A Tug to the Tar Heel State

A Tug to the Tar Heel State

Inside the collected and colorful Casa Carlisle

By Cassie Bustamante  
Photographs by Amy Freeman

I f you want to date me, you have to promise we can live in North Carolina one day,” Jason Carlisle recalls his wife, Crystal, saying presciently to him early into their 20-year relationship.

“I don’t remember saying it like that!” she counters, but confirms it was part of the deal. North Carolina, Crystal says, “was woven in my heart long before I knew why.” While she felt an inexplicable pull, Jason, who says he’d follow Crystal to China or the moon, had always loved the Tar Heel State. He recalls fond childhood memories of trips from Florida, where his family had a farm, to Maggie Valley and Cherokee in the ’80s, as well as traveling with youth groups to leadership conferences in Appalachia.

And so it was that in the summer of 2018, the couple and their three boys — Lucas, now 15, Grayson, 14, and Micah, 9 — took a leap of faith. They sold their farm in Florida — “Cows, chickens, I mean the whole farm!” says Crystal. With no new employment prospects in sight, Jason, a teddy-bear type who now works for GFL Environmental in High Point, quit his job and said goodbye to his tractors and truck when the family made the move.

Why? Crystal discovered that her little sister, Karissa, who had been adopted as an infant years earlier by a family in California, was now living in North Carolina. It’s a long story that begins with Crystal’s mother: “My mom had my brother and myself and was a single young mom and found herself pregnant again and gave that baby up for adoption.” It turns out that when Karissa was only 2, her adoptive mother died of ovarian cancer. Her adoptive father moved to North Carolina for familial support. So when Karissa, at 18, reached out to her birth family, Crystal finally understood that tug she’d felt to North Carolina

So, with as many of their belongings as they could fit in a 26-foot U-Haul, the Carlisle family headed north. Awaiting them was a 1971 home (more than double in size of their farmhouse) abutting Forest Oaks Country Club’s golf course.

Just months earlier, Crystal had taken a six-day house-hunting trip to the Greensboro area — selected for its proximity to Thomasville, where Karissa lives with her two children —  looking at over 20 houses. By day five, she recalls resolving to live in a camper for the summer because nothing felt right and she “was not going to settle.” Finally, on day six of her trip, a Friday, her agent brought her to Forest Oaks.

“I can live here,” she thought, satisfied that the neighborhood was close enough to town, but with a bit of the rural feel her family was used to. The house itself was structurally sound and the kitchen had been updated a couple years earlier by the previous owner, but Crystal — who calls herself “The Thrifty Designer” on Instagram — was excited to wave her creative wand, especially with so much more space to serve as her canvas.

Jason and the kids, of course, didn’t see the new family residence until the day they pulled up in the moving truck, and, as he recalls, he said, “Welcome home, boys. We’re home.”

Arriving with limited furnishings and possessions, Crystal quickly got to work slapping a lot of paint on the walls and filling their new abode with vintage treasures found at various secondhand stores. “I try to live sustainably, for sure,” she says.

In fact, much of the home’s decor is thrifted. Crystal, who formerly owned a vintage shop in Florida, spent childhood weekends and summers with her great aunt and uncle, Jimmy, a regular flea market vendor. “They called him ‘Bones,’” she says. “Because he sold actual bones. Alligator skulls and you know.” Growing up in that environment, she became accustomed to thrifting and has carried that into adulthood. “I never knew anything different.”

In the family’s den, just off the kitchen, Crystal waves an arm around the room and says, “Literally everything in here was thrifted.” Even the leather sectional? Yes, even that, which set the family back a whopping $150. And the floral vintage wallpaper? Also thrifted.

The only piece in that space that traveled from Florida with her is a Modern painting of a woman in blue holding cut roses in pinks and reds that sits between two windows. It was a gift to Crystal from her mother on her 18th birthday. Though it appears as if the colors in the artwork inspired the palette of the room, Crystal says, “I am just drawn to those colors and when I put it up there, I thought, oh my gosh, she’s perfect.

With bold strokes and an innate sense for seamlessly mixing antiques with Modern vintage, Crystal continues the flowery patterns and color palette throughout the main floor of the home. Blues, teals, pinks and reds harmoniously repeat, masterfully drawing the eye from one treasure-filled room to the next with ease.

How does Jason feel about the florals and pastels that flow throughout the home? “I trust her so much,” he says, a glint of pride sparkling in his light blue eyes. Then, those eyes twinkling, he says jokingly, “As you can see, I inspired everything in here.”

In the dining room, pink paint blankets the walls, creating a soft and intimate surrounding for a looooong wooden table flanked by a contrasting teal antique church pew and midcentury upholstered dining chairs. On one wall, a pair of long shelves display a rainbow assortment of vintage glassware.

“Did she tell you about this table?” Jason asks. “$100!”

The blonde wood table, it turns out, was handmade, complete with turned legs, by a neighbor and features several leaves to make it even longer. She purchased it when his estate items went to auction. “When we moved, I was like, I want a dining room table that will fit 12–14 people and everybody was like you’re insane,” says Crystal. But, she adds, “I put it out there and it comes to me!”

Dreams come true for Crystal. Now, the dining room hosts regular Sunday family dinners with Karissa, her husband, Travis, her kids and her adoptive father, affectionately known as Uncle Earl to Crystal’s kids. “It’s been so cool to have a family that we never knew we would have,” muses Crystal. “It’s been a really fun surprise.”

In a corner of the dining room, a large vintage chalkboard purchased at a church yard sale and previously used in a Sunday school classroom sits on the wall. On the right side in black Sharpie, presumably written by a Sunday school student, it reads, “God is cool.”

Underneath the chalkboard, clearly not part of her aesthetic, is a box with items spilling out: her donation pile. “I am always gathering and purging, gathering and purging,” she says. While she frequents thrift stores as a shopper, she also replenishes them, happy to keep worthy items out of the landfill.

In fact, friends often inform her when they spy potentially good scores curbside, headed for the dump. One of her favorite finds, which came to her via a friend texting about “a pile of stuff at the curb” by their church, hangs on a wall in their guest room. “It’s a Burwood peacock, complete with its original crown,” says Crystal. “Out of the trash.”

Jason was flabbergasted to discover similar pieces sell for a couple hundred dollars. “And it was just sitting on the side of the road,” he says, shaking his head.

The fireplace in the same room has been painted a soft pink, though Crystal admits trying black first. “I hate black,” she says, adding, “It just doesn’t feel like me.” Above the, wait for it, pink mantel hangs a gilded vintage mirror, a gift from Karissa, who she is now able to spend time with regularly. “She’s a thrifter as well, so we’re always collecting.”

On the built-ins next to the guest room fireplace, rainbow-ordered books hand-selected by Crystal for their color line the shelves, purchased from her one of her favorite thrift stores, Blessingdale’s, a Southwest Greensboro gold mine for deal hunters. “They have books at eight-for-a-dollar!” she exclaims.

While she has filled her home with found treasures, the real gem of the house, according to Crystal, is the sunroom and the backyard.

Outside, several sculptural Moderne Russell Woodard chairs — Crystal’s most prized possessions — surround an aqua outdoor dining table snagged on Facebook marketplace. A pair of matching Woodard chaises with a side table sit just off to the side. “We actually unloaded our leather sofa at the farm because everything wasn’t going to fit,” she says. And she was not about to leave Russell Woodard behind.

The sunroom — also a shade of pink, Sherwin-Williams’ Malted Milk — serves as the family’s breakfast nook and homework hub. Flanking the room’s many windows are 1960s floral panels in shades of — you guessed it — blues, pinks and reds. “All my curtains came from Blessingdales,” says Crystal, who has hung vintage floral curtains in many-a-room.

Jason calls attention to the sturdy, large-scaled vintage classroom chairs, mustard yellow in color and serving as a clean-lined foil to the pastels and florals. “They are perfect for our boys — big boys,” quips Crystal, whose children take after their father.

Adjacent to the sunroom is the space that they’ve made the most changes to, the kitchen. With Jason’s help, Crystal, who has built quite a following on social media because of her keen eye for thrifty and colorful design, participated in a spring 2020 online event entitled “One Room Challenge,” sharing updates each week on her instagram page: @casa_carlisle. The couple removed cabinets from one wall, replacing them with open shelving, painted the lower cabinets and island in a custom shade of teal, painted the uppers white, replaced lighting with more modern fixtures, added wallpaper backsplashes and made it their own with personal details and thrifted touches.

But Jason knows his wife well enough to say, “I am pretty sure at this point she wants to paint these cabinets again.”

With a coy smile, she responds, “I’ve thought about it.”

“There’s nothing off the table,” says Jason, constantly in awe of the changes Crystal makes in their home “because it keeps the house fresh, keeps it new, keeps it different.”

These days, Crystal works full-time as an account executive for a furniture company in High Point and, while she still loves to fluff her nest, she doesn’t see many drastic changes on the horizon. “There are a couple projects I would like to tackle, but we’re right now at the point in our lives where weekends are for sports or for family stuff,” she says. “We just raised fun kids, so I want to hang out with them. We’ve raised our own little best friends.”

Later this month, the Carlisles will gather around their extra-long dining table with their boys, Karissa’s family, Uncle Earl and extended family from afar to give thanks for the most treasured North Carolina find: time spent with family and a house that has exceeded Crystal’s dreams — at least for now.  OH

Fire in His Eyes

Fire in His Eyes

An artist reflects on processing trauma through his canvas

By Cassie Bustamante

Faced with the aftermath of personal trauma, Chase Hanes turned to what helped and healed him in his youth — painting.

Asked if he just picked up a brush one day and watched as the paint flowed across the canvas, the self-taught artist lets out a laugh. After a pause, a drawn-out nooooooooo.

As a shy and quiet child growing up in Midway, Hanes, now 31, recalls how in elementary school he was encouraged to tap into his creativity by “a very special teacher.” With her guidance, he discovered that it was “a way to really condense feelings and get them to where I am able to process them,” an important lesson for a young introvert.

Years later, as a high school student, Hanes says, “I was struggling with a lot of depression and identity issues, and painting and drawing and being creative was so healing, so cathartic.” It was during those four years that he developed his identity as an artist. Through studying art books and lots of practice — “countless drawings of people I admired” — Hanes honed his skills. One individual in particular showed up repeatedly during his early practice: his sister, Amber, who is 11 years older and has always been “very maternal” toward her younger brother. “One of the first paintings that I got really applauded for was a portrait of my sister. My mom still has it hanging on our wall at home.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing from Chapel Hill, he went on to UNCG and completed a master’s in library and information sciences and another in women’s and gender studies.

Following academia, a job that Hanes thought was the right next step on his career journey turned out to be the thing that would once again find him struggling with identity. Working for a “nonprofit where individuals facing severe health issues, food insecurities and/or cyclical poverty could get various resources,” Hanes staffed the day center, “where people would get meals, have recreational activities and participate in support groups.” At the nonprofit, he also guided poetry circles and helped many people who could barely read write poems, describing that process as magical. “In theory,” says Hanes of his work there, “it sounds very beautiful.”

While the work he did in the poetry circles was, in fact, rewarding, the overall workplace was far from it. “I saw how people — staff and clients alike — got taken advantage of repeatedly, which was especially severe and inhumane in the early days of COVID,” he says. Hanes says that he found himself in what he viewed as an “emotionally abusive professional environment.” Once again, he felt adrift, struggling with depression and without an avenue to channel his skills and creativity. Wistfully, he adds, “I kind of just left art behind.”

In July of 2020, Hanes made the decision to leave his job. “When I got away from that situation, it ripped me apart,” he says, his deep, black-brown eyes focused downward. He looks up. “But after a few months . . . I was able to make something from it.”

It’s often been said that great art comes from great pain. And maybe that’s why in the fall of 2020, Hanes found himself reaching once again for his paintbrush. “Prior to October 2020, I had only done one painting,” says Hanes of that life-changing year. “And then, all the sudden, it just came like a storm and I had to keep going. I had to make sense of the trauma that I experienced.”

Once again, someone he greatly admired served as his muse: Taylor Swift. What is it about her that inspires him? He laughs and says, “I could write a whole dissertation!” In addition to being close in age, Hanes, a self-proclaimed Swiftie, sees similarities in the way they approach the world. “She understands that people with similar sensitivities have certain obstacles in life that they have to overcome,” he says, alluding to his own sensitivity. He adds, “Her honesty and her willingness to be vulnerable is so special.”

While Hanes is inspired by Swift’s songs, often written about her own life experiences, he used her as a vehicle for telling his story in a collection of paintings he calls fragile life, take up space. “It was easier — it almost felt like it gave me space,” says Hanes. “It gave me distance from my own experience to tell my story with another character at the very beginning.”

A few of the early paintings in this collection feature images of women being saved or uplifted by a group of women. Hanes, who felt he’d lost his community along with his job, reconnected with a group of female childhood friends who always made him feel safe. “There’s a beautiful sense of clarity that comes along with finding your way back to people who really do love you and care about you.” It’s no surprise that this group, his old — and renewed — community traveled with him to Nashville to see Swift’s Eras Tour, a concert at which he shed tears of joy.

Later in Hanes’ fragile life series, a painting entitled Stolen Lullabies Were/Weren’t Mine to Lose — inspired by the lyrics, “You weren’t mine to lose,” from the song “August” — features a drowning Taylor Swift amidst books and pages bobbing in the ocean around her. Hanes draws another parallel between himself and the singer: “This particular piece deals with Taylor losing the rights to the masters of her precious work, and I had lost a lot of writings and some drawings and some artwork . . .”

Yet, the expression on Swift’s face as she’s drowning isn’t one of suffering. “There’s a certain peace in being able to know you’ve lost something and not fight it,” says Hanes. He pauses and offers one word. “Acceptance.”

After reaching acceptance through his art, Hanes continued to process his feelings on canvas. A later painting in the series, Break Free, draws on Swift’s “Tolerate It” lyrics:

. . . what would you do if I

Break free and leave us in ruins

Took this dagger in me and removed it

Gained the weight of you, then lose it

In this painting, out of a shattering concrete statue, Hanes’ own figure finally emerges, replacing the character he had assumed and then rejected. “It’s about a ripping the self away from following in someone’s footsteps, someone who nobody should follow in their footsteps,” he says. He notes that in this piece, “I am wearing my Taylor swift cardigan and I’m feeling protected and coming into my own person.”

The final work in this collection, completed in December 2022, is a pair of paintings titled Get the Light Back in Your Eyes, Kid, and is inspired by the cover to Taylor’s October 2022 album, “Midnights.” In each painting, Hanes appears, holding a lighter. In the first, he’s looking at the flame, and, in the second, he’s looking up, the glow reflected in his eyes. He explains that he’d been talking to a friend who was familiar with the hardship he’d endured — from leaving his job, the repercussions and finding a new role, his current job, as Forsyth Tech’s acquisitions librarian. “She looked at me one day,” he says, “and she said that I had the light back in my eyes.”

As Hanes reflects on the paintings he’s created from a need to release pain, the light in his eyes sparks from a strengthened sense of self and from friendships he’s rekindled.

What’s next for this Swiftie? While his painting has slowed down due to the work-life balance, he’s thrilled to be finding joy on the job. “I get to decide the new materials that come into our collection and I get to really focus on diversifying . . . and bringing in a lot of marginalized voices and filling in collection gaps.” Then he laughs, adding, “Possibly international travel to see The Eras Tour . . . I may find out tomorrow.”

A few days later, he confirms that he and his childhood friends are, “Drum roll . . . going to Dublin 2024!”  OH

The Crying Game

The Crying Game

My initiation into the Antiques Roadshow

By Cynthia Adams

I still have an antiques hangover of epic proportions, the aftermath of the PBS Antiques Roadshow event last May at Raleigh’s North Carolina Museum of Art, shot for the program’s 27th season. This was only the second time the show has been filmed in Raleigh — and only the fourth time in its history it has come to North Carolina.

In fan parlance, the show is known as AR and first aired in the United States in 1997, now commanding an audience of 6 million viewers.   

A big deal with big drama.

It is based upon the original British premise: Folks bring cherished valuables for on-screen appraisals. Locations vary, but are typically museums or historic sites. Appraisers evaluate and explain whether they’re junk, bunk or treasure.

My fandom began decades ago, but my saga began early this year. 

With only five scheduled cities on the 2023 AR tour, I jumped to enter the online ticket lottery. By April, I was notified I had won tickets — a feat compared to getting into Stanford. 

On average, at least 8,000 applicants vie for 3,500 tickets. Those selected are limited to two objects (more allowed if a collection) for appraisal by the on-site volunteer experts. Fans are legion.

O.Henry colleague Ross Howell Jr. shares insight into just how far-reaching AR is, describing a scene from the former Foggy Rock Eatery & Pub in Blowing Rock. 

“There was a row of flat screen TVs along the length of the bar featuring the usual sports options, but, one night, things were fairly rowdy at the head of the bar, where the cash register was located. I thought maybe it was a football game, but instead it was a group watching Antiques Roadshow.” Fans included “preppies and trust fund babies,” but also “strapping mountain boys” in ball caps.   

“The bartender that night was a bearded, 6-foot-5-inch App State grad who now has his own flower growing business. Somehow, he was keeping a loose record of the valuations proffered by others at the bar as the item was being described by the expert on TV. I never quite gathered what the prize for guessing the valuation closest to the expert’s without going over was, but I think it had to do with who would be responsible for buying the next round of drinks.”

The experts, who gain national celebrity, come from some of the nation’s top auction houses.

At least 6,000 objects are appraised per event, according to the AR website. Raleigh featured 64 appraisers in 23 areas ranging from Ancient Art to Rugs and Textiles.

But, if I’ve learned anything since experiencing AR in person, it’s how I badly want to steal something — nothing I saw hauled in by the show’s many acolytes. Something cerebral, like the sharp and witty descriptions of the participants in Jay Kang’s Liars, Losers and the Lessons of Antiques Roadshow. Now that, I wanted to steal. Because Kang has broken down exactly what it means to, like me, become one with legions of liars and losers. 

The lesson? I, too, was prepared to fake amazement on live television. As if unsure whether baubles I dragged along truly merited the golden AR spotlight — before summarily learning said baubles were unworthy. 

That was the lesson. 

Am I a sore loser? I’m scouring the internet to find fellow liars and losers because . . . well, misery loves company. 

But I digress. Because the reason you’re here is my liar-to-loser exposé.

Learning my ticket admitted two, I gave one to fellow AR fan Larry. [Last name withheld because, well, there’s some shame in our game.] Thereafter, we weighed what items we would take for evaluation. 

On event day, May 16, we left Greensboro for Raleigh at 11 a.m., although our admission time wasn’t until well after lunch. We amused ourselves on the drive by practicing reactions: “Wow! You’re kidding me, right? I had no idea!” and pulling astonished faces.

If you’ve seen the show, you understand. For the rest of you, “Wow” is the conditioned response. It’s Pavlovian. When appraisers tell owners their signed baseball is worth a gazillion, or grandma’s churn is worth thousands, they all mutter the same dazed response: “Wow.”

As if they’ve never heard of Google search.

Nervously excited, we stop off for a slice of pizza and can barely eat for yakking. We have high hopes our treasures might astonish even the most jaded AR appraiser. 

Larry brings some prizes from estate sales: most importantly, a French painting along with some decorative objects, including Bactrian, or “mud,” camels. I have some heirlooms from my husband’s family, small enough to tuck into my purse. 

Pulling into the parking lot, heat radiates on the horizon. Waved through successive lots by the guards, we notice the decidedly older crowd, gesturing and animated. 

Collapsible wagons, the main accessory of the day, are being popped open and filled.

AR flags fly merrily, and navy-blue tents marked the museum grounds — like what exactly? “This looks like a geriatric Taylor Swift concert,” I mumble to Larry, who scored the prize he’s driving at an estate sale. The 2012 350 E Mercedes with only 81,000 miles is a honey of a find. (A great talisman, we had agreed en route.)

“We’ll either come home excited or come home with our tails between our legs,” he predicts. We grow suddenly sober. We had taken time away from work. But clearly, here is a crowd with nothing but time — and suspected valuables — on their hands.

Scores lug boxes or tug arcana and indescribable objects. Confusingly, some enter as others exited, given our staggered ticket times. On his way out, a white-haired man drags a darkly stained and shellacked tree stump festooned with carved stallions, legs pawing and tails flailing.

“What is that?” yells a hard-of-hearing AR fan. 

“A table!” chirps the owner. “It weighs 250–300 pounds.” Two people mouthed the requisite “Wow,” at which the stallion table owner glowed. For him, it’s worth it’s weight in AR gold.

Rather than exit, he suddenly heads for the AR Feedback Booth. Here one could roll the dice again in a last gambit to get on air with a self-effacing joke about how their treasure was mere trash.

We wade through the throngs. A man bearing dodgy looking brass vases howls, “They’re worth $2,000! And I only paid $300 for them!”

“Wows” follow. He bears a triumphant grin on the scale of the stallion stump table.

We trudge with the treasure-laden to Stage 1, called “triage,” to be assigned categories.

The screener in triage, now humorless as it was 1:30 p.m. and she had been on site since 6:30 a.m. — wearily inspects our objects. Her sweat-dampened hair sticks to her forehead.

We are separated for the rest of the day, Larry dispatched inside an air-conditioned museum building, first to Asian Arts then Paintings. (Later reporting that there were few in those lines.) I had no such luck, sent first to the popular Jewelry queue, the longest on the premises, before the even longer Decorative Arts and Silver line. Both are outdoors, where I crowd-watch — and bake.

Walking canes and wheelchairs are not uncommon. Some stagger past bearing weighty relics, curiosities and sundry collectibles.

As of 1:45 p.m., 35 people wait ahead of me. Occasionally, others are escorted by AR crew to the front of the line. Rather than advancing, I steadily lose ground. Standing on tiptoe, I spot natty Doyle Auctions appraiser Kevin Zavian, who wears a suit despite the heat. At the beginning, an electric energy ripples through the line, as we murmur about possibilities.

Yet, the reality goes from manic to depressive as we see stranger things by the hour. 

“Is that man carrying a tapestry on a broom or mop?” a woman asks behind me. Whatever it is, he bears it high like Joan of Arc marching into battle.

As my spirits flag, I spot AR Folk Art appraiser Ken Farmer. Which gives me a brief adrenaline blip. Thereafter, I lose track of time. The air grows stiffer, hotter, as we advance by mere inches, the tapestry bobbing ahead.

“Where did all these people come from?” I hiss in despair. I meet some people who have come all the way from northern Virginia and Charleston, S.C. I despondently imagine somebody driving from Calico Corners, North Dakot, a to break in line with a ukulele. It’s possible. Those of us in the “crowd of liars” are clearly prepared to drag said valuables to hell and back in hopes of newfound wealth, as Kang writes.

Cautionary AR emails warned, it will be a long day, one with lots of standing and waiting. But, somehow, being fabulists ourselves, we don’t quite seem to comprehend the truth of this. However, I brought along a folding chair, which I dutifully lug around all day without actually using it. (More liar madness. If I don’t sit down, hopping along with a chair, perhaps the line will go faster.)

Let’s face it. The odds are against any of us getting on air. There’s a staggering surfeit of quilts, pottery, china, swords, Bakelite jewelry, violins, signage, antique bellows and baskets.

[Fact: Of the most telegenic, rare or intriguing objects appraised at each AR location on the annual tour circuit, only an estimated 90 or so are chosen for recording. Even then, there’s the faintest possibility my precious keepsakes will make the final cut.]

Still, appraisers do their valiant best to winnow out rarities. Occasionally, video crews come through filming “B roll” of the lines of waiting hopefuls lugging everything from well buckets to Grandma’s bloomers. Some deemed “good television” are rare, but not Moon Rocks rare. 

Also curious, even the uber-confident sported shorts, T-shirts, even (gasp!) open-toed shoes. (Expressly forbidden in AR pre-event instructions. And how would that look on TV?) 

But it grows infrequent for AR crew members to randomly tap attendees for filming on set within the museum. The rest of us are left to languish with our sweaty armpits.  Merciful AR volunteers (who also scored admission and appraisals by volunteering) toss out water bottles to the parched crowd. As Larry said in one of our many debriefing conversations the whole day is about as exciting as “watching people bringing junk to a flea market. It wasn’t much better.”

As the line crawls along, Larry calls: “Well . . .” He drawls. “I’m going home with my tail between my legs.” 

The Asian Arts expert (likely Robert Waterhouse) tells him his porcelains are newish or fake. He’s pretty sure he knows who faked them.

“The Bactrians were not the early ones, like I hoped, but still worth $3,000–4,000 for the pair.”

And Larry’s other porcelains? His prized blanc de chine dogs? 

“They were old, but not as old as they were made to look. The reason he knew they weren’t was they both had worked for Sotheby’s. A fellow agent there had them painted. If they had been real, they would have been worth $30–40 grand.” 

And the painting? Appraiser Alan Fausel of Bonhams New York evaluates it matter of factly. Larry is hoping it’s the work of famous French landscape artist Jean Baptiste Camille Corot.

If authentic, it’s invaluable. If it was painted by someone “in the school” of the painter — and it seemed many imitations were attempted — the work might be still worth mere thousands.

Not a complete wash out, but a disconsolate Larry laughs bitterly.

By this time, I had met many other attendees, including Donna and Mike Moore, Judie Mapomo, and Angela Pozeamb — and heard their items’ backstories. A former Macy’s buyer brought two signed Tiffany candy bowls. Another had costume jewelry. Yet another Raleigh woman hauled a garish silver-plated sculpture. “I don’t even like it,” she confesses, as her exasperated husband is suddenly splattered by bird poop.   

By the time I reach appraiser Jill Burgum of Heritage Auctions in Dallas she looks beyond exhausted. 

At her invitation, I produce my treasure: three engraved rose gold studs in an oval antique box.

“Well, these are charming,” she says kindly, lifting one stud, which she promptly drops. Burgum drops underneath the table, too, searching the ground. A fellow appraiser is sympathetic. “Things roll, right?” he commiserates as my heart thrums.

I join her search. Noticing a glint of gold, I find it.

Burgum knows exactly what they are: 18-carat tuxedo studs. We purchased them in a South African antique shop for a pittance — perhaps less than $25. They bore a Birmingham, England, origin mark, dating them precisely to 1899. The original box was called a “coffin” and accounted for a portion of their worth, which was anywhere from $300–500. 

She wonders if it was emblazoned with the name of the actual maker or simply the reseller, guessing it was the later. Not a humiliating outcome, but what, exactly, had I expected?

Two grueling hours later, I summit the second antiques Matterhorn: Decorative Arts and Silver, poised before ARTBnk appraiser Kelly Wright. 

Opening my bag of treasures for the exhausted Wright, I quickly surmise he’s not particularly interested in my husband’s ancestor’s riches-to rags-saga. (A London-made fortune lost to mining in South Africa. Facts in my folder under the heading “Formerly Wealthy But Ruined Ancestors.”)

Wright, having logged hours in the stifling heat, understandably appears close to collapse.

I share what I can in the two minutes allocated. His eyes flicker to mine as he examines my two engraved silver match safes, an ornate glove stretcher, shoe horn and two pairs of grape shears. He reference-checks the hallmarks.

They collectively date to the 1860s, also hallmarked Birmingham, England. “Early Victorian,” Wright determines. The marks concluded they were plated . . . naturally, because the bankrupt ancestor was forced to liquidate the sterling. 

Only the less valuable silverplate was retained.

More bad news: The glove stretchers, etc., belonged to (incomplete) “dresser sets,” Wright explains wearily but patiently. Broken sets held diminished value. 

Wright shoots a pitying look. Given their antique value, they would now be worth only about $60 per item. 

All total, the heirlooms I’d risked heat stroke for were not worth $1,000. I imagine the boys in the bar at Blowing Rock booing me off the stage if I had been filmed.

The AR website suggested, “When your appraisals are complete, please spend time to explore our event venue and enjoy the festival atmosphere.” Rejoining Larry, who’s been waiting in the shade, I announce, “I’ve no desire whatsoever to visit that durn Feedback Booth.”

“Me neither,” Larry agrees. 

“The most valuable thing I got out of today was the free bottled water,” I complain.

“I liked my stuff better when I thought it was valuable,” Larry grouses, packing the trunk. Then we laugh. Irrationally merry.

He carefully threads his real treasure, his Mercedes, through traffic, hitting the Interstate, dissecting every hot minute.

“Do you think it’s kind of a racket?” Larry asks.

It’s, of course, a purely rhetorical question by that point.  OH

Restaurant in Peace

Restaurant in Peace

A look back at bygone ‘Boro eateries

By Billy Ingram

Join us for a retrospective of Greensboro’s rich culinary legacy. Travel back in time to when just about every place someone dined in was locally owned. Patrons not only became friends with the restaurateurs, they were able to watch their children, who served them and ran the cash register, grow into adulthood.

Our journey begins in an era when farm-raised meats and just-picked produce were delivered directly each morning from farms to cafe back doors. Every dish was painstakingly prepared daily from generations-old recipes; adventurous innovators rose up with visions for what an increasingly younger clientele yearned for. Tuck in your bib and dig into the days shortly before the soulless mediocrity of an endless chain of corporate franchises hijacked America’s taste buds.

1) Manuel’s Cafe

© Greensboro History Museum

From the early 1920s to the mid 1950s, Manuel’s was the epitome of fine dining downtown, with fresh flowers and linen tablecloths. Men, of course, wouldn’t think of arriving attired in anything but a suit and white gloves were de rigueur for the ladies, though most folks of a certain class dressed like that when they left the house back then any way. Known for its rich, savory spaghetti and massive Western-style steaks, Manuel’s shared the block with Jefferson Standard’s West Market Street entrance. “We serve the very best!”

2) Cafe Mecca

© Greensboro History Museum

A little further down West Market during the ’30s and ’40s sat “Greensboro’s Most Popular Restaurant,” Cafe Mecca, serving seafood and steaks but pretty much offering the same menu items as every other local hash house. There was very little ethnic food available in town, but one notable exception was The Lotus Restaurant, launched in the 1930s and specializing in Chinese dishes, facing the Carolina Theatre on Greene Street.

3) Matthew’s Grill

Almost every city eatery from the’30s into the ’80s was owned and operated by Greek immigrants, Matthew’s Grill, aka “The Right Place To Eat,” being no exception. Having learned the business at The Princess Cafe, his sister and son-in-law’s downtown mainstay on South Elm, owner-operator Minas Dascalakis bought Matthew’s, sandwiched between the Greensboro and O.Henry Hotels on North Elm, in 1953. For the next 36 years, that luncheonette’s counter served as a go-to spot for business leaders and city officials. Standard Southern fare dominated the menu — the Sunday Special in the ’60s was braised rabbit — but Dascalakis was always eager to whip up any off-menu Greek speciality a customer craved.

4) Your House

This always dependable, inexpensive diner began life in Greensboro in the mid-’50s, adjacent to the Journey’s End Motel on Battleground, and survived 55 years, long after that motor lodge gave way to a generic shopping center some four decades ago. In its heyday, the restaurant was part of a 12-unit chain founded by the Callicotts in Burlington in 1962. I was also partial to another house, Jan’s House, in that funky dilapidated strip mall on West Market, where you could imagine the chef was flat-topping hash browns between stints behind bars.

5) Ranch Restaurant

© Greensboro History Museum

Very much like the design and concept of Your House, The Ranch Restaurant was attached to Smith’s Ranch Motel on Randelman Road at what was then the edge of town near Interstates 40 and 85. In 1968, proprietor J. Howard Coble (no relation to U.S. Rep. Howard Coble of Greensboro, whose father was Joe Howard Coble) served up a complete club steak dinner, including salad, french fries and buttered roll for the princely sum of $1.65.

6) Southern Queen Hot Shoppe

Ever notice that streamlined, train car-like building with a stainless steel exterior (recently painted over) attached to the side of La Bamba on Gate City Boulevard? Originally located across the street, this very rare example of a late-1940s Paramount built diner was constructed for Southern Queen Hot Shoppe, a drive-in hangout for post-war hipsters serviced by uniformed “curbers.” The Greensboro Hot Shoppe was one of 70 in seven states at the chain’s height.

7) Airport Restaurant

© Carol W. Martin/Greensboro History Museum Collection

According to my dear friend, Margaret Underwood, it was at this out-of-the-way Italian eatery overlooking the tarmac at PTI that chef Steve Bartis, another Greek expat, served the Gate City’s first pizza pie back in the 1950s. According to Margaret, this joint, with a $2.25 Wednesday night buffet, “had the best tossed salads with Roquefort dressing I’ve ever tasted.”

8) Tom Tom Supper Club

From the 1940s well into the 1970s, supper clubs were all the rage. Communal dining and dancing in grand ballrooms accompanied by live entertainment dished out by B- and C-listers such as Gogi Grant, The Archers, aka “America’s Answer to the Beatles!,” and alleged comedian Joe E. Ross’ wretched stand-up act. In Greensboro alone there were over half-a-dozen supper clubs during the 1960s with names like Queen’s Inn, Canopy, Tropicana (borderline strip joint booking acts such as Ginger “Snapper” Monroe, Exotique), Green’s — famous for its beach-themed oyster bar — and the Plantation on High Point Road (now Gate City Boulevard), where occasional A-listers, including The Ames Brothers and Nat King Cole, performed.

9) S&W Cafeteria / Mayfair Cafeteria

© Carol W. Martin/Greensboro History Museum Collection

Just one of many cafeterias downtown, the S&W was said to be the finest in the nation with an operation that took up three floors. Many felt it was a cut above, both culinarily and with its quietly elegant interior. Both S&W and Mayfair closed in the mid-’60s, when customers began fleeing the center of town for neighborhood retail strips, Friendly Center and, soon to follow in the ’70s, the Four Seasons Mall. 

10) Sunset Hills Restaurant

© Carol W. Martin/Greensboro History Museum Collection

A fine dining establishment named for the neighborhood it bordered, Sunset Hills Restaurant opened its doors in the 1952 at 1618 Friendly Road. Offering live lobsters, thick-cut pork chops and massive steaks served in a refined setting, it closed when the entire block was demolished in the early-1960s to accommodate a modern fire station, where 1618 West is docked currently.

11) Bliss Restaurant

© Carol W. Martin/Greensboro History Museum Collection

From the corner of Northwood and Huntington, this fine dining establishment seared chops and steaks for the Irving Park set from the 1940s until the mid-’60s when the place, by then renamed Al Bolling’s Charcoal Steak House, was itself reduced to charcoal after an inferno leveled the structure. That location then became home to the greatest multiscreen movie theater this city has ever or will ever know, the Janus. There’s a First Citizen’s Bank there now.

12) IPD / Cellar Anton’s

© Carol W. Martin/Greensboro History Museum Collection

Across Northwood from Bliss, Bill Anton converted a grocery store into a community culinary gathering spot like no other: Irving Park Delicatessen (IPD to regulars). The look, seen here in 1960, changed drastically in later years, but upstairs was the casual cafe where beloved waitress Bertie Johnson warmly welcomed folks, serving up lasagna and beef Leonardo that couldn’t be beat. Downstairs, where maître d’ Fitz Fitzgerald presided, was the more upscale Cellar Anton’s, a cavernous, candlelit old world grotto dominated by a wooden bar for folks “brown bagging.” At the time diners brought their own liquor to be stored behind the bar, then paid a nominal fee for set-ups. When IPD closed a decade ago, an extraordinarily crucial manifestation of what defined Old Greensboro vanished along with it.

13) Casey’s “World’s Best Bar-B-Q”

© Greensboro History Museum

Very popular with the Grimsley High lunch crowd from the ’50s into the ’70s, Casey’s was known for its grab-and-go Whiz Burgers, so named because the patties were slathered in Cheez Whiz. Booths were equipped with tabletop jukeboxes and prominently displayed up front was a check for $5,000 (more than $50,000 adjusted for inflation) signed by Andy Griffith for catering a Los Angeles cast party. He’d wanted his TV co-stars and crew to experience authentic North Carolina barbecue. You may recognize this building — it’s the strip on Friendly where Bandito Bodega is today.

14) Honey’s Drive-In

© Carol W. Martin/Greensboro History Museum Collection

With car culture in full swing by the 1950s, cruising High Point Road became a requisite teenage pastime. So the idea of downing King Bee burgers with your date sitting close enough to share your shake in an automobile the size of a small living room made perfect sense. Immaculately coiffed car hops attended to mobile meal-goers, while indoor noshers placed orders via closed-circuit telephone. Behind Honey’s (previously McClure’s) was the fabled Sky Castle, where Greensboro’s grooviest rock’n’roll radio jocks broadcasted live over 1320-AM WCOG. DJs would even take requests from diners as they tuned in while eating, parked in their beaters and crates. A great deal more exciting than current tenant Olive Garden.

15) McClure’s 

© Carol W. Martin/Greensboro History Museum Collection

After Drew and Devore McClure sold the aforementioned drive-in, they opened this upmarket restaurant around 1964 in the Summit Shopping Center. It was considered the height of mid-century elegance, featuring the “Sir Loin Room,” where rare roast beef was carved to order. A lobster tank anchored the front window, while, in the rear, the comfy Lantern Lounge with tufted leather seating showcased local musical acts on weekends. Very Continental.

16) Jung’s

© Greensboro History Museum

In the 1970s and ’80s, this Tudor-inspired house at 314 North Church St. was one of the city’s superlative dining destinations. While Jung’s Chinese & American Restaurant featured beautiful, spacious dining rooms with high ceilings, when I would tag along with my father, he would generally order Chinese spare ribs to-go.

17) Jordan’s Steak House 

Jordan’s Steak House, established in 1972, featured an intimate, 76-seat isle of gentility on Church Street, masked by a nondescript exterior. The most sought after chophouse in the Triad for visitors during High Point Furniture Market, its limited menu ensured exceptional standards. Diners selected the cut of beef they desired from a rolling table-side cart and, in due time, that steak returned grilled to perfection. By 1999, it was well-done the moment mediocre meat merchants Outback and Longhorn rode into town uninvited.

18) Darryl’s 1890

For teenagers in the 1970s, Darryl’s was the place to congregate with friends over frosty $3 pitchers and cheap wine carafes. Immersed in a playfully garish decor obviously inspired by New Orleans cathouses, the atmosphere was unlike any other, almost every station adorned with its own singular theme. The most requested corner was the caged table resembling a jail cell. Lines were long as eager date-nighters clambered to get inside on weekends.

19) Tony’s Pizza

Another hip hangout for high schoolers in the 1970s was Tony’s Pizza on Battleground, an avenue nowhere resembling the congested corridor of car lots and fast food chains we’re accustomed to today. Conceived and owned by Aleck Alexiou, son of The Princess Cafe’s owner, Tony’s was known for its incredible submarine and grinder sandwiches, a relatively new concept for this region.

20) Baskin-Robbins

Can one wax nostalgic over a franchise store in a cinderblock hut? In the 1970s, after movies let out at the Janus Theatres, Baskin-Robbins’ parking lot on Battleground behind IPD became packed tighter than a BR pint, brimming with young people. Business was so brisk Janus launched its own ice cream parlor that failed to dampen the throngs amassing nightly in search for affection over confection anyway. After the Janus’ eight screens flickered out in 2000, the crowds melted away at 31 Flavors, resulting in its slow demise.

As an amuse bouche, here’s a partial list of restaurants that have been around for 45 years or more, still in their original locations, that remain highly recommended: Cafe Pasta; Bernie’s Bar-B-Q; Brown-Gardiner Drug Store’s lunch counter; Lucky 32; Yum-Yum Better Ice Cream; K&W Cafeteria; Lox, Stock & Bagel; First Carolina Delicatessen; Mayberry Ice Cream; and New York Pizza on Tate.  OH

Poem November 2023

Poem November 2023

After Church

When the preacher’s son told me

my aura was part halo, part rainbow,

I saw him see me

saintly. God

appeared instantly and everywhere

that summer:

smiling in the pansies,

reflecting us in the farm pond,

beside us on our bikes,

in the barn fragrant with warm cows,

glinting from the hay chaff,

the slatted light.

God touched us as we touched,

electricity in our fingers,

we were shimmery and dewy,

our skin golden, hair sun-bleached.

Angels sang in our voices.

The moon rose in heaven, love,

heaven in the moon.

— Debra Kaufman

Debra Kaufman’s newest poerty collection, Outwalking the Shadow, is forthcoming from Redhawk Publications.

Agent Of Change

Agent Of Change

How real estate ace Melissa Greer has made a space her own

By Maria Johnson     Photographs by Amy Freeman

Going by the listing alone, real estate agent Melissa Greer was “meh” about the two-bedroom brick cottage that was built in 1941 and painted white.

But she loved the street, a short, curved and somewhat hidden passage in Greensboro’s venerable Sunset Hills — nothing like the busy cut-through where she lived, just around the corner.

“I like to be a little off the radar,” says Greer, who was house shopping for herself in 2004.

Touring the place for the first time, she took her mother, a brother and a sister. That made four real estate agents in all.

Greer’s mom, the late Johnnye Greer Hunter, a well-respected local broker, had raised a passel of property-savvy children, with four of her five kids making the business their life’s work.

On that summer day, Greer, her mom, her sister, Johnnye Letterman, and her brother, Waban Carter, parked at the curb in front of the cottage, careful not to block the driveway, a real estate no-no. They stuck to the brick walkway leading up to the dark green front door. No slogging through the grass like amateurs.

Greer remembers liking the blue slate on the stoop, the replacement windows and the heavy, metal plaque of house numbers bolted into the wall by the front door.

The place was cozy, classy, solid.

The family walked in and commenced their counterclockwise tour: formal living room stretched across the front, formal dining room buttressing one end. Just behind the dining room, a small square kitchen with a step-down sun porch and a painted wooden deck beyond.

Back inside, next to the kitchen, lay a den with its own full bath, which was a little unusual but could be changed, her family pointed out.

They stuck their heads into the primary bedroom, a second full bath on the hall — this one with a funky fish design laid into the tile floor — and a second bedroom.

What did Greer, the baby of the family, think of the home?

She turned to her pack.

They liked it.

Greer paid asking price.

“I’ll negotiate for other people,” she says. “Not so much for myself.”

She wanted to be a teacher, hence the degree in English education from UNC-Chapel Hill.

But English-teaching jobs were as scarce as properly diagrammed sentences when she graduated, so she kept her job at Peppi’s Pizza Den in Chapel Hill, where she often waited on then-UNC basketball star Michael Jordan.

Greer’s next job was serving at an upscale seafood restaurant in Hilton Head, S.C. Her nocturnal life caught the attention of her mother, who suggested that Greer return to Greensboro to work in her real estate business.

“It was a strong recommendation,” Greer says, laughing at the memory.

Johnnye Greer Hunter was a force, personally and professionally.

As a young woman, Hunter dressed windows at the S.H. Kress & Co. five-and-dime store in downtown Greensboro. She was a hostess at The Lotus, one of the city’s first Chinese restaurants. She managed a local doctor’s office. She copped a real estate license in 1968.

Greer remembers learning to read by quizzing her mom with questions from a real estate textbook.

In the days before computerized listings, Hunter enlisted her children to help with removing and replacing pages in her loose-leaf listing book.

Later, when they could drive, the kids delivered paperwork and keys. They pulled and planted for-sale signs.

Hunter worked for a local agency for several years before joining two other women to form their own company, The Property Shop.

“She was one of the first women to become a leader in the real estate industry. Prior to that, most of the leaders were men,” Greer says. “I think the ’70s was a decade when that started to change.”

In 1978, Hunter branched out again, starting Johnnye Greer Hunter & Associates with her daughter, Johnnye Letterman.

Post-plate slinging, Greer’s first job with the family firm was answering phones and writing advertisements for homes.

She made minimum wage. She asked her mom for a commission-only sales job.

“I didn’t think it could be a whole lot worse,” Greer says. “It was.”

After six months, Greer had not sold a single house.

“You don’t like this, do you?” her mother asked.

“No, ma’am,” Greer answered.

Her mother diagnosed the problem and the cure: Greer had a bad attitude. She had 30 days to shape up. If she didn’t, her mom would help her find another job.

On her mother’s advice, Greer hung a mirror on her office wall. When she talked to clients, she checked the mirror to make sure she was smiling.

People can hear a smile in your voice, her mother assured her.

Thirty days passed. Greer had sold four or five homes, nearly a million dollars’ worth of real estate.

“It changed my life,” Greer says, pausing to remember the full impact of the moment. “It was enough for me to get a Honda Accord with a moon roof. She was making me drive a Pontiac Sunbird.”

It’s hard to overstate just how good Greer is at her job.

Among the 50,000-plus agents working in the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices network across the country, she has been No. 1, in terms of transactions, for the last two calendar years.

In 2022, she sold 192 homes, either as the listing agent or buyer’s agent. That averages out to more than three homes a week. Lately, the rate has been closer to five homes a week. In July, she closed the books on 19 homes.

“It was a really good month,” she says, cautious of being too content.

There are several reasons Greer kills it at work.

She learned the business from her mom and older siblings.

She puts in 12-hour days.

She employs a small support staff and hires marketing specialists.

She knows Greensboro thoroughly.

She’s also a natural empath, who finds it easy to slip into other people’s skin and understand what makes them happy. It’s a valuable skill for sales people, whether they’re pushing pizzas, prawns, palaces or patio homes.               

It doesn’t hurt that she’s an easy talker with a self-effacing sense of humor and an ability to quickly find common ground with strangers.

“That ‘U’ in conduct is coming in handy,” she says, recalling her report cards from Page High School. A so-so student, she had a lot of friends and did mostly as she was told, she says, dipping into the forbidden only if she was sure she could get away with it.

Her mother sat on her shoulder.

She still does.

“Everything I do, I want her to be proud,” Greer says. “That’s why I don’t have a tattoo, even though I’ve always kinda wanted one. She would never think that was a good idea.”

Her mom had a few maxims about real estate:

Selling homes is a service, not just a sales job, because people’s homes are their havens.

Location, location, location.

If there’s something you don’t like about a home, you can change it, but you can’t change the address (see above).

Greer’s cottage nailed the location part, being in a sought-after neighborhood just a jog from downtown, UNCG, Friendly Center and other city pulse points.

As for changes, Greer shaped the home to her liking, step by step.

She painted walls and refinished hardwoods.

She brought down the wall between the kitchen and den.

She sealed off the full bath’s access to the den and opened it to the primary bedroom on the other side.

She pulled off the old deck and replaced it with a sleek platform of composite planks fenced by black railings.

She expanded and updated the kitchen, swallowing up the sun porch to create an even greater great room, an airy teal, white and gold space where Greer and her beloved rescue dog, Macy — named for R&B singer Macy Gray — spend most of their down time.

“That’s her favorite pillow,” Greer says, pointing to the furry, white cushion in the corner of her sectional sofa. “A friend of mine took her picture sitting on that pillow and posted it, and the real Macy Gray ‘liked’ it.”

What’s Greer’s favorite Macy Gray song?

The answer is quick: “I Try.”

About eight years ago, Greer switched the lighting in the dining room, taking down the crystal chandelier that had once belonged to her mother and replacing it with a bowl-shaped fixture with gold ribs.

It was the first change she had made to the house without asking her family’s opinion.

Her sibs came to visit.

Ugh, they said in different words. Maybe because they thought the new fixture was a tad industrial. Maybe because it was not their mother’s.

Whatever the reason, Greer doubted her decision.

But she let the fixture hang.

“Now, they love it,” she says with a smile anyone could hear over the phone.

The podcast episode is called “Stranger Things in Real Estate.”

Greer is sitting at her kitchen island, kibitzing with her friend and marketing guru, Dave Wilson of Tigermoth Creative in Greensboro.

They started the podcast, Melissa Unscripted, back in 2019 to keep Greer current on social media. Already she maintained a presence on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, now known as X.

“I feel a real responsibility to stay relevant,” says Greer, who nonetheless bristles at the pressure on businesspeople to create and sustain an online brand. “I miss the days when you could do your own thing and disappear. Now that you have to do so much marketing, it’s hard to do that.”

After a cheerful introduction, Wilson asks for examples of weirdness that Greer has witnessed in more than 30 years of selling real estate.

She starts slowly. Once, she showed a home with a bedroom that contained nothing but two mannequins, both wearing clothes. Strange.

What else? Wilson nudges.

Well, once she listed a house with two large crucifixes hanging on the wall, on either side of the bed, in the primary bedroom. A mirrored disco ball hung from the ceiling.

“I said, ‘You gotta pick one. We have to pick a theme,’” she remembers with a laugh.

Wilson prods again: Have you ever walked in on anyone?

“Yes,” Greer says. “I’ve walked in on couples, I’ve walked in on kids skipping school and smoking not-cigarettes. I’ve walked in on people taking naps.”

Haunted houses? Wilson inquires.

Oh, sure, Greer says.

“There’s a website that one of my clients told me about called diedinhouse.com,” she continues. “I’ve actually paid to search things because people want to know.”

Wilson, the marketing man, embraces the curveball with arch humor: “So if we get anything out of this podcast that’s helpful for people buying, it’s diedinhouse.com.”

Greer agrees by continuing full speed ahead. She’s afraid to look up her own house, she tells Wilson, but she used the fee-based service to check her childhood home because she already knew someone had died in there.

“My brother, when I was brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed, he’d hide under my bed,” she says. “And when my mother told me good night and the lights went out, he’d boost the mattress up and say, ‘Ooooou,’ — like a ghost — ‘is that you, George?’ That was the guy’s name. And I’d start screaming.”

 

The best thing about Greer’s primary bedroom?

Well, no one has died in there. It’s brand new, the latest improvement.

“It’s like a treehouse,” she says, walking into the high-ceilinged suite.

To create the restful perch, which looks into a curtain of green, she ballooned the old bedroom beyond the walk-out basement.

The lofted addition — which covers an outdoor living area below — allowed for the addition of a luxurious bathroom and substantial closet.

“I’ve never had a walk-in closet, so this is cool to me,” she says, beaming as she shows off the space.

It’s hard to believe that a woman who sells million-dollar homes regularly is tickled by such an amenity, but she insists her happiness is genuine.

“I grew up in a small house,” she says. “I always shared a room.”

The new suite, she says, makes the home’s vibe and size — now a little shy of 2,000 square feet — consistent with other upgrades.

The new view allows her to appreciate one of them. The room overlooks a “pandemic pool” with a stony waterfall that gushes skin-friendly salt water.

“It’s like swimming in a water feature,” says Greer, who likes to float with family and friends. “I call it a cocktail pool.”

She overhauled the yard after the pool was installed in 2021. John Newman Garden Design in Winston-Salem, which also built the waterfall, painted the slope with a Japanese-inspired palette of stone, pine, maple, yucca and barbered, bonsai-style azalea, along with a custom Stonehenge-like bench.

“I like the zen feel of it,” says Greer.

Gradually, she says, she has grown to feel more at home in her cottage — and in her own skin.

“There’s a part of me that’s trying to please other people, always. I don’t think that’s ever going to go away, and that’s a good trait to have in a Realtor, but you develop a certain confidence in yourself so you can create what you want and know that’s a beautiful thing.”  OH

Garden of Earthly Delights

Garden of Earthly Delights

Dr. Steve Ford tames a wooded beast

By Cynthia Adams

Photographs by Lynn Donovan

What would neurologist Steve Ford choose to do after years of healing others?

Dr. Steve Ford’s former work life meant consulting with stroke patients, treating headaches, seizures, neurological issues or chronic pain. Most days were spent scrutinizing patients’ symptoms in a quest to solve what has been described as a “puzzle” inside a patient’s brain. After more than 43 years of stress-filled work attending those living with chronic pain, would the physician heed the admonition to “heal thyself?”

Ford discovered the answer to that particular puzzle lay in the great outdoors.   

In the six years since his retirement, Ford seems to have found an avocation, carving a private woodland garden from the densely forested acreage at Willow Creek, a High Point suburb. 

Today, transformed, it is a dreamscape that covers some 2.5 acres. In bringing order to a thick, untamed landscape, he created four pockets of serenity, each designed for cocktail-sipping at dusk in an Adirondack chair or simply enjoying the water sounds, bird calls and, best of all — the soothing sounds of silence.

Water factors heavily into the design of Ford’s gardens. There’s a swimming pool he and his wife, Gillian Overing — also recently retired from a career as an English professor at Wake Forest University — installed when they moved there in 2001, and places aplenty to relax into the charms of a green space tucked inside an urban neighborhood.

Now his daily routine — “whenever the weather’s okay” — is to pull on work clothes and spend hours enhancing his personal vision of peaceful tranquility — toiling in a private retreat. After retiring from a high-stress area of specialization in 2017, Ford could have easily chosen a hobby with less headaches. But he found himself taming not one but three adjoining lots, uncovering all sorts of unexpected possibilities — and a new set of challenges. For instance, a charming footbridge he built to span the brook kept being washed away by storms.

Palms held up in surrender, he explains he’s bowed to the inevitable.

Other projects simply required dogged determination.

Ford had to haul untold barrows of gravel, which he edged with wood, to create walking paths that wouldn’t also wash away during heavy rains and flooding. “All of the paths in the garden were created by me,” he says with modest pride.

The couple has owned the property for 23 years. It offered wooded privacy on both sides of the early-1990 contemporary house, but the rear of the home opened to the Willow Creek golf course, allowing light to flow inside.

Overing, who is British, was born in London. The pair met at Wake Forest “on a blind date set up by friends,” Ford explains. He did his residency at Baptist Hospital after graduating from The Medical University of South Carolina in 1979. “I was in my internship and she was in the first year of her professorship.”

His wife’s true passion, enjoyed since childhood, is horse riding, explains Ford. But his is gardening. 

Yet, as an Englishwoman, she, too, appreciates the outdoors.

“Yes, Gillian enjoys the garden,” he says, smiling, pausing outside their contemporary home, proceeding through the garden gate towards the long, rectangular pool. The pool is flanked by Asian touches with an exotic deciduous tree in the corner. John Newman, a professional landscape designer and friend, helped design the Japanese-themed pool area. Brian Hanson, a fellow retiree and friend, created the Japanese lanterns, which sit near the pool, from concrete.

The graveled pathways leading away from the secluded pool feature more and more native plantings. “I guess the underlying theme is that these are mostly plants that grow naturally in a shaded wetland,” Ford says.

The couple’s border collie, Blanche, was obtained from a Charlottesville, Va., friend and breeder. Blanche (named for Blanche DuBois) is uncharacteristically disinterested in herding, Ford explains, but she excels at loyalty.

Never far from Ford’s side, Blanche follows as he walks a path that leads to a shaded brook. The brook is fed by Abbotts Creek, one of their property’s natural side boundaries.

As peaceful as the effect of trickling water is now, it seems idyllic.

Less so, before.

At first, the property was quite overgrown, so much so that even three years after they had purchased it, “we didn’t even know there was a creek,” given the thickness of the woods engulfing the house. 

“I’m a hands-in-the dirt person,” Ford explains. As he learned more about gardening, he considered being part of a gardening club for years — hard to do with his medical career, he inserts. With a nudge from fellow gardener Martha Yarborough, the couple opened the garden five years ago for a public tour to benefit the Davidson County Master Gardener program.

At the urging of Yarborough, who devotes her own retirement to developing ornamental and vegetable gardens (see September, 2022 O. Henry, “Simple Abundance”) Ford took the Davidson County Master Gardener classes.

Transformed by 2018, his garden was more than ready for public scrutiny. It was opened for public tour and featured in a North Carolina State Extension Master Garden video as an example of what other native gardeners aspire to: “From the dazzling bluebells that cover ancient woodland in the spring to the bright meadows bursting with buttercups in the summer, wild flowers are what make our woods so beautiful, while providing precious nectar for invertebrates.” 

Citing a lettuce-lined path and poolside beds, as well as colonies of ferns along the stream, the introduction promised “. . . the diversity and expanse will amaze and inspire you!”

Now Ford’s focus has turned exclusively to native plants. Walk down one of his pathways and you’ll encounter trillium grandiflorum, trillium x. flexatum, Carolina allspice, and more, each carefully labeled.

There are masses of woodland wildflowers, narcotic in their beauty. There are grasses and sedges. Native ferns that volunteer (sometimes with a helpful assist from Ford).

“The ferns include Christmas ferns, lady ferns, cinnamon ferns, shaggy shield ferns, Japanese painted ferns, ebony spleenwort, ostrich ferns and multiple varieties of maidenhair ferns.”

Mosses, too. All plants that thrive in variable levels of light and high humidity.

“Other flowering plants in the garden include Arum italicum (Italian arum), bear’s breeches, May apple, Solomon’s seal, bloodroot, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Japanese and native pachysandra, Arisaema dracontium, wild ginger and primroses,” Ford says, sometimes citing their botanical names.

“More numerous are the native sessile and trillium cuneatum [or sweet Betsy] that were present before I got involved in the property and have continued to thrive without my cultivation. The same is true about trout lilies that have proliferated in the garden without my cultivation.”

Then there is the tree canopy itself. “The trees that predominate are tulip poplars, sycamores, red cedars and sweet gums, providing the overstory. The understory is populated with American and kousa dogwoods and various Japanese maples, Stewartias, American and Japanese Styrax, deciduous magnolias, azaleas, camelias, rhododendrons, hydrangeas,” says Ford. “I could go on and on, but I think that sounds like enough.”

Now Ford’s routine (when the couple isn’t traveling) is to sink his hands into the soil of the woodland oasis of his own design. Ford once planted Lenten roses, but he points out he is concerned they are too invasive and jokes about taking them out with weed killer.

Those pushy Lenten roses, he says ruefully, have got to go. But as the skies grow grayer and a storm threatens, he heads inside with Blanche padding behind him. She plops on the floor at Ford’s feet where he has settled onto a sofa.

The doctor smiles, reaching to stroke Blanche’s head. When asked the hour he looks mildly surprised, giving a telling answer. Since retirement he finds he has stopped wearing a watch. 

And his smile deepens with the soft sounds of a rhythmic rain as Blanche sighs contentedly.  OH

Dogwood Farms: A Canvas of Color

Dogwood Farms: A Canvas of Color

Flowers by the acre, honey by the jar
and views out of this world

By Ross Howell Jr.    Photographs by Lynn Donovan

As you turn into the gravel driveway at Dogwood Farms in Belews Creek, you’re met with a field of yellow sunflowers stretching into the distance.

Continuing along the driveway, you’ll pass brightly-colored zinnias, purple coneflowers, redbud trees and a brilliant red hibiscus.

I park in the shade of an oak tree and get out of the car. The late-July morning air is still cool. I see Chris Crump, founder and owner of Dogwood Farms, step out of his tidy farmhouse. He’s flanked by his handsome, 11-year-old son, Colt, who wears a farmer’s cap — like his father.

Two chocolate Labs lope up to complete the welcoming committee. They check me out with a few sniffs, then bound off to more interesting pursuits.

Chris and I shake hands. There’s a touch of gray in his beard, and from his grip you recognize he’s a man who’s known years of labor.

And he’s a man who’s mindful of legacy.

“Did you notice the hibiscus next to the driveway?” he asks.

I nod yes.

Chris tells me that the plant first grew at his great-grandmother’s home. It was later transplanted to his grandmother’s new house when it was built, and then to his mother’s. When his mother and father decided to move, he transplanted the red hibiscus to the farm.

“Over the years we’ve separated the roots and given transplants to family members, friends and neighbors,” Chris says.

“I think my grandma would really get a kick out of knowing it’s been shared with so many people,” he chuckles.

Chris grew up in the Sedge Garden section of Winston-Salem. While his parents weren’t serious gardeners, his grandfather was.

“My Grandpa was a huge gardener,” Chris recalls with a smile.

The city of Winston-Salem had more of a country feel to it back then, he tells me. On vacant lots, neighbors often would cultivate community gardens.

“I still remember the smell of the dirt when Grandpa would dig potatoes,” Chris says. Together they’d walk the rows, picking up potatoes and sacking them.

After high school, Chris studied horticulture at Forsyth Tech Community College. Straightaway from earning his degree, he took a job with the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

He worked for NCDOT for 25 years — much of that time, supervising teams who planted and maintained wildflower beds along our roadways. As his boss neared retirement, Chris realized the position would probably fall to him. It wasn’t something he wanted to take on.

“I knew it was time to step away,” Chris says. He left NCDOT in 2001.

He purchased his first parcel of land for Dogwood Farms — 24 acres — in 2003. The farm had been neglected for years and was overgrown with trees, bushes and vines. When Chris’s father took a look at the place, he said, “You’re gonna be working till you die if you buy all that land!” “It’ll be all right,” Chris remembers saying to his dad. “I’ll have plenty of kids to help me.”

But 10 years passed before his son Colt was born.

“I bought this place thinking I’d raise a bunch of kids here,” Chris says. “Turns out, there’s only one.”

“But I think it all happened for a reason,” he adds.

That reason’s about legacy, too.

“In my mind, I’m laying the foundation for him,” Chris says, nodding toward Colt. “I want this place to be something he can build on.”

“He’s an old soul,” Chris continues. “I feel like he’s going to be in some kind of heavy equipment. That’s his thing.”

Chris tells me about Colt’s natural hand-eye coordination, about videos he’s shot of his son operating a 12-ton excavator, spinning it around to clean its tracks, skillfully manipulating the bucket to uproot trees from uncleared ground.

“College isn’t going to be for him, and that’s fine,” says Chris.

I ask Colt about his responsibilities at Dogwood Farms.

“I do the honeybees, the honey,” Colt answers, grinning broadly. “We call it Colt’s Signature Honey.”

Colt explains that the farm will be making its first “pull” from the five beehives on the property in the next few days. He describes the process of cleaning out the hives after winter, feeding the bees to keep them healthy, and spinning and putting the honey in jars so it can be sold.

When I ask him how long he’s been managing the bees, he answers, “Five years.”

So Colt’s been a beekeeper from the age of 6.

He scurries back into the house, since he’s getting materials together to enter sixth grade at Triad Baptist Christian Academy in Kernersville.

Chris and I start walking toward the back section of his yard.

“A friend comes over to help Colt,” Chris says. “He has a lot of experience with producing honey. He’s our bee mentor. Working with the bees has been a great learning tool for Colt — seeing how a business works.”

We stop at the edge of the yard and look back toward the farm entrance and the field of sunflowers.

“When I purchased this place, what I wanted to do had nothing to do with flowers,” Chris says. “I wanted to grow ornamental trees for landscaping.”

Chris had done landscaping on the side and had several friends in the business, so he figured he would be able to establish a market readily. But the Great Recession brought home building nearly to a standstill.

So he bided his time.

Then a friend told him the Rockingham County Cooperative Extension office was offering a class on wholesale cut-flowers farming. He decided to attend, and it sparked an interest.

But he wasn’t sure what route to take. He’d grown flowers to give to neighbors and grew sunflowers for dove hunting. And he’d always grown flowers along the property fronting the road.

Then one day a young photographer stopped in and asked if she could take photographs of the farm. In exchange, she’d make family photos of Chris and Colt for free.

Chris figured, sure, why not?

Later, the photographer said to him, “You need to charge people for coming out to the farm.”

Chris answered, “Nobody’s going to pay to see this farm.”

He shakes his head, smiles at me and says, “I was wrong.”

In 2015, after going through a divorce, Chris decided to get serious about opening Dogwood Farms to the public. He’d also bought an additional tract of land that nearly doubled his acreage.

That year, a professional photographer in Charlotte called Chris. She said she wanted to book four hours of shooting on the farm for clients flying in from California.

“I’ve got some pretty colorful friends that love to pull my chain,” Chris laughs, telling the story.

“So I said, ‘Is this a joke?’ She said, ‘No, a race team owner’s son and his girlfriend want to do engagement photos.’”

“I said, ‘You mean to tell me there’s not a sunflower field somewhere between Santa Monica and Belews Creek?’ And she laughed and said, ‘Apparently not!’”

“I said, ‘Absolutely, bring them on.’”

Chris tells me four vans of equipment and people drove in the day of the shoot. And the pièce de résistance?

“The photographer got one picture of a lightning bug that landed right on the girl’s engagement ring,” Chris says. “They told me that photo was used on billboard advertising for the ring designer out in California. I was blown away.”

Interest in Dogwood Farms seemed to snowball from there, mostly on the internet. Photographers scheduled professional sessions. Individuals and families came to pick flowers and take photos, posting their images to Facebook and Instagram.

He tells me people have visited Dogwood Farms from many states — even as far away as Europe.

“Last year we even had refugees from Ukraine,” Chris says.

Now we turn our gaze toward the back of the property.

Chris tells me in the spring a pair of ospreys built a nest in a cell phone tower visible above the tree line. (Belews Lake is not far away.) He points out a dead tree nearby.

“For weeks I’d watch two ospreys crash into that tree, breaking off dead sticks — four or five feet long — and carry them up to that tower,” Chris says. “It was amazing.”

He turns and points toward the view on the horizon.

“Those are the Sauratown Mountains, and you can see Pilot Mountain right there — it’s kind of hazy today — and right behind those trees is Hanging Rock,” Chris says.

“That’s what brings people to this place — our views,” he adds. “The sunsets here are unrivaled.”

Chris and I hop into his ATV to drive toward the back of the property. We pass another field of sunflowers planted later than the field at the farm entrance. They’ll bloom in a couple weeks. We go past the pond. Just beyond the pond, at the woods edge, are Colt’s beehives. Next is a field of zinnias with plump, green buds that will soon be in bloom, too.

Take a moment to imagine that — a field of zinnias with blossoms of red, orange, yellow and pink, the colors of sunset.

And I haven’t even mentioned the spring season at Dogwood Farms.

“The spring flowers we had this year were just out of this world,” Chris says. People were in awe of his field of red poppies.

When we reach a knoll, Chris stops and cuts off the engine. The sunlight is warmer now. When the breeze stirs, it’s soothing. There’s birdsong all about. Bluebirds, finches. Near the pond, a killdeer calls. Cicadas drone in the trees.

The land rolls away from us into a valley thick with shrubs and saplings. Chris points to the tree line in the distance — the edge of his property. He tells me a little stream there feeds into Belews Creek.

“The creek bed is rock,” he says. “Almost like a rock water slide.” He tells me one day that spot will be another great place for photographs.

“It’s getting these last 10 acres cleared that’s the thing,” he sighs. “And making a way for people to get back in there easily.”

Atop the knoll where we’re sitting are piles of raw earth, moved here when the pond was excavated. Chris explains he’ll use the earth to raise a roadbed through the ravine toward the creek.

Where thickets grow now, he’ll plant Bidens cernua, called nodding bur-marigold.

“Just think of all that valley as a river of yellow,” he muses.

And that’s Chris Crump’s genius. He imagines a landscape canvas and sets about painting it with living things.

He tells me after all the years, all the seasons, all the workdays on the farm, at day’s end, he will pause here a moment to reflect.

“God got you to the end of the day and the sunset’s your reward,” he muses. “It’s like a tribute, so you can say to the good Lord, ‘Thank you.’”

And that’s a legacy, too.

“Sunsets here never get old,” Chris adds.  OH

For more pictures and information on the attractions at Dogwood Farms, follow Dogwood Farms on Facebook, @dogwoodfarmsupick on Instagram or visit www.dogwoodfarmsbelewscreek.com.

Found Objects

Found Objects

What’s old is newly loved

By Cassie Bustamante     Photographs by Bert VanderVeen

If you’ve ever wandered the rows of a flea market or gotten lost in an antique store’s surplus of old oddities, you know that sometimes a certain piece calls out to you. Sometimes it’s a portrait of a woman you’ve never seen, but her image inspires a story in your mind. Maybe it’s the midcentury dresser that reminds you of sleepovers at your grandparents’ place, complete with rusty-orange shag carpeting and wood-paneled walls. Whatever it is, something compels you to bring it home and make it yours. We talked to five local homeowners and asked the question: What’s your favorite find?

As a lover of all things midcentury — both furniture and accessories, such as McCoy pottery of the era — Linda Hiatt wandered into Lindley Park Vintage, known for its specialty in that particular era. The atomic stars were shining in her favor that Saturday and she discovered a Henry Rosengren Hansen table that was a perfect fit for her home’s aesthetic. “His pieces are hard to find,” she says. Not only did she score the table, but also found midcentury chairs that, while not designed by Rosengren Hansen, fit the vibe.

Thrifter extraordinaire Seth Anderson has filled his family’s home with treasures found across the Triad’s many secondhand stores, not to mention his collection of paintings by his wife, artist Katie Anderson. Favorite find? How about a favorite nook, bursting with vintage gems? “My wife had done this large square encaustic (wax) piece a few years ago but we hadn’t found a home for it,” he says. The artwork serves as “the anchor” and is complemented by scores galore from the Habitat Restore, Salvation Army and several from Goodwill. “The chair I paid $3 for at Goodwill and spray painted, reupholstering the seat with a remnant from Reconsidered Goods.” Clearly, Anderson doesn’t play favorites with his shops either.

Writer Mallory Miranda walked into Antique Market Place with a mission: Find a vintage secretary’s desk. Why? “I wanted a desk that would serve one purpose.” What she didn’t want was a catchall. She fulfilled her quest in one of her favorite stalls, Dori’s Collection. The many compartments in a secretary “are perfect for squirreling away all my notes and tools for future writing adventures.” But the real bonus for a creative spirit? “The desk folds up to conceal all my messy ‘organization.’” To complement it, Miranda found a chair from another era that is a perfect match — its “soulmate” — at The Red Collection on Mill Street.

Sometimes we find exactly what we’re looking for when we aren’t actually looking for it at all. Shante Kirlew, owner of AK London Lifestyle, a beeswax candle company, discovered a 1970s buffet on “a casual stroll” through Goodwill. “I wasn’t looking for anything specific that day, but when I saw her, it was love at first sight,” she says, adding that it harkened back to Saturday morning furniture-polishing sessions at her grandmother’s house when she was a child. It’s her favorite piece in her home for many functional and aesthetic reasons, but “most importantly, it triggers memories of the happiest time in my life.”

When Kristen and Andy Zeiner moved from California to Greensboro in the spring of 2021, they were thrilled to be so close to “The Furniture Capital of the World” and outfitted their new Irving Park digs with staples from Furnitureland South. But their favorite piece is a Red Collection score, a late 1600s mule chest from Wales, which Kristen appreciates because her 95-year-old father, who lives with them, is Welsh. “It has the scent of many adventures in its travels,” she says. “We wish we could hear its stories.” Plus, adds Andy, “Trying to find something new of this quality and with this history would be impossible. And you can be almost certain that your neighbor won’t have the same exact one.” Adding a touch of golden whimsy, signed Michael Lambert “dancing” Modernist pottery, discovered at a California Goodwill for just $20, sits on top.

Lastly, as a former vintage store owner, I had to play in the sandbox of treasures, too. In an old horse stable filled with abandoned finds of a furniture refinisher (and no remnants of horses, mind you), I came across this pair of veneered midcentury cabinets that appear to have been used in an office — hence the locks. After cleaning them with a vinegar solution, I painted them white and gold-leafed the frame of the facade. Inside, each has a shelf and ample storage. It might not surprise you to find that my makeshift nightstand is stuffed with approximately — no exaggeration — 150 books.  OH

Poem October 2023

Poem October 2023

Letting Go

Today the trees release their leaves. The wind

a breath that calls the colors down to earth —

wild dance with crimson, gold, and brown

aloft in death, unfurling flaming fields 

and forest floor. If I could hurl myself 

like this into each ending, long for nothing 

sure or safe, but celebrate the letting go, 

 

descend, a woman trusting the fall.

I’d release all claim to expectation, 

breathe the air of possibility, 

find beginnings everywhere. 

I’d settle down to loamy earth long enough

to nourish life that waits, growing still

in the summons from a savage world.

      — Pat Riviere-Seel

Pat Riviere-Seel’s latest collection, When There Were Horses, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing Company.