broken leaves nothing to the imagination in the most satisfying way. And of course, Lawson’s long-suffering husband, Victor — the Ricky to Jenny’s Lucille Ball — is present throughout.

The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos, by Judy Batalion (William Morrow, $28.99). As propulsive and thrilling as Hidden Figures, In the Garden of Beasts, Band of Brothers and A Train in Winter, The Light of Days at last tells the true story of these incredible women whose courageous yet little-known feats have been eclipsed by time. Judy Batalion — granddaughter of Polish Holocaust survivors — takes us back to 1939 and introduces us to Renia Kukielka, a weapons smuggler and messenger who risked death traveling across occupied Poland on foot and by train. Joining Renia are other women who served as couriers, armed fighters, intelligence agents and saboteurs — all who put their lives in mortal danger to carry out their missions. Batalion follows these women through the savage destruction of the ghettos, arrest and internment in Gestapo prisons and concentration camps, and for a lucky few — like Renia, who orchestrated her own audacious escape from a brutal Nazi jail — into the late 20th century and beyond.

First, Become Ashes, by K. M. Szpara (Tor, $27.99). Two quotes sum it up:

“A timely tale about the dangers of committing too fervently and unquestioningly to a person and their cause.” — Kirkus Reviews

“A standalone about the complicated ways we cope with trauma, about balancing acceptance and truth, and about belief in its darkest and brightest forms.” – Booklist

Definitely a book for our times. Szpara will be part of our 2021 Greensboro Bound Festival and will be in conversation with novelist Rivers Solomon.

Sing Backwards and Weep: A Memoir, by Mark Lanegan (Hachette Books, $17.99). If you know the music of Mark Lanegan, then you know what you’re in for: an unflinching look at darkness. One critic describes this book as “one of the most compelling accounts of squalor and misery ever committed to paper.” Not your cup of awful? Maybe Lanegan goes through it all so you don’t have to.

Other notable April releases: Whereabouts, by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf, $24), First Person Singular: Stories, by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, $28), World Travel: An Irreverent Guide, by Anthony Bourdain (Ecco Press, $35) and The Man Who Lived Underground, by Richard Wright (Library of America, $22.95).  OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.

Omnivorous Reader

Thriller Triumph

An evil character spices a Carolina plot



By D.G. Martin

Do you remember Hannibal Lecter, the psychotic doctor played by Anthony Hopkins in the film The Silence of the Lambs? Lecter was a brilliant but evil serial killer who dined on his victims.

We may have been horrified by Lecter, but we were mesmerized, too. Some publishers tell their authors that such over-the-top evil characters like Lecter can make a good story even better.

Kathy Reichs, one of North Carolina’s most successful crime fiction writers, uses the salt of just such an evil character to season her most recent book, A Conspiracy of Bones. In this 19th novel by the Charlotte-based and New York Times bestselling author, Reichs introduces Nick Body, who delivers conspiracy theories on a popular podcast.

Reichs is not new to designing intriguing evil characters. Her series of Temperance Brennan novels was the basis of the long running Bones television series. Brennan, like Reichs, is a brilliant forensic anthropologist. She uses her dead body-examining skills to solve complicated crimes perpetrated by her evil characters.

Nick Body’s ability to stir up his listeners reminds us of the late Rush Limbaugh, though Body goes to a whole other extreme. He kidnaps children and then stirs up his podcast listeners, who pay money to access his program and buy the products he offers that, supposedly, arm them against the coming violence.

Here is how Reichs sums up her character’s alarmist con games:

“Over the past decade, Body has been particularly vehement on two themes. Plots involving kids. Plots involving medical wrongdoing. Occasionally, his insane theories managed to combine both elements. Many of Body’s harangues focused on disease. Over and over, he returned to the theme of government conspiracy.

“A sampling: He claims that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa was a biological weapons test performed by America. That SARS was a germ attack against the Chinese. That AIDS was created and distributed by those in power in the U.S. That the anthrax attacks following 9/11 were orchestrated by the government. That banning DDT was a scheme to depopulate the Earth by spreading malaria. That Huntington’s disease is caused by a microbe and the government is conspiring to suppress a known cure. And, my personal favorite, that chemtrails are responsible for mad cow outbreaks.

“There were numerous variations on the evils of vaccination.” She continued, “In the old tried-and-true, Body alleged that vaccination causes autism. In a somewhat more creative twist, he argued that Bill Gates was behind the plot to use immunization for population control. In another series of tirades, he insisted that the government was sneaking RFID chips into children via inoculation.”

Reichs has Brennan figure out Body’s deadly schemes and bring him down, though the beginning of the story seemingly has nothing to do with the evil podcaster. What gets Brennan’s attention is a mutilated, unidentified body found in rural Cleveland County and sent to the medical examiner in Charlotte for identification.

The fictional Charlotte-Mecklenburg medical examiner, Dr. Margot Heavner, and Brennan have a long-standing and bitter rivalry. So Heavner does not ask Brennan to assist in the official identification process. Brennan is miffed and decides to conduct her own investigation. With the help of old friends in law enforcement, she tracks down multiple leads in Cleveland County, Winston-Salem (an ashram), Mooresville, Tega Cay near Charlotte, and all over Charlotte from Myers Park to Central Avenue and modest developments in west Charlotte. At every stop Brennan and Reichs teach readers lessons in science and technology. They show how good law enforcement can use such learning to track down leads and bring the bad guys to justice. In the end, Brennan connects Body to crimes that go far beyond his conspiracy theory exploitations.

Even more satisfying for Brennan, her superior work results in putting a negative spotlight on Dr. Heavner, who has to leave her job in disgrace. All this gives us hope that the next fictional Charlotte-Mecklenburg medical examiner will value Brennan and put her great skills to work.  OH

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesday at 8 p.m.

The Creators of N.C.

Every Moment is a Window

Through his art, Richard Wilson bridges the gap between then and now



By Wiley Cash
Photographs By Mallory Cash

Spend some time with visual artist Richard Wilson’s work, and you’ll quickly grasp the role historical connection plays in it.

Take his Shadow Series, for example. In each painting, an African American boy or girl stands in the foreground, the background comprised of images of an African American trailblazer. In one piece, a girl in a leather bomber jacket blocks the sun from her eyes and stares toward the horizon, as if searching for a sign of what’s to come; behind her is an assemblage of newspaper stories and photographs of Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman to hold a pilot’s license. Another shows a young boy in oversized boxing gloves gazing up at a speed bag that’s just out of reach; behind him, a newspaper announces that Jack Johnson has defeated James Jeffries to become the 1910 heavyweight champion of the world, the first African American to win the title. Other luminaries such as Arthur Ashe, Serena Williams, Michael Jordan and Barack Obama are featured in the series, each a guiding light for the young dreamer standing “in the shadow.” To the viewer, it’s clear that ancestors and aspiration are powerfully present in Wilson’s artwork.

And if you spend any time with the artist himself, you’ll understand that ancestors and aspiration are powerfully present in his own life.

The oldest of three boys, Wilson was born in Robersonville (Martin County) and moved with his family to Conetoe (pronounced Kuh-nee-tuh), another rural town in Eastern North Carolina, when he was 8. He grew up surrounded by family — siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. They were close-knit.

Today, Wilson is standing in the middle of his art studio in Greenville, N.C., where he and his wife have lived for just over 20 years. The walls around him are festooned with his original works and ribbons from national art shows; the floor cluttered with framed prints and works-in-progress. Wilson, a tall man who looks like a linebacker yet comports himself like a poet, admits that he has nearly outgrown the space that he built himself. On the wall opposite him is a framed original painting titled A Window Into the Past, in which an older African American man with a cane is picking his way across a field to a weathered two-story farmhouse. The man in the painting is Wilson’s uncle. The home, which has since been demolished, once belonged to
Wilson’s paternal grandmother, Mary Battle.

“Every weekend we’d go to my grandmother’s house,” Wilson says, gesturing toward the painting. “All the children and grandchildren. That was the highlight of my week. My uncle, who was a sharecropper, would cook on the grill. We’d all play kickball and softball. I can still smell the rain on the dirt, the trees — pears and pecans. It was a beautiful life.” He sighs and his broad shoulders slump forward slightly. “But when my grandmother passed away, we all stopped going back there, and we just lost that connection.”

Although Wilson’s work is nothing if not realistic, each piece contains elements of symbolism that could be lost on the casual viewer. In the painting of Grandma Pigaboot’s house, the electrical service entrance — where the home had once been connected to a power line — is frayed and disconnected. That’s exactly how Richard Wilson felt in 2020, a year that saw a pandemic cripple the globe and political and cultural turmoil seize the heart and soul of the nation. Wilson used his art to reconnect with his family, his community and the landscape that once brought him so much joy.

Although he had featured his grandmother’s house in previous works, last year he found himself wanting to paint it again, and this time he wanted to include a family member. He called up his Uncle Bill and asked if he could come take some photographs of him. Uncle Bill happily obliged. It had been a while since they’d seen each other.

“We started talking about old times,” Wilson says, “and he started posing for me, and I started taking pictures of him. We had a great time.” But Wilson wanted to keep their reunion a secret. “I told him, ‘Don’t tell your children I’m doing this painting,’” says Wilson. “I wanted to put it on Facebook to see if they recognized the house and recognized that their father was in the painting.”

Imagine Wilson’s delight when, after posting the finished painting online, Uncle Bill’s youngest daughter wrote this: Hey, cuz, I really like this piece. It reminds me of back in the day, and the man in the picture reminds me of my pops.

Comments from other cousins followed, each expressing tender sentiments.

“And then they started buying prints,” Wilson says, supporting him at a time when art shows had been canceled due to COVID. “It brought us all back together.”

Of course, the house in the painting represents much more than just a place. Wilson’s grandmother bequeathed him a legacy that highlights the importance of family, faith, land and self-reliance — all of which Wilson has made use of throughout his path to becoming a full-time artist against incredible odds.

“My grandmother took us around and made sure that she introduced us to all of our family members,” Wilson says. “She was adamant about that, about knowing who your people are.” He stops speaking and smiles as if a memory is playing through his mind. “She also taught us how to be entrepreneurs. We used to turn in Coke bottles and get cash for them, and then we’d turn around and buy candy and sell it. Or we’d make Kool-Aid and turn it into freeze cups, and then we’d sell those.” She also taught Wilson and his siblings and cousins how to make use of the land by taking them fishing and teaching them how to sew gardens. And she instilled the importance of faith in their lives by ensuring that they accompanied her to church.

Richard Wilson has won countless awards for his art, which has been featured in television shows and films, showcased in public and private collections and purchased by the likes of the late Hank Aaron and Gladys Knight. Those early lessons from his grandmother have allowed him to turn a childhood spark of inspiration into the passionate flame that fuels his work. His Shadows Series makes that clear.

But Richard Wilson acknowledges that not everyone is as lucky to have had the family and influences he’s had. Yet that’s the great thing about forging a connection with people you love.

“If you didn’t have it then,” he says, “you can start it now.”

One could say the same about living your dream.  OH

Wiley Cash is the writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. His new novel, When Ghosts Come Home, will be released this year.

Life’s Funny

Walking with Rio

A reflection on dogs and cats and life


By Maria Johnson

You stand in the living room, whining in a pitch I cannot ignore.

I turn.

You fix me with eyes the color of hard candy, root-beer flavored. Clear and warm and sweet.

I solve the mystery by deduction.

It’s not food you want. There’s a scoop of kibble in your dish, wet with beef broth, and you won’t touch it.

You’re not in pain. You groan and shift when you’re hurting. Plus, you’ve just downed half a peanut butter sandwich made chunky with your morning meds.

“Go for a walk?” I say tentatively. I’m doubtful because your limp is pronounced this morning. A few minutes ago, I sat at the kitchen table and watched you hobble down then back up the ramp we built for you over the patio steps.

“Go for a walk?”

You confirm with a steady gaze.

Of course. You’re all about the walk, the run, the movement that expresses, better than anything, who you are.

You’re a leggy foxhound — “Imagine a beagle,” I tell people. “In a supermodel’s body” — born to the chase with nose and ears and stride that gobble up the woods with ease.

You’re a good sport, though. Most of the time, you settle for walks on greenways, trails and suburban streets.

So I slip the harness — the new one that doesn’t rub your shoulder — over your head, grab a plastic bag and my phone, and we set out into the neighborhood.

How many times have we walked this way together? How many miles have we covered in our menu of loops that start and end at home?

I do the math.

More than six thousand.

Your dad — your human dad, that is — figures he’s walked 10,000 miles with you.

That’s 16,000. And that’s just with us, in the nine years since we found you, when you were about two. God knows how many miles were on your odometer when you bounded into our lives, bony and collarless, as we were leaving a Mexican restaurant.

Tom, your human brother, who was 14 at the time, named you Rio for the restaurant.

It fit.

Rio, river.

River, run.

Goodness, did you run.

In the dog park, in the woods, streaking across our broad backyard, flashing in and out of the Japanese cypresses with speed and ease that made everyone laugh in recognition of the truth. Your essence was there, in those slivers of seconds you were suspended over the ground.

But this morning, we walk.

Your Dad and I — knowing that our ambles with you are numbered — let you mosey and meander, sidetrack and sniff as much as you want.

The grass in cracks of asphalt.

The mulch under trees.

The acorns passed over by squirrels.

The green and white beacons of fire hydrants.

You salute them as usual.

Your right front leg quavers as you balance.

The X-ray was so subtle, the line where the bone density changed. How could such a small shadow change your gait, your life?

Your nails click in the concrete gutter. The fourth step is muted. You’re taking weight off that leg.

It’s weird, this business of knowing. None of us knows, do we?

But something changes when we have an inkling. We stop looking forward. We reel in our attention to now. You do this naturally.

Like right now. Buckled into the moment, you walk at the pace your body allows, which is slow. It’s a good time to slow down.

Spring is being born. The morning air flows around us like cool creek water, but the sun is warming, pulling new life from the Earth. Daffodils — the first I’ve seen this year — trumpet the news. Purple crocuses reveal tangerine exclamation points.

You stick your head into a storm drain to check for cats.  It’s such a cliché. But cats drive you crazy.

You lift your head as we pass Moe’s house. Yes, I remember. You growled and barked at Moe, who tiger-stalked to the end of his driveway, squared up to you and swiped. You yelped and jumped back. A red line welled on your nose. You looked shocked. That was not supposed to happen.

The cat was supposed to run. You were supposed to chase.

Skittles, the cat that lived down the street, understood. When you lunged, he dashed, a puff of orange smoke. Skittles and his family have been gone for years, which is why I’m surprised when you pull me into his old yard and stand there a long time, staring at the stoop where he used to curl. What will I say if someone comes out of the house and asks me what’s going on?

“My dog sees the ghost of a cat that used to live here.”

Then I see what you see. It’s not a ghost. It’s Sudi, the fluffy black-and-white cat that has taken up with a family across the street. You rear and twist like a sailfish, fighting the line that binds you.

Your leash slips my hand. Sudi takes off. You take off. You’re wobbling like a car with a flat tire. And the gas pedal floored. Sudi sprints down a fence line and makes a hard right into a wooded patch. You make a hard right into a wooded patch. I make a hard right into a wooded patch.

I’m running as fast as I can, shouting at you to stop, plowing through the briars, jumping downed branches, catching glimpses of your churning back legs. My heart is hammering.

The vet warned that high impact exercise could fracture your shoulder. Please, God, don’t let me hear a cry of pain. And, PS, while you’re at it, don’t let my husband — who will be driving up the street any minute — see any of this. He would be so mad if you got hurt on my watch, just like I would be so mad at him.

Finally, I catch up to you. You’re jumping and pawing at the back gate of another house. Sudi has squeezed his way to safety.

“Damn you,” I say, picking up your leash and wrapping it around my hand twice.

You turn to me smiling, breathless, tongue lolling.

“Damn you,” I say again, sucking wind through laughter.

In your mind, in the moment, you are still you.

That is all you know.

That is all I know.

We limp out of the woods together and head home.

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry.

Short Stories

See Ya Later (Propagator)

Raise your trowel if you started (some semblance of) a Victory Garden in 2020. That’s what we thought. The Greensboro Farmers Curb Market (501 Yanceyville St.) hosts the annual Go Green Plant & Garden Sale on Sunday, April 25, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Green or otherwise, at-home horticulturists can find vegetable starters, medicinal herbs, fruit-bearing bushes, ornamental flowers and, just maybe, some of the wackiest looking plants you’ve ever seen.  At this “local growers only” sale, you can also snag pro tips with your heritage, native and regional plants. And does your garden ache for a bit of locally made frippery? Yep, you’ll find that, too. Sale held indoors and outdoors. Face covering required. Info:


All Dolled Up

Not long before lockdowns were the norm, High Point’s Theatre Art Galleries (TAG) ordered 15 mannequins for an exhibit featuring Tony and Emmy award-winning designer Paul Tazewell’s costumes. Does Hamilton ring a bell? The Tazewell exhibit, which ran until early January 2020, was TAG’s last before it shuttered. Last month, it reopened with Mannequin Musings, which started as a Call to Artists to reimagine the naked displays otherwise left collecting dust. Fifteen creatives from across the state participated. You bet last year was an inspiration. And so was our future. Consider High Point artist Annie Chrismon’s “No Rain, No Flowers,” which is crowned by a luminous white cloud dripping with teardrop prisms. Bedecked in rhinestones, lush greenery, silk gardenias and fairy wings made of twigs, the mannequin nods to nature’s law: spring always follows winter. TAG (220 E. Commerce Ave., downtown High Point) is open Tuesday through Friday, noon until 5 p.m. Or, experience the exhibit virtually (and vote for your favorite) here:






Hip to It

For those in the know, the High Point Spring Market, aka, the “remix,” is already on the calendar for June 5–9 ( But have you heard of High Point x Design? It’s an evolving grassroots movement to make High Point a design nexus year-round. And it’s not just for the trade pros. If you’re a design enthusiast looking for art, décor, furniture or lighting, go forth and explore the “flagship” showrooms beneath the HPxD umbrella. Of course there are exclusive “trade only” showrooms, a. But nearly 20 fashion-forward galleries and boutiques will open their doors to all on Tuesday, April 6, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Wednesday, April 7, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. And if you’re looking to mask and mingle, don’t miss the HPxD Mixer on Tuesday, 4 p.m., at Cohab.Space (RSVP: High Point Spring Premarket (trade-only event) happens Sunday, April 25, through Tuesday, April 27. More info:


Built Like a Ram

OK, Aries. Maybe you should go on a brisk walk, blow off some steam, take a few slow, deep breaths of wisteria. Ruled by Mars (the god of war), those born under this fiery sun sign have a tendency to be more than a little hot-headed. But damned if you couldn’t charm the spit from a tree swallow. This month, the planets are aligned in your favor. Try to keep your cool. Go with the flow. But if instead your blood doth boil, try doing a headstand.

Simple Life

My Wife’s Secret Life

And why I’m happily married, blissfully in the dark



By Jim Dodson

I recently discovered that my wife, Wendy, enjoys a secret life.

Actually, I’ve known about it for years. I just never let her know that I knew about it.

It’s also possible that she’s always known that I know about it (and has chosen to keep that a secret, too).

Either way, the woman is a master at keeping her husband happily married and blissfully in the dark.

Consider the high drama of our recent unplanned kitchen makeover.

One evening last spring, our fancy German dishwasher blew up like the Hindenburg and flooded the kitchen of the charming mid-century bungalow we’ve spent the last five years faithfully restoring.

I suggested we move to Scotland.

Within days, however, Wendy had rallied a small army of specialists with industrial driers, fans and blueprints for a complete renovation.

Curiously, they all seemed to know my wife by her first name.

Though I’m hardly the suspicious type, such fraternal bonhomie did make me momentarily wonder if Dame Wendy might have a private, second career as a kitchen subcontractor and home makeover artist.

One of her not-so-secret pleasures, after all, are the makeover programs playing around the clock on HGTV, brick-and-mortar dramas where — in the span of 45 minutes — unspeakably decrepit houses are transformed into suburban show palaces by clever couples who make witty remarks about shiplap and infinity tubs.

Not that I’m the jealous type, but my bride speaks so casually about home-rehab hosts Joanna and Chip Gaines or the dorky Property Brothers or that sweet, folksy couple redoing the entire town of Laurel, Mississippi, it’s as if she actually knows them. And I can almost picture the Good Bones gals whispering sweet nothings about rare Victorian beadboard or vintage crown molding in Dame Wendy’s wise conch-like ear.

Unlike the unreality of these home makeovers, our massive kitchen “reno” took nearly a year to complete, including endless delays due to COVID-19. We upgraded the subflooring, wiring and plumbing; installed a beautiful Tuscan tile floor; searched two counties for new granite counters; and outfitted the entire kitchen with new appliances. We also ordered so many takeout meals that I considered moonlighting for Grubhub.

I’ll confess, there were moments when I had beguiling dreams of misty Scotland — specifically a rather fetching one in which I am rowing a dinghy across Loch Lomond with a provocatively dressed (and pre-crazy) Kim Basinger sitting in the bow.

Strictly between us, I have no idea what this dream could mean. But I’m not dinghy enough to tell my wife about it because she’ll know exactly what it means, and I really don’t want to spoil the surprise if Kim and I ever reach the other side of the loch.

Besides, doesn’t a bloke deserve a few healthy secrets of his own?  Sadly, I don’t have many others. Unless you count the fantasy about being the first man in history to ride his John Deere lawn tractor across America. Of course, that dream died when Wendy sold my tractor at a yard sale in Maine right before we moved to Carolina. She claims there was no room for it on the moving truck, meaning I couldn’t at least drive it home to the South and make a few bucks mowing lawns along the way.

I recently heard a top marriage specialist on the radio insist that the secret to a long and happy marriage is “not having too many secrets, but enough to keep a marriage interesting.”

The specialist, a female psychologist, didn’t specify how many secrets keep a marriage interesting, or conversely, how many keep a marriage from collapsing like a $2 beach chair.

Fact is, I am perfectly happy operating on a strictly “need-to-know” basis. She knows that what I don’t know won’t hurt me, which may be the key to our own long and happy marriage.

Besides, we have an enviable distribution of domestic duties and responsibilities.

Wendy runs the house, pays the bills, makes most of the important decisions and never fails to find my missing eyeglasses/wallet/car keys or TV remote when it’s clear some thoughtless nitwit has mistakenly put them somewhere just to make me go crazy.

Suffice it to say, I know my proper place in our happy domestic realm, outside in the yard quietly missing my beloved John Deere lawn tractor.

On an entirely separate front, I have no idea how much money I earn from my so-called literary career. I simply put together words that amuse me, send them off to editors I’ve never met who (sometimes) like and (eventually) pay me real folding money for them.

It’s a sweet mystery how this magic happens. I frankly never know my precise material worth, year to year, but I assure you it’s no mystery to Dame Wendy how much money I make — or am due — down to the last farthing.

Home and family, however, are where Wendy’s secret life truly excels.

Our four fully grown and theoretically independent children constantly call up from faraway places to share their endless existential crises or ask her advice on all manner of discreet topics, confiding things they wouldn’t dream of telling the old man, whom they only call when they need more farthings to cover the rent.

But that’s OK with the old man in question. The older he gets, the less he knows and the happier he is.

For it’s all about perspective — i.e. my wife’s clever design for our happily married life.

One final example shall suffice.

The other afternoon, I popped into the house from trying to start up my walk-behind mower for the first lawn-cutting of the spring and discovered that my multitasking domestic Chief Executive was putting the final touches on our brand new fully renovated kitchen in a manner most unusual.

She’d just assembled an elaborate rolling cart she’d ordered from some chic West Coast design house and was dancing rumba-like to South African reggae music as she decorated Easter cookies for neighborhood kids.

“I’m thinking of painting the den a lovely new green for the spring,” she blithely announced, sashaying past me. “It’s called Mountain Air. What do you think?”

As our elegant new dishwasher purred away, she waved the sample color on her smart phone, which isn’t remotely as smart as she is but probably a good deal smarter than her husband.

After 20 years of happy marriage, I’m no April fool.

I simply told her that I loved it and headed back to my stubborn lawn mower, secretly dreaming about Kim Basinger riding a John Deere tractor through the misty Scottish Highlands.   OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry magazine.

The Nature of Things

Soul of a Place

Home isn’t just brick and mortar — it’s a feeling



By Ashley Wahl

When it comes to houses, you could say I have a type.

In a word: soulful.

In other words: quirky, colorful, old.

Given that Fisher Park is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Greensboro — a mosaic of grand and modest houses with as much variety as a jovial street fair — it’s little wonder I was drawn here like a hummingbird to foxglove. 

I love it for its tree-lined streets; the tipped tricycles dotting front lawns and sidewalks; the lush gardens that mingle and spill across property lines; the tree swings and wind chimes and wide, cozy porches.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

You may know by now that I returned to Greensboro last fall to edit this magazine. After tirelessly scouring the web for rental houses last summer, I gasped when I saw what I consider to be three perfect words: Fisher Park Bungalow.

Flash back a decade or so. Just out of college, while renting a one-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Greensboro’s first streetcar suburb, I quickly fell in love with the eclectic mix of houses — and people — on every block. And then one evening at golden hour, I happened upon Fisher Park’s picturesque nature trails. Crossing that first stone bridge was, to me, equivalent to how Mary Lennox must have felt when she discovered the door to the Secret Garden. Or Lucy Pevensie, stepping into Narnia. You get the idea.

Now, back to last summer.

When I clicked through the photos for the Fisher Park listing, the hair on my arms stood up. I could feel the soul of the place without being there. 

“This is it,” I told my fiancé, Alan. “This could be our future home.”

We scheduled a tour for the following week.

From the outside, the century-old brick home was, frankly, unremarkable. But such was the architectural trend of the American Craftsman movement, a no-frills departure from Victorian-style influence. Inside, natural light filled each room, where high ceilings and hardwood floors created a warm yet elegant atmosphere. Just shy of 1,200 square feet, it was a humble space that had been cared for over the decades. Three bedrooms and one tiny bath, it had an open floor plan and minimal storage. But when we saw the funky kitchen, with its vibrant yellow walls and retro black-and-white tile floors, it was game over.

“This house has soul,” we agreed, exploring the spacious backyard, where rusting metal chairs, once painted a punchy shade of pink, surrounded a steel fire pit. Beneath the bright teal garden shed, the landlord told us, a pair of gray foxes had reared a litter of kits that previous spring.

Out front, rosemary hedges kissed the edge of the sidewalk, and lemon thyme, peppermint and sages flourished in massive concrete planters.

We felt like we were already home.

But houses like that aren’t exactly a dime a dozen in this neighborhood — especially not for renters. We knew there were other applicants with their hearts set, too. And so, while we hoped it would be our future home, we tried not to get our hopes up too high. 

On down the street, a white cat appeared like an apparition on the steps of a gracious front porch. Around the block, a host of dahlias peeked over a picket fence like an assemblage of nosy neighbors. But one yard stopped us in our tracks. Staked into the ground near the sidewalk was a tree branch adorned with a wild tangle of greenery and a miscellany of treasures: ribbons, dog collars, bracelets, crystals, shoelaces and hair ties. Attached to this vertical branch was a hand-painted sign that explained it was a “Wishing Tree.”

“This is exactly the kind of place I want to live,” I told Alan. “A place where good people still believe in magic.”

We made our wish.

And guess what?

We couldn’t love our yellow kitchen more.  OH

Contact editor Ashley Wahl at