O.Henry Ending

The Fitter

Down to the (under)wire

By Valerie Nieman

Gentlemen, avert your eyes from the area beneath those lavender walls. Safer not to approach the temple of the mysteries. Just consider stories about those unfortunate Greek fellas who wandered into the precincts.

On the lower level at Belk in Friendly Center, the presiding priestess of intimate apparel is a native New Yorker, Bette Ann Fugmann. She stands under a sign for “customer service,” and here, that means more than handing over a debit card and getting “have a nice day” along with the plastic bag. Bette has been fitting women at Belk for a dozen years, leading the uninitiated through the intricacies of finding a comfortable home for the girls, one that will not pinch, ride up, slip down, bind, rub or collapse.

She took me under her wing oh, five years ago. Like a lot of women of that certain age, my introduction to bra shopping had been a few shelves of white cotton models in boxes. Choices were limited. Maidenform’s advertisements offered fantasy — “I dreamed I was wanted/Venus de Milo/opening the World Series in my Maidenform bra.” Playtex, of 18 hours fame, notably crafted Neil Armstrong’s moon suit.

“I was trained to fit bras and it’s been very rewarding,” Bette says, her no-nonsense voice like a stream running over gravel. “Women walk into an intimate apparel department, regardless of the store, and it’s very overwhelming. They have no idea of their size, just arbitrarily grab something and go to the dressing room.”

Sounds familiar. What about that lime green number with the black lace? Bette knows better.

“It’s so important to go to a retail store where there is someone certified to fit. You would be surprised what a big difference it makes, and what size you actually are.”

With her short-clipped white hair, fashionable glasses and “statement” jewelry, she could be middle management, which she was. Her husband’s company transferred him to North Carolina in the mid-’70s. “In 1975, few women worked, but my mother took care of my girls,” Bette explains. “I was offered a job at Western Electric, but I didn’t want to work at the same facility as my husband.”

Instead, the Hofstra graduate says she walked into a small dress shop in Burlington and came out with a job. That turned into ownership. Ten years later, when it looked like husband Mike would be transferred, she sold the shop, regretfully. The transfer fell through and Bette says she went back into human resources with Belk at Carolina Circle Mall, Kayser-Roth Hosiery, then Moses Cone. Downsizing brought her to Belk at Friendly Center “for a short time” that has lasted. She and Mike, parents of two daughters, still live in Alamance County, where Bette indulges her passion for movies. “Any movie, I like anything,” says the woman who was named for Bette Davis after her mother — you got it — saw a movie.

Bette imparts secrets, sotto voce, as she proffers this model or that in the dressing room. “The key is getting the correct band size — it has to be very tight so you don’t come out the bottom.” And then the art of the cup size, which can vary, and the style. “Contour may not fit a middle-aged or older woman,” she explained. The flesh heads south. Thanks, gravity.

“I see women I would like to go up to and say, please, come see me. I don’t do it. My daughter gets aggravated with me when I mention it to her — you just know how things should look.”

Her pet peeve? Customers who ignore her advice. “If I measure you and you argue with me while we’re in the dressing room — when I am trying to tell you what is right — then I just say take what you wish. Eight out of 10 will bring it back.”

The other two are probably too timid to meet the blue eyes of the bra priestess.

Bette is not, it goes without saying, sold on virtual shopping. “You cannot order a bra online unless you have been fitted and you know the vendor. This generation, they like to order online, even rugs they order!”

One last bit of arcana is imparted as she hands me a model the color of raspberry sherbet: “With this brand, neutrals never go on sale.”  OH

A graduate of West Virginia University and Queens University of Charlotte, Valerie Nieman teaches creative writing at North Carolina A&T State University. In addition to publishing volumes of poetry and short fiction, she has a fourth novel appearing in 2019.

True South


And in record time, to boot

By Susan S. Kelly

My sister thinks I’m OCD, but it’s not that at all. Now, I’ll admit to, in my young mother days, putting a notepad at the top of the steps to write down how many times in a single day I went upstairs and downstairs, but I was merely collecting sociological and scientific statistics. No, my husband, who folds his eyeglasses cleaning cloth six times before replacing it in the little plastic case, and the guy in the pew in front of me at church who takes out the hymnal and smooths the tiny folds in the page corners where they’ve been carelessly creased, are both closer to OCD than me. (Though, during the next overlong sermon, I’m going to do that, too.) My issue is CAD: Compulsive Achievement Disorder. I don’t consider CAD a suffer-from syndrome, but a blessed-with aptitude.

You’ve got your PWE, Puritan Work Ethic, loosely defined as the fear that someone, somewhere, is having fun. And you’ve got your basic multitasking. Both are related to Compulsive Achievement Disorder. Because I do love me a list. Few things in life are as satisfactory as crossing off to-dos. Roundup weeds. Check. Pickup alterations. Check. Send bio to speaking gig. Check. Finish this writing piece. Check. Respond to that invitation. Check. But there exists an entire realm beyond typical daily errands. I’m talking scheduling the deletion of future unnecessary emails; planning ahead to refill the dishwashing liquid bottle from the mammoth Costco bottle; noting all upcoming weddings/baby showers/birthdays in back of the calendar so you’re always on the lookout for gifts.

I mean, doesn’t everyone time themselves on how fast, how efficiently, and with how many fewer steps and reaches it requires to unload a dishwasher?

Here is a classic two minutes in a CAD day: Empty bathroom trash can into bedroom trash can on the way to plugging in the phone charger that’s beside the bedroom trash can on the way to putting the toilet paper plastic wrapping on the upstairs hall table to be taken downstairs for the recycling bag which is in the laundry closet and just go ahead and fill the laundry detergent for the next time you have a wash, turn to take the clean wine glasses off the drying pad, replace in the bar and check the mail on the desk beside the bar to see if anything that you’ve predated to send is ready to be sent. Two minutes. Tops.

There’s some DNA to this CAD. I ran into my first cousin at the grocery store, and he showed me his list, which was arranged by where the items came on the shelves. Beyond that, he’d put asterisks beside the items that were on sale that week, and beyond that, he’d put stars by the items he had coupons for. Oversharing, perhaps, but there you are.

Sometimes, at supper, I’ll say to my husband, “Do you want to know what I did today?” He says, “No, I know you’re amazing.” And I just have to live with that minor acknowledgement. Then I go upstairs and binge Netflix. Because I’ve earned my downtime.

Speaking of husbands, CAD is especially advantageous during, uh, disagreements and stalemates. You can always refill the saltshakers, clean out the fridge, make salad dressing or iced tea while you’re refusing to speak. Bustle and busy-ness are terrific strategies for stonewalling.

Not that CAD doesn’t come with drawbacks. Automatically reaching for the cards to shuffle them when it’s not your turn to shuffle irritates by-the-rules bridge players. And it’s tiresome to have to dust off presents you wrapped weeks before. Of course, you have to find where you hid them first. That’s senior CAD.

Rather than some mental problem, I’m going to lay this issue at the feet of all the movies I watched as a child. Mary Poppins did five things at a time — though she had bluebirds to help her — and Snow White had her seven dwarfs, and especially Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when Dick Van Dyke cooked breakfast eggs on a fabulously complicated machine.

Call it what you want. I’m getting it done.  OH

Susan Kelly is a blithe spirit and an open book, or reading one.

The Accidental Astrologer

Cat’s-paws, Cat’s Meows and Mixed Nuts

In the height of Leo season, August brings a little bit of everything

By Astrid Stellanova

August birthdays for Leo and Virgo are something special.

Even the stars will twinkle brighter! There’s a partial solar eclipse (on the 13th — so Sugar, we get to shut it all down and focus on luminous Leos.

Cat Nights begin on the 17th, and may tempt witches to trade their brooms for feline claws and tails, if our Irish seers are right. But, no lie or stretch of truth, August brings National Ice Cream Sandwich Day, National Raspberry Cream Pie Day and National Girlfriends Day.

If days devoted to ice cream, pie or gal-pals don’t grab you, then consider August 3 is International Beer Day . . .
and Grab Some Nuts Day is conveniently the same date. Shew, Star Children, I cannot begin to tell you how many mixed nuts deserve to be roasted and canned this month.   — Ad Astra, Astrid

Leo (July 23—August 22)

Here’s the thing, Sugar. There’s a good reason some friends just don’t mix; you can’t trust them anymore than you would trust a rooster crossed with a turkey buzzard or a goldendoodle crossed with a coyote. Things went cattywampus when two segmented parts of your life came together. To fix this situation, consider sorting out why and how this ever happened. For your birthday, someone is willing to retire a debt owed. And it isn’t about the money.

Virgo (August 23—September 22)

Sugar, you are the straw that stirs the drink. Ain’t nothing fun happening until you make the scene. Just looky, at how much social capital you have. Spread that stardust around to all your thirsty friends and stir something up.

Libra (September 23–October 22)

Your nemesis has an ego big enough to have its own ZIP code. This ticked some people off and they are ready to change sides and be your personal booster club. Keep your chin up and go high, Honey, if ever they go low.

Scorpio (October 23–November 21)

Don’t get all tore up. You lost something you really didn’t even want. If you can stop looking in the rearview mirror, you will find you actually like the approaching view right in front of you. Keep on keeping on, and don’t allow yourself to break down in the tow zone.

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

Don’t that just beat a hog playing the maracas? Here you had all the talent you ever needed to succeed at the very thing that makes your heart sing —and you questioned it forever. You have just accidentally found your way right side up.

Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

News that’s tougher to swallow than canned biscuits and expired Spam has got you shaken. In the next 48 hours, you learned you really are up to the challenge. It just happens to look harder than it is. This won’t bring you down.

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

Yep, betrayal stung and you have hollered at the moon. Sooner or later, we all get to hike up to the crest of Fool’s Hill. Now come on back down. When you do — wiser, stronger, better — ain’t nobody getting your goat again.

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

Whaaat? You’re due for a come-to-Jesus meeting with reality. If you think there’s a conspiracy against you, Darling, you are just plain wrong. Spend your days and nights ignoring all those conspiracy theories and focusing on your God-given talents.

Aries (March 21–April 19)

You feel like you were either shot out of a cannon or torpedoed by a loose cannon? Shake it off, Buttercup. Times were, this one special someone could tie you up in knots, but not anymore. You have the power . . . so take it and use it.

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

The last person you forgave was safely buried before you got around to letting go. Not that you are mean, but you sure do know how to hold a grudge. Resentment is a poisoned well. Stop lowering the bucket and drinking what is just plain toxic.

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

Look a little closer. Give it the hairy eyeball: The wheel may be turning but the rat is dead. Stop the whole business of trying to force something to work. When the path is truly clear — and it will clear soon, Honey — you will not struggle anymore.

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

Here’s the dilemma. You’re gonna have to burn that bridge or walk across it. That bridge. Set it on fire and you are done with all those old connections. If you walk across, you make new connections that didn’t get scorched. Free yourself, Darling.  OH

For years, Astrid Stellanova owned and operated Curl Up and Dye Beauty Salon in the boondocks of North Carolina until arthritic fingers and her popular astrological readings provoked a new career path.

The Omnivorous Reader

Chang and Eng

Legendary twins who called North Carolina home

By D. G. Martin

If I asked you to name our state’s best-known citizen, living or dead, who comes to mind?

What if I said to think of people of who lived in Mount Airy?

I bet you would say Andy Griffith. After all, his still-popular TV show was set in Mayberry, which was based on his hometown, Mount Airy.

But long before Griffith was born, long before television, two world-famous men moved to Surry County farms near Mount Airy.

They were known in America and Europe as Chang and Eng, the Siamese Twins. Still today, almost 145 years after their deaths, people all over the world know about the two brothers, joined together from their birth in Siam (now Thailand) in 1811 until their deaths near Mount Airy in 1874.

In 1978, Irving Wallace and his daughter, Amy Wallace, wrote a popular biography titled The Two: The Story of the Original Siamese Twins. The Wallaces used their great storytelling gifts to entertain readers while laying out the details of the twins’ amazing lives. After growing up in Siam, Chang and Eng came to the U.S. and were displayed throughout the country and Europe before settling in North Carolina, marrying sisters, and having more than 20 children between them. (See attached chronology.) Until recently, The Two had a virtual monopoly on the story, but two new books provide additional facts and a more modern examination of the twins’ lives and times.

The newer books are Joseph Andrew Orser’s The Lives of Chang and Eng: Siam’s Twins in Nineteenth-Century America, published in 2014 by UNC Press, and Yunte Huang’s Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History, published earlier this year by Liveright.

Though the Wallaces covered the story in great detail, they wrote for Americans of the 1970s. Our attitudes about race, immigration and the exploitation of unusual human specimens have evolved. Orser’s Chang and Eng re-examines the basic facts of the twins’ lives and challenges earlier understandings of the meaning and lessons of their experience. Using the reactions of 19th century Americans and Europeans to the twins, Chang and Eng is more than a standard biography. It becomes an examination and evaluation of social attitudes about race, ethnicity, slavery, immigration, citizenship, and the exploitation of the unusual and deformed.

Orser recounts a host of interesting facts about the twins that his readers might have forgotten or never knew. For instance, the twins, though born in Siam, were really of Chinese origin. Their father was certainly Chinese, and their mother may have been partially Chinese. So why weren’t they, and all other conjoined twins who came afterward, called Chinese Twins? It seems to have been a matter of 19th century branding. The explanation given by one of their managers, James W. Hale, was that they were “more likely to attract attention than by calling them Chinese.”

After traveling all over the U.S. and Europe, why settle in rural North Carolina? Their 1839 decision was, Orser writes, “well orchestrated: it was not spur of the moment.” In the big cities, he explains, the twins “were too closely linked to their public exhibition and their foreign origins; there was little room in the North for them to settle down to lives of quiet respectability.”

After moving first to Wilkes County and later into adjoining but separate farms in Surry County, they became U.S. citizens, acquired and managed slaves, and when the Civil War broke out, they supported the South, each of them supplying a son to serve in the Confederate Army.

The twins were joined at their chests by a relatively short band of tissue. Today a surgeon could separate them but the doctors of the time were uncertain. There could have been other reasons, as well. As one of their doctors explained, “Those boys will fetch a vast deal more money while they are together than when they are separate.” After their deaths, when the bodies were examined, some doctors concluded that one or both of the twins would not have survived an attempted separation.

In Huang’s Inseparable, the author’s personal background lends a special perspective. Like Chang and Eng, he grew up in Asia. After college at Peking University, he came to the U.S. and worked in the restaurant business in Alabama before completing his Ph.D. in poetics at SUNY-Buffalo. Living in the American South, he experienced challenges not unlike those that confronted Chang and Eng more than 150 years earlier. He sees the twins as fellow immigrants.

While taking Americans to task for their “ugly rhetoric against immigrants,” Huang wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal,Throughout American history, almost all immigrants, legal or illegal, have indeed had mountains to climb . . . But few newcomers to the U.S. have crossed more daunting barriers than Chang and Eng Bunker.”

Huang uses the twins’ lives to examine other features of American society during their lifetimes. He includes a long section describing the acrimonious relations between the twins and P.T. Barnum, the clever exhibitor of rare spectacles and weirder attractions who took advantage of Chang and Eng and the public. Huang writes that Barnum understood that the American nature was to submit to clever humbug, even when it flaunted the facts.

Huang compares Barnum to a “trickster” who is an engaging confidence man and a colorful figure ubiquitous in literature and film. He dupes others and often dupes himself as well. The trickster does not know either good or evil. He is more amoral than immoral. He is a simple confidence man.

Huang argues that in Barnum’s time, “democracy also became a game of confidence, in the double sense of the word: political representatives gain the trust of the common men and pull a con on them.”

“In nineteenth-century America,” Huang continues, “no one did it better than P. T. Barnum in turning confidence into entertainment; no one was a better trickster than the Prince of Humbugs.”

To become an expert on Chang and Eng, ideally you would want to tackle all three books, but if you can only read one, Fred Kiger, Chapel Hill’s inspirational Civil War and local history speaker, suggested in a recent lecture that you start with the Wallaces’ old standard, The Two, to get the big picture. Then you will want to read the two new books for the rich, more modern perspectives they could bring to your reading table.

Chang and Eng Chronology

May 11, 1811  Conjoined twins are born in a small fishing village in Siam (now Thailand). They are named In and Chun, which became Eng and Chang. Father is Chinese. Mother probably half-Chinese.

1824  Robert Hunter, a Scottish merchant in Siam, sees twins swimming, thinks of them as monsters with potential to attract paying customers in the U.S. and Europe, but is unable to persuade the king to allow their departure from the country.

1829  With the help of sea captain Abel Coffin, the king is persuaded to allow the twins to leave. Coffin and Hunter form a partnership and enter into an agreement with the twins’ mother to pay her $500 and to return the twins within five years.

1829  Arrive in Boston, where they are displayed to crowds. Appear in New York City and other places.

1830  Travel to England in steerage while Coffin and his wife travel in first class.

January 1831  Depart England and return to U.S. (not in steerage this time) in March and resume heavy travel and exhibition schedule.

July 1831  On vacation in Lynnfield, Mass., they are accosted by locals (including Col. Elbridge Gerry, named after the Mass. Governor who gave the Gerrymandering its name).   Twins are charged with disturbing the peace and required to pay $200 bond.

May 1832  Upon reaching 21 years, the twins declare their independence from the Coffin and take charge of their exhibition program.

1835-36  Exhibition of twins in Europe.

1839  The twins retire to Wilkes County, North Carolina, purchase a 150-acre farm in nearby Traphill, build a house, and open a general store.

1843  They become American citizens, adopt the last name Bunker, and marry local sisters. Chang wed Adelaide Yates (1823–1917), while Eng married her sister, Sarah Anne (1822–1892).

1844  Ten months later, each couple has a baby girl, beginning families with a total of more than 20 children.

1846  They move to nearby Surry County, where they build two houses about a mile apart on adjoining tracts of land. The families of each twin stay at their respective houses, while Eng and Chang take turns visiting every three days. They follow this pattern for the rest of their lives.

1849  The twins return to New York to exhibit with 5-year-old daughters, Katherine and Josephine, and find difficult competition from P.T. Barnum and his collection of exhibits such as the popular Tom Thumb. Unsuccessful, they return to N.C. after six weeks.

1853-54  Traveling with Eng’s daughter Kate and Chang’s son Christopher, their tour makes 130 stops and covers 4,700 miles.

1860  They agree to be displayed by the hated P.T. Barnum for the “insulting amount “ of $100 a week.

November 1860  Travel to California via rail crossing in Panama. After exhibiting in San Francisco and Sacramento, they depart California on Feb. 11, 1861.

1861-65  As owners of more than 30 slaves, they support the Confederacy. Two sons who serve in Confederate Army are wounded and captured. The loss of slaves and the value of Confederate assets creates a financial emergency.

Dec. 5, 1868  Under an arrangement with Barnum, twins depart for Great Britain with Kate and Chang’s daughter Nannie.

1869  Mark Twain writes a humorous story inspired by the twins, “The Personal Habits of the Siamese Twins.”

1870  On the Cunard steamer Palmyra returning from England, Chang suffers a stroke. His health declines over the next four years.

Jan. 17, 1874  At age 62, Chang dies, and within hours Eng follows. OH

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Wandering Billy

Hip to Be Square

O.Henry Square continues to thrive

By Billy Eye

“A hick town is one in which there is no place to go where you shouldn’t be.” — Alexander Woolcott

The point
at which Bellemeade and Greene converge, where the 300-block of Battleground sprouts from a two-lane trickle into a gushing river of vehicles, was once referred to as O.Henry Square. May still be, for all I know.

This is a rare intersection with five corners. And around 1935, what had been a shaded residential neighborhood was slowly transformed as robust commerce began fueling a quiet downtown expansion.

Granted, nearby there’s a 110-room hotel with almost 300 upscale apartments under construction that will hug O.Henry Square to the west. Still, there are many intriguing sites that would be familiar to folks 50 years ago. Look around and you can see vestiges of an era when downtown’s hip pocket was devoted to insurance, finance, automotive repair and used cars; a corridor where, even to this day, businesses set down roots and remain in place for decades. In the not too distant past, 1968 for instance, O.Henry Square was dominated by the rear of the O.Henry Hotel, Chandler Tire and the Central Fire Station to the east, the Greensboro branch of Jefferson Standard Life Insurance to the west, and Universal City Credit to the north.

And today, approaching the square from the south, rounding the corner from North Greene onto Bellemeade, Martin’s Frame & Art Shop continues to anchor a collection of mostly glass-fronted storefronts dating back to 1940, currently vacant but in excellent condition.

In 1968, the angular, glass-front unit adjacent to Martin’s at 253 North Greene was General Greene Grill. Along with Peter Pan Cafe (now a convenience store two blocks south) this was where the area’s gay gentlemen not-so-surreptitiously congregated from the 1950s into the ’70s. Apparently, it was obvious to just about anyone who unknowingly meandered in.

This was Greensboro’s Tenderloin District, such as it was, where young men passing by the General Greene would hear someone from the lunch counter shout out, “Fresh meat!” Institutional memories linger, gay men were still cruising Commerce Street, half a block west, well into the 1990s.

The unit next door sports a fanciful façade with Italianate-inspired columns and mantels highlighting the second floor.

Jefferson Standard Life Insurance’s one-story Greensboro sales office was situated across Bellemeade (today supplanted by Charles Aris’ high-tech headquarters). In 1973, the Odd Fellows constructed their two-story Buena Vista No. 21 lodge hall next door, incorporating what had been Jefferson’s side parking deck and dramatic porte-cochère for their front lot. 

The Undercurrent Restaurant, just steps from the Odd Fellows Lodge, is a magnificent 21st-century reclamation project of a stately 1951 building, a stunning makeover from grimy to glam. Customers of Dixie Sales & Service would scarcely believe this was where transmissions, drivetrains, STP, Delco batteries and the like were sold and installed. Dixie operated here for more than half a century.

The entire structure, including the attached former repair garage (converted into office space) was thoroughly and completely re-imagined in 2006 before Undercurrent moved in. Elongated picture windows were carved into the building’s sides for added brightness; impressive touches adorn the roomy interior. Undercurrent’s open-face frontage with glass-brick accents still echoes how it looked all those years ago, only now instead of fixing cars it’s fixing some of Greensboro’s finest food in elegant surroundings.

Holding down the corner of Battleground and West Lindsay are two more erstwhile storefronts, both thriving in modern times. Uncorking fine wines for almost 20 years at this location, Zeto’s showroom was, back in the day, our local Sherwin-Williams dealer. Across Lindsay was Milton R. Barnes Furriers from the 1930s until the mid-1970s when this building briefly housed Dr. Music. Currently, it’s a State Farm Insurance broker’s office.

Next, along the 400 block of Battleground is the quasi-Moderne –Spivey Office Building, the King Korn Redemption Center was an occupant in ’68, where shoppers traded books of stamps they’d collected from retailers, basically loyalty points, for appliances and home furnishings.

Everyone who was anyone recovered their living room heirlooms at Murphy’s Drapery and Upholstery Shop on the corner of Battleground and Smith Street. That sturdy dark brick plant with large, metal-framed showroom windows is currently an artist’s studio and law offices.

Across Battleground stands another downtown stalwart, Smith Street Diner. When this two-story multi-use was completed in 1936, Gus Moutafis Restaurant and Legion Barber Shop were the initial ground floor tenants. Moutafis also resided in the Burke Apartments upstairs until, a couple of years later, the restaurateur relocated, opening the aptly named Carolina Lunch across from the Carolina Theatre where he plated plantation-style fare for decades.

With a loyal clientele, James Everhart continued barbering at Legion’s original site until around 1966. It’s where many a baby boomer got their first clipping.

By 1968, Lanier’s Soda Shop had combined both street-level spaces for dishing out hot fudge sundaes and banana splits. From 1977 until 2000, Robinson’s Restaurant made this their “Home of good food and friendly atmosphere” before Smith Street Diner started slinging old-fashioned country-style platters tasting very much like what you’d have been served at dozens of downtown eateries a half-century ago. Smith Street Diner’s food is so popular, eager weekend patrons, jockeying to be seated, can be seen crowding the sidewalk out front.

A time traveler from 1968, gazing south from Battleground and Smith, would find these surroundings surprisingly recognizable. Nearby auto repair shops dating back to the 1930s are still doing their thing, and everywhere you look there’s a sense of architectural continuity, in itself a rarity.

Here’s hoping O.Henry Square retains its singular charm well into the future so folks continue flocking to this funky oasis where architectural antiquities from a long-gone era heighten our understanding of how past and present interconnect, enhancing our quality of life in meaningful but immeasurable ways.   OH

Billy Eye moved downtown in 1997 when folks would say, “Why would you want to live downtown? There’s nothing but bums there!” Contact him at billy@tvparty.com. 

The Literary Beat

The Book Lover

The American Library Association taps Triad local Wanda Brown as its next president

By Cynthia Adams

Wanda Brown, recently installed president-elect of the American Library Association, has spent her lifetime observing the power of the written word. Director of library services at Winston-Salem State University, Brown says that “stories shape the lens of how you view life.” Now, she is training her lens upon a new kind of public library, and Brown will use the ALA’s international platform to become an agent of that change.

A lifelong love of stories and storytelling is only one source of Brown’s progressive vision for libraries, which casts them as the vibrant heart of community life. 

In a changing community dynamic, libraries are thrust into roles requiring them to be much more than repositories of books and periodicals. Today, they are pressed into a far different kind of public service, a fact made evident by librarians like Brown. 

Libraries provide enrichment for the mind and physical shelter during storms and extremes of weather — oftentimes a safe harbor for those with nowhere else to go and no place to belong. 

“I think that our community would be stronger if libraries took the lead,” Brown says. “Libraries are all about being open and welcoming and inclusive, committed to making a difference.”

Belonging is a common thread in Brown’s personal narrative. She says she “carries a great story within her,” and it is one borne of hardship. It has uniquely equipped her for a role for which she seems destined. Her personal story is underscored with determination to prove herself — a familiar prescription for high achievers. 

Brown grew up during the 1950s in a foster home down east in Elizabethtown, N.C. Her father learned to read alongside her and her brother at the kitchen table. “My mother and father were older, they were 50, and kind of rigid. But my father valued education. He couldn’t read when he first adopted us; his mother had died and he had to go into the fields and work as a child. When I came home, with my books, he would sit with me. I watched him teach himself how to read.”

She ascended from difficult beginnings to become an accomplished faculty member and associate dean at Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University, having earned her graduate degree  — as a working adult with a young child — in Library and Information Science from UNCG.

In 2016, she assumed the position of director at C.G. O’Kelly Library at Winston-Salem State, the same institution where she had graduated with a B.A. in English (of course) and psychology in 1977. Brown describes that move as “coming home.” As she tells it, she was thrilled to come full circle, to the place where her journey with higher education began. Here at WSSU, she felt she could make the impact that she craved most.

“I always had the dream, that if I was going to be a director, I wanted to be a director at Winston-Salem State . . . to make a difference in students who looked like me.”

As a biracial 6-year-old child, whose white birth mother placed her with the family who would adopt her and her younger brother, Brown developed a drive to succeed — “Maybe subconsciously to prove a value or worth,” she explains, as she was preparing to leave for New Orleans to accept the ALA presidency, one of the highest roles a librarian can attain. (It is also an honor determined by her peers.)

“No child who is adopted doesn’t have those moments,” she adds, describing how she struggled with the pain of abandonment. 

“Either way, I am now committed to helping those around me and helping those who cannot help themselves.” With the ALA behind her, she has a forum to do so.

Brown is the first librarian from a historically Black college or university to become the ALA president. The ALA was founded in 1876 during the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. It now has an international reach with nearly 60,000 members around the world. 

Books, of course, are the currency of any librarian, and Brown’s favorite writer is Carole Boston Weatherford, an African-American author who now lives in North Carolina. But she doesn’t hesitate to name her personal favorite novel. 

“The very best book I’ve read in my life was The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd,” she says, stressing that she related to the themes of loss and love. “Although, most of the things I read are leadership things, self-help, the Harvard Business Review. I enjoy reading.”

She has taken on many professional leadership roles. During her career, Brown had served as the president of both the North Carolina Library Association and the Black Caucus of the ALA.  She was the 2015 recipient of the DEMCO/Black Caucus Award for Excellence in Librarianship and the 2013 University of North Carolina-Greensboro School of Education’s Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award.

But now, Brown has a rare and global reach in her newest challenge.

In New Orleans, Brown was thrust onto a national stage, surrounded by a surprising number of famous writers and luminaries, including former First Lady Michelle Obama. 

When the ALA convened in late June the opening address was delivered by Obama, whose memoir Becoming will be released in November this year. 

Other celebrity authors attending the ALA meeting included actors Sally Field, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Viola Davis. The ALA’s agenda included filmmaker and writer Emilio Estevez, whose new film, The Public, was screened.

The film, which stars Alec Baldwin, Jeffrey Wright and Taylor Schilling, along with actual patrons of the Cincinnati public library, had multiple screenings during the ALA meeting. It speaks to the complicated role of public libraries, depicting precisely how the Cincinnati library’s patrons, many of them homeless, seek shelter among its stacks and reading rooms when the city is hit with “a bitter Arctic blast.” 

As Estevez dramatically illustrates, the patrons and library staff have forged personal relationships. After the ALA screenings, he moderated discussions of the film along with the director of a homeless shelter, underscoring the broader civic responsibility of public institutions.

The emerging role of a library as sanctuary is a growing focus for librarians like Brown who are thrust into social action. She envisions summer academies based in libraries, where children in need can have a sandwich and also find mental and psychological nourishment. 

“We must reach across the community to say, ‘There are students in the classroom where the love of learning is being so washed from them by third grade, it’s no wonder they are in prison by 13.’  If those young boys are identified in second or third grade as potentially in trouble, the public libraries say, ‘Hey, we’ll bring the basketball players in, we’ll have them eat some, play some, read some, and have an academy. Right here!’”

Learning, too, is a crucial form of nourishment. Even more than books, Brown insists that “my greatest love is people. So, I do think that has been the driving force in my life, a desire to give.” 

Deprivation has inspired Brown’s sense of generosity, imparting a worldview that is compassionate and inclusive. She firmly believes her early struggle has taught her lessons in empathy and the pain of exclusion. 

To that end, new initiatives for ALA will address becoming inclusive, says Brown.

“The primary emphasis was the profession itself is not diverse. I would love to have something around diversity and inclusion. We, the ALA, do awesome things, but I don’t think we tell our stories enough, and make people aware of the differences we make in the communities we serve.”  OH

Cynthia Adams (inklyadams@aol.com) worked in the Walter Clinton Jackson library at UNCG as a student in the 1970s, when only the librarians could access the Internet, searches were charged by the page and the card catalog was crucial. Social action? Not so much.

In The Spirit

Spa Water with a Kick

A flavored gem from Durham Distillery

By Tony Cross

In the past, I’ve complained about North Carolina ABC stores rolling out the red carpet for copious bottles of flavored vodkas. Though I still find this to be the case, there are exceptions. Full disclosure: I’ve tried a friend or date’s cocktail — you’re sharing a sip if we’re hanging out together — that tasted quite delicious, only to find out that the base spirit was a flavored vodka. It didn’t happen often, but it happened. However, the only time I was completely wowed by a flavored vodka straight was the first time I kicked back a sample of Durham Distillery’s Cucumber Vodka.

On an early spring day last year, my father accompanied me to a meeting in Durham. “Just please don’t say anything,” I pleaded. I inherited the gift of gab from him, so I know that when he gets going, it’s hard to stop. Pops riding along ended up being a good idea. He’s in shape, has a silver handlebar mustache, wears dark shades, black clothing, and looks like a badass. Actually, he is a badass; he served 20 years in Special Forces. So, with my dad standing 6 feet behind me while I made my pitch, it looked like I had a bodyguard. Ka-ching. As soon as the meeting was over, we stepped outside, high-fived, and made our way down the street to Durham Distillery.

We were greeted by co-owner Melissa Katrincic. Her husband, Lee, the head distiller and co-owner, joined us. They gave us the grand tour, explaining how their Conniption gin is distilled. The Katrincics are both scientists, and that’s how they approach their distilling. My dad doesn’t drink gin, but he’ll try anything once, and if he likes it, he’ll have it again. Melissa is chatting away with Pops, while Lee is answering my questions. Before I know it, samples of their American Dry and Navy Strength gins are being offered, and oblige them we did. The gin seemed to immediately “get good” to Pops, and all I could do was smile and revel in how quickly he can go from 0-to-60 in storytelling mode. In the midst of his explaining one of his past adventures, I noticed Melissa starting to pour a different liquid into a taster glass.

My dad’s story stopped dead in its tracks and he asked, “All right! What’s next?” Lee and Melissa explained that this was their cucumber vodka. They had used it in the past as a component in some of their gins but had decided they were going to bottle it on its own in North Carolina. One sip, and we were both blown away. On our way back to Southern Pines, the conversation kept circling back around to, “My God, I can’t wait until they release that vodka.”

Later I reached out to Lee, asking him to explain how he’s able to capture the pure essence of the cucumbers in each batch of vodka. Unlike other flavored vodkas, which are basically just a distilled vodka with an extract added, Durham Distillery’s tastes like fresh cucumber slices have completely filled up the bottle. It’s no wonder Lee and Melissa say it’s like “spa water with a kick.”

“The cucumber vodka is the only cucumber vodka on the market distilled under vacuum (no heat applied) with no artificial flavors or added sugar. Most others you see will be extract-based. With ours, only alcohol and fresh sliced cucumbers are used to make it,” Lee says. They handpick their cucumbers, which are peeled and sliced, then put in a pot on their vacuum still. “Our corn-base ethanol is added to the pot and the still is sealed. The vacuum still only has a 5-gallon capacity, so it’s made in very small batches. A vacuum pump removes all the air from the still. Under the reduced pressure, the ethanol boils around room temperature. So, all that great cucumber flavor is being extracted and subsequently distilled without any heat. The cucumber distillate we get off the vacuum still is around 185-proof, so we add our deionized water to cut it down to 80-proof for bottling.” Did you get all of that? In short: hand-picked, small-batch, science, alcohol, delicious.

Last year I wrote an article praising Durham Distillery’s Conniption gins, and pleading for them to get a spot on our ABC shelves. In addition to their gins and vodka, they also make excellent chocolate, coffee and mocha liqueurs.

Durham Distillery’s gin is also sold in London. London. Melissa and Lee were inducted into the United Kingdom Gin Guild. Lee says that the guild is 300 years old, and he and his wife are only the fourth and fifth U.S. distillers ever inducted and the only ones from the South. We’re lucky to have such an amazing distillery, producing top-notch spirits. Once you get your hands on their cucumber vodka, try this easy spin on a Moscow Mule I whipped up:

Cuke Mule

2 ounces Durham Distillery Cucumber Vodka

4-5 ounces ginger beer

4 dashes Angostura

Candied ginger and cucumber slices (garnish)

Pour vodka into a rocks glass, add ice and ginger beer. Top with bitters. Garnish with candied ginger and cucumber slices.   OH

Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.


Summertime Blues

Late summer brings the arrival of the little blue heron

By Susan Campbell

Late summer can be an especially exciting time for those of us who are birders. We need not travel far to find unexpected visitors, especially when tropical weather blows birds off track and they show up as close as our backyards. 

Often these strays are here for only hours. Other times, they stick around in response to environmental conditions that bring them our way.

One late summer visitor to look for is the little blue heron, only don’t expect it to be blue. That’s because young blue herons, which these inland wanderers almost always are, are covered with white feathers — except for the very tips of their wings. And for those with really sharp eyes, the bill of these small herons is pinkish or grayish and the legs are greenish unlike the bright yellow legs of the great or snowy egret, which also may turn up in the Piedmont or Sandhills at this time of year.

These beautiful white waders are best spotted in shallow wet habitats: streams, small ponds, water hazards, retention areas or other places with standing water. Little blue herons may be seen all by themselves or mixed with other long-legged waders. You may even spot them standing alongside the much larger great blue heron. Little blues can be identified by their more upright foraging posture and slow, deliberate movements. And watch for their downward angled bills as they stalk prey. Unlike other small waders, they will hunt in deeper water, often all the way up to their bellies. Little blues hunt not only small fish but frogs, crawfish and large aquatic insects.  It is thought that their coloration allows them to blend in inconspicuously with similar white species, which offers the juveniles protection. Foraging alongside great egrets also seems to afford little blue herons an advantage as these larger birds stir up the water, flushing up a meal for nearby little blues.

It takes little blue herons at least a year to develop adult plumage — not unlike white ibis that can also be found breeding along our coast. (By contrast, great blue herons sport dark plumage their first summer and fall.) Adult little blue herons may have a pied appearance for a time in late winter or early spring. But by April they will turn a slaty, blue-gray all over, with a handsome bluish bill. Unlike other wading birds, they lack showy head or neck plumes. They are also unique in having projections on their middle toes that form a comb, which is used as an aid when grooming.

Unfortunately this species has experienced an alarming drop in population numbers over the past half century across North America. Loss of coastal wetland habitat, continued declines in water quality, as well as being shot as a nuisance in fish hatcheries all are thought to be contributing to the decline. So be sure to stop and appreciate these stately, though smaller birds should you come across one — wherever you happen to be. OH

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos.  She can be contacted by email at susan@ncaves.com.

Simple Life

Last Days of the Yard King

A final summer of innocence is shelter from the storm

By Jim Dodson

That July I owned the neighborhood. Or at least my block.

It was 1968. I was 15, towing a wheezing Lawn-Boy push mower behind a well-traveled Schwinn Deluxe Racer with chrome-plated fenders and dual side baskets. My mother called me Jimmy the Yard King.

Actually, I had three jobs that summer. One was mowing half a dozen lawns in the neighborhood at a time before lawn crews were commonplace and customers could phone your parents if they didn’t like the job you did.

The second was a weekend job as an usher at the newly opened Terrace Theatre, where I was required to wear a snazzy tangerine orange, double-knit sports jacket with a black, clip-on bow tie. The jacket matched the theater’s innovative “rocking chair” seats. My job was to keep kids from violently rocking their brains out and disturbing other customers by banging their knees. This often resulted in my giving chase to truants hopped up on candy.

That summer I also had my first job teaching guitar two mornings a week at Mr. Weinstein’s music shop — for five dollars an hour, no less.

Given my combined income, my mom joked that she might have to someday ask me for a loan. I was saving up for either an Alvarez guitar or a Camaro, which ever came first.

The year 1968 has been called “The Year that Shattered America.”

Looking back, it was the year we both began to lose our innocence.

Being a son of the newspaper world, I paid close attention to the news, read the paper daily and never missed Uncle Walter on his evening broadcast.

That year, for the first time, the Tet Offensive by the Viet Cong brought the horrors of the war in Southeast Asia home to 56 million American TV sets. On my birthday that February, I saw the iconic photograph of a South Vietnamese general publically executing a Viet Cong prisoner. The picture shocked Americans, stoked the anti-war movement and turned millions of Americans against the war. One month later, the My Lai massacre that killed more than 500 civilians but wasn’t revealed and investigated for another year — all but finished off public support for the war.

That spring I taught myself how to play every song on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and started performing around town with my buddy Craig Corry who lived two doors away on Dogwood Drive. We wound up placing third in the city’s teenage talent show that next fall and made an appearance on Lee Kinard’s Good Morning Show, our first and last TV appearance.

On a breezy afternoon that April, I was playing golf with my dad when we heard that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. We watched riots break out in Detroit and the Poor People’s March on Washington, D.C. happen on TV. Commentators wondered if America was coming apart at the seams, heading for revolution in the streets.

I was more interested that the Broadway smash musical, Hair, featured live and fully naked people on stage. I couldn’t fathom it but sure wished I could see it.

On the plus side that summer that America was going to hell in a hand basket, as Mr. Huff down the street always grumbled when I showed up to collect my $8 for mowing his lawn, I took Ginny Silkworth to the Cinema Theater to see Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. It was great. I fell in love with Shakespeare and, in a way, Ginny Silkworth. She was my first date ever. We grew up attending the same church group. Unfortunately my dad had to drive us to the theater, under strict orders not to say anything embarrassing.

After the movie, Ginny, a deep thinker with a warm and horsy laugh, wondered what I planned to do with my life. I told her I planned to write books, probably travel the world, play my guitar, mow lawns and maybe move to England. She punched me on the arm and laughed adorably. Ginny and I stayed in touch for decades. She went on to become a gifted schoolteacher in Philadelphia and passed away from breast cancer many years ago. I miss her still, especially her wonderful laugh. 

Earlier that summer, Robert Kennedy was gunned down after winning the California Democratic primary. My mother really liked Bobby Kennedy. We watched his funeral train together and she actually cried. My dad was a half-hearted Nixon guy. My mom used to joke that she did her patriotic duty by cancelling out his vote in the voting booth.

By July I was deep into my lawn-mowing life, guitar-playing, trying to forget what was going on in America. I hated the usher job at the Terrace so much I handed in my elegant orange usher’s jacket in early August, blaming my family’s annual beach trip to the Hanover Seaside Club at Wrightsville Beach.

We went there every year for at least half a dozen years, though this would be the final time. I loved the Seaside’s unfancy dining room, its cool wooden floors and big porches where I could sit for hours in a real rocking chair and read. I read Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair that summer, getting hopelessly addicted to his storytelling. I also finished John LeCarré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, picturing myself mowing a lawn in some far-flung, sun-mused outpost of the British Empire, a spy in short pants, enjoying a gin and tonic with some sultry blond who looked like Tuesday Weld.

That week a family from southern Ohio was visiting the Seaside Club. A pretty girl named Sandy was reading Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, bare feet tucked up in the rocker just down the porch. We struck up a conversation and took a walk on Johnny Mercer’s Pier. Sandy told me that we humans were destroying the world, killing the oceans with our garbage and fighting an unwinnable war. She told me she was going to become an “environmental activist” like her aunt who was attending the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as a delegate from Ohio. The Seaside Club didn’t have a TV set, so there was no way to see what was happening in Chicago. We heard, however, that there were police riots and lots of injuries at the convention when Chicago’s mayor turned the police loose on Yippies and the Students for a Democratic Society who tried to crash the party.

For the rest of the week we were pretty much inseparable. Sandy was a year older and half a head taller than me. She was no Tuesday Weld but I liked her a lot. Like me, she was crazy about books and movies.

The Graduate was playing at the Crest Theater in Wrightsville Beach. She suggested we go see it. That year the Motion Picture Association of America instituted its film rating service, serving as a guideline for parents anxious about a movie’s content. I was worried about getting in. You were supposed to be at least 16 but the lady working the box office took one look at Sandy, then me, and let us in for a buck and a quarter each. Sandy didn’t care for the movie but I loved it.

The night before her family headed home to Ohio, we talked until midnight while seated on a stack of canvas rafts stacked beneath the Seaside Club. My family was staying through the Labor Day weekend, our final days there. The next night, I gigged a huge flounder in the tidal flats off Bald Head Island and wondered if I would ever hear from Sandy again. She actually wrote me a couple of times and I wrote her back. In 1974, a F5 tornado flattened her hometown of Xenia, Ohio, killing something like 100 people and leaving 10,000 homeless. I never heard from Sandy again. I like to think she’s somewhere in the world saving the planet.

Back home, with school starting, I still had a few weeks of decent lawn-mowing income to count on, plus teaching guitar for Mr. Weinstein. I knew all the dogs in the neighborhood, those which were friendly and those that weren’t. I knew the better-looking moms, too. When you’re 15 and King of Yards, you notice such things.

Looking back from half a century, life seems deceptively simpler then, so far away from the anti-war protests, the burning cities, the murder of visionary leaders, the riots, the raised fists at the summer Olympics, Nixon winning the White House, O.J. winning the Heisman.

“And stones in the road/Flew out beneath our bicycle tires. . . ” as my favorite singer Mary Chapin Carpenter remembers in her beautiful anthem to that moment in America’s life. “Worlds removed from all those fires/ As we raced each other home. . . ”

I rode my bike everywhere that summer, pretty much for the last time.

I mowed lawns, ate my first Big Mac, kissed Ginny Silkworth and had part of me awakened by a spirited girl named Sandy. I taught myself to play every song on Revolver. I went to Scout camp for the final time, did the Mile Swim twice, finished off my Life Scout award, built a nature walk at my elementary school for my Eagle project. My Yard King days came to an end.

Fifty years later, I can remember these things like they happened yesterday, and wonder what a 15-year-old in America thinks about in 2018.

History, I’ve learned, may not repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes like a Mary Chapin song.

“And the stones in the road/Leave a mark from whence they came/A thousand points of light or shame/Baby, I don’t know.”  OH

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at jim@thepilot.com.

Poem: August 2018


Let loose in the pasture, bays, chestnuts, grays,

and paints graze beneath blue skies, their coats

shining like copper pots. And scattered around

their feet, creeping buttercups, yellow as freshly

grated lemon zest — each petal clustered around

the center, creating a corolla of color so dazzling,

they rival the sun’s golden light. And it is quiet

here, the way a room is quiet but not silent, with

the sporadic whinnies and wickers of contented

horses, the buzzing of bees, the croaking of frogs

in a nearby creek — a low hum of pleasing sounds.

But it is mostly about the light, this idyllic scene,

how bright it shines on a horse’s satiny skin, how

all the flowers cup their yellow palms to catch it.

— Terri Kirby Erickson