O.Henry Ending

Listening with Your Heart

What my dad — and my dog — taught me


By James Colasanti Jr.

Christmas is my favorite time of the year, largely because of my childhood memories involving dogs.

I have always slept with dogs, my unconditional loving companions. From a few days after my birth, I slept with Butchy, the dog who taught me to have empathy for all. And now, 71 years later, with a 21-year-old Chihuahua named Minnie. It all began with my father, James Sr.

In 1949, my pregnant mother was busy preparing the evening meal when my father entered the room holding a small black-white-and-tan terrier in his big Italian hands. Of course, she heard the sharp, high-pitched yipping before she saw him.

“Look, Mary, look!” he exclaimed, holding out the frisky, wriggling pup he would name Butchy. “She is just too feisty to have a girl’s name. Butchy will make a great companion for our son.” (Although gender reveal was a thing of the future, my father knew in his heart that my mother was having a boy.) Following my birth, my parents put Butchy in my cradle every night to keep me warm and to alert them to my needs.

When I graduated from my crib, guess who snuggled in the bed with me? Well into my teenage years, Butchy slept alongside me. And every night, one of my parents would visit my room to check on me.

I recall one particular Yuletide evening being very special. I was 15. As the hall light cast its glow into my bedroom, Butchy looked up toward the door as my father entered. As dad sat on the edge of my bed, Butchy raised her head from my chest. He patted her head as he spoke.

My father — who was 50 when I was born — was a gentle man, a philosopher and an animal whisperer in the truest sense. If he were to sit on a tree stump in the middle of the woods with an ear of dried corn, a deer would be eating out of his hands within minutes. He was the one who taught me my understanding of dogs and the meaning of Christmas.

“James,” he began, “the best gifts I can give you this Christmas are the little lessons I have learned over the years.” What followed was the wisdom of a man who barely got past the eighth grade. I can still hear the cadence of his voice. “The love of a dog is the magic that binds you together,” he told me. “And it only takes one dog to change your life forever.” (For me, that was Butchy.) “When I come into your room at night, she always has her head on your chest. It’s her way of making sure you’re OK. And because she loves you, she also listens to you with her heart when you talk to her.”

My dad had a lot more to say about the heart. “Your heart is the center of your life. It is the source from which all of your love flows. Whenever someone is speaking to you, you will never go wrong if you listen with your heart.” And then he shared something that his father — my grandfather — once told him. “Remember, son, that you were loved by a man who loved dogs — who loved dogs more than he loved people. And do you know why he told me this?”

“Why?” I asked, yawning.

“Because he knew that — unlike people — the only time a dog will break your heart is when it dies.”

As the hall light faded, I heard my father whisper, as he had so many times before, “Son, if you follow your heart, you can make every day feel like Christmas.”  OH

James Colasanti Jr. is a Maxwell Medallion award-winning author and member of the Dog Writers Association of America. A past president of the Animal Rescue & Foster Program of Greensboro, he shares his home with four rescue dogs.

Quirky Holidays

At the Harwood home, more is more

By Cynthia Adams     Photographs By Amy Freeman


Before the first hint of the holiday season — and yes, even before Thanksgiving — collector and antique reseller Brooke Harwood’s condo begins shimmering and shining for what will be a protracted and festive season, with trinkets and valuables she has acquired over 30 years. Soon, the space transforms, as if a fairy godmother waved a magic wand, indulging a child’s most whimsical winter fantasies.

Perhaps you recall meeting Harwood inside her French-inspired condo in the pages of this magazine in July 2016. But you’ve never seen her home like this.

Eight trees — two full-sized and six tabletops, all festooned with sparkles, twinkling lights, baubles and plumes — consume the 1,300-square-foot space. The tallest sweep the ceiling.

With visions of sugarplums, decorative cakes — and even potato-chip cookies — dancing in her head, Harwood fluffs her nest. She pulls boxes of vintage treasures from storage. These include ornaments, toys, signage, plumage in all colors, crèches and tabletop ceramic trees, her favorites? White and studded with aqua. (“I have so many ceramic trees — maybe one hundred.”) Snugly they nestle among eclectic accents, artwork, porcelains and furniture.   

“I have a full attic,” she notes, “and it is filled with Christmas decorations.” She jokes. Is her unbridled passion: hoarding or collecting?

Harwood has a special weakness for Asian-inspired art (chinoiserie in design-speak) and knows from years of reselling vintage and antique pieces that the quirky is equally prized. Often, there is an initial color theme — or themes. Remember, she reminds me, “I love aqua.”

Harwood’s exuberant holiday décor is completely unrestrained and a showcase for her eclectic Christmas collectibles, mostly tinged with silver and gold, sparkle, shine and chic. Once sprung out of attic storage, it matters little if a chosen object is valuable or not; she isn’t pretending to do anything so much as to dazzle and have a wink-wink-nod-nod bit of fun, indulging her love of color, twinkle and panache.

Her style channels Iris Apfel, the NYC design maven who famously said, “more is more and less is a bore.”  Like Apfel, Harwood also resists packing up the sparkly bits until after the New Year has dawned, but it isn’t practical to resist. (Apfel, however, keeps her holiday décor up year-round in her Palm Beach condo.) 

A frenzy of annual effort is inversely timed with a longstanding Harwood family tradition. Her decorating kicks off in mid-November as college football winds down. 

“I always have people over for the last weekend of college football for turkey chili and have all my Christmas up by then.” 

When she’s done, kitschy collectibles mix and mingle with finery, keeping the décor light and jolly. 

Antique pickers like Harwood with an eye for the quirky, exceptional and valuable, understand the deft mix of high- and low-style. 

In the end, Harwood’s home radiates like a kaleidoscope (“I love those vintage color wheels!”). 

Some rooms are kept mostly traditional, like the den, where she decorated a tree in red-and-green (with pops of blue accents.)  Other trees feature nontraditional colors, especially jolts of pink and aqua. Aqua? As mentioned, it’s a personal favorite — and what a cheerful and unexpected holiday touch. Gourmet cakes by DeeDee Williams are freewheeling, too, and Harwood cannot stop at merely one. “They are just so visual and fun!” she says.

Vintage collectibles, however, usually dominate: Signage and toys and religious figures find a place on every shelf, table and nook, spilling outside to the porch and balcony.

“How did the Christmas vintage collecting happen?” Harwood wonders aloud. She surveys the living room, where silver trays are topped with antique figurines and a corner cupboard is filled with antique toys. 

“Well, the love of vintage carolers, the japanned things I collect, for instance? I got that from my grandmother.”

Sentimental favorites always make the cut. Her grandmother’s collection of Christmas decorations and ceramic trees are dear to her.

Make no mistake, she does not focus on Christmas décor exclusively. Harwood prizes Herend china, porcelain figurines, antique boxes (she owns more than 100), artwork of every ilk, antique papier mâché pieces and widely varied curiosities.

She is driven to search out finds, all part of “the thrill of the hunt.”

Even as a college student, Harwood scoured for treasures. (She still uses a desk she bought for $100 as a UNC-Chapel Hill coed. For Christmas, the desk features a vintage crèche.)

Following graduation from Carolina, Harwood entered the corporate world in Columbia, South Carolina. 

In early 2000, she returned to Greensboro, where parents, Rocky and Brenda Harwood, live in Starmount Forest. She “left her corporate self behind” and went to work for Anne Carlson at Carlson Antiques. Here she educated herself further. 

Harwood now considers it the highest compliment when praised for her buying skills, “for her eye.”

In 2002, she moved into Kings Arms in New Irving Park. For a short while, her grandmother also kept a home in the quaintly brick-walled community with its own French crest. 

Former resident Harvey Lineberry wrote about businessman and congressman Eugene “Gene” Johnston building the French-inspired units (designed by A.D. Woodruff Jr.) in 1965 as luxury apartments, which were later converted to condos. The Kings Arms project was Johnston’s first real estate endeavor. 

The design may have been a nod to Montbéliard, Greensboro’s sister city in France. 

According to Guilford College’s Guilfordian, President Eisenhower created the sister cities program in 1956. In addition to Montbéliard, Greensboro has two others: Buiucani in Moldova, and Yingkou in China. Montbéliard happened to be home to the Lorillard family, who owned Lorillard Tobacco in Greensboro. 

Although Harwood agrees that the interior design at Kings Arms should probably bear this French influence in mind, she is not constricted by that idea.

Her style is far more freewheeling.

She often drives as far as Charleston for auctions and estate sales, and Christmas is always in her thoughts, even in the heat of summer, while on the hunt in the Low Country. If she spies it and loves it, then Harwood snags it. “Vintage Christmas things are very hot,” she says. “Even things like vintage calendars.” 

Toys, pastel and metallic ornaments, vintage Santas and signage, porcelain créches and figurines all go into her black SUV. Some are destined for resale. Others? She’ll make room in the condo.

Her collecting enthusiasm never dims, even after many years. Harwood still requests a Herend porcelain every Christmas. 

“I’m bad,” she grimaces, pausing to open — what else? — a crisp French Chenin Blanc to toast the holidays. “I’m still addicted.”

But the porcelains do seem right at home. 





Brooke Harwood Christmas Décor and Entertaining Tips

Harwood allows décor to spill out from the indoors to the outdoors balcony, which is fully furnished with vintage iron furniture, foo dogs, Chinese stools and lamps. Toy mice are poised in a gazebo.  (The mice were once displayed in the now defunct Thalhimer’s Department Store in downtown Greensboro.)

She advises:

“Group vintage Christmas figurines together on large silver or faux bamboo trays.”

“Entertain with a vintage twist, too!  Serve eggnog — the real deal — not imitations!”

“Serve trays of old-school cookies and treats. Think pecan tassies, cheese straws and potato-chip cookies with a Christmas twist!”

“Stock coolers of sodas and beers in red and green cans — ginger ale, Coca Cola, hard cider in green bottles, Budweiser, etc.”

“I’ve used local baker DeeDee Williams at My Sweet Little Bake Shop for Christmas cakes, and placed them throughout the house for parties.  One favorite of mine is on the balcony outside, a cheery penguin cake! I placed four cakes in various rooms — some topped with Christmas trees, and another is a candy cane tree.”

“Vintage ceramic Christmas trees can be grouped together on a sideboard in a dining room or console table in a foyer, which really adds a ‘wow’ factor to a room. I particularly look for ones that are unique colors and ones of different sizes.”

“Antique and vintage toys are great to decorate under the tree with.  And don’t save Christmas presents for under the tree.  Stacks of presents on chairs, or in corners or on shelves around the house add color and interest.”

“Vintage advent calendars make great conversation pieces.
My favorites are handcrafted felt ones, and wooden ones
with little drawers.”

“If you must go artificial, like me, I do love an artificial flocked tree!  But nothing says vintage like a white or even pink tabletop tree from the ’50s or ’60s. And vintage color wheels are a must.

Charmed, I’m Sure

For five local women, their jewelry tells the story of their lives

By Katherine Snow Smith     Photographs by Mark Wagoner


A baby boy. A chance meeting. A summer job. A new home. A family trip.

Long before life’s momentous events were aired on Zoom, posted on Instagram or even forced on unsuspecting dinner guests via old-school Kodak slide carousels, they were embedded in charm bracelets. A family history dangling from a woman’s wrist, making a beautiful conversation piece for sharing special stories.

Charm bracelets were in their heyday in the 1950s and ’60s. But plenty of women have kept up the tradition or are proudly wearing their mother’s or grandmother’s.

Though most of the traditional charms aren’t custom, they can be — and some are — handmade. Many have intricate moving pieces. A lever moves can-can dancers’ legs on a charm from Paris. A tiny letter engraved with “I love you” slides out of a gold envelope. The keys of a typewriter go up and down.

These are not the mass marketed charms sold at thousands of malls and airports across the world today. Some jewelry stores still carry traditional charms, but many “old fashioned” pieces are only found on vintage bracelets passed through generations, at antique shops, estate sales and trunk shows specializing in this unique collectible.

Here are the stories of five charm bracelets dangling and jingling in the Triad.


The Story of Your Life

“You never stop collecting charms, that’s the beauty of it,” says Katie Redhead, co-founder of Tyler Redhead & McAlister Real Estate in Greensboro. “You think I’m done with this necklace? Wrong.”

Several bracelets and necklaces chain together the history of her life and clearly reveal how much Redhead loves charms. (See one of her necklaces on page 50.)

She tells the story of each charm in rapid fire. The boat with the turquoise hull is from Barcelona, a prime spot for collecting charms. The little house with a roof that opens revealing a little bed was her mother’s. The gold lion reclining on a turquoise base is because she’s a Leo. The tiny cowbell that actually rings is from Switzerland. 

The coins — some as big as a gold watch, some as small as a pencil eraser — all dangling on one bracelet are from her grandfather’s coin collection from around the world.

Her parents bought the tiny gold Coke bottle while visiting Atlanta. 

“When my parents went on a trip, they’d bring me something. Sometimes it was a doll, but I always hoped it was a charm and usually it was,” Redhead says. 

While charms were popular with many young girls in the 1950s and ’60s, Redhead never gave up her appreciation for them as an adult. 

“I used to haunt Schiffman’s downtown for an estate sale,” she says. “They would call me and say: ‘I got something down here you really ought to see.’” Sometimes when family members inherit a charm bracelet, they want the bracelet but not the charms — so they dismantle it, Redhead explains. 

“They lose, I win,” she adds. 

Glen Lavinder, president of The Pink Door antiques, always keeps an eye out for her as well. 

One of her loves, or perhaps addictions, is finding distinctive charms.

“If you are a true charm lover, you don’t get them all at one place. It is a search-and-seek,” she says. 

She also loves the stories behind each charm. 

“People say, ‘Katie, does this one open? Where’d you get this one? What does this one mean?’” she says. “Lay down your charm bracelet and it will tell the story of your life.”


Something to Talk About

Judith Williams thumbs through the charms on a treasured gold bracelet.

“They tell the story of us,” the longtime Greensboro resident says. 

One of her favorite charms is a little gold house with a tiny car attached to a chain that allows it to go in and out of the garage. 

“This was my mother’s. My father gave it to her when they built their house,” Williams says. 

Another really special one: the gold hand that represents her summer in college when she was a secretary at a camp — the Children’s Fresh Air Farm — in her native Birmingham, Alabama.

“Children from the inner city came to the top of Red Mountain for a month. Each one planted their own garden. Dental students came and fixed their teeth, doctors took care of their medical needs,” Williams recounts. “We all were in the great outdoors together. It was a great way to spend a summer.”

Her bracelet also includes a childhood locket and a lion for her alma mater, Shade Valley High School. Adjacent is a tiny Omicron Delta Kappa key, the service fraternity her husband, Craven Williams, joined at Wake Forest. Also, a disk from when he was president of Greensboro College in the 1990s.

Williams also has a necklace with special charms, including her grandfather’s watch fob and a sun with the words “Good Juju” engraved on it. Her grandchildren call her Juju.

She also has books on charms picturing exceptional pieces of jewelry. There’s a gold heart with an internal ticking to mimic a heartbeat given to Michael DeBakey, a pioneer in heart surgery, and a cross of Cartier diamonds that Edward VIII bestowed on Wallis Simpson. 

Williams happily admits she’s a charm nut. She used to lead talks on charm bracelets for various women’s groups in Greensboro. 

“I told everyone to bring their charm bracelets. It was amazing. Very few people came without one,” she says. “So many little girls in the ’50s had one. They’d buy a charm when they went on a trip or get one for a special birthday. Like I said, they tell the stories of our lives.”

Reminders of Family

Susan Boydoh’s husband, Bob, gave her a charm bracelet after they were married. The Raleigh native who lives in Greensboro has filled it with symbols of family times together. 

She found a silver historic house in Charleston because that’s where they got engaged. There are silver baby boots engraved with the birthdates of her son and daughter. The sea turtle is from Cabo, Mexico, in honor of earning her scuba diving certification there. 

The Mickey Mouse ears mark a Disney cruise her family took with her parents when her son was 5.

“I look at this charm and I remember how he had no interest in seeing all the Disney characters,” she says. “He wanted to go up on the bridge and see the harbor master or who drove the ship. My dad loved that because he wanted to talk to him about how the ship worked.” 

Since her father died 10 years ago, Boydoh especially appreciates having a special reminder of this family time together. Much better than a T-shirt or other souvenir that’s long gone. 

As an agent with Tyler Redhead & McAlister, she’s a colleague and friend of Redhead and caught her contagious love for charms. 

“I saw how Katie has all these different things that aren’t actual charms that she made into charms,” Boydoh says. “Now I have made my high school class ring into a charm and this beautiful little floating heart from a necklace.”  

Vivid Memories

The silver charm engraved with a globe came from the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. It stirred 57-year-old memories that resurfaced in vivid detail for Frann White, who lives in High Point. She got the charm in 10th grade when she was there on a trip with her mom and a group of friends. 

“We ate waffles in the Belgium pavilion. In the Japanese pavilion we took off our shoes and sat on the floor,” White recalls. They rode in a car through buildings highlighting General Motors’ and Ford’s latest innovations.

The miniature silver model of Mount Vernon took her back to a gift shop with rows of old, wooden windows and creaky hardwood floors.

“The senior class of Trinity High School always went to Washington, D.C., and Virginia,” she says. “This cross is from the National Cathedral. Wherever I went, I always looked for charms.”

She knows her bracelet dates back to at least eighth grade because it includes a charm given to her by an early sweetheart. “My love I give to you my heart,” is engraved onto a small heart. 

A replica of a birth certificate is engraved with the date and time of her birth, as well as her newborn weight. The whistle with chipped red, white and blue paint represents the year High Point was named an All-American City. 

Looking back at her time in high school, she says, “I loved wearing my charm bracelet. I loved the noise,” remembering the sound it made when she sat at her desk writing. “We must have driven the teachers crazy, all the girls wearing charm bracelets.”

She has another bracelet with more charms from her adult years, including a piece of actual lava from Hawaii and a miniature sombrero from Mexico. 

“When I wear these it really is like going down memory lane,” White says. “I have three nieces. One already has my mother’s and the other two will get mine.”


The Birthday Bracelet

When Ellen Bassett of Winston-Salem celebrated her 50th birthday at the Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia., another friend planned quite the charming group gift. She asked the guests to each bring a charm representing something from their friendship with Bassett.

Throughout the night, the birthday girl received individually wrapped charms from her closest friends from various stages of life.

“It was so touching. All of them were so personal,” Bassett says.

She received an apple from someone she lived with in New York, a motorboat from a longtime friend who worked with her at Camp Seafarer, an airplane from a traveling buddy, a charm with her birthday engraved on it from her parents, and e ven a little silver swimsuit from a dear friend who signified their first chance meeting at a Belk’s dressing room.

Now, 50 charms fill a very special bracelet.

“This was the most incredible gift. It’s stuffed with so many great memories,” Bassett says. “It makes me feel loved whenever I wear it.”  OH

Katherine Snow Smith is a North Carolina native who has worked as a journalist throughout the Carolinas. She owns two charm bracelets — one silver, one gold — her favorite jewelry for any wardrobe.

Poem December 21


for Richard Hood

I’m cooking a pizza in the oven.

Every bit of steam’s frolicking.

Snug on my high bed, the sheets listen.

From dawn to dusk the barnyard lights glisten

When I crease my covers whiter than snow,


For I am loving no flakes this Christmas.

With every yellow daisy popping up,

The meadow turning even more golden,

And the full moon, coming up now, blossoms

To let the elephants and flocks go by.


They flop out of sight like exclamations,

Arriving in wonder, McGee’s Crossroads,

To prep and string popcorn in rows of clouds.

There is no snow on Paul’s Hill this Christmas,

Just dollops of dewy lichens on posts.


May sweaters spring red, blue, white, brown, lacey,

Minds lift away from neutrally racy

Swears to mark the weather this morn.

I put suet out for the woodpeckers.

Not a one in sight will leave me undone.


All my button-holes I keep unbuttoned

For breezes to make my lashes whistle,

This merry Christmas day, Cricket snores.

The front door’s purposefully half-open,

My heart singing a sprig in awe of spring.

— Shelby Stephenson

Shelby Stephenson was North Carolina’s poet laureate from 2015-2018.

Wandering Billy

Jewels at The Crown

Do you hear what I hear? A night of live music sure to spellbind


By Billy Eye

Without music, life would be a mistake.
— Friedrich Nietzsche

Hey, I love Christmas as much as the next guy — if the next guy happens to be Santa Claus — but there’s a night I’m just as excited about: an evening featuring a powerhouse lineup of local musicians headlined by Laura Jane Vincent, a modern-day troubadour with a voice like champagne and caviar. It’s happening on December 11 at The Crown, located above the Carolina Theatre. The Crown, by the way, has undergone major renovations, including the conversion of the former projection room — now dressing rooms and a green room — plus new bathrooms and a concession stand.

Laura Jane Vincent is a country girl both at heart and literally, as reflected in her down-home, introspective songwriting.

“I grew up in Raeford, North Carolina, about an hour south,” Vincent says. “I now live in a little town called Glendon, right on the border of Moore County and Chatham County.”

Warbling in high cotton with red-clay-’tween-the-toes lyrics, small wonder her compositions are deeply rooted in Southern musical traditions.

“My stepfather [Al Simmons] taught me a lot of everything I know at a young age,” she says. “He’s a great guitar player. Coming up in that national songwriting tradition, he was very heavily influenced by his best friend, Mike Gaffney.”

Gaffney, BTW, has been a mainstay of the Asheville music scene for around four decades.

“Those two guys exposed me to all sorts of wonderful musicians,” Vincent continues. Among them: Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Fiona Apple, Bonnie Raitt and Gillian Welch.

“A lot of female artists,” Vincent says. “That representation was so important to me as a young person. Like, ‘Oh, I could maybe do this myself.’”

Her stepfather also introduced her to open mic nights when she was 15 years old.

“I was a little bit younger than most people,” Vincent remembers of those early days, tagging along behind her musical mentor. “So, I had to kind of — not sneak in or anything — but walk in with authority and act like I belonged there.”

Vincent has been honing her craft at open mic nights in Southern Pines, located near Glendon, and Greensboro, where audiences have witnessed her blossom into a dynamic showstopper at Cup A Joe, Westerwood Tavern and The Green Bean. I first encountered her at the Double Oaks Inn on one of its live music nights, where the finest performers in the area do their thang in a relaxed, living room setting.

Vincent’s transportive, revelatory album, All These Machines, was released in March of 2020, just as everything shut down.

“I’m very, very proud of it,” she admits. “I got to collaborate with my most favorite people.”

The album is imbued with a style harkening back to 1970s singer-songwriters like Janis Ian, Joan Armatrading and Phoebe Snow — but with a Carolina flavor.

While some tunes track solely on Vincent and her guitar, others feature a number of folks she’s performed alongside over the years, well-known locals like Emily Stewart, Pete Pawsey, the ubiquitous Matty Sheets, longtime musical partner Danny Infinger on bass, and her husband, Dave Tippetts, on drums. Another contributor is her friend Brian Kennedy, a Broadway musical conductor and director who tours with Something Rotten! and Wicked. “He happened to be in town,” Vincent says. “I asked, ‘Can you come over right now?’ And he put a crazy organ solo on ‘Shoes,’ one of the songs on the album.”

Vincent is mostly known around the nightclub circuit as a solo artist, her infectious, tangy-twangy crooning winning over a legion of fans as she slugged her way up through the dive bars into widespread acceptance. Last time Eye saw her strumming and singing in her mellifluous tones, she held an audience spellbound at Natty Greene’s, where she was accompanied by bass and drums. “I have a full band now,” Vincent says.

Her ensemble is comprised of Tom Troyer (guitar) and Jared Zehmer (bass), who frequently jams with local rock group Viva la Muerte and a couple of other regional groups.

“Aaron Cummings is a fantastic drummer,” Vincent adds. “He’s going to play on a few songs at The Crown, as will my husband. We’re probably going to have a couple guest spots as well.”

Winston-Salem-based Cactus Black is also on the bill at The Crown that night. I spoke with guitarist and vocalist Mike Tyson, aka Cactus Black, about the band’s rough-hewn, arid desert style. “First and foremost, we’re storytellers rooted in the old country tradition,” Tyson says. “But it’s delivered in more of an indie-rock, garage-rock style, and has kind of a folk influence as well.”

Before coming together as Cactus Black in 2012, Tyson and bandmates Matt Pickard (aka Sunday the Drifter) on drums and Mike Bright (aka Randy Heck) on bass were in a “whiskey rock band” called Tusker. Bright was lead singer.

Cactus Black’s third album, The Marrow of Our Truth, released in August, has quickly become one of my favorites for the sheer exuberance, and inherent intelligence, as well as for being what used to be called a “concept album” — not just anecdotal singles thrown together, but thematic. In this instance: fevered dreams steeped in Old West lore. The opening tune, “All Things Pass, All Things Change,” is a romantically tragic coming-of-age lamentation reminiscent of Leonard Cohen. It’s a splendid party record, superbly paced and deeply enveloping, one that commands (but does not demand) your attention.

“We did a record release show at the Ramkat in Winston back in September,” Tyson says. “There, we played the new record in full. [Sorry I missed that!] This show at the Carolina Crown is going to be a mix of all three records.”

Besides three LPs, the band has a number of singles, one of which is “Live in Greensboro,” a punk-esque jump-and-jive recorded at On Pop of the World Studios and pressed on multicolored vinyl in 2017. Vinyl collectors take note: All of Cactus Black’s releases are beautifully designed and packaged right down to the imaginatively colored discs.

Opening act is local folk rocker Ashley Virginia. Her debut album, And Life Just Goes On Living, plumbs the depths associated with heartbreak and healing.

Vincent admits to being somewhat intimidated.

“I can’t believe I have these two great bands on the same bill as me,” she says. Eye can. And with this amount of talent and superior songwriting on the stage, December 11 should be a night to remember. See you at The Crown, friends.  OH

All of the aforementioned artists can be found on bandcamp.com and other digital platforms where you can listen to their entire albums before you buy.

Billy Eye covered the downtown/East L.A. punk and underground music scene from 1980-83 for Data Boy magazine.


Photograph courtesy of Tom Troyer


A Tree of Delights

Decorating can be for the birds, too


By Susan Campbell

This season, why not create a gift for your feathered friends and consider “decorating” a holiday tree just for them? Although a hearty evergreen would be best, anything from a leafless sapling to a young longleaf pine will work. Better yet, a younger American holly or other berry-laden variety would be a terrific choice!

Consider this a project for the whole family, just like hanging ornaments or setting up lights in the yard. Keep in mind that, especially when using an evergreen, you are providing not one, but two, basic needs that all our wintering birds have: food and shelter.

To “decorate” your tree:

— Drape with traditional strings of popcorn and cranberries or other dried fruits for the bluebirds and the blue jays.

— Hang homemade suet on pine cones for the chickadees and nuthatches.

— Nestle shallow cups with sunflower seed or millet on the thickest branches for the cardinals and titmice.

— Smear peanut butter on the bark to attract woodpeckers and wintering warblers.

Last, but certainly not least, your tree will invariably attract natural food in the form of tiny insects. It will take no time for Carolina wrens or ruby-crowned kinglets to find them between the leaves or needles, or under the bark.

It may be that you create your gift to the birds just after Christmas — when your indoor tree is finished providing joy for the family. This is about the time that natural foods are waning and the birds are foraging in earnest. No doubt, bird species large and small will find your arboreal creation before long. Keep track of which ones you see using the tree. It may be a longer list than you might think.

Of course, other wildlife will love this holiday gift, too. In addition to gray squirrels and perhaps a fox squirrel, southern flying squirrels may glide in at night for a snack. A raccoon or opossum may sniff it out. Even a white-tailed deer or two will probably take a nibble. But then, who doesn’t appreciate a treat during this special season?  OH

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


Illustration by Harry Blair

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

O Christmas Tree

Poor, rusted Christmas tree


By Ruth Moose

When water is up to your waist, the last thing you think about is Christmas. And certainly not Christmas trees. You rescue what you can at hand. You bless sump pumps and those who make them. Same goes for wet vacuums. You are amazed that sofas can swim, but armchairs cannot. And you cry over books. Thousands of pages, sodden wads of pages, glued together, their backs forever warped and bucked in humps and waves. How heavy they are as you cart them to the curb. How wasted their lives.

Hurricane Florence got all the publicity, but the hurricane after got us. In Albemarle, our usually sunny (and the site of my artist husband’s studio) daylight basement ended up with nearly 3 feet of water. At least it was clear, cold and clean water, but still a frightening sight. Here were my husband’s sketches and paintings, art books, art supplies and frames. His working easels and drawing board, paints and brushes. It’s a sickening feeling to pull open a drawer of paint tubes and water pours out. Not to mention a lifetime collection of art books with glorious color reproductions of paintings he’d used for study and inspiration. In other sections of the basement he also had a woodworking shop furnished with years of accumulated equipment and tools.

Then there was the household part of the basement with the water heater, furnace and 35-year-old food freezer, all standing in water. Plus various assorted items we’d stored over the years. Never had water, four sump pumps going simultaneously, receded so slowly. You can only haul furniture out to dry, watch the skies and wait. Pray. And when the water is gone, you wet vac and wet vac and wet vac. You hear the roar of the motor in your sleep.

Then you begin to dry out sketches and wipe off oil paintings and cry over lost watercolors who went to meet their medium. You open cabinet doors, and drawers and water pours out.

Somewhere in the flood I heard my librarian aunt’s voice when she said, more than once, she never trusted basements. Neither did she like attics. “Basements are too wet,” she said, “and attics are too dry.” At least I thought what we had stored in the attic was dry and better dry any day than wet, wet and wetter.

But, miracle of miracles, after the water went, the air conditioner came back on, the water heater began to purr and the ancient food freezer hummed its heart out. So, I emptied and cleaned it and began all over again. Thirty-five years old, hauled through four complete household moves, the freezer kept going and going and going. Gave one heart and hope.

In all that water and wetness, nobody thought about the Christmas tree until months later. We were too busy mopping and drying out and saving what could be saved. When it came time to do the tree, we remember what had been in some of those sodden boxes in the basement. That artificial tree I’d argued and fought against and finally been persuaded (for ecological reasons) to tolerate. Not accept. All our married life my husband and I had fought the real vs. artificial Christmas tree fight. And for years I’d won. Real was a cedar tree that permeated the whole house with the smell of Christmas. No artificial tree had ever come close to that. For years we’d had the advantage of family land to tromp as a family, choose and cut a tree. We never found the perfect tree. Just ones that could be trimmed or branches spliced to suffice. It didn’t matter, as long as they were real. All Christmas trees when trimmed and lighted are beautiful.

When family lands were no longer available, I had no choice but an artificial tree. Somehow the picture of my husband assembling those branches that still look and feel — to me — like giant green bottle brushes, never matched the one in my memory of tramping through the woods on a winter Sunday, kids and dog ahead, ax and saw in hand, to bring home bundled and tied atop the station wagon, this year’s Christmas tree.

Thankfully, the tree ornaments and decorations were in the attic. The tree itself had been stored in boxes too big to go through the crawl space and had to go to the basement. The basement flooded. So we had dry ornaments and a rusty tree. We dried out the branches, shook the rust out, stuck them back into a shape that still looked like a pyramid of green bottle brushes and said, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a working sump pump.”  OH

Ruth Moose taught creative writing at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for 15 years and tacked on 10 more at Chatham County Community College.


Illustrated by Meridith Martens

Featured Artist

Rock On

Artist Viktoriya Saltzman’s painted path to freedom



By Maria Johnson

Viktoriya Saltzman touches time-worn river rock with a needle-sharp brush, transferring beads of glistening color.

Forms emerge slowly, dot by tedious dot.

Later, the stones speak with jeweled urgency to the people who pass her table at farmers’ markets and craft fairs.

They lean in and smile at the cobbled path of life and ideas: flowers, animals, mandalas, Nativity scenes, peace signs, chakras, the ancient eye-in-hand Hamsa and others.

“I accept different cultures,” says Viktoriya, a native of Ukraine. “I don’t like mandatory lifestyle. I think each person deserves respect and love. If you’re an artist, you have to understand, you have to accept anything that’s coming to you.”

A few weeks ago, at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market, a woman with three grade-schoolchildren stopped to admire the sugar skulls that paved Viktoriya’s table with some 150 flat stones, ranging in size from buttons to bricks.

Viktoriya doesn’t usually paint sugar skulls — a symbol of Día de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday honoring dead loved ones — but a bag of river rocks she bought at Lowe’s included three triangular stones, so she made them into grinning, crazy-eyed skulls.

The woman bought all three, for $85, for her children’s teachers.

Viktoriya slipped the stones into a small unicorn-covered gift bag — the kind you stuff with children’s party favors — then pressed a fourth stone into the woman’s hand.

A butterfly, for free.

“Some customers have gifting hearts, but they don’t think about themselves,” Viktoriya says after the woman and her children walked away. “I want them to have a gift, too.”

For as long as she can remember, Viktoriya has understood what art can do for the artist and for the consumer of art.

Her father’s family bristled with painters.

Her mother’s family, singers.

In Viktoriya, the musical genes surfaced first. Growing up, she was a gifted accordionist in her hometown of Mariupol near the Sea of Azov.

“My technique was enormous. I played an average of 4 to 5 hours a day. My arpeggio was amazing,” she says.

She was crushed when she was rejected from a music conservatory. Plan B was to attend a teachers’ college in the frigid Ural Mountains in neighboring Russia.

“My pantyhose froze to my legs,” she says. “I had to peel them with alcohol.”

Outside of class, she played at academic gatherings, hauling home leftover beef stroganoff and potatoes to her dorm mates. After college, she sang for a Russian folk dance troupe that toured Europe and the United States.

“Half the band stayed in America, never came back,” she says. “Crazy.”

She followed an American husband to North Carolina in 1999.

She summarizes their brief union: “I left my husband. I took the accordion.”

She moved to Greensboro for jobs. Babysitter. House cleaner. Waitress. Singer. Accordion player. Lingerie saleswoman. Seller of makeup at a department store beauty counter.

“I love selling, but not all for money — for presentation,” says Viktoriya, who wears her curly brown hair in a spray atop her head. “I tell a story. You gonna buy.”

The idea for painting rocks came in 2015, when she was planning her daughter’s 9th birthday party. She needed a fun, cheap activity for the kids. She bought acrylic paints and stones and led a demonstration. The results, Viktoriya says, blew everyone’s minds.

“Parents said, ‘Why you don’t try to do this as a job?’” she remembers.

Two years later, she unpacked a box of rocks at the Gibsonville farmers market. She found other venues. It was an important trickle of income for a single parent.

“When I start painting, I wasn’t, of course, fantastic. People liked it, but I’m picky, and I know when I’m good and when I’m not good,” she says. “Most important, the hours of practice. Dance, art, anything. You have to be super patient.”

Now, she’s confident enough to branch out. She paints wooden jewelry boxes, wooden trays, wooden ornaments for Christmas and Easter. She takes custom orders — a set of rocks for a Jewish woman to put on her son’s grave; a turtle composed of seven rocks — shell, head, legs, tail — for a co-worker (“Best turtle you’ve ever seen.”); an end table painted with African masks. She incorporated the face of her customer and the woman’s boyfriend into the masks. (“He said, ‘I want to scream, it’s so pretty.’”)

Viktoriya has a steady job, in the silver-buying department at Replacements Ltd.

But she keeps painting, at night, at her dining room table.

“Art lets me do anything,” she explains. “It’s my freedom. My freedom of mind. My freedom of time. Freedom of picking colors. When you do art or music, your own stuff, it makes you free. Your soul works different, your mind works different.”

The loop closes, she says, when customers delight in the fruit of her freedom.

“When people go, ‘Oh, my God! I like that!,’ I get that feeling, too.”  OH

Saltzman’s upcoming shows include Dec. 3, The Market at Festival of Lights, LeBauer Park, Greensboro; Dec. 4, Greensboro Farmers Curb Market; Dec. 5, MADE 4 the Holidays Marketplace, Greensboro Farmers Curb Market; Dec. 11, Eno River Farmers Market; Dec. 18, Winston Junction Market, Winston-Salem. Email her at bayanistka@icloud.com.

Contact contributing editor Maria Johnson at ohenrymaria@gmail.com.


Photograph by Lynn Donovan