Life’s Funny

Stone Cold Fun

Swept Away by Curling

By Maria Johnson

With the Winter Olympic Games schussing around South Korea this month — assuming that no one has shown off the size of his button by launching nuclear weapons in those parts — I think it’s fair to say that most of us have resumed our once-every-four-years infatuation with the sport of curling, that oh-so-slick game that resembles shuffleboard on ice.

Most of all, I enjoy watching curling team members furiously sweep the ice ahead of the stone as it glides down the sheet.

Apparently, the point of all that sweeping is to heat up the ice enough to melt the surface slightly, thus reducing friction and causing the stone to travel in the desired direction.

I also suspect that, in the minds of Olympic sweepers, their frenzied performances are auditions for Swiffer commercials after the Olympics as the possibility of a professional curling career is, shall we say, subzero.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a lot of fun with the sport, as a group of Greensboro residents has discovered.

First a little background: About this time last year, Walker Sanders had a chat with Chuck Burch.

Burch manages Piedmont Winterfest, temporary outdoor ice rink that’s open in downtown’s LeBauer Park from mid-November through January.

Sanders is president of the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, which built the park with money from the estate of the late Carolyn LeBauer, then gave the park to the city. He also serves on the board of the nonprofit group that manages the park.

After the park opened in the summer of 2016, Sanders asked Burch what he thought about curling.

Burch said he thought his hair was too short for that. Then he said, “Ohhhhhhhh wait, you mean the sport.”

That might be a slight exaggeration. Or a big one. In any case, the outcome was the same.

Burch, whose full-time job is managing Greensboro Ice House, a year-round indoor rink, agreed that curling would be a good way to attract nonskaters to the outdoor rink. Sanders proposed trying it with a group of friends. So in January 2017, Sanders and a dozen pals spent an afternoon sweeping, slipping and sipping their way through a highly informal introduction to curling.

“You could have called it the Close-Enough Curling Club,” said Sanders, noting that the slapstick factor was boosted by beer and wine sold at the park’s two kiosks, the only alcohol allowed on the premises.

Serious curlers never would condone what happened in Greensboro, a sudsy, scaled-down version of the game. The thick outdoor ice is far too bumpy for their tastes, and neither would they approve of the homemade equipment that Sanders and his buddies used.

It seems that a set of used curling stones runs about $7,500, which makes even foundation people, who are used to doling out big bucks, go, “Say wha?”

Chuck Burch to the rescue. After consulting YouTube on how to make your own curling stones, he went to an online restaurant-supply site, ordered 16 stainless steel mixing bowls with lips; bolted and duct-taped them together in pairs, with one bowl flipped on top of another; drilled holes in the tops of the orbs and filled them with about 40 pounds of liquid concrete to approximate the weight of real stones.

For handles, he stuck galvanized plumbing pipes in the bowls. For sweeping, he bought $15 Quickie push brooms from Home Depot.

The whole makeshift experience felt like sledding on cardboard boxes.

The consensus: Yeee-haaa.

This past December, Burch and Sanders decided to broaden the experiment by inviting the community to a curling demo at Winterfest. About 100 people showed up. Half of them tried it. Burch collected emails from people who were interested in curling again. From them, he culled five teams.

Chris Ratliff, who captains one of the teams, grew up in Eden and lives in Greensboro. He’s been fascinated by Olympic curling since he was a kid.

“I liked the strategy of it and the teamwork,” says the 41-year-old Ratliff, who plays adult-league baseball in the summers and has been looking for a local winter sport.

A couple of weeks ago, Ratliff’s crew — they call themselves Gate City Curling — and the other teams gathered for Greensboro’s first organized curling games.

I stopped by on that Monday night, just as Ratliff’s team squared off against a team called Game of Stones, led by Jessica Becher, a 30-year-old newcomer to Greensboro.

The two teams had one thing in common: No one knew squat about curling.

“Are you guys ready?” someone asked after a brief warm-up.

“No, but let’s go anyway.”

The game was tied 1-1 after the first “end,” which was similar to an inning in baseball. After a few more ends, Ratliff’s team was up 8-1. The first team to 10 points would win.

Confident of victory, Ratliff’s team asked if I wanted to push a couple of stones down the ice. After all, I’d hit the center of the target on my first practice throw. Sensing that it was time to retire from a brief but illustrious career, I declined their offer. They insisted. I accepted. They regretted.

My first stone bumbled halfway down the ice. Determined to fix that problem, I gave my second stone the ol’ heave-ho, which resulted in 1) me sliding to a halt as a snow angel on ice and 2) my stone whizzing way past the target.

Four-point rally to Becher’s team. I was released from my contract. Ratliff’s team won in a mitten-biter.

Winterfest closed for the season at the end of January, but the teams plan to convene again in November, when rink opens the week before Thanksgiving.

I’ll be there, watching from a window at nearby Cafe Europa. Perhaps I’ll be sipping a locally brewed Red Nose Winter Ale in full support of the Greensboro’s newest athletes, local curlers who — as we now know — have the stones to go out and play on thick ice.  OH

To find out more about curling in Greensboro, contact Chuck Burch at Maria Johnson can be reached at

True South

Tag, You’re It

It’s all in the #


By Susan Kelly

In a world where everyone’s perpetually looking for a shortcut, few things fill the efficiency bill like Twitter. If you can’t say it in 140 characters — now doubled — it ain’t worth saying. But Twitter spawned an even faster, shorter means of communicating, via hashtag. Hashtags are a great way of being part of a group, or movement, or sentiment. Consider political, social, activist hashtags such as #metoo. Or #blacklivesmatter. Then there are the perennials #inmynextlife or #beach. My own hashtags tend toward weird/trivial/minutiae, like #sittingarounduseless (my armoire) or #cheetosandwine (my pre-bedtime snack).

But my favorite hashtag has been coined by millennials: #adulting. This gerund, which appears in no dictionary, is applied, apparently, whenever a 20-something accomplishes some task, errand or goal that falls under growing up, and — gasp — taking on a duty that was heretofore done for you, and probably by your parents. Actual samples from Twitter:

Googled how to boil a potato the other day. #adulting is going well.

I feel super accomplished because I can fold a fitted sheet. #adulting

Now a member of a dry-cleaning loyalty club. #adulting

In bed before nine and I’m not even mad about it. #adulting

Why does chicken take so long to defrost? #adulting

Looking through the Williams Sonoma catalog. #adulting

Genuinely proud of myself for replacing my wiper blade myself. #adulting

Getting psyched when you find a great parking spot at the grocery store. #adulting


It’s occurred to me that an entire segment of the populace is omitted and ignored from these posts. So I’ve decided it’s time for a hashtag for us, the baby boomers, and here it is: #olding. I invite you to get on Twitter and get this thing going. I’ll start.

What’s the age that you start giving up belts? #olding

Discovering at a dinner party that you’re all sitting around talking about what kind of dental floss is best. #olding

We actually get up every morning and ask each other how we slept. And then answer each other. #olding

Wearing shuffle shoes around the house — slippers, crocs — and forgetting to take them off when you run errands. #olding

All body cavities and indentations get bigger, deeper, wider: eye sockets, armpits. #olding

How can I be #olding when my forehead still leaves grease spots against windows? Oh wait — the extra-duty moisturizer.

No more finding Lite-Brite pegs or Easter candy wrappings in the dryer lint trap. #olding

The age where you aren’t deciding which party to go to, you’re deciding which funeral to make time for. #olding

Putting on pajamas at 5 p.m. #olding

How can I be #olding when I still get chill bumps listening to the Willy Wonka soundtrack?

Still saying “blue jeans” instead of just “jeans” is a sure sign of #olding

A toothbrush in your pocketbook in case there are poppy seeds in the cocktail fare, which will wind up in your receding gums. #olding

Discussing the fastest route to somewhere while in the car. #olding

“Olding” is just so infinitely kinder and gentler than certain adjectives — or medicines advertised during Lester Holt — that imply concepts unacceptable to baby boomers. But I’m here to tell you. If you don’t know what Twitter or a hashtag is, you’re it: #justplainold.  OH

Susan Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and proud new grandmother.

The Accidental Astrologer

No Rules for Radicals

Aquarians march to the beat of a different drummer



By Astrid Stellanova

While I ain’t gonna say Aquarians are wild, they sure are exciting, enticing and (usually) socially engaged. Let’s add radical and (sometimes) irresistible to their qualities. A short list of these rule-breaking celebrities: Galileo, Christina Ricci, Christian Dior, Darwin, Dickens, Ellen DeGeneres, Mozart, Thomas Edison, Michael Jordan, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Paris Hilton, Mia Farrow. Two presidents were Aquarians: Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. Ad Astra — Astrid


Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

It’s like saying fire is hot or water is wet to say how much an Aquarian wants to be original and independent. You are wired to march to a drumbeat that is your own. Don’t fight it. When you give in to this most prized inclination, Sugar, it is not only a thing of envy but even your enemies (who are few) admire it, though they may moan and groan about it. You are a jewel in the good Lord’s ring.

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

Pump the brakes, Thelma (or was it Louise?) The cliff ahead may look like it offers the best view but you are not gonna like the consequences. Two people take special interest in you, and, if nothing else, try to serve as a good example. (Or, Baby Cakes, you can always serve by being a bad example if that’s your aim.)

Aries (March 21–April 19)

You tried to fit in, didn’t you? But no more schlumpadinka, Baby. It’s time for you to enjoy your fashionista side. You didn’t get where you are by trying to hide your glory. Maybe you have to tamp down the splurging, but don’t even think about conforming when it comes to your sense of style.

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

Some say the best way to burn fat is on the cooking stove, and, Honey, you do love your grease. But time to get off the biscuits and gravy train and go straight towards your new destiny as a fit person. You’ve had some warning signs and take them to heart.

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

Give you a straw, and you could suck all the air outta the room. You have been too full of righteous indignation, and it is alienating your friends and family. Lighten up, Sweet Thang! If you don’t learn anything else from old Astrid, who is the Queen of Self Righteous Anger, take this lesson to heart: Your wrath and indignation have never done a thing to win hearts and minds.

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

It’s bring your wine to work day! No, seriously, it is actually bring yourself to work day.  You did take a necessary step back from your out-of-control job, but maybe you overcorrected. Get back down to business and settle into the routine. Balance is good, and so is discipline.

Leo (July 23–August 22)

Privately, you tell yourself that if you had a fault, it is that you’re less loveable than you used to be. Is your ego just slap crazy? The truth is, little Leo, nobody loves you quite like you love yourself. Try, just try, to love somebody else with that same passion.

Virgo (August 23–September 22)

I know, Sugar. You have been a rock to a lot of people and you are justifiably tired.  Sometimes, you should look in the mirror and say: “I cannot be an adult today. I will let my inner child play all it wants to.” That’s going to bring you a break — even if only for one day.

Libra (September 23–October 22)

When you came into this world, you brought a whole lot of light to some very dark corners in your family life.  You still do.  If you don’t love yourself for this, Honey, just know that everyone else does. In late spring, you are going to make a new friend who will help empower you and leverage your career.

Scorpio (October 23–November 21)

The odds are not against you, Love Bug, but you get down in the dumps and think the dice are loaded. Your turn to win is coming up; keep your chin up and keep in the game. Meanwhile, a neighbor is really hoping you will draw them into your inner circle. They are, like you, surprisingly shy and need a nudge.

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

By the time you are reading this, you have had a shoulda-coulda-woulda moment.  Be like the Disney tune and “let it go.” Your best was good enough — it just wasn’t appreciated. Show yourself the same kindness you show others — and keep on keeping on. The road is long and you have a second chance.

Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

See that trophy fish stuck over the mantel?  If it had just kept its mouth shut, it would still be swimming in the sea. Every time you look at that trophy, ask yourself if you have been as discreet as you oughta be. And ask yourself if it isn’t ironic you hooked, baited and caught that fish yourself.  OH

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

Bridging the Divide

Millennial D.I.Y. energy refreshes a 20th-century architect’s vision

By Nancy Oakley     Photographs by Amy Freeman

Dude!” Ian Bracy’s face lights up as he greets a frequent visitor to the house he’s been working on for the past year.

“Hi,” replies his guest, a dapper gent whose white hair is covered by a Bavarian wool hat adorned with a band of yarn and an elaborate pin depicting a deer with spectacular antlers.

The exchange wouldn’t strike one as extraordinary if it weren’t for the 50-odd-year age difference between the two men. But given their shared passion for the house, with its distinctive vertical lines and angles, generational barriers quickly disappear.

The elder man, Joel Funderburk, designed the house where he lived and worked for 40 years. “I’ve been a registered architect since 1966,” says the alumnus of N.C. State’s prestigious School (now College) of Design. These days he’s “edging and ageing” out of his profession. “I’ve got things that have been torn down. Gone!” he says of some of his commissions in Greensboro. Among them were the upfitting of Potpourri and Reed Runners, the Friendly Center boutiques and purveyors of all things mod and wicker in the 1960s and ’70s, and Potpourri Press. “I like to say of David Grimes [owner of the three businesses], “he had two wives, three houses and one architect,” Funderburk chuckles. “He was very avant-garde.”

One could say the same of Funderburk’s former dwelling that rises out of a woodsy ravine — just several feet from Cornwallis Drive in the middle of Irving Park, of all places. “I think most people thought it was unbuildable,” says Funderburk, referring to the lot adjacent to manmade Medford Lake that he and his wife, Norma, bought in the 1970s. “They’d look at it and say, ‘Can’t do a thing with this.’” 

So why bother?

“He built this house to the land. He didn’t fill. He didn’t cut,” says Patsy Bracy, Ian’s mom and an interior designer who graduated from UNCG  in 1975, coincidentally the very year the house was constructed.

“That’s the way, man,” insists Ian of the building technique.

“That’s the way,” agrees Patsy, “but that wasn’t the way back then.”

Funderburk designed what Patsy calls an “upside down” floorplan, in which the living room, dining room and kitchen are upstairs, and the bedrooms  — or specifically, the Funderburks’ two sons’ bedrooms — are downstairs. “For social segregation,” the architect explains. These are joined by a bath and abutted by a den and a sunny office that Funderburk and wife, Norma, both used. Upstairs, which is to say, street level, the house opens to a foyer flanked by a living room and dining room, down a hallway on the left, the master bed and bath, and in the center of the house, the kitchen. The exterior is swathed in gray wooden shakes that blend seamlessly with the wooded surroundings, which spill into the house through rectangular Pella windows.”

It is a style vaguely reminiscent of coastal and mountain resorts that emerged in the 1970s — California’s Ventana Big Sur, for example. “I like to use the words, ‘contemporary rustic,’” Funderburk says of his design that was quickly constructed from prefabricated panels. Whatever you do, don’t call his design Modern. “The word, ‘Modern’ is irksome,” Funderburk insists. “It implies off-the-wall.”


Regardless of an appropriate label, if there is one, the house is certainly unusual, with its wraparound deck and a bridge spanning the problematic ravine. And it caught the eye of Ian and Patsy Bracy after the Funderburks, longtime empty nesters, had put it on the market and moved to Wellspring. “We couldn’t pass up this opportunity,” says Ian.

With a background in economics, the 31-year-old UNC grad had moved to Boulder, Colorado, near his twin sister Addie, a World Mountain Runner Champion. (Ian himself ran cross-country at Carolina.) “My dad [Dennis] asked me to come back for a little bit,” he explains, to help out in his company, Isometrics, a Reidsville-based manufacturer of tanker trucks, truck trailers and fuel-hauling equipment for airplanes.

But the sight of the Funderburk house, then for sale, awakened the young man’s desire to work with his hands again.

Possessing a strong visual sense, likely inherited from his mom, Patsy, and growing up around building projects of his dad’s (“He’s a Renaissance man”), Ian saw potential in the unusual house on Cornwallis Drive, now overgrown with brush from the ravine in front. “You couldn’t even see the house,” Patsy remembers. As for the back, the Bracys were unaware that Lake Medford lay beyond 40 years’ growth of ivy and unraked leaves (a look that Funderburk prefers, calling it “natural natural” as opposed to “cultivated natural.”)

The Bracys bought the house in June of 2016, with the intention of Ian inhabiting it; in late October, he had set up camp in one of the lower bedrooms and got to work. He had run into an old high school chum, Brett Paschall, who, by another stroke of coincidence, is the nephew of O.Henry photographer Lynn Donovan. The two friends had played soccer together at Northwest Guilford. (Paschall would eventually parlay his skills into a scholarship at Elon University and play semi-professionally for a time.) “I was actually playing some pickup ball when I started working on this house,” Ian continues, “and it was like, ‘Hey man, you want to come work?’ He’s awesome. There’s nothing he can’t do.”

“I’m pretty experienced with building stuff,” Paschall concedes, having “practiced” on his parents’ house by stripping hardwood floors, building a large backyard shed (“a mini house”) for his dad, not to mention redoing the front suspension on his 2003 diesel-powered Volkswagen Beetle.

And just how did this jack-of-all-trades learn to be so handy?

“YouTube,” shrugs Paschall, with a trace of a smile.

“We joke,” Ian intercedes, “we can jump in. We can just figure it out.” 

“If we mess it up, well, we gotta fix it. That’s the way you gotta look at it,” Paschall agrees. “Can’t go in there all planned. Just go in there, do it. Fix it if it’s not right.”

But for all their can-do, D.I.Y. spirit, the two Millennials worked from a well-thought-out vision — Ian’s vision  — that improved on Funderburk’s original. The central focus was the wraparound wooden deck that hugged the house. “The columns . . . they were done,” Ian recalls. “They were not in good shape.” Not to mention the heavy brush underneath extending to the lake in back. Ian’s solution: Rip out the entire deck and replace it with a bigger and better one — using industrial-grade steel from his father’s company in Reidsville.

Having built a bridge at a beach resort in Honduras that his parents own, Ian knew he wanted to replace the bridge over the ravine using quarter-inch, stainless steel. But one night as he was strolling through downtown and chanced upon a glass sculpture lit from within, inspiration struck. “I was like, ‘Man! I want to do glass and light it from the bottom!’” he recalls.

The result is a sleek walkway with glass siding topped with a flat railing. Ian fashioned the metal clips that hold the glass in place and the metal strips buttressing the supporting beams, which have a distressed look. “The architectural grade [of steel] rusts over,” Ian explains, “and that rust actually provides a protective layer, but it also looks cool.”

Ultra cool when the same look is applied to the entire upper and lower deck — all 1,587 square feet of it.

“He did it all himself,” says a proud Patsy Bracy. “He did all the welding.” With help, of course from his buddy Paschall. The two expanded the deck in the heat of last summer. “Those tall beams?” Paschall notes, “I had to get under the deck and drill through a quarter inch of steel,” he recalls.

“The hardware, the brackets, Brett drilled ’em all,” Ian echoes.

“I am a master of the drill, now,” says Paschall with a shake of his head. “You need some steel to drill through? Call me!”

Ian’s original plan was to extend both the upstairs and downstairs decks, so both were of equal size. But once into the project, he had another flash of inspiration. “I was like, ‘You know what? If you bring the bottom deck out, [why not] make the top deck shorter so you’re looking down on it?’” And that’s how the upper deck became recessed. The overall effect? “The deck line balances the house to the property,” Ian notes.

The property was the other conundrum. In true D.I.Y. fashion, Ian rented an excavator and started clearing out loads of ivy and leaves, discovering the lake and a retaining pond fed by a small creek. He and Paschall cleared away all the brush in front of the house and, again using stainless steel, terraced the bank of the ravine facing the downstairs windows. They also planted some grass on a portion of the back lot.

“I don’t think he likes the grass,” says Ian, referring to Funderburk. A correct assessment, as it turns out. “For 40 years we avoided the grass,” says the architect. “Avoided the lawnmower . . . but if you have to have grass, it’s a nice amount.”

He started dropping by periodically, once the Bracys determined he was the previous owner. Patsy had noticed a piece of mail addressed to him. “And I said, ‘What? Joel Funderburk owned this house?’ Then one day he came by and I met him.”

The name was all too familiar to her, because, after graduating from UNCG in 1975, she interviewed with his old firm Funderburk & Mitchell. She didn’t get the job. “I had no architectural training,” Patsy says now. “Just interior design.”

But as she points out, things have a way of coming back around, for she lent her talents to refurbishing the interior of the house, primarily, the kitchen and the master bath. She credits Ian with opening up the master into a single open space, and the kitchen, too, by bringing down a wall and adding a metal exhaust fan over the center island, the supports for which he made from yet more scrap stainless steel. Patsy brought a Zen-like vibe to the house, using a palette of soft grays. “I think of a house as the background for the people and their art. So if you keep that background neutral, then you can add a splash of color and change it anytime you want,” she says. Hence the gray walls, and gray stain on the floors of red oak — which pick up the tones of the hardwoods outside. The kitchen, previously all white, is a now mix of white and gray, all of it brightened by three skylights on the angled, back wall, which has a northern exposure.

The idea for them, came from, who else? Ian.
“It was too dark for me. . .  I’m a Leo. I need sun,” he says, turning his face to the windows where a patch of blue and tree branches appear. “Sunshine, man. Hawks.”

“I’ve always said that God said, ‘You will not put holes in roofs.’ And I avoided them,” Funderburk responds. “But they’re great!” Apart from the grassy patch of lawn, he is pleased with Ian’s work, offering bits of advice here and there, such as adding a strip of flatbar across the glass panels of the bridge to make it safer. He admires the steel railings of the deck, the skylights, the kitchen’s cabinetry and the cool metal exhaust fan, plus a glass door to the deck. “He’s brought it into the 21st  century,” the architect muses. “That view is really the curb appeal of the house,” he adds, looking out back to the lake, no longer obscured by the mounds of leaves he let fall and stay.

“Wildlife,” says Ian.

“I have seen as many as seven deer here — at one time,” Funderburk remembers.

“I could see building a bog garden,” says Patsy, following their gaze.

It is not to be. For the free-spirited Ian hears the siren call of the West again, and has decided not to remain in the house, after all. “If I could take it and move it to Colorado . . .” he says wistfully. He hopes to establish his own studio there, where he will work with metal, or glass, perhaps build furniture.

The house is once again on the market, but refreshed, waiting for the next inhabitants to make their mark.

“Leave just enough for the next one,” advises Funderburk. “You can’t think their thoughts,” he adds before turning to Ian. “I’ve sung your praises. How many times have I come by?”

“A whole bunch,” replies Ian. “You’re a cool dude.”

“I probably won’t see you again,” says the architect, holding up a gnarled fist. “I’ve nuisanced you enough.”

“Nah, man,” says Ian raising his own curled hand. “I like seeing you.”

And as his young, taut knuckles meet the older weathered ones in a brotherly fist bump, one can practically see the flash of a small spark. Not the sort from a welder’s torch but from the magic of two visionaries’ touch.  OH

Nancy Oakley is the senior editor of O.Henry

Simple Life

Angels Unawares

Extending kindness to strangers
. . . whoever they happen to be


By Jim Dodson

Mr. Pettigrew is about my age, maybe a little younger, his hair turning gray. His truck was old, his trailer older — so old the dumping mechanism was rusted shut. We had to unload the firewood by hand.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “I’ll stack it for you.”

I told him not to worry, I was happy to stack it myself. Up in Maine, after all, where I lived for many years, they say firewood heats you twice — once when you cut and stack it, again when you burn it. 

“You from Maine?” he asked

“Nope.  Just lived there for 20 years. I’m from here. How about you?”

“Surry County. I’ve got 30 acres up there, or used to.”

A large chocolate Lab hopped out of his truck and lumbered toward us.

“That’s Fred. I better put him back in the truck or else he might wander into the street. He’s about the last thing I got these days. Sure hate to lose him.”

My dog Mulligan charged toward Fred but soon both their tails were wagging. She’s a tough old lady and Fred was smart enough not to give her any guff.

The afternoon was a sharply cold one between Christmas and New Year’s. The kids had all gone back to their busy lives, and I was in my annual post-Christmas funk made deeper by a  psychic hangover from a year that only Ebenezer Scrooge could love, a humdinger of relentlessly bad news — killer floods and record hurricanes, devastating wildfires, mass shootings, rising seas,  melting icecaps, Russian meddling,  a world on the brink of nuclear war, a Congress divided against itself, a president who thinks he’s a game show host.

Being a rare fan of winter — too many years in Maine to blame — I wasn’t bothered that an Arctic deep freeze was on its way, just that I was out of decent firewood. Before Christmas I’d seen a hand-lettered sign advertising seasoned firewood by a small farmhouse out in the country, so I phoned. Sixty bucks a load sounded reasonable. He brought it that afternoon.

As we worked, I asked how Mr. Pettigrew’s Christmas had been.

He shrugged. “Not so good. But at least I’m alive.”

He explained that he’d recently been diagnosed with kidney disease and had nearly died from cirrhosis of the liver just one year ago. He faced further testing in the New Year. 

“This time last year I was in the hospital, sure I was about to die. So I signed over everything to my daughter,” he said. “I signed over everything I owned — even my land up in Surry County — because I wanted her to at least have something to remember me by.”

When he survived, she refused to transfer his property back to him. In fact, she evicted him from his own house.

“That’s a tough break,” I sympathized.  “What keeps you going?”

“One foot in front of the other,” he said with a shrug. “I’ve got a little disability to live off of and a place for Fred and me to stay. I’m able to do odd jobs and sell some wood off a piece of land I still own. I’m pretty grateful for that.”

After a pause, chucking a piece of wood on the pile, he added, “Better enjoy this life now, I reckon. Never know when it’ll just go.”

I simply nodded.

A week before Christmas my good friend Chris passed away while sitting on his front porch reading the morning paper on an uncommonly warm December morning. Chris was only 54. Dogs were his best friends, too.

Mr. Pettigrew looked about the same age as Chris.

“You retired?” he asked me, snapping me out of my sudden wintry thoughts.

“Nope. Just plain tired,” I joked, casually adding that I would turn 65 on the second day of February “if the Good Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise,” as both Johnny Cash and my late Grandmother Taylor liked to say.

“You don’t look anywhere near that old,” said Mr. Pettigrew.

“I don’t feel anywhere near that old,” I said. “Just certain parts do.”

Mr. Pettigrew laughed. It was a genuine laugh. I wondered if I could laugh like that if I had kidney disease and my daughter had taken everything I owned.

We finished up and he thanked me for buying his wood.

It was beautiful wood, well-seasoned red oak with some maple mixed in.

I gave Mr.Pettigrew an extra twenty, petted Fred on the head and wished them both well in 2018, marveling at his grace under fire. 

He gave me his card and said, “If you need an extra hand with anything, you know where to find me.”

I watched him drive off, grateful for having met Mr. Pettigrew.

The next afternoon, an even colder one, another pickup truck pulled up in front of the house.

An older man came to my door. His hair was white.

He was well-spoken and polite. “I’m hoping, sir, if you could possibly help me . . .”

Sometimes I wonder if the angels have a target on my back. When I was 9 and my brother 11, our father walked us through Lower Manhattan’s Bowery one freezing Saturday morning during a Christmas visit to see the homeless men sleeping on the frozen sidewalks. This was before homeless shelters were commonplace. My mother thought we’d just gone out for fresh bagels.

We saw men with blue legs huddled beneath newspapers and cardboard boxes on sidewalk grates — and wound up buying a couple dozen warm bagels and distributing them. My brother and I eventually took to calling our old man Opti the Mystic because souls in need always seemed to find him — and take something away from his cornball belief that a small act of kindness can make all the difference in someone’s life.

Since that day, either a curse or a blessing, probably a little of both, they seem to find me, too — people like Mr. Pettigrew and the gentleman at my door whose name I never asked.

Friends gently chide me for giving any homeless person who asks whatever I have in my pocket. There are places these lost souls can go, they say. The poor are always with us, the Good Book reminds. Besides, they’ll just drink or smoke up whatever you give them. Not to mention that this world is full of scam artists, hucksters and thieves.

Maybe they are right. But to this day, I’ve never regretted reaching into my pocket when someone has the courage to ask.

As Opti might say, perhaps what you do even in the smallest way for another living creature, human or otherwise, you actually do for yourself in a way that only the universe may bother to take note of. 

The man at my door, at any rate, had a painful story about losing his job in Washington, D.C., and driving down to stay with his son in Carolina, hoping to find a new job. He hadn’t called ahead and his son was out of town.

“The shelters are all full and I found a place that costs $60 a night. I’ve only got $20. Last night I had to sleep in my truck and the police told me not to do that again.”

He apologized and, turning away, began to cry. I’ve seen enough tears in this world to know they were as genuine as Mr. Pettigrew’s laugh. Both held notes of sorrow.

I gave him what I had in my pocket. It came to $41.

He accepted the money, wiped his eyes and offered me a weathered hand.

“Thank you, sir. When I get a job, I will repay you. That I promise.”

I told him that would not be necessary and asked him to wait a moment while I fetched another ten bucks from my loose change jar and gave him that, too. “Supper money,” I said, thinking of my late Papa — imagining him as one of those target-hunting angels standing beside me whispering Scripture in my ear. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some of us may entertain angels unaware.

“Just curious,” I said to the man at my door. “How’d you pick my house?”

He smiled. “I’m really not sure. Your house just looked like a kind house.”

My wife got home after dark. I had an excellent fire going and poured her a glass of wine.

She asked me how my day had gone. She always worries about my post-Christmas funk.

I told her the funk was gone. I was eager to face a new year with genuine optimism, in part because that I’d met a couple older gentlemen who helped remind me how grateful I am to be turning 65 with a good roof over my head and a little loose change in my jar. An early birthday gift to me, I joked.

“Who were they?”

“Have no idea. Just a couple elderly angels.”

The next day, the second gentleman returned with a big smile on his face.

“I just got a job at Lowe’s,” he declared. “I wanted to let you know. I will return that money.”

I congratulated him and said that would not be necessary, though I still forgot to ask his name.  OH

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at

Into The Wild

If you’re headed to Scotland, you’ll hear it again and again from anyone who has been: What you’ll like most about Scotland is
the Scots.

After spending three weeks in the country whence my genes were carried to Piedmont North Carolina by some ancient ancestor, here’s proof positive of that premise.

I’ll start with the man who inspired me and my wife, Anne, to go: Jim McMillan. Though not technically a Scot, you’d never know it from his Drumalee-heritage, his gnome-like appearance, his behavior, his love of spiritous beverages, and his mischievous smirk, with eyes sparkling beneath a tangle of eyebrows, letting you know that he did it and got away with it.

So when he told me that he was determined to make a return trip to Scotland, I instantly volunteered to go with him. Mentioning something about foxes and henhouses, Anne said she was going too.

Jim wanted to return to the wilds of the Highlands. I wanted to avoid big cities. A fan of the Outlander series, Anne wanted to see some of the places that had looked so otherworldly on the screen. Jim Dodson, O.Henry’s editor and lover of all things Scottish, generously helped us focus our thoughts over a few beers and a huge map at Scuppernong Books.

Over our three weeks’ journey, mostly in the Highlands, we met one generously obliging Scot after another, each seemingly determined to convince us that we never wanted to go back home again. Here are just a few of those we’ll never forget.

One of my favorite encounters was in an atmospheric pub in the Lochcarron Hotel, where we’d stopped to get directions over the Internet. Anne sat contentedly at a table communing with her iPad and a sticky sweet she’d ordered, while Jim and I stood holding up the bar and our end of a conversation with a chap encased in several decades worth of tweed. The rambling hotel, the busy pub and its patrons looked as though they came right out of central casting — a flurry of friendly dogs constantly underfoot, another being held at the end of his leash (“Mind your ankles”), three or four gray-haired ale lovers seemingly permanently slumped over the bar, a couple telling a seemingly endless story in an animated and totally unintelligible brogue. There was just enough light slanting through the windows to reveal a trio of hand-pumped ale pulls. I opted for Real Ale or cask ale — naturally carbonated — and only as chilly as the cellar under the pub where the cask is kept. Coo-ing over my pint of Red Cow Bitter, which I’d chosen over the Golden Cow, I replied to our tweedy friend that, yes, it was superb. And answering his next inquiry, I told him that we were from Greensboro, in Piedmont North Carolina, home to a number of Scotch-Irish like Jim and myself, where folks held highland games annually, along with Robert Burns celebrations. We had lots of microbreweries, I told him. In fact, I said, boasting a wee bit, we must have a dozen breweries in the three-city area.

“And what would your population be?” he asked.

“Oh, something like 500,000,” I said.

“Ahhh, we only have one brewery, a very fine one, Strathcarron,” he said pointing to my pint. “Then again, with a mere 500 souls roundabout, we keep it very busy.” Do the math, Dave.

Two encounters of the close kind came in the village of Portree, a busy harbor and a tourist hub on the Isle of Skye. We were staying at Staffin, a good bit to the north in the middle of nowhere, in sight of the storied Trotternish Ridge, where rock formations, tortured by centuries of wind, weather and geology, have been clept with names like the Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock and the Pinnacles of Quiraing. We’d come searching for fresh seafood in Portree, which, with its pastel-painted shops along the harbor front, looks as if it had been lifted from the lid of a box of chocolates. Down by a recreational boat ramp, a brawny lad wearing a wet suit peeled halfway down struggled getting his Zodiac on a trailer. And yet he paused to entertain our question of whether he knew of somewhere that sold fresh seafood. “You can check along the old port,” he said. “It’s mostly pubs and restaurants now, but there’s a seafood market that’s occasionally open. Are you parked down here?” he asked, pointing to the tourist car park. “Yep,” we said. “Stop back by in a half hour on your way out once I’ve unpacked the Zodiac,” he said with a wink.

We climbed a series of steep steps up into the village, which bustled with German tourists, youthful backpackers and harried couples wearing garish holiday clothes. It’s the sort of town where I find myself wishing I were anything but a tourist. In a feeble effort to blend in, I had mostly been wearing what I wear in Greensboro whenever it’s chilly, a dodgy herringbone snap-brimmed cap, a tattered and treasured thrift-store Harris Tweed jacket, and enough beard and mustache to keep my face from freezing. As we headed down a set of narrow stone steps, a boisterous bunch of 20-somethings bounded up the steps, with the lad in the lead obviously several sheets to the wind. He was taking the steps at speed while, over his shoulder, he was hectoring his girlfriend in an advanced state of brogue. I flattened myself against the brick wall alongside the steps to make room for him, but he quite literally ran smack dab into me. Swiveling to catch his balance, his face met mine — so close, in fact, I could tell he’d been drinking not just ale, but a dram or two of Scotch. He stared at me in puzzlement for several long seconds, a big smile breaking over his face.

“Howdy,” I said, returning his smile. His girlfriend grabbed him by the shoulder in hopes of getting him moving again without toppling.

“He f-ing looks more like the locals than the bloody locals,” he shouted to her, looking back at me as he topped the steps.

“Shut your gob,” she said. “You are a f-ing local.

We went down the stairs and searched the quay. The seafood shop was open mostly in the mornings and on alternate days, not that one. Making our way back to the boat ramp, we resigned ourselves to having, once again, reheated meat pies and Scotch eggs for supper. Our friend with the Zodiac waved us over and held up a sizable plastic bag filled with huge razor clams. “Know what these are and what to do with them?” he asked. My daughter, who was with us and lives in Spain on Mallorca, beamed, commenting on their extraordinary size compared to Mediterranean razor clams. “I harvested them this morning,” he said pointing to SCUBA gear in the Zodiac. “Enjoy.” Offers for payment or a quick pint or two before he headed home were turned down. “Something to remember Portree by,” he said. The second thing, in fact.

We met Ian Giles strolling along the beach in front of historic Kilmun, where boats bobbed merrily atop the Holy Loch. Impressed by the historic town’s community spirit and welcoming park, we asked Ian, who was on the street in front of one of the vacation homes built in the Victorian era  (some of which were now crumbling), about making a contribution to a community redevelopment fund we’d seen mentioned on a poster. Ian said his wife actually managed the fund and he’d find her, but first he was eager to know whether we’d seen any of Scotland’s legendary red squirrels. Apart from the legendary Angus MacFergus MacTavish Dundee of song, we had not. Actually, in retrospective, Ian looked a little squirrely himself, but in the best possible way. Eager, energetic, animated, with bright eyes and a set of choppers that easily broke into a cheery half-smile, Ian straightway invited us into his house.

“Would you like some tea?” his wife asked us, accepting our small donation and beginning to tell us all about Kilmun. She was interrupted by Ian, his arms stuffed with a huge stack of folio-sized books. From their pages, red squirrels disappeared into the drawers of feeders or capered up trees. Some seemed to pose patiently for Ian’s camera, looking up resignedly from their meals. Others were caught in mid-leap. Some were hanging upside down from their back feet. They’d been photographed in the full glory of spring, in the rain, in the snow, with fall colors ablaze and in the heat of the summer.

Ian explained how the number of the British Isles’s only native squirrel species had been plummeting since the 1870s when American gray squirrels had been introduced (by Brits, he added) as an ornamental species. Jim, a fellow photographer, plied him with technical questions. He showed us his camera equipment and his feeders and the window where he got some of his best shots without leaving the house. The books had been produced in Italy on the finest paper available, and Ian explained how each two-page spread had been produced from a single long sheet of paper so that there wouldn’t be an unsightly gatefold in the middle of the page. I got dizzy thinking of the expense of self-publishing such custom-printed books. We finished our tea. Anne made noises about simply having to get on to catch two ferries to our next destination. I began to see her point. Meanwhile Jim and Ian, bonded over red squirrels and cameras, plowed through yet another book, with Ian explaining each page and how he got the shot.

“But you really need to get on,” Ian said of a sudden. “It’s so nice to find someone interested in wildlife and photography. I just wish the squirrels had cooperated and you could have seen some live.” I didn’t tell him that I preferred meeting one passionate, engaged human being over seeing a hundred squirrels. But I should have.

Your first sight of Ben Nevis can be a bit unnerving, especially when you’re determined to scale it, as Jim and I were. Fading into and out of the clouds and wearing a toboggan of snow, it loomed 4,411 feet high over the village of Corpach, topping any other peak in the British Isles.

We were looking for our Airbnb and knew we had the right street, but there seemed to be two houses with the same number, at which point we met Colin Gray riding his bike from his own home nearby. Muscular, compact and almost boyish, he diplomatically set us straight with a smile, then asked what brought us to Corpach. Jim pointed at Ben Nevis with a sheepish grin and said, “We want to climb that.”

“Aye, you can do it,” he said with a reassuring air. “I’ve been up it many a time, but I’m on my way to work right now. Would you like to come by after supper and see some photos that I’ve taken?” We of course said we’d love to.

Anyone in decent shape can safely climb Ben Nevis, all the travel guides say,  provided the weather cooperates. But Scotland, we had already learned, is a place where you can experience all four seasons in one day. And Ben Nevis is not called the mountain with its head in the clouds for nothing. Maybe we should get a guide, I suggested.

We didn’t know it, but we’d just met our guide.

Sitting in his backyard later that evening, we first saw a shot of a youthful Colin, standing proudly atop Ben Nevis with a buddy. Then we saw a photo of him hiking up a peak with a most attractive woman. Then photos of the two of them with children camping and hiking, along with subsequent photos of Colin atop other peaks.

“It’s called Munro Bagging,” Colin explained enthusiastically. A Munro (after Sir Hugh T. Munro) is a peak that tops out at over 3,000 feet. To become a “compleatist” or a “Munroist,” all you have to do is climb all 282 of Scotland’s Munros, much in the way American climbing enthusiasts scale all of Colorado’s 14ers. Colin had topped fifty Munros.

With Ben Nevis we basically had two choices, he told us. We could take what’s called the pony track or tourist trek. It’s 11 miles long and takes seven to nine hours. It’s steep all the way up, with lots of switchbacks. The view from the top is breathtaking, Colin told us, but it’s often crowded. Online, one hiker reported how hundreds of walkers filled the path like “a whole trail of lemmings in every direction” some slow and others “impatient walkers behind banging their walking poles and breathing right down our necks.”

The other route, up the North Face, Colin said, is never crowded. Maybe that’s
because, according to, it’s “a challenging ridge climb that should only be attempted by experienced scramblers and physically-fit hill walkers.” It, too, is 11 miles long but takes 10 or 11 hours. “It’s incredible, though,” Colin said with a faraway look in his eyes. “For me, it’s not just about getting to the top.”

If we were determined to “bag” the mountain, we’d take the so-called pony track. If we wanted to experience Ben Nevis, we’d attempt the North Face. “This is a truly spectacular route,” the website echoed, “which will live long in the memory and does true justice to the mountain.”

The following evening in the pub directly across the street from our Airbnb, Colin raised a pint of golden ale and toasted our making it — halfway up the mountain.

From a remote car park, we’d first made our way through a towering forest tangled in lush ferns. We gained altitude for several miles beneath a seemingly unending canopy of the most planted trees in Scottish, towering Sitka spruce. At last we burst out onto the tortured landscape that makes the Scottish highlands so unforgettable. Thousands of years ago, glaciers gouged, scraped and plowed through this landscape, bulldozing their way between unmovable peaks, exposing the flesh and bones of Mother Earth. Between us and our goal, boulders lay jumbled helter-skelter, greenery struggled to get a foothold and a creek crashed downward with sparkling water that had been snow only hours ago. What made this particular highland glen so enchanting and, at the same time, forbidding and haunting, were the steep peaks that loomed on either side of the path, calving rock slides and magnificent waterfalls. Into the far distance, a rugged path seemed to snake its way ever upward.

After an exhausting but exhilarating climb of five hours, we reached a stone rescue hut, where we ate a late lunch and realized that, according to the website, we still faced the trek’s most “challenging ridge climb.” Running out of time and already worn out, we turned back.

“It was humbling,” I told Colin, ordering a second round of local ale. “And magnificent,” Jim added. “Whether you make it to the top or not, you can’t go wrong,” Colin said. “Every step of the way is stunning.”

Colin was right, of course, just as he was right about persuading Anne she had the stamina to join us the next day on a trek through Nevis Gorge, a less challenging hike to one of Scotland’s more dramatic waterfalls. And just as he was right for pointing us toward Neptune’s Staircase, a steep series of locks less than a mile from our Airbnb, hosting a flotilla of colorful crafts along the Caledonian Canal. And just as he was right for sending us to one pub for drinking and another for eating haggis. (“Get it battered and fried,” he counseled.) But what he did more than anything else — and what so many of the other Scots we met did — was to put a face — and one rambling story after another — onto a landscape that’s already one of the most enchanting on the planet, imbuing the rocks, rills, mountains and glens with fairies, sprites and pixies, just as their forefathers had. Every individual seemed determined to convince us that Scotland is not only a nice place to visit but somewhere you’d also want to live.

Mission accomplished.  OH

David Claude Bailey agrees with A.E. Housman that “Malt does more than Milton can to justify God’s ways to man.”

In The Spirit

The Face of Alley Twenty Six

Rob Mariani makes an impression with his delicious tonic made from scratch


By Tony Cross

If you’ve kept up with some of my columns, you’re starting to see that in the world of spirits and cocktails, quality ingredients make for a better drink, from having a quality spirit (remember, quality doesn’t always mean pricier), all the way down to making a simple syrup from scratch. The market for small-batch ingredients is huge right now. I jumped on the train when I started bottling my own tonic syrup. Although I have one of the few local tonics on the market, there is a nearby company that started retailing their tonic syrup before me. I’m talking about Alley Twenty Six Tonic, created and packaged by the boys over at their bar in Durham.

The first time I tried Alley Twenty Six Tonic, I was at a meeting with the distribution company that carries my tonic syrup. One of their concerns was having similar syrups with the tonic from Durham. Luckily for me, our syrups are as delicious as they are contrasting. While my syrup has a more pronounced bitterness with baking spices, Alley Twenty Six Tonic has more of a sweet cola flavor with a touch of bitterness. The other major difference between the tonics is the fact that Rob Mariani, one half of Behind the Stick Provisions, has his syrup in way more places than I do. That’s an understatement.

Rob is the kind of person who makes a big first impression. Tall and lanky, with an imperial, handlebar-style mustache and his signature flat/newsboy cap, he always has a smile on his face. I first met him a year and a half ago at a local distillery party, and most recently sat down with him in Durham over a few of his tonic drinks.

Originally from Estonia, and raised in New York City, Rob didn’t find his passion for bartending until after moving to New Zealand in the beginning of the millennium. “I landed in Wellington and stayed there for a year. A friend hooked me up with some guys building a nightclub. I was doing construction, and at the end of the build decided that I wanted to learn to bartend there. My shift was from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. It was a blast. I was hooked.”

Rob left New Zealand and found himself bartending at high-end restaurants in Washington D.C., including Agraria (now called Farmers Fishers Bakers) with D.C. celebrity Derek Brown. Mariani relocated to Durham afterward and helped open Alley Twenty Six in the fall of 2012. Alley was launched by owner Shannon Healy, formerly of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill. Healy and Mariani started making their own mixers and syrups from scratch. Healy’s recipe for their tonic syrup was a hit; that’s when the light bulb went on. Healy and Mariani launched Behind the Stick Provisions and started bottling their tonic syrup for retail. “The market for cocktail syrups was growing, and we wanted in,” says Rob. “We decided to launch our retail brand with tonic syrup because there were only a few on the market, and frankly, we liked ours better.” Rob took the original recipe, and slightly tweaked it for larger scale production.

As tonic sales blossomed, Rob realized he would need to transition from behind the bar to Behind the Stick. “After 15 years of bartending, I saw this as a great opportunity to shift jobs in my industry career. I didn’t want to leave, I just didn’t want to work till 3 a.m. anymore,” he says. “This was the logical next step for me. Now I get to work with bartenders, distillers, home cocktail enthusiasts, and an amazing cross section of the industry.” And that he has. Just follow him on Instagram (behindthestickprovisions) and you’ll see the myriad places he pops up.

As we sat down to talk, Rob had one of the barmen make me a daiquiri with his tonic syrup in place of simple syrup. I finished it in four sips (absolutely delicious). He said he usually likes to substitute his tonic syrup in place of a traditional sugar syrup to give certain classics a spin. He also explained why he loves using his tonic in rum (and his love for rum).

I found a new bestie. I’d lie if I said I didn’t sit there at least a little jealous while he told me of his adventures to Trinidad and Martinique to visit rum distilleries. He has an upcoming trip to Barbados in February, where he plans on learning more from different distilleries, such as Foursquare and Mount Gay. I know why rum is my favorite spirit, so I asked him why it’s his.

“Rum is a versatile and misunderstood spirit,” he says. “It can be made from various forms of sugar — molasses being the most common — but pressed sugar juice for rhum agricoles has amazing earthy, grassy and funky notes that really bring the term ‘terroir’ to rum.” His recent “rum adventures” include scouting trips for places to live in the distant future. I can’t wait to visit my new bestie wherever the island may be.  OH

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

February Poem

Seeking the Moon

She wakes from darkness 

to moonlight’s glow,

peers through windows  

in room after room. 

Where is the moon,

silver all around, yet nowhere

to be found?

Stepping out to bright cold night,

she bends back, almost falling, 

spies the moon at last,

shining cream directly above, 

waiting all the white while, 

just to be seen.

— Barbara Baillet Moran

Gate City Journal

Labor of Love

Thanks to Janis Antonek, Greensboro Daily Photo reveals
slices of life in the Gate City for all to see


By Maria Johnson

Two thousand nine had just hatched, and Janis Antonek had a lot possibilities whispering to her.

She had new laptop.

And an almost-empty nest.

And a persistent photography habit.

And a desire to discover more about her city.

So she rang in the New Year by launching a new website: Greensboro Daily Photo (

In the nine years since, she has dutifully posted photos of local people and places every day.

Every. Single. Day.

She doesn’t lug her Nikon D-7000 around every day – weekdays, she’s a Spanish teacher for Guilford County Schools but weekends find her covering serious ground. She logs five to 10 miles on foot and more behind the wheel in pursuit of snaps that capture the diversity and beauty of Greensboro.

She takes around 1,000 photos on most weekends. She might use 10 of them, enough to last the week and provide a cushion until her next foray.

With her leather clogs and long lens, Antonek’s a regular at street festivals, farmers markets, community concerts, fairs and other public events. She patrols downtown Greensboro. She haunts parks and trails. She roves historic sites. She interviews people she knows and people she doesn’t know. She supplements her reportage with online research, which she sometimes transforms into meaty cut lines, or descriptions of her photos.

A passionate amateur, this camera bug’s not going to win a Pulitzer for her images, but that’s not the point. The point is to celebrate the depth and breadth of Greensboro.

That was the spirit that guided her in 2009, when she joined City Daily Photo, a web portal that began in Paris in 2005 and now links to hundreds of daily photo blogs from around world.

There, Greensboro Daily Photo rubs shoulders with

Guatemala Daily Photo, Grenoble Daily Photo and Cairo/Giza Daily Photo.

Like most affiliates, Antonek follows the portal’s suggested themes and regular features. On the first day of every year, she posts what she considers to be her best photo from the previous year.

The winner for 2017: A picture from the National Folk Festival’s final run in Greensboro last September.

From time to time, Antonek tackles the “A to Z” format, which requires her to feature something that starts with each letter of the alphabet.

“Can you imagine: It’s Sunday night, and you’re worried about what your ‘Z’ is going to be?” she says.

She recalls interviewing local hotelier and restaurateur Dennis Quaintance.

“He said, ‘You needed a ‘q,’ didn’t you?’ I said, ‘Well, I could have done (High Point University president) Nido Qubein, but I chose you.’ He felt a little better,” says Antonek.

She admits that her ardent volunteerism — she gets no real money for her efforts; only a trickle of income from Google ads, and that doesn’t even cover her site fees — can be a grind.

“As my husband says, ‘Every day comes around pretty often.’ It’s a lot of work, but it’s my education, too,” says Antonek.

She makes sure her students at the Middle College at UNCG know about her nonpaying job.

“When you teach school, you have to model community service and make them realize that everything you do is not for money,” says Antonek.

Her husband, David Thompson, provides technical and emotional support for her extracurricular life. He understands when she runs out of the house in the middle of a power outage to find a Panera restaurant with wifi so she can make her deadline.

“It’s probably become too much of an obsession,” she says. “But it’s not about me. It’s about the community.”

She’s serious about her responsibility to a larger community.
A first-generation college graduate and self-described lifelong learner, Antonek grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia.

“I try very hard to be a poster child for West Virginia because it has such a bad reputation,” she says. “You want to represent well.”

Her father worked for the tax department. Her mother was a men’s barber in an era when few women rented chairs in male-dominated shops. Her mother later opened a single-chair barbershop for herself. She preferred men as clients.

“She said women complained all the time, and the men  complained only if their wives didn’t like their haircuts,” says Antonek.

During Antonek’s senior year in high school, her cousin gave her an old camera and showed her how to use it. Photography blossomed into a hobby during her lengthy college years — undergrad at West Virginia University, grad school at Auburn University and a doctoral program at the University of Pittsburgh.

As a student of language and education, she has traveled to almost 50 countries. She speaks English, Spanish and rusty-but-retrievable Russian. Her paternal grandparents immigrated from Ukraine, so  an appreciation of different cultures infuses her personal life and her photography.

“I do think I’m so committed to GDP because I am global-minded and want to know about the rest of the world — and for the rest of the world to learn things about my community,” she says.

She migrated to Greensboro 1996 to teach foreign language education at UNCG. She took the place of Jane Tucker Mitchell, who became a mentor and friend.

Today Mitchell serves as a core reader of Antonek’s posts, urging her to avoid cute titles and to use relevant search terms.

“I think she’s archiving some things that will be valuable in the future,” says Mitchell, noting that Antonek’s fact-filled cutlines set her blog apart from other daily photo sites.

“She’s a good writer, and she knows how to write about what’s important,” Mitchell says.

Since its inception, Greensboro Daily Photo has racked up more than 700,000 page views, with an average of more than 200 page views a day. That’s not counting Facebook views.

Readership spikes when Antonek features places with active online communities. Anything about the neighborhoods Lindley Park and Sunset Hills gets gobbled up. A recent post about Greensboro-based business Replacements Ltd. snared 700 views.

Among her devoted readers are former Mayor Keith Holliday — he once called, worried because he was no longer getting daily emails, but the problem was on his end and was easily fixed — and civic stalwart Betty Cone.

“She’s been a very good, behind-the-scenes reader. It makes you want even more to get it right,” says Antonek.

And positive. Antonek makes no apologies for avoiding controversial topics, although sometimes she stumbles into them. Take the time that she posted a picture of a feral cat.

The backlash against feral cats caught Antonek by surprise.

Antonek didn’t blink. She views herself as
a documentarian, not an editorialist. At the
same time, she goes to lengths to be inclusive
and sensitive.

Recently, Antonek posted a picture of a sculpture by Greensboro artist Jim Gallucci. The piece, constructed from wreckage from the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, was installed at the corner of South Elm Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Gallucci’s sculpture replaced a bust of MLK, which caused some grumbling. Antonek made sure to note that the bust will be renovated and moved to another location downtown. She also posted the link to a picture of the bust that she snapped in the first month of Greensboro
Daily Photo.

“I try to cast the net widely and not get just my vision of the community,” she says.

One recent Saturday morning, Antonek visited photographer Toni Shaw in her studio at HQ Greensboro, a shared workspace on Lewis Street. (See Antonek’s post on December 30.)

Shaw, 52, is known for her portraiture and wedding photography. Her corporate clients include UnitedHealthCare, Wells Fargo and Delhaize America, the parent company of
Food Lion.

Shaw’s Go Click! photography workshops attract students from all over the country. Last year, she landed on a list of BAUCE pronounced boss) magazine’s list of 16 successful black female photographers

She and Antonek got to know each other when their daughters were students at Jones Elementary, a Spanish immersion school.

On that Saturday, they hugged in recognition. They caught up on family, talked photography, snapped each other’s pictures and laid the groundwork to see each other again.

Shaw was planning to move to a new studio, an artists’ workspace called Studio 503 on East Washington Street.

Antonek scribbled in her notepad, guaranteeing that the new studio and its denizens will show up in future photos. Her work is self-sustaining this way: Every picture she takes and every contact she makes lead to more.

“There’s a lot of serendipity in these photos,” she says.

Back on the street, Antonek lamented the decline of local print journalism that touches
all quarters. That motivates her to keep her
blog going.

“If you don’t have something to remind you of what you have in common, you create your own news feed,” she says.  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine. She can be reached at