Remembering the 1960s

Jerry Bledsoe was there – and has his say in a fun new memoir

Jerry Bledsoeís new memoir, Do-Good Boy: An Unlikely Writer Confronts the ‘60s and Other Indignities, describes how the fledgling writer — who would go on to become a celebrated reporter, columnist and author — brushed against some of the most significant events of the era: the Cold War and the gathering storm in Vietnam, the space race, and the civil rights movement.

He also witnessed firsthand the emergence of rock legend Jimi Hendrix, who appeared with his band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, as the opening act for The Monkees at a July 12, 1967 concert at the Greensboro Coliseum. In the following excerpt, Bledsoe details the showmanship of Hendrix, who was dressed in tight black velvet bell-bottoms, long love beads, heavy ornamental rings and a bandana tucked into his Afro. He kicked off the set with “Purple Haze” and closed it with a cover of “Wild Thing,” which he’d played the month before at the Monterey Pop Festival before setting his guitar on fire.

On this night he swept through the tune playing the guitar in every way it could be manipulated, switching early on from his left hand to his teeth, creating sounds I didn’t know a guitar could make and causing me to wonder how many teeth he still could call his own. Shifting from his teeth, he played his abused Fender Stratocaster upside-down and backwards, over his head, behind his back, between his legs. He even got down on the floor and plucked it with his toes. At one point, back on his feet, he appeared to be having sex with it. As he neared climax, he began swinging his instrument in the air, slammed it to the floor and jumped up and down on it. He seemed upset that he wasn’t inflicting enough damage, and as his fellow band members continued playing furiously, he picked up the guitar by its neck, swung it around knocking down microphone stands and began beating it on the floor until pieces started flying. He didn’t set it on fire, perhaps because it might have gotten him arrested in Greensboro because flames weren’t allowed in Coliseum performances.

Hendrix strutted off stage sweating profusely. The audience seemed stunned, uncertain how to respond. As he passed our group of applauding and smiling admirers, he muttered, “Let ’em ****in’ little Monkees top that!”  OH
Maria Johnson    

Story of a House

Rooms with a View

Dennis Howard’s high-tech, front-row seat to the Wyndham Championship

By Maria Johnson     Photographs by Amy Freeman

Talk about efficient.

Dennis Howard’s new home packs value on several fronts, one of which happens to be in the back: a verdant view of Sedgefield Country Club’s golf course, home of this month’s Wyndham Championship, a home-stretch tourney for PGA players who are trying to amass enough points to qualify for the upcoming FedExCup playoffs.

Howard, a commercial builder and passionate duffer, moved to the new home last summer, just before the Wyndham teed off. He didn’t unpack in time to entertain, but this year, he plans to invite friends and family to check out his new digs — and the waves of golfers and galleries washing through the first green and second tee, a segue bracketed by his panoramic view.

Howard lives here thanks to his late wife and college sweetheart, Cynthia, who died in 2015. A couple of years before that, she told him about a golf-course lot that was for sale on Gaston Road about 2 miles from where they lived on Old Onslow Road, overlooking Hole 14. Cynthia, a real estate agent, was eager to buy the lot on the first hole.

“We didn’t know what we were going to do with it,” says Howard. “We bought it because it was such a good lot. She said, ‘We need to hang onto that; it’s a nice piece of property.’ “

Howard, who builds office-warehouse spaces, snapped up the lot and held it while he devoted himself to caring for Cynthia, who was fighting cancer. He regrets nothing about their final years together.

“We were closer than we’d ever been,” he says. “We spent so much time together.”

After Cynthia passed, Howard decided to build on the vacant lot and sell the two-story home they’d shared for 28 of their 48 years together.

“There were just a lot of memories,” he says. “It’s not like I wanted to forget about her, but it was kind of overwhelming.”

He took his longtime friend, architect Carl Myatt, to lunch and told him about the lot. After lunch, they toured the site, which slopes sharply to the street. Howard wanted his house to sit on the high side, not only for the golf-course view, but also to avoid the creek at the base of the hill. He wanted the home to be one-story so he could age without worrying about stairs. He wanted all doors to be wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. He wanted four bedrooms, enough space for his four grandchildren to visit. He wanted a three-car garage with room for a golf cart (read: grandchild taxi). He wanted a home office. He wanted an open, airy design with 10-foot ceilings and 8-foot doors scaled to the ceiling. He wanted energy efficiency.

Above all, he wanted to showcase the prize view and create plenty of inviting spots to watch golfers and nature.

Myatt obliged by drawing a plan that maximizes the vantage point and minimizes the energy costs.

“It’s probably the best home for energy control that I’ve ever done,” says Myatt.

The bricks-and-mortar result, built by D. Stone Builders, is a 3,400-square-foot model of comfort, utility and scenic oomph.

The heart of the U-shaped home parallels the golf course, with views from every vital room: The master suite; the great room, which is topped with a tongue-in-groove fir ceiling; the cozy den, which is linked to the great room by a see-through fireplace; and a vanilla-hued kitchen decked with chocolate-chip granite. A russet streak in the granite flows like a river across the island and countertops. A screened porch off the kitchen allows for bug-free dining and leads to an open porch hemmed by a knee wall.

Teresa Garrett, a designer for builder Stone, helped Howard with myriad cosmetic decisions. She picked the cabinets and hardware, as well as the granites and tiles, including the iridescent tile that was used to create a waterfall wall in the glass-enclosed master shower.

More glass wraps a sun porch off the master suite — “It’s a good place to watch it rain, too,” Howard says.

The bedroom also sprouts a home office with a golf-course view; Myatt fit the office into a narrow space by using kitchen-style cabinets and countertops to maximize the work surface and storage.

“It’s well laid-out, thanks to Carl,” says Howard.

Myatt also heeded his client’s wishes by creating an easy flow of traffic and sight lines in the long axis of the house.

“If you’re in the kitchen, you’re able to look in the great room, through the fireplace and into the den. You can see the master-suite door, and you can see who’s coming and going through the front door,” says Myatt.

He tucked a guest room against the main corridor so visitors would wade into the flow instantly. He recessed one wall of the guest room to accommodate a bank of built-in closets and cabinets on the other side, in what would have been a blank wall in a side hallway.

Score another point for efficiency, a reflection of Howard’s priorities.

“Any good architect can take the pieces and come up with a solution,” says Myatt. “But you have to capture the personality of the person with the siting and with the arrangement of spaces to suit his needs.”

Howard, who took an engineering degree from N.C. State and served in the U.S. Air Force before coming to Greensboro to sell heating and air conditioning systems, knew exactly what he wanted in terms of the home’s technical features.

He worked with Frank Marrara, Stone’s director of construction, to pick materials for a maintenance-free exterior (see brick, vinyl and metal surfaces). To conserve energy, a heat shield made from a lightweight film developed by the U.S. space program, lies between the studs and the sheetrock, enveloping the house. During construction, Howard said, “It looked like the whole thing was wrapped in aluminum foil.”

Crews paid close attention to taping seams in the heat shield, especially around outlets and ducts, and to friction-fitting rolls of insulation between the studs.

“The installation of material is critical in energy design,” says architect Myatt. “Not everybody can do it. You can’t have the person who was a plumber last week do the installation this week.”

Installers also taped and caulked generously around doublepaned, argon gas-filled doors and windows made by high-end manufacturer Sun.

“The windows are more energy efficient than the walls,” says Howard.

No-mullion glass in every portal provides unobstructed views, and triple locks on the doors mean extra security and tight seals to keep air from leaking in or out. An air lock at the front door — two sets of doors separated by a short foyer — does the same.

“The crawl space is encapsulated,” says Howard. “Instead of insulating under the floor, they insulated the walls of the crawl space and put down a vapor barrier on the ground,” he says.

His friend Harry Boody at Scientific Environmental Design mapped out a heating and cooling system that filters the air more than most home systems do.

“It’s almost hospital-quality air,” says Howard.

He estimates that all of the high-tech, energy-sipping features added 20 percent to the price tag of his new home, but it’s el-cheapo to maintain.

“I’m averaging, with heating and cooling together, for the first year, $74 a month,” he says. “When the bill comes in, I look at it and smile.”

He also grins at the changing vista behind his home. Spring ushers in birds and blossoms; summer brings a palette of greens, fall paints the landscape with toasty colors; and winter outlines the boughs of a distant evergreen in frost and snow.

“It makes a nice Christmas scene,” he says.

The home also gives him enough to-dos — up next is an outdoor fireplace — to put some plans on his horizon.

“This is the best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time,” he says.   OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine.

Life of Jane

Garden of Plenty

Reading, rereading and speed-reading children’s classics suspends time

By Jane Borden

I often wonder if the writers of children’s books would approve of how I abridge their works as my toddler speed-turns the pages. She was most aggressive about it between 18 months and 2 years. I think she had confused reading with the act of flipping paper.

She isn’t wrong. With a book, function is form. And there certainly are endless tomes to flip through, so let’s not delay. Besides, she quotes the books to me, so our pace can’t be diminishing comprehension much. I suppose every generation consumes content faster and with more discretion than the previous cohort. She may have been born to speed-read.

Although I appreciate the convenience of a truncated bedtime routine, her haste sometimes leads to a role reversal, in which I request we slow down. This especially happens when we read a book from my own youth. The Very Hungry Caterpillar remains as charming and beautiful as it ever was, as does A Color of His Own, their staying power a result of their stories’ simplicity. A caterpillar prepares for and undergoes a transition — it’s an inexhaustible metaphor. The chameleon feels different until it finds another like itself — a fundamental shared human experience. Did I understand these meanings as a child? Does Louisa now?

Mom remembers me begging for books. Dad says he often fell asleep at my side before I did while reading to me. I don’t remember. One privilege of parenthood is the opportunity to glimpse back at your own childhood — the way you understood the world before you started making memories of it — through the eyes and experiences of a child. By studying my daughter’s engagement, I can touch myself through time.

Eager to facilitate such time-traveling experiments, I ordered a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. The collection of poems, first published in 1885, was a staple of my early years, as well as of my parents’ childhoods. My mother’s mother, Lou Tucker — known to us as Nana and for whom my daughter is named — often quoted “Time to Rise” on mornings when we slept at her house on West Newlyn Street. 

A birdie with a yellow bill

Hopped upon the windowsill,

Cocked his shining eye and said:

“Ain’t you ’shamed, you sleepyhead!”

My dad had forgotten the poem’s origin and thought he knew it from her. Later, when he read A Child’s Garden of Verses to my sisters and me, he rediscovered the poem in the book, to his delight. Now my sister Tucker quotes “Time to Rise” to her boys. The first time I read it to Louisa, she asked, “What’s he name?”

Louisa wants every illustrated character to be accounted for by moniker. If a story doesn’t specify a name for a pictured character, she’ll ask, “What’s she name?”

Sometimes I reply, “I don’t know. What do you think her name is?”


“Ellie sounds right,” I agree, and continue reading. Other times, when she asks, I spit forth whatever name pops into my head, without breaking stride. Either way, if ever she stops me from turning a page, I know that somewhere on that spread is a character in need of appellation. Presumably, as a child, I also saw people that way, as incomplete — or at least inscrutable — until they were named. Perhaps this is the root of the story in Genesis, when Adam names the animals, to illustrate something fundamental in our brain development.

What I admire most about A Child’s Garden of Verses is how effectively Stevenson conjures the perspectives of children. The poems are often reveries, similar to play itself, exploring a moment or image, developing without purpose or direction. What a child describes to readers in “The Swing” is governed by the cycle of the swing itself. “Up in the air and over the wall,” there are “rivers and trees and cattle and all.” On the way back down, there is the “garden green”— until the child hurtles upward again. It is only three stanzas long, chronicling two repetitions of motion, yet it evokes in the reader the feeling of rushing up and down ad infinitum, seeing new lands only to have them disappear and be discovered again.

In “From a Railway Carriage,” a child literally just describes whatever appears in the train’s window as it rolls along, and then whatever appears next. It’s the poetry version of object permanence.

“The Land of Counterpane” is my favorite. Reading it to Louisa, when the book first arrived, it summoned such powerful sense memories that I suspect I memorized the poem for some school assignment or another. I paused upon finishing it, trying to pull shadows from my brain. She tugged at the page to turn it. I obliged and moved on, just as I did, presumably, after whatever prior reading since lost.

The narrator of the poem recalls being sick in bed and spreading his toys — leaden soldiers, ships, trees, and houses — over his bedsheet. He was the giant, he says, watching over the land of counterpane. It’s a simple and wholly pleasant image, as most of Stevenson’s are, and somehow is also nostalgic and melancholic.

This is Stevenson’s sleight of hand. A child plainly depicts an experience and it’s like he’s plunked a baited fishing line into your brain, catching and plucking out the same memory from your own childhood. I wonder if adults love the book more than children do — and which of the two he meant it for.

If the bulk of the book’s poems are indirectly nostalgic, a section of dedications at the end more overtly yearns. The author addresses family members and childhood playmates, calling on “time which none can bind.”

The last poem, “To Any Reader,” invites us to see other children “through the windows of this book” — children who are also playing in a garden or reading. But then Stevenson reveals the child to be a mirage, “For, long ago, the truth to say, / He has grown up and gone away, / And it is but a child of air / That lingers in the garden there.”

I’m not a Stevenson scholar, but I suspect this mirage child is the reader herself. For those of us prone to nostalgia, it is a comfort to be told I can’t reach her because it gives me permission to leave her alone. What’s she name? I can’t recall.

However, Stevenson does not seem to suggest that the impossibility of success should stem one’s efforts. And so I search for clues by watching Louisa, and I meanwhile enjoy the data she provides. Currently, she is the child of air she’ll never know, but whom I can.

My own mother says I made her pause on every page before letting her turn it, and that I caught her every time she tried to flip more than one at a time.  OH

As she currently speed-reads her way through Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Jane Borden finds it difficult to remember what he and she names are.

Wine Country

Summer’s Perfect Pairs

Taking advantage of August’s garden treasures

By Angela Sanchez

Summer is an abundant time, especially in the Sandhills. There’s an abundance of sun, heat, humidity and yummy produce. How amazing is it to eat a fresh, vine-ripened tomato in season? Heat-loving basil and oregano grow so rapidly you can’t pick them fast enough before they bolt. There’s sweet corn on the cob, lots and lots of zucchini, and yellow squash growing like weeds. Don’t forget the beautiful peaches so sweet and juicy we have to race the bugs for them. One of my personal favorites, the cucumber, is perfect this time of year, picked just before it gets too big and loses its sweetness. I love the way it protects itself from the blistering sun by hiding under its broad leaves and prickly vines.

My love of delicious, local summer produce is only equaled by my love of great wine and beer. So, naturally, I try to pair them as often and as well as possible. The following are some of my favorites, made with the goods we haul off our family farm, and using the cheeses and wines we love. They are simple and easily prepared without cooking. Let’s face it, who really wants to stand in the kitchen with an oven set at 450 or over a blistering outdoor grill when it’s already 95 and the humidity is 80 percent?

The summer tomato is one of nature’s most perfect fruits. Full of sweet, juicy flesh with a bright acidity, it needs a rich cheese like burrata, a fresh mozzarella with whole milk cream added. The rich and creamy fattiness of the cheese is a complement to the bright bite of the tomato. Slice the tomatoes and cheese thick and stack them or slice the tomato into pieces and set it alongside the burrata whole. Drizzle the best olive oil you can find over it. I suggest an herbal-infused or arbequina from Spain, with a pinch of sea salt like the solar-evaporated Sea Love Sea Salt from Wrightsville Beach. Add a crack or two of fresh ground black pepper. You can also use a flavored salt like smoked pepper or a citrus blend. The finishing touch is fresh basil and oregano cut and sprinkled to lend freshness and a peppery earthiness to the dish. Although not growing in season right now, you can toss in some of my favorite olives like the buttery green Castlevaltrano from Sicily to add a meaty richness. The accompanying wine needs to be clean, crisp and light. Gavi di Gavi of Italy has some weight and an almost oily mouthfeel along with a backbone of acidity. Some bright lemon and citrus notes make it a perfect pairing.

Zucchini can seem boring, but it can make a beautiful summer salad. Get it fresh and of the right size — at least the length of your hand and about 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter. A sharp vegetable peeler is all you need to make long slices, the more uneven the better. Lay them out on a large platter and drizzle with the same great Spanish olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and top with basil and oregano. I like thyme here also. Shave Parmigiano-Reggiano over it, the more the better. Use Italian Parmigiano, not an imitation. A cheese planer is the easiest tool but grated is another option. For a wine pairing I prefer rosé. French or Italian is always good, but for this I like a Spanish rosé with a bit more weight, like Mas Donis. It is a blend of grenache and tempranillo, rose-violet in color, fruity and herbal but clean. It holds up nicely to the richness and saltiness of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, but it’s not too heavy to overpower the delicate zucchini.

Last but not least, the cucumber cannot be denied when it is at its peak in season. You could pickle it, but why not try it with feta and a great marinade? Slice into 1/4-inch slices and toss in an olive oil marinade with garlic, salt, pepper and herbs. You can make the marinade in a jar and shake to mix. Pour it over the cucumbers and let them sit for 30 minutes to an hour. The feta should be top quality like the goat’s milk feta from Paradox Farm. It can be cut into cubes and marinated the same way, tossing them together. If you prefer, switch out the cucumbers for ripe peaches. No need to marinate them. With the cucumber and feta I prefer a light, easy drinking beer like Duck Hook from Southern Pines Brewery. With either version — cucumber or peach — a delicate and balanced sparkling wine such as 1928 Prosecco from Italy with just a hint of sweet fruit and a dry finish is just right. If you want something a bit drier, the 100 percent pinot noir, Jean-Baptiste Adam Cremant Sparkling Rosé from the Alsace region of France is yeasty and vibrant and tastes like summer, with strawberry and peach notes.

As we meander our way through August’s heat, be sure to enjoy its abundant produce and try something new while doing it. Drink well and think about keeping it light and refreshing, but stylish enough to add to the flavors of the season.  OH

Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and was lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.

Life’s Funny

Classically Gassed

Just a Note on Music Appreciation

By Maria Johnson

Once in a while, like most columnists, I like to dip into the ole email bag.

So this month, I’ll address a totally legit, 100 percent genuine plea from a reader.

“Dear Maria: I hope you can help with my totally legit, 100 percent genuine plea. As you know, because you are such a worldly person, we are on the threshold of the social season, which means I’ll be getting invitations to symphony concerts. Here’s the problem: Unless I’ve heard a piece of classical music in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, I am at a loss. I feel extremely guilty about this. Not really. But I’d appreciate your advice on how I can get more out of classical music. Yours truly, Khilda Wabbit.”

Thanks for writing, Khilda.

First of all, please know that you are not alone. In fact, you’re never going to believe this, but I have the exact same problem, which is exacerbated by the fact that my husband luvvvvvvvvs classical music, which often leads to the following, exchange in our home.

Him: Hey, there’s a great concert coming up with music by (insert the name a of long-dead, white dude with Farrah Fawcett hair). Want to go?

Me: (Insert scream of anguish)

Him: We could go to dinner at (insert the name of a restaurant I really like.)

Me: OK.

It wasn’t always this way.

In fact, our relationship with classical music started off smoothly. I think it was our second date when he asked if I wanted to go to a symphony concert.

At the time, I was more of a Prince fan, but I was like, “OK, sure,” because, you know, I’m not a total rube.

Heck, back in the olden days when I was a kid, my mom listened to classical music on public radio before public radio was a big thing.

We had a big vinyl record of Peter and the Wolf, so I was familiar with the fact that flutes were members of the bird section and that wolves played French horns.

My best friend’s mom was the music teacher at our elementary school, and she dragged, I mean treated, us to young people’s concerts by the local symphony orchestra.

Furthermore, I excelled at the mandatory trilling of spit-filled plastic recorders in the fourth grade, and my brother and I spent scores of Saturday mornings mesmerized by Warner Bros. cartoons, which were peppered with classical selections thanks to the genius and thrift of Carl Stalling, who knew that most classical music was in the public domain, i.e. free of licensing fees.

All of which is to say, I was very well prepared for this second date.

So the concert starts, and we’re soaking up some pretty music by — I dunno, someone — and Jeff’s getting into it, and I’m liking it, too, because I recognize the music. And I think, Now would be a good time to impress him, so I lean over and say: “This is from Bugs Bunny.”

And he nods and smiles. So I hit him with some deeper knowledge: “It’s from the scene where the sheep dog and the wolf are clocking into work with their lunch pails.”

And he nods. So I continue.

“And they say, “Mornin’, Ralph,’ “Mornin’, Sam,’ ”

And Jeff nods and goes, “Peer Gynt.”

And I’m thinking, “Wow, he even remembers who their friends were.”

If you’d asked me at the time, I’d have given classical music two thumbs up.

Then came our second concert. That’s when it hit me: Not every classical concert contains selections from Bugs Bunny.

Here’s what that concert sounded like to me:




Plus, I committed the cardinal sin, which is to say that I clapped between movements. You’d have thought I refused to pass the Grey Poupon.

Also, I might have whistled in there somewhere. It’s all a blur.

The upshot is this, Khilda: When you’re at a symphony concert, don’t clap until everyone else does. And just to be safe, don’t whistle.

Or draw in the margins of your program.

Or think that no one will notice if you hold your phone beside your leg and play Words with Friends.

Or calculate how many new episodes of Arrested Development you could be watching on Netflix in these two hours.

Noooo, Khilda, just calm yourself and focus on the music. Perhaps you, too, will come to understand that classical music enriches our lives. It’s all around us, especially in fancy grocery stores, where it is a sign that you are about to pay way too much for tomatoes. Also, it can be found in many movies and TV commercials.

You might know my favorite Richard Strauss piece, the one called Thus Spach Zarathustra, which he did for an Oreo Thins commercial a few years ago. Oh wait. I’m wrong. He wrote it a long time before that — for that scene in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, when the monkey figures out he can use an animal bone to bust up other animal bones.

Sorry about that.

It’s important to be accurate.

That’s why I’ll give you the full name of another beautiful piece — Fantasie Impromptu in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 66. — that Frederick Chopin wrote to accompany an awesome slow-motion skateboard jump in a recent Mountain Dew commercial.

Also, I am blown away by the ditty George Gershwin wrote for that United Airlines commercial. Rhapsody in Blue, I think he called it. Get it? Blue sky?

The point, Khilda, is that it takes effort to learn. On both sides. Orchestras are trying, too. Their audiences are shrinking (literally, because the average age of a concertgoer is approximately 204), so they’re trying to appeal to younger folks by stirring in multimedia accents (PIKSHURS! YAY!)

Finally, I’ll leave you with this hopeful note: If a concert ends early enough, there’s still time to catch dessert and coffee.   OH

Maria Johnson can be reached at

Scuppernong Bookshelf

World Enough and Time

August’s releases span the globe

Compiled by Brian Lampkin

Travel guru Rick Steves wrote an interesting book this year: Travel as a Political Act. Reading about the world might also constitute a kind of political act. In an era when simple curiosity about other cultures passes as a suspicious act, understanding and engaging in the culture and ideas of other places becomes downright radical. Here are some of August’s new releases from around the globe. Read them in public places.

August 7: Babylon, by Yasmina Reza (Seven Stories Press, $23.95). Winner of the Prix Renaudot and shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt, playwright and novelist Yasmina Reza’s books have been translated into more than 35 languages. Her play “Art” was the first translated play to win a Tony Award. This book is a truly original and masterful novel from one of the world’s most inventive and daring artists.

August 7: This Mournable Body, by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Graywolf, $16). Tsitsi Dangarembga is the author of two previous novels, including Nervous Conditions, winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. She is also the director of the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa Trust. She lives in Harare, Zimbabwe. Dangarembga’s tense and psychologically charged novel culminates in an act of betrayal — revealing just how toxic the combination of colonialism and capitalism can be.

August 7: Maeve in America: Essays by a Girl from Somewhere Else, by Maeve Higgins (Penguin, $16). Maeve Higgins is a contributing writer for The New York Times and the host of the hit podcast Maeve in America: Immigration IRL. She is a comedian who has performed all over the world, including in her native Ireland, Edinburgh, Melbourne and Erbil, Kurdistan. Now based in New York, she cohosts Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk, both the podcast and the TV show, on National Geographic Channel. Comedian John Hodgman says: “Maeve Higgins is brilliant; but her brilliance isn’t the braggy, headlight kind that tries to trap her subjects deer-like in a cold, dead glare. Instead, she lights every room she enters with warmth, welcome, and generous rays of sheer funny. And in this book, she illuminates the world.”

August 14: Ball Lightning, by Cixin Liu (Tor Books, $28.99). Cixin Liu is the most prolific and popular science fiction writer in the People’s Republic of China. Liu is an eight-time winner of the Galaxy Award (the Chinese Hugo) and a winner of the Chinese Nebula Award. Prior to becoming a writer, he worked as an engineer in a power plant. His novels include The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End. This novel explores what happens when the beauty of scientific inquiry runs up against the drive to harness new discoveries with no consideration of their possible consequences.

August 21: Brazil: A Biography, Lilia M. Schwarcz and Heloisa M. Starling (FSG, $40)For many Americans, Brazil is a land of contradictions: vast natural resources and entrenched corruption; extraordinary wealth and grinding poverty; beautiful beaches and violence-torn favelas. Brazil occupies a vivid place in the American imagination, and yet it remains largely unknown. In an extraordinary journey that spans 500 years, from European colonization to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, Lilia M. Schwarcz and Heloisa M. Starling’s Brazil offers a dramatic history of this complex country.

August 21: God of Shadows, by Lorna Crozier (McClelland & Stewart, $25) The celebrated poet hailed by Ursula K. Le Guin as a “storyteller, truth-teller, and visionary” gives us a mesmerizing new collection of poems. Crozier is the author of 16 previous books of poetry and lives in British Columbia. Even Canada has become worthy of suspicion in the new paradigm. Let’s cross the border together into the sanity of poetry.

August 28: We That Are Young, by Preti Taneja (Knopf, $27.95). Preti Taneja was born in England to Indian parents and spent most of her childhood holidays in New Delhi. She has worked as a human rights reporter and filmmaker in Iraq, Jordan, Rwanda, and Kosovo. A stunning debut novel, a modern-day King Lear set in contemporary India: the tale of a battle for power within a turbulent family, for status within a nation in a constant state of transformation, and for the love and respect of a father disappearing into dementia. OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.

A Passion for Palindromes

A Passion for Palindromes 

By William Irvine     Illustrations by Steven Guarnaccia

It all started when I discovered the mysterious connection between TUMS and SMUT. This childhood revelation (and the fact that I can read backward, a talent which I inherited from my mother) has led to a lifelong interest in collecting and inventing palindromes, words and phrases that read the same way forward and backward.

The cult of the palindromes owes its existence to Sotades of Maroneia, a Greek poet and satirist of the third century B.C., who invented palindromic verse and coined the term. The last century has produced J.A. Lindon and Leigh Mercer, British palindromists of rare accomplishment, as well as part-time palindromist and full-time humorist James Thurber. (One of his best: HE GODDAM MAD DOG, EH?)

The secret to constructing a fine palindrome is to start with a promising middle word with well-spaced vowels and consonants (FALAFEL or ASPARAGUS or ARUGULA spring to mind) and build outward, rather than starting with an end word (a mistake common to beginners). Punctuation is suspended; the only poetic license. Only a small number of palindromes make any sense without a frame of reference. So, unless you know you are reading a note from a New Guinean decorator, R.E. PAPUA ETAGERE GATEAU PAPER doesn’t mean much. Or AMARYLLIS SILLYRAMA (a comedy club for flowers?) Or how about SATAN, OSCILLATE MY METALLIC SONATAS?

For some reason, there are many good palindromes that incorporate the names of Republicans and dictators: DRAT SADAM, A MAD DASTARD; WONDER IF SUNUNU’S FIRED NOW; NORIEGA CAN IDLE, HELD IN A CAGE IRON. And consider this fine Sarah Palin-drome: WASILLA’S ALL I SAW.

Some of the best palindromes are remarkable in their brevity and simplicity: EVIL OLIVE, for example. Or the exquisite GOLDENROD-ADORNED LOG. But these pale in sophistication when compared with one of my all-time favorites, composed by the British author Alastair Reid:


The artist Steven Guarnaccia and I have been palindrome pals for a very long time. (In fact, so far back that when we began collaborating, the internet was something in a galaxy far, far away.) So in response to those youngsters who say, “Can’t you just look all these up on the Internet?” I gently reply that many of my earliest efforts were actually the result of countless hours with pad and paper, thumbing through dictionaries and collecting word lists of likely candidates. It sounds quaint, now, doesn’t it?

The following drawings are from our latest collaboration, DO GEESE SEE GOD: A Palindrome Anthology (available on Amazon). I hope you enjoy these plums of our palindromic plundering!  OH   

When he is not indulging in logology, William Irvine is the senior editor of Salt.

The Real Song of the South

The Real Song of the South

How an eccentric Alabama spinster collected folktales and living voices — human and animal alike — from an age that is gone with the wind

By Nan Graham

We scrambled flat on our stomachs, wrestling the bulky cardboard box from under the looming four-poster bed. My cousin Anne and I are not teenagers . . . we’re not even middle-aged . . . so it was a grim spectacle of struggling grayheads, who risked never getting vertical again, to do this.

The musty papers and letters of one of the most colorful of our relatives, our great-aunt, Martha Strudwick Young, a diminutive professional writer, born the year after the War Between the States began, contained some surprising new information. Cousin Anne had never looked in the boxes since her mother’s death in 1970, some 40-plus years ago. We were only a few miles from Martha Young’s birthplace in Hale County, Alabama, at a place called The Pillbox a few miles out from Greensboro, Alabama, and my visit had prompted questions about the writer’s childhood. We were well into the second round of iced tea when Anne remembered the flat coat box stored beneath the bed.

We knew from family stories that Martha’s early years were spent riding in the carriage with her father, Dr. Elisha Young, through the Hale County countryside as he made his rounds and tended to his patients. A surgeon in the Confederate Army stationed at Fort Morgan in Mobile — and imprisoned in New Orleans after the fall of Mobile — Dr. Young returned to his little family after the war to practice medicine in Greensboro, Alabama. A born storyteller, the doctor entertained the little girl with stories of making quilts with his black nurse as a young boy, eyewitness accounts of battles on Mobile Bay, and starving troops in the Alabama countryside as the father and daughter roamed the county in his buggy on house calls. He told of performing the first ever successful cutting and suturing of a carotid artery on a man stabbed and brought to his kitchen table in the middle of the night. The patient survived the procedure in the makeshift operating room. Dr. Young said that early quilt-making, common among young Southern boys in the 1860s in the county, gave him his surgical skills.

Martha had a quick ear for the rich dialect of the black folks at home and in the rural countryside. She was spellbound with their musical language and loved their tales of witches, wicked spells and ha’nts, and stories of talking birds. She absorbed the speech, its cadence and energy, of the black storytellers. Martha took mental notes on the actual calls and songs of birds of her native Hale County along the wooded roads. She was a good listener and had an excellent ear for mimicry.

She began to write and craft the oral tales told to her by blacks in her household and those she knew in the small community of Greensboro. She listened to the musical calls from the men and women who peddled fresh butterbeans and field peas ( “Fe-ull Peeas. Yas. Freee-sh Pleeeez . . .”) from carts on the dusty streets of her neighborhood. She listened to the ghost stories of the cook Chloe in the family kitchen house and to the animal stories of Isham, who helped with the horses and cows. She wove the tales into lyrical and haunting stories about sparrows’ chatty conversations with crows and baby robins squabbling among themselves. And useful warnings that picking peaches from the tree after sundown would kill the tree. Martha added her own keen observations of nature in Greensboro and the countryside around it, and incorporated the sounds of the birds and creatures as an integral part of her stories.

Being the oldest child of the eight siblings (of whom only five survived), Martha as a young adult in her 20s inherited the role of caretaker of the family at her mother’s early death in 1887. Her physician father could never have managed without his eldest daughter’s capable and no-nonsense discipline of her younger, motherless brothers and sisters. Martha practiced her bird calls and storytelling skills on the younger children, who were enthralled at their big sister’s tales of the talking buzzards, singing bats and swamp witches. Amazingly, she continued her writing despite being mistress of a large household and surrogate mother to a brood of children ages 7 into pre-teen.

And after raising her younger brothers and sisters, Martha, or Tut (rhymes with foot), as the family called her, decided that the single life was the life for her. As she always replied to inquiries about her marital state: “No, I am not married. I shall stay . . . forever Young!” (Her early sibling-rearing may explain the decision of the many spinsters out there, especially around the turn of the century.) Granddaughter of an Alabama anti-Secessionist, she had a college degree and was encouraged in her writing by her family. She started her career under the pseudonym Eli Shepperd, since young women from the South were not usually accepted in the male-dominated literary scene.

She began submitting her dialect bird stories to the New Orleans Times-Democrat, which first published her work in 1884, a Christmas story titled “A Nurse’s Tale.” Other Southern newspapers published the prolific writer’s stories.

The creator of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, Joel Chandler Harris, gave high praise to the dialect writer, according to one newspaper account and even collaborated with Martha on one of his Uncle Remus collections. Joel Chandler Harris himself wrote: “Her dialect verse . . . is the best written since Irwin Russell died. Some of it is incomparably the best ever written.”

Her first book, with the catchy title Plantation Songs for My Lady’s Banjo and Other Negro Lyrics and Monologues, was published in 1901, still under the pseudonym Eli Shepperd. The originator of Brer Rabbit contacted the writer under that name. Joel Chandler Harris invited “Mr. Shepperd” to join him at a small hunting lodge at his Georgia home, Eagle’s Nest, to work on a collection of folk stories. It was a secluded spot and Harris felt it would be a productive collaboration. Naturally, Martha revealed her identity as a lady and responded that she hardly thought that Mrs. Harris would approve the plan. The two writers did eventually collaborate, but not in the secluded setting first suggested to Eli Shepperd!

More books followed Plantation Songs: Plantation Bird Legends (1902), Bessie Bell (1903) (later re-released as Somebody’s Little Girl in 1910), When We Were Wee (1912), Behind the Dark Pines (1912), Two Little Southern Sisters (1919), and Minute Dramas: Kodak in the Quarters (1921). Another Martha Young book, Fifty Folklore Fables, was reviewed and mentioned in publicity releases but is unable to be located. Plantation Bird Legends and Behind the Dark Pines are both illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings by J.M. Conde, the artist used by Joel Chandler Harris. Besides her eight published books, numerous articles and stories by Martha appeared in such magazines as Woman’s Home Companion, Cosmopolitan and Christian Advocate. Cosmopolitan, begun in 1886, was a family magazine at the time (a far cry — not even in shouting distance — from the modern Cosmopolitan) and featured such established writers as Jack London, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Theodore Dreiser and later H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. (In 1965, Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the Single Girl, revamped the family magazine of Martha’s day, zeroing in on women’s issues, becoming the familiar magazine we know today as the sexy Cosmopolitan.)

Martha Young reached her literary peak in the first decade of the 20th century. Her whimsical bird stories in African-American dialect were a runaway hit. Her books were a smash across the country, North and South. The Pittsburgh Gazette was among those who raved about her Plantation Bird Legends: “What the Grimm Brothers did, taking from the lips of unlettered peasants the folktales of the foretimes and setting them down for the delight of the after age, has now been done by Miss Young.” Martha’s other animal tales included such titles as “Why Brer Possum’s Tail Is Bare,” “Mr. Bluebird’s Debt,” and “Why Mr. Frog Is Still a Batchelor.”

Martha even performed live at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1906, reading stories and poetry in dialect from her published books and actually performing bird calls and trills to the audience’s amazement and delight. Other “musical numbers by prominent artists,” not mentioned by name, were also to appear on the evening program. She became a popular speaker in the East and almost all reviews of her events laud her delivery and lively presentations with comments about her distinctive voice.

OK. It WAS a different era, but I like to think Martha was an early Susan Boyle — without the bad hair — an unlikely candidate for public success having been raised in the tiny town of Greensboro, Alabama. Tickets for the performance were $1, the equivalent of about $27 in today’s currency, when the 1906 worker’s wage was about $300 per year and the average hourly wage 22 cents an hour.

Her Waldorf-Astoria poster shows the studio photograph of the petite 28-year-old Martha in an elegant pose. Reality was that in 1906, Miss Young was well into her 42nd year and a bit more stout (as they say in the South) than the slender young woman pictured.

Tut even had an offer to perform in vaudeville in New York, but politely demurred. (I am certain her lips were pursed when she did.)

She was quite prolific: plays, novels, stories for education journals and poetry, some even feminist. The poem “Uncle Isham” written under her pen name is narrated by an African-American to suffragettes who laughingly says ladies, don’t bother. He complains that he got the vote, but it didn’t change a thing . . . so never mind!

Hollywood called early on. One of her books, Somebody’s Little Girl, caught a Hollywood mogul’s eye. His office called the author Martha Young. As it turned out, it was not her story they were interested in, it was the title. Could they purchase the title alone, they asked. Martha was mortified at the idea. “Of course not,” she replied. “I would just as well sever my child’s head from its body as sell my title from its story. (It does make you think of Gloria Swanson’s has-been character in Sunset Boulevard when she thinks Cecil B. DeMille wants her for a movie comeback, when he actually only wants to borrow her vintage 1929 Isotta-Fraschini touring car.) Hollywood went elsewhere for a title, and unfortunately, we do not know which movie resulted after these failed negotiations with Martha.

One family story centered around Martha’s ferocious love of coffee and her prodigious consumption of the drink. She downed a dozen or more cups a day, but one Lent she decided to deny herself her most precious beverage. She announced what she was giving up for Lent with an unseemly pride to family, friends and neighbors: No coffee for 40 days and 40 nights.

About a week into her extreme Lenten abstinence, her brother came to see her. The door was open; he called . . . no answer. He wandered through the empty house until he heard a tiny voice from the closet. “In here, Elisha.”

He opened the door and saw his sister sitting on a straight chair in the darkened closet, drinking a cup of coffee.

“Tut,” he chastised, “Don’t you know the Lord can see you, even in this closet?”

“Of course I do,” she said, taking another sip. “But the neighbors can’t.”

Her Presbyterian brother closed the closet door and left her to her secret sin.

Tut became the family eccentric, a standout in a host of relatives competing for the title. Martha Young never voted in any election, even after women won the right to vote. She had been born the year Alabama seceded from the Union. Alabama came back after Appomattox . . . Martha never did. She was of the notion that she was not a citizen of the United States and accordingly, was not an eligible voter.

Her tiny feet were a particular source of pride. And with reason. In Martha’s day, Birmingham was where you shopped when you wanted something grand. It was Alabama’s answer to Paris. Passing the city’s finest shoe store, Tut stopped to read the display sign:


You Might Be the Lucky Winner of a Pair of Shoes of Your Choice!

Tut strolled into the shop and sat while the salesman slipped the crystal slipper on her foot with ease. A perfect fit! She selecting the most cunning — and expensive — shoes on display. With shopping bag in hand, she waltzed out to meet her family for the triumphal return to Greensboro. Needless to say, she and her feet were the envy of every female in town. In all her photographs from that day forward, she managed to display her Cinderella foot peeking out from her floor-length dress.

Also vain about her small hands, she always posed them prominently in every picture. At one dinner party, she took a stroll in the garden at her host’s home at dusk. When she reached to touch a flower, she was bitten by a small garden snake. She rushed to the house, where she dropped to the sofa, crying, “My hand! My beautiful little hand. Ohhhh!” She held her hand aloft for inspection. As the guests gathered round, Martha put on a performance her fellow guests never forgot. Sarah Bernhardt would have been proud. Talk about how to sabotage a party. Tut’s uber-vanity quickly became part of the family history.

Local lore in Greensboro claims that Margaret Mitchell came calling on Tut in the 1930s. She was looking for advice on African-American speech patterns and dialect on a certain book she was writing. There is no evidence of this research visit by the author of Gone with the Wind except three local Greensboro sources who have heard the story handed down.

In 2006, a call came from Hollywood asking if I had or knew of any recordings of Martha Young’s voice. Production was beginning on a new film about Zelda Fitzgerald. They had heard of Martha Young’s work and were anxious to hear her Deep South accent for resource material for the film. Alas, although there is mention of her recordings in several writings about her, none could be tracked down.

The aging author did not mellow with age. One of my favorite stories about Tut was about her later years, when she developed diabetes in her old age and would not go to the doctor for follow-up visits.

“But Martha,” her friends insisted, “You need to get your blood checked.”

“I certainly do not,” she replied, drawing herself up imperiously. “I can assure you, I have the very best blood in Alabama.”

As the century rolled on and literary styles changed, Martha turned from writing lively animal stories to religious poetry and full-length plays as her next endeavors. It was an unfortunate career move. Martha’s religious poems are excruciatingly bad, but despite that fact, they continued to appear in magazines and newspapers. A few of these poetic gems’ titles: “Buddha’s Lilies” (Tut was an avid Episcopalian) and “Sermon on the Mule,” “Blessings of the Magnolia,” and “Sermon Against Bad Language.” The tedious plays (my personal favorite was Dice of Death) and her novels were never published, thank God, and now languish in a library’s special collection archives.

In the late 1930s, Walt Disney contacted Martha’s agent, according to correspondence found under that bed. The Disney studio was interested in animating her bird characters and stories. The elderly author had almost stopped all writing by now, but her agent’s letters were wildly optimistic. Disney, flush with the huge success of the 1937 release of Snow White, was working with Martha’s bird stories and had come up with some ideas on using them in a Disney full-length animated feature film.

“Oh no,” wrote Martha after reading one Disney adaptation, “Sis Sparrow would never say such a thing! No, no, Brer Crow could not possible perform such a dance . . . it’s all wrong. Wrong!” The imperious author was unyielding to the siren song of Hollywood.

Negotiations broke down after several years, the letters reveal. The headstrong Miss Martha Young proved a tough cookie. Five years later, Disney came out with Song of the South, the mix of animation and real film characters. Aunt Tut died in 1941 and the correspondence recording the futile negotiation with Walt Disney was stashed under that poster bed in Hale County, where it remained until a few summers ago.

Sis Sparrow could have been singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” while Bruh Crow and Martha Young’s other bird characters danced, if only Proud Martha had not been so mule-headed. She coulda been a contenda . . . maybe!

Acknowledgment for the culture and dialect of the black stories is a growing movement in the literary world. Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon, the true story of a survivor of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, was refused by editors in 1927 because of its dialect narrative and is now published with a scholarly introduction.

Aunt Tut is not completely forgotten. Almost all her early works have been republished by academics and folklore enthusiasts with original titles and author Martha Young’s name. And so the original stories remain in print.

Virginia Hamilton, a noted African-American author, read some of Martha Young’s folktales, rewrote them (it is almost a translation from the dialect) and had famed Barry Moser illustrate the stories. When Birds Could Talk and Bats Could Sing, published in 1996, is a beautifully illustrated book of Martha Young’s stories that are a joy to read today. ( My only complaint: The book is titled by Virginia Hamilton. As an academician, Hamilton surely knew that the correct way to title the book would be: By Martha Young as retold by Virginia Hamilton.) There is a brief explanation of Martha Young on the last page of Hamilton’s book. The beautiful new version of Martha Strudwick Young’s fanciful tales of talking sparrows and dancing crows is thankfully preserved.  OH

Nan Graham is a regular Salt contributor and has been a local NPR commentator since 1995.