Colors of Love Poems

One of February’s troubadours, love poems glimmer like candy hearts against a blue sky. Coming in all hues, like love itself, they have the power to adore, seduce, honor, bind, anger, grieve, forgive, appreciate, engage, mend, reconcile and more. From classic to contemporary, verses of love and passion inspire us to give voice to the seemingly indescribable. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we have assembled a collection of poetry submitted from area writers that will warm the heart of Saint Valentine himself.


These Days 

we walk slower,

hand in hand.

I miss my good

knees, the miles

I ran on blacktop,

on country roads

through fields,

always running,

moving, covering

distance as if that

would take me


all I ever needed,

I see now, is you,

right here: this home,

our yard, my hand

in yours, on a

Sunday afternoon.

— Steve Cushman




The Savings & Moan

Maybe swinging a nine-pound hammer

in Hell, sweat hissing 

on pillow-shaped rocks

that break and bind,

mocking my stinging eyes,

I’ll lose track of Friday nights

when we were alone at the top 

of the savings & loan building.


Or stroke-addled, swabbing the floor

at the Mission shelter, I’ll drop the mop

to end a week, mutter past the wet floor sign,

false teeth clicking, and not want you —

tilting into our spell, then pulling back,

true to your computer.


But never in my right mind

will Fridays above the lights 

go blank, lovely Friend. 

— Michael Gaspeny





When Julie says she wants Tiramisu

I do what husbands have done forever, 

go searching. First the Italian Bakery 

on Westridge, but they’re out, then Alex’s

Cheesecake downtown, but no luck there.  

I even try a couple chain restaurants but 

you guessed it they’re out. Finally, I asked 

the pastry chef at Cugino Forno and he said,

“Man, it’s National Tiramisu Day.”


Okay, so let’s add that to the list of things 

I don’t know.  Finally, I hit Bestway’s 

frozen food aisle and somehow they 

have a Sarah Lee two-pack, which I buy.


Julie smiles, says, “Thank you this is just what I wanted. 

But what took you so long?” 

I shrug, “There’s a run on Tiramisu today,” and she

laughs as we settle in to watch a gardening

show on Netflix. I wave away her attempts

to share the Tiramisu, tell her to enjoy

the whole thing, secretly hoping she’ll

save a little, perhaps a bite or two, for me.

— Steve Cushman
(*March 21 is Tiramisu Day)




Dried Flowers
& Other Crafts

Leaf through pages of my flesh, find quilt-comfort memories.

Read how the day before yesterday becomes three decades.

Showers together, coffee, cozy socks and couches.

Enough, for a time.  Peel back three pages from my book

of skin at shoulder, where muscle meets

gauze-white membrane, a spot that holds one dried iris

pressed between two black & white photos.  One shows

us hiking near Lolo Pass Road, between mounds of boulders,

before we found our almost-smooth meadow.

I will not speak of the second photo.  Not yet.

— John Haugh


July 12, 2007, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

Full from ice cream and a sun-filled day my son

and I walk the half mile back to our rental house,

as the gulls circle overhead and the bikinied girls

pass us by on pink and yellow rental bikes. Of course,

I’d like to stretch this week at the beach out forever,

but I can’t.  Back home, there are rooms to be painted

and yards to be mowed, not to mention bills to be paid.

But for a few more minutes, Trevor and I are walking

barefoot on the hot sidewalk and when I turn to the left

I spot this dark-haired woman waving at us from a balcony

and as she waves I realize she’s my wife, and this is my

life, and I’m no doubt luckier than I have any right to be.

— Steve Cushman





I promise

there will always be

sweet fresh sheets for you:

I have labored

to iron away the creases

of many solitary nights,

pledge that we will lie

on a new bed

with carefully sorted memories,

even as we crumple

toward our inevitable berths.

— Valerie Nieman




Power Outage

For three days the power was out,

so each night after work we huddled

close on the couch, under that thick blue 

blanket, reading books by candlelight, 

drinking wine, our legs intertwined.  


Later, in bed, even if we didn’t make love 

we reached for each other, for warmth, which 

at times felt more intimate than lovemaking.  


When the lights flickered on the third day 

I closed my eyes and thought no, not yet,

as if my thoughts had the power to do 

anything, and she cussed, dammit. 


In the morning, we woke under so many 

layers, both of us covered in sweat as if a fever

had broken and what was ahead might be 

better days, the start of something new.

— Steve Cushman




Secret Admirer

Whoever set the bouquet at your door,

in a vase with pink bows double-knotted

around its glass throat,

doesn’t know you well. You hate pink.

Maybe whoever, approaching so intimately

with sex and death in hand,

breathed in the faint scent of (pink) carnations,

but probably just the funereal odor

that clings to every petal,

eucalyptus and vinegar.

Vinegar that you pour at the feet

of gardenias so the leaves will be green

and the flowers so sweet

before they jaundice and fall.

Cut flowers, bright in their dying,

daisies, asters, roses, carnations.

Casting messages around like pollen,


Hardly any fragrance to flowers anymore

except for chrysanthemums;

your cousin’s funeral put you off them forever,

the way your mother hated gardenias.

Why gardenias?

Another woman’s perfume,

perhaps, she herself favoring Chanel No. 5

when she could, thick with jasmine.

Gardenia is named jasminoides,

yet not even kin, like someone pilfering

a dead child’s name.

Such sniffery.

You wait for another delivery.

Whoever, maybe.

— Valerie Nieman




Sizing Up

The carpenter

in the Craignure Inn,

carrying still his flat pencil

in its narrow pocket,

looks my way now and again,

gauging this accidental bird

alighted at his local.

A small man precise as his work,

measure twice and cut once;

he has a curved nose

and not a spare bit of flesh,

the plane having worked him

close to the bone.

His vest is joined neatly,

his ginger hair clipped.

I unfold myself from the low chair

like a carpenter’s rule,

near six feet of well-fed American

woman, and go to settle up.

Behind me at the bar,

I don’t see him but I feel

him quietly slip away.

— Valerie Nieman





I had never heard of Yorkshire Puddings

until my wife made them.  Julie’s British,

says her family ate them every Sunday

growing up, along with a baked chicken,

some potatoes, roasted carrots or green

beans.  Sometimes she calls them

Popovers.  That’s the name our son

uses for these overgrown muffins

of oil and flour and egg, puffed in the

middle, so that a fork or knife can send

them toppling in on themselves.

What I’m trying to say here is I can’t

imagine my life without these treats 

from across the ocean and my son,

if you could see the way he ravages

them, you would know, feels the same.

— Steve Cushman

Sticking With It

How Englishman John Broadhurst walks his talk with art that harks to home

By Maria Johnson     Photographs by Bert VanderVeen

Pick a special stick and tell about it?

John Broadhurst nods and steps to a rack bristling with walking sticks that he has hewn by hand. He heaves one up and catches it midair. The staff is ash, the rigid stuff of baseball bats, but this branch is way slimmer than a Louisville Slugger, and it still wears the tree’s dove gray bark, lightly varnished. The stick’s handle, warm with hues of coal and butter, is wrought from ram’s horn, worked into a cursive “n” and buffed to a high gleam.

“It’s a big thing to make a ram’s horn handle in England. It’s a common thing for shepherds,” says the 74-year-old Broadhurst, whose British accent shrouds his words like the winter fog of his hometown, the western port city of Liverpool. His mother often put him on a train headed due east, to a station near her parents’ home in the lamb-dabbed hills of Lincolnshire.

When his fox-hunting uncles rode to the hounds, young John followed on a bike, pedaling furiously over the hills, cementing with sweat and a pounding heart the joy of being outside, of moving through the open air whether by horse or by bike or — the most common means — by foot.

Then and now, he says, most people in the countryside carry a chest-high stick, the flag of a culture built on walking. “You go to these farm markets, and I’d say 95 percent of them have a stick. It’s a way of life, and it helps you so much,” he says.

Broadhurst demonstrates by centering a stick at his sternum and leaning over it: When chatting with friends, he says, you can use the stick as a kickstand to take some weight off your feet.


He thrusts the stick forward, planting it as a cross-country skier might. When going uphill, you can stab the incline and pull yourself up.

He eases back the top of the stick: Going downhill, you can brace yourself against gravity.

He jabs at imaginary teeth, knee high. If an aggressive animal comes at you, you have a weapon.

“Your stick is a companion as well, you know,” says Broadhurst, who’s as spare and straight as one of his canes. “You got your dog and your stick, and you can go where you like, you know what I mean?”

He worked city jobs as a teen, learning stone craft on construction sites before yielding to his boyhood love of the countryside. A professional terrierman, he followed fox hunters in a Land Rover, carting the Jack Russell terriers that flushed quarry from their burrows, a practice that’s now illegal. He weathered winters by sorting and shaping the dried hardwood branches that he’d sawed off a couple of autumns earlier when the leaves and sap were down. He developed an eye for spotting straight segments, about five feet long and as thick as a man’s thumb, still live on the trees and often spiraled with still-green honeysuckle vines.





He chose an ash limb to complement his first ram’s horn handle. An older guy had shown him how to work the bony spikes of a Jacob sheep, a black-and-white breed known for having two sets of horns, one curled beside the ears, another pronged atop the head.

When John saw a ram’s head at a slaughterhouse where he’d gone to pick up food for the dogs, he asked for a curled horn.

Back in his shed, he heated the horn with a blow torch to make it pliable, then wrapped it around a steel form to set the distinctive shepherd’s hook shape. It was wide enough to snare a sheep by the neck but gentle enough, with a curlicued end, not to dig in.

“It’s a long process,” Broadhurst says. “You’re messing with it and messing with it, you know? Once you get the shape, you can start polishing it, sanding it, filing it and finishing it off with wire wool.”

He points to the subtle pits in the ebony surface: “This wasn’t a real good horn, you see, but it was good enough,” he says. “You gotta take what you find, you know what I mean?” He joined handle and stick with a threaded steel rod. A white spacer of deer horn, found in the wild, bridged the gap, adding ornament and strength.

Ever keen to improve, he honed his knack for sticks and hounds. He managed a champion pack of hunting beagles on foot until a rogue and riderless horse trampled him in 1997, mangling his left leg and ending his time with the hunt. He fell back on the trade he’d learned as a teenager, laying stone. He kept his hand in the dog game by judging shows around the world.

He met his wife, Susan, the manager of a veterinary clinic, at a Jack Russell terrier show in Mocksville. She was handling. He was taking note.

Today, they live south of Winston-Salem, in a double-wide mobile home that John has clad with a handsome yellow knock-off of chiseled English Yorkstone.

He’s trying to retire from stone, but folks keep calling him about chimneys and patios and gate piers. He still judges dog shows. And he still plays with hardwood in the stretchy hours of winter evenings, when the pens of Plott hounds and Jack Russells that he and Susan keep and call by name have piped down.

He’s gotten pretty good at making walking sticks, he allows, but he’s a novice compared with stick makers in England. He springs up from a chair and returns with a small, slick magazine published by the British Stickmakers Guild. On the cover is a finely carved handle painted in jewel tones. A peacock’s head. He flips to likenesses of rosy rainbow trout and dagger-beaked woodcock. He shakes his head in awe of the craftsmen.

“Some of them lads, that’s all they do, you know what I mean? Some of them are absolutely brilliant,” he says.

There aren’t many stick makers in these parts, he adds with a crooked smile, so it’s easy for him to look good. He makes maybe 70 sticks a year and sells most of them — at prices ranging from $85 to $170 — at hound shows and steeplechases. He also sets up at WGHP-TV’s Roy’s Folks Craft Fair that’s held in High Point whenever COVID is in check, which hasn’t been for a couple of years now.

Buyers marvel at the variety of his designs.

Dark sticks and light sticks.

Sticks with resin handles cast in the shape of dogs’ heads.

“Thumb sticks” with notches at the top.

Sticks capped with deer antler, cow horn and burled wood.

Sticks that end in wooden whistles.

He blows a cheery note. “People use them to call their dogs and the like,” Broadhurst says.

The special stick, the one with a ram’s horn handle, will never sell because he’ll never offer it for sale. “You keep your first one like that, you know?” he says.

He’ll never use it, either. His favorite stick to use is what he calls a “nothing stick.” He pops out of his armchair again — he and stillness don’t mix well — to another rack of sticks. He hikes up a white-elm rod topped with twist of spalted maple. The handle is dark with the oil of his hand.

“That’s my favorite stick,” he says grinning like a boy who’s riding his bike after the horses and hound songs. “Just nothing at all.”  OH

To learn more, contact John Broadhurst at

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


By Ashley Walshe

February is a creature from an ancient myth, a wise old woman, a mystical crone goddess. 

At first glance, she is homely, haggard and frightening. Her face is gaunt. Her garments, threadbare. Her skin like gray, crinkled paper.

There is nothing soft or warm or pleasant about her. Time and the elements stripped her of her beauty long ago. She lurks in the shadows, a bag of bones with sunken eyes, crooked fingers and limbs like wind-swept trees. Her icy breath swirls through the air like a ravenous arctic wolf. 

Few have dared to approach — let alone understand — her. Most avoid her like the plague.

She does not require your favor. And yet, should you dare to gaze upon her, she will offer a wisp of a smile. A mysterious light will shine from her deep-set eyes, and while she will not speak with words, you will hear her, clear as a bell in the night: follow me.

Into the darkness you’ll trudge, cold air burning like poison ivy, frozen earth crunching beneath your feet. Rows of naked trees reach toward a grim, abysmal sky, and you wonder how life could possibly grow in this barren landscape, this pregnant silence, this bitter womb of winter.

As she walks, the crone slips her wrinkled hand into her cloak pocket and withdraws a rusted skeleton key. At once it is clear: This is no forsaken beast. She is the chosen one: the gatekeeper between death and life, the end and the beginning, the black of night and the first blush of dawn.

You begin to notice what was already here: early crocuses bursting through the frosty soil; milky white snowdrops and fragrant wintersweet; a host of sunny jonquil. A great horned owl screams out.

The crone does not glow like a young maiden or a new mother. But as you softly gaze upon her, you see the grace of a soul who has witnessed many seasons — a wise one who knows that spring is ever on the silvery horizon. That the only way to it is through it.

Feed the Birds

It’s been a long winter for everybody — especially our winged friends. Feed the Birds Day is celebrated each year on February 3. If ever you’ve wondered where St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, came up with his “For it is in giving that we receive” line, consider that he’s often depicted with a bird in his hands.

You think winter will never end, and then, when you don’t expect it, when you have almost forgotten it, warmth comes and a different light.

— Wendell Berry


Space and Time

According to, one of the most anticipated sky scenes of 2022 happens 40 minutes before sunrise from February 11–16, when Venus, Mars and Mercury will all be visible in the darkest spell of morning.

Another scene not to be missed this month: The “Winter Hexagon,” a prominent group of stars comprised of Rigel (in Orion), Sirius (in Canis Major), Procyon (in Canis Minor), Aldebaran (in Taurus), Capella (in Auriga) and Pollux (in Gemini). Also called the “Winter Circle,” you can find this asterism by first looking for Orion’s brightest star, Rigel, the bluish star at the lower right (in other words, below the belt). From here, draw a line straight up to Aldebaran, then continue following the bright points counterclockwise until you complete the circle. 

Love During Lockdown

How my parents maintained a steady diet of simple pleasures during COVID

By Georgianna Penn

“It’s the little things that mean a lot, just like the song,” says my mom, who, as a teenager in Gretna, Va., sang that song a dozen times on her radio show in the mid-1950s. For my parents, who have been married for more than 63 years, it has been the little things that have kept their love alive.

During COVID lockdown, I got a brief glimpse through that lens of love my parents so cherish.

My mom remembers the Alta Vista Rotary Club recommending her as a singer for the Russ Carlton Orchestra. Sax player met young jazz singer, and the rest is history.

Remember the saying, “Those who play together stay together”? Dad courted Mom by writing arrangements for her. “In My Solitude” was the first tune. And when they did not have a gig, they danced in the living room on Saturday night. “You Send Me” by Sam Cook was their favorite for non-gig date nights. “We never went to prom because we always played proms,” Mom says. Performing at places like Virginia’s Hotel Roanoke and riding home in the back of the band’s station wagon holding hands was date night for them.

On their first Valentine’s together, George gave Dixie a huge heart-shaped box of chocolates. Because of a massive snowstorm, Dad was unable to drive from Danville to Gretna in his 1941 turtle-back Mercury Coupe for weeks, so Dixie made that box of chocolates last an entire month by eating one piece a day. Fast forward 60 years, George and Dixie, who live in Madison, still eat one piece of chocolate a day — after dinner but before the TV show Suits.

Dad’s biggest accomplishment during COVID has been having his 1935 Conn Naked Lady baritone sax worked on by Greensboro’s saxophone whisperer, Evan Raines, at Moore Music. He also patched the toe hole in his New Balance sneakers during COVID. That’s a trick he learned from his dad, who patched the innertube tires on his 1936 Ford sedan during World War II when rubber was rationed.

If the sweater fits, buy eight of them. With a December birthday, four daughters and Christmas, Mom racked up turtlenecks from Chico’s. One for each day of the week and an extra one for non-gig date nights in the basement.

Watching daily rituals of meal planning or choosing what to wear for Rotary Zoom meetings have been special.

I often catch them holding hands in their matching recliners with their matching Maine Coon cats and matching Timex watches. Each year for New Year’s, they somehow manage to give each other the same gift, a Timex Indiglo watch. Mom has so many, she keeps extras as backup. During lockdown, gig night has turned into basement jazz. Mom and Dad’s most treasured gigs, however, are playing with their four daughters for the O. Henry Hotel’s Jazz Series before COVID.

Their biggest little thing, however, during this time of less-is-more, is their 3 p.m. Bake Me Happy parking lot cupcake dates in Madison, which has taken their romance full circle for sure — while, yes, holding hands. But this time, in the front seat, not the back.  OH

Madison native and Greensboro College graduate, Georgianna Penn loves sharing stories of hope and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Performing the music of the Great American Songbook with her family at O. Henry Hotel’s Jazz Series is what she has missed most during the pandemic.

Illustration by Harry Blair


Long Homestead in Winter

— Las Cruces, circa 1932

Not in any literal sense

a homestead: it was purchased

you learned from an old deed

sent you by a cousin. And in this

winter photo, strange with magic

of the never seen, a study in

whites and grays, foreground

trees and background barn shading

towards true black, porch windows

canvas covered against the cold,

original adobe brooding behind, just

one slender strand of air, smokey

warm you guess, rising from a single

flue suggests habitation, warmth

inside. No one living knows

its history now, when the barn

was built; porch facing pristine snow

now fades into surrounding silence. What

was the day like when someone, your

father perhaps, had hiked out the

back door around towards the railroad

track to capture the snow before it turned

to mud underfoot; foot sodden you suspect

later that morning when indoor

voices might have called to breakfast,

but leave your boots outside. All

gone wherever memories are stored —

you never saw the place in winter

but you slept many a summer night there

on that porch already mythical, heard the Santa Fe

hoot by, carry the present away.

  Julian Long

Julian Long is the author of Reading Evening Prayer in an Empty Church.

The Magnolia Network

Historic haven reimagined as a vibrant motel

By Cynthia Adams     Photographs by Amy Freeman

Photograph by Aura Marzouk
Photograph by Aura Marzouk


How did two hip interior designers, Gina Hicks and Laura Mensch, approach an historic project reeking of cultural significance — specifically Greensboro’s 1889 Magnolia House Motel — given their trade signature is youthful, contemporary and anything but stodgy?

The short answer is vividly.

The duo, who owns Vivid Interiors, leans into exuberant, artsy, color-saturated decors, which are not exactly standard fare for a venue that’s as much a museum as a dining destination and inn. (One of the pair sports a tattoo.) The Magnolia is an historic hybrid, reopened in late 2021, that was once a landing place for some of the hippest of the hip, who once rocked a packed house, singed a baseball with a thwack, thrilled with a knockout in the ring or seared an audience with discourse.

Famous motel guests included Ray Charles, Satchel s and James Baldwin. Athletes, intellectuals and musicians rested their heads at 442 Gorrell Street.

Only a year ago, Hicks and Mensch pored over photographs for clues and provenance, immersed in the likes of Ike and Tina Turner, former Magnolia guests when it was listed in the “Green Book” (more about that later). They reimagined the house’s rooms infused with the blue jazzy vibes of Miles Davis, the pink hotness of Turner or Gladys Knight, the cerebral white heat of James Baldwin or the leathery sports-cool of a Jackie Robinson.

Slowly, the brilliance of legendary figures who stayed there bled into the reimagined interiors, coaxed into being by Hicks and Mensch. Their creative guide was the historic property’s manager, Natalie Miller, who channeled the history with her father, owner Samuel Pass.

Miller wanted to recapture visual, visceral elements that cultural legends experienced within the Magnolia’s walls, which were now 133 years old.

“We will never look at an historic property the same way,” Mensch admits. “We’ve worked on older properties. But . . .” Nothing they had done, she says, was so absorbing, artistically meaningful, as this.

“Natalie helped us see it.”

“We said we’d love to help a year ago, not knowing how far it would go,” Hicks says. “Initially thought we’d set up a room for some photos. But once you get in it, you have to go through with it.”

First, some background. The house, which features four en-suite guest rooms, was small but history-packed. Originally the private home of Daniel D. Debutts, it was converted to an inn 60 years later after purchase by Arthur and Louise Gist. The Magnolia was variously called a hotel, motel and inn. It appeared in The Negro Motorist Green Book from 1955 to 1957 and 1959 to 1961. The guide ceased publication in 1966.

In 1995, Pass, who had grown up nearby, bought the house from Grace Gist, widow of state representative Herman Gist. (Keen to own the place he had admired from youth, Pass removed the for-sale sign and placed it in his trunk, according to the Magnolia House website. He later drove straight to Grace Gist to settle on the price.)

Lying within the South Greensboro Historic District, the property, which opened to the public in late December, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

As the Magnolia receded with the end of the Jim Crow era, it might have disappeared, as did most Green Book properties. According to Miller in recent interviews, it is among only four or five such N.C. sites that are “structurally replicated and functionally replicated.”

Mike Cowhig, who works with historic preservation for the City of Greensboro, says the city wanted to prevent its disappearance.

“Around 2000, the city, recognizing the importance of the house, used federal redevelopment funds to award a grant to the owner, Sam Pass, for restoration plans, a business plan, and for a new roof and other stabilization measures to keep the house from deteriorating further,” he recalls. “N.C. A&T also made a grant toward the stabilization of the house around that time.”

Then, Hicks and Mensch met Miller through Launch GSO, a chamber of commerce entrepreneurial program.

Miller had assumed the mantle of managing the property and realizing her father’s vision to approximate its heyday. Miller wanted Vivid to handle the interior decoration. By early 2021, the inn was on the cusp of a new chapter.

“When we first started working with Natalie, they were offering the shoebox lunches and history tours,” Hicks says. “There were a few other Green Guide places that were doing this.”

With the house 85 percent restored, Miller anticipated the critical finishing touches on the part museum/part inn project, engaging a new generation of guests. As the design duo contemplated the interior design, they needed to channel its creative history while adapting needed creature comforts.

“How do you design a space to invite people and honor the past? Some people are purists and want everything preserved,” Hicks says. Mensch adds, “A house still needs to feel fresh and right for the time.”

They developed a creed: “Honor the present and look to the future.”

“Then Natalie asked us to watch a movie called Sylvie’s Love, a modern movie based on a 1950s musician, for the colors, scenery,” Hicks says. She captured screen pics and researched the film sets.

But there was a hiccup: no budget.

Interior design wasn’t a line item. The designers agreed to work pro bono but were offered $1,000 from people invested in Launch, “which would cover about 5.4 hours,” Hicks says with a laugh. It was not long before they logged more than 500 hours.

They considered ways to engage others for material products and, with Miller’s help, decided to look for interested sponsors.

“We jumped into this going backwards,” Hicks says. But she also had an ace: a neighbor, Kathy Devereux.

Devereux was a member of the planning group for High Point X Design, a group seeking to keep High Point showrooms open year-round. After HPXD held an event, the Vivid designers were stunned that everyone wanted to help.

Circa Lighting, reseller of the Visual Comfort line, offered a great deal on lighting. Thibaut, the nation’s oldest designer of wallpaper, sponsored wallpaper and fabric. Sherwin Williams offered paint. The list of help expanded.

Mensch says they had to figure out how to organize all that largesse: How was it going to fit, to look? “It was a little different from a regular project.”

“We had zero budget, but we started with what we loved,” she adds.

They designed it, and it began to coalesce.

In the meantime, with every visit to the site, the designers, who had worked with few historic properties — the Julian Price house and another on Church Street — knew this was their oldest and most complex.

Miller planned adding a museum annex and more rooms. This was more than an inn.

Then, too, there was the omnipresence of famous guests: James Baldwin, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Jackie Robinson, Ike and Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington’s band, James Brown, Gladys Knight, Louis Armstrong, in addition to artists and sports figures.

“It means a lot to us. It’s in the community,” Hicks says. “We were glad to be involved with this project. We put our hearts and souls in it. And we will have an eternal connection to it.”

“For the ‘Kind of Blue’ room, it was kind of the culmination of characters. Miles (Davis) and Buddy Gist (son of Arthur Gist) were friends. The design team mined details, seeking to give the rooms names and themes.”  Now the Carlotta room honors “queens of soul,” and the Legends room honors sports guests. The Baldwin room honors African American intellectuals.

Mensch recalls sitting in the living room for the inn’s soft opening. “It felt so good! It was a great mix.”

Hicks agrees: “It came to life.” She mentions “designing for a difference.”

When Gladys Knight performed at the Tanger in November, Miller gave the designers tickets. As they thrilled to Knight’s performance, they felt re-inspired by the project as it was winding down.

“There are so many things I like about so many spaces there,” Hicks reflects. “It feels cohesive, even while trying to honor so many different people. There’s a rhythm in there. A general mood in the house.”

Then she smiles. “Rich! Deep. And smooth!”

As Ellington sang, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry.

Wandering Billy

The Day They ʼDozed Old Dixie Down


By Billy Eye

The past is never dead. It’s not even past. — William Faulkner

In 1997, I moved downtown, just a couple of blocks west of Hamburger Square. Anytime I told someone where I was living, their faces would scrunch into a look of genuine astonishment, “Why would you do that? There’s no one down there but bums,” they’d each say.

For the most part that was true. I recall a time in ’98 when friends visited from Detroit. As we were touring the empty storefronts and abandoned restaurants downtown, my friends wondered if a nuclear bomb had gone off. On a Friday at 5 p.m., we encountered not a single car on the street and, when a truck finally did speed by, “Welcome to Greensboro!” wasn’t even close to what they shouted at us.

In the ’90s, about the only action downtown at night (or during the day for that matter) was the Paisley Pineapple sofa bar where Natty Greene’s is today and, a few blocks north on Elm, a notorious rave club known as Babylon. There also was the funky-time apartment building on Bellemeade and Eugene where many of Babylon’s hopped-up, whirling dervishes spun down, The Dixie.

The Dixie began life in 1888 as a tobacco warehouse erected by businessman W.W. Dick on Bellemeade Street at the northwest outskirts of a burgeoning Greensborough. It wasn’t long before a lovely, shaded neighborhood of finely crafted, single-family homes sprang up around that warehouse, so, sensing a need for such a thing, in 1921 Dick converted the building into the handsomest apartment complex in town, three stories fronted with levels of multicolored bricks expanding outward, a fanciful array of red bricks splaying outward around the entryway.

Crowned by bold, squared-off, concrete ornamentations, with ribbed metal awnings adorning each window, modern amenities included built-in ironing boards, hot water radiators, and a chute for ice delivered daily to keep food cooled in the ice box. Only the fourth such establishment in town, rent for a one-bedroom unit was $12 a month (about $186 in today’s dollars).

Single working women favored 336 Bellemeade, and no wonder — reasonable rent and jobs galore within walking distance. The El-Rees-So cigar factory was a stroll away, one of more than a dozen such stogie-oriented enterprises clustered around Hamburger Square, each employing a phalanx of female assemblers, the thinking being that male cigar rollers would be tempted to steal from the stash. There were so many cigars being produced by women in the 1920s that our city became one of the largest exporters of pre-rolled tobacco products in the world.

By the 1950s, the rapid expansion of businesses across downtown Greensboro rolled like a wave around the now centrally located Dixie, a tsunami of commerce and concrete wiping out swathes of neighboring houses in favor of service stations, office buildings and the towering O.Henry Hotel.

Hundreds of jobs traditionally awarded exclusively to men were providing fresh opportunities for women in the workplace. Employment could be found at the center city’s massive S&W and Mayfair cafeterias, slinging hash at greasy spoons like Dee’s Grill, whipping up malteds at Lanier’s Soda Shop, in addition to a plethora of hotel, department and drug-store sales and lunch-counter positions. There were at least two dozen coffee shops alone within a five-block radius of The Dixie in the early 1950s. Sears and Roebuck’s retail showroom and Burlington Industries’ headquarters were directly across the street. It was a gradual and deliberate transition but, beginning in the 1950s, as the last remaining men moved out, The Dixie became an almost all-female community.

Over the next four decades, as tenants aged out and vacated, younger male and female tenants began gravitating toward The Dixie.

“It was cheap,” former resident (1995-1999) Chis Kennedy breaks it down. “The rent was like $300 and it was right downtown. If I needed to, I could walk to two of my jobs because I worked at Babylon and Paisley Pineapple.” During the 1990s, The Dixie was populated by single, young and middle-aged stoners; artists; programmers; and maladjusted Bukowski clones. Walking the hallways, visitors were greeted with the aroma of marijuana, cigarette smoke, stale beer and the unmistakable pungency of overflowing cat boxes.

“It was mostly young people in their 20s,” Kennedy says. “I was in the rave scene with all these people. Pretty much everybody in the counter-culture scene lived there at some point or another.” The younger tenants appreciated The Dixie for what it was — an antiquated relic of a bygone era with loads of character. “Everybody had really nicely decorated and painted apartments. The owners didn’t seem to care what you did to them,” he says.

You know how old folks like to reminisce about life being so safe back in the day that no one locked their front doors? The entrance to The Dixie was never locked either. While that made sense in earlier times, by the 1990s homeless folks were lining the hallways in the wintertime. Not that anyone seemed to mind. The fire escape clung so precariously to the back of the building, anyone with any sense would have taken their chances with the fire. You would have had to anyway; the door to the fire escape was locked tight.

“There were a lot of colorful stories about the building, that’s for sure,” Kennedy says. Unfortunately, given the genteel nature of this magazine, I can’t tell you a single one of them — not about the girl who haunted Kennedy’s apartment, the Mafia snitch who mysteriously overdosed, what went on in the alleyway after hours — none of it. My impression of The Dixie from the numerous parties I attended during the same period Kennedy lived there in the mid- to late-’90s was one of community. The Dixie was there to help launch someone on to better things or wallow in the quicksand one had created.

Residents were known to frequent the joint next door at 300 Bellemeade, a one-story dump with a somewhat colorful history at its nadir. Originally constructed as an overflow office for Burlington Industries in the 1940s, sometime in the ’80s it was gutted and reemerged as a cavernous, hole-in-the-wall, gay bar called Busby’s Tavern. In the late ’90s, 300 Bellemeade morphed into a delightfully weird hangout where many a coin vanished. In the City Directory it was listed as Aitch’s Toys and Games, but it was primarily a dive bar where the proprietor dazzled beer-sodden barflies with his sleight of hand surrounded by rubber chickens, collapsable top hats, marked cards and whoopee cushions. In the 2000s, that space became a gay bar for women, Time Out.

Around 2008, with nearby businesses and eateries thriving and the recently opened ballpark across the street drawing crowds, suddenly living downtown became hip, creating a housing boom. Although The Dixie had fallen into disrepair and ill-repute, it was, nonetheless, the last bastion of Bohemia remaining at the center of the city. If I’m not mistaken, it was the oldest apartment complex in Greensboro, when in 2014, this grande dame of the displaced along with the block of structures alongside her were reduced to rubble for the Hyatt Place Hotel and the accompanying Carroll at Bellemeade luxury apartments.  OH

Correction: Eye goofed, misidentifying a photo in last month’s column! “FYI, the photo on page 37 above the article about the Star Theatre is not Grimsley students in 1978. That photo is the Page High School Junior Civitan Club taken circa 1971 for the yearbook. Most of them are seniors, Class of 1971, and I knew nearly all of them. The ‘gentleman’ in the hat, leaning on a crutch, is the class president, Charles Robinson, whom I married in 1975. Though someone misidentified the photo, I enjoyed seeing it again after 50 years.” — Chris Garton

Simple Life

“The Chosen One”

A red-tailed sentinel; the discovery of a spirit animal; and a faithful, four-legged soulmate


By Jim Dodson

Late in the afternoon on an unnaturally warm New Year’s Eve, I hauled the last of autumn’s motherlode of leaves to the curb and sat down to rest on an iron bench at the back of the new shade garden I’ve spent hours building during the COVID pandemic.

My dog Mulligan walked over and sat down beside me.

Mully, as I call her, is a wise old border collie of 16 who still walks a mile with us every morning before sunrise before spending much of her day in the garden keeping a sharp eye on things, including the head gardener.

I call her my “God Dog,” the perfect palindrome for the joyful young stray I found running wild and free back in 2006. Our journey together has been a gift from the universe, which is why I officially named my garden for the old girl on Christmas morning.

As we sat together beneath the old oak trees that arch over the yard like the beams from some ancient Druid’s lost cathedral, watching the final rays of the old year slip away, I followed her gaze up the huge white oak I call Honest Abe and discovered — rather startlingly — a large female red-tailed hawk sitting on a limb, not 20 feet above us.

I’d seen this same handsome lady hawk several times that week. But never this close.

Perhaps, like me, she was merely resting from a long afternoon of hunting and being harassed by a murder of pesky crows that behave like drunken teenagers in our neighborhood, enjoying a moment of peace and quiet to contemplate the end of another challenging year on the planet.

Or maybe she was simply waiting for an early supper to appear, which could explain the sudden scarcity of squirrels, rabbits and chipmunks that normally scamper around our backyard at that hour.

Given the timing of the moment, however, and the dramatic presence just feet above our heads, I had a slightly nobler thought.

In Native American lore, hawks are considered sacred creatures that frequently appear as messengers from one’s ancestors, benevolent spirit animals sent to warn or offer a blessing. Almost every ancient culture on the planet, in fact, holds some version of this interpretation of hawks — noble creatures that symbolize clear-eyed sight and the urge for freedom. The knight-hero Gawain mentioned in the legend of Arthur — whose very name contains the Celtic word “gwalch,” which means hawk — sets off in search of the Holy Grail.

Was this a message from my ancestors? A simple New Year warning or blessing being sent as the three of us — man, dog and scary mythic bird — sat calmly eyeballing each other from close range in the lengthening shadows of an unnaturally warm winter afternoon?

Was it a final warning about the rapidly vanishing Arctic ice? Or welcome news that liberation from the killer virus might finally come in the days and weeks just ahead?

Impossible to say. But either way, old Mully appeared to have her doubts about our visitor, keeping a wary custodial eye on the big bird in case she tried some funny business in her garden.

In the meantime, I took out my smartphone to sneak a photograph and do a quick fact-check on spirit animals over the internet. I was surprised to find several websites designed to determine one’s own spirit animal through various lifestyle questions that sounded more like a personality test for a dating website.

The first quiz I took revealed my spirit animal to be an owl. Not quite what I expected.

The second, a turtle. Seriously?

Finally, I became the 7,437,375th person to take the animated YouTube “soul animal” test that revealed my spirit animal is a bear.

I’ll admit to being kind of bummed that no red-tailed hawk made my spirit animal menagerie. All three sites did agree on one thing, however — that spirit animals choose us rather than the other way around.

When I finally glanced up from my phone, the lady red-tailed hawk had flown away. Maybe she was looking for an early New Year’s Eve supper, after all. I’ve never seen her since.

Mully, on the other hand, was still by my side.

After 16 years together, whatever lies ahead in 2022, it was comforting to still be chosen by such a spirited animal.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

Omnivorous Reader

Mastering the Monsters

A sci-fi novel for our surreal world

By Anne Blythe

If the past couple of years have proven anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.

We’ve battled a virus that has shown its ability to morph and shape-shift. Some people accepted it as real. Others chose not to believe.

The world imagined by Cadwell Turnbull, a creative writing professor at N.C. State University, in his latest work of fiction, No Gods, No Monsters, gives us a similar choice.

There are monsters, gods and humans living together and living apart throughout his book. They force readers to reconsider what is real and what is not, to look at others with a sense that they might be more like you than different — or more different than you know.

Introduced as the first in a trilogy, No Gods, No Monsters opens with a professor sitting at a restaurant in Cameron Village in Raleigh, saying goodbye to his friend Tanya, and his academic life. As Tanya sits across from him, he tells her he has decided to leave his job and go home to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands (Turnbull’s childhood home), where the professor has unresolved issues over the death of his brother.

Initially, we don’t know the professor’s name or how he’s connected to the characters in the pages ahead. He drops in and out of chapters, sometimes interjecting a jarring and puzzling voice, leaving readers to wonder who he really is and how the many storylines that Turnbull is juggling will come together.

Along the way, we meet a wild variety of characters: bookstore workers who can turn into werewolves; a character named Dragon (a child who can sprout wings and fly); a senator from the Virgin Islands who can become a dog; an invisible sibling; a witch; and more. It’s not until the very end that we can see the novel’s worlds merging. Even then, much remains unanswered, leaving readers to wonder what the next book in the trilogy has in store.

“I’m going to tell you a story,” the narrator says. “And like so many stories, it begins with a body.”

That body belongs to Lincoln, a naked Black man, dead in the street, shot by police.

Laina, Lincoln’s sister, picks up the storytelling. We learn from her that Lincoln had been hooked on drugs and living on the streets, estranged from his family.

At first, it might seem as if this will be another story about an unarmed Black man being shot by police. While that theme pulses through the book, we quickly find out that this story is going to be different.

Suppressed bodycam footage surfaces, and with its release comes a tale of monsters, werewolves and gods on Earth and beyond.

Initially, Laina is in disbelief as she watches the bodycam footage of her brother’s shooting. It’s dark at first, difficult to make anything out. Then she hears the cop say, “I see it. It’s big.”

Then she sees the creature, too. It’s doglike, she says, but “bigger than doglike.” It snarls at the cop and he fires his gun. His target falls to the ground.

As residents from the houses along the street come out to see the aftermath of the shooting, the creature the cop saw lunging at him has become simply a naked man, left slain between two cars.

“I don’t understand,” the cop says.

The bodycam shows that Laina’s brother, at least for a moment, was a werewolf. Turnbull calls that moment “the Fracture.” It’s the instant when someone’s world opens to the realization that monsters are among them. Some people take notice. Others look away.

“Most people outgrew true belief in monsters by adulthood, but even adults knew not to go outside at night during a power outage, go past a certain house or respond to whispers in the dark,” the senator from St. Thomas tells us after we meet her in the Virgin Islands. “Monsters existed in the liminal space of half-belief and practical superstition. Even folks who claimed not to believe in God knew not to tempt devils. Superstition allowed a certain kind of freedom, allowed a certain kind of power.”

The arc of the story can be disjointed at times, adding a touch of mystery, as readers go on a spellbinding journey from North Carolina to Massachusetts to the U.S. Virgin Islands and places in between.

The characters are good and evil, lovable and at times abominable. We see humans transform into werewolves as they shed their clothes and go on four-legged runs in the woods, chasing squirrels and other small critters. We meet a woman who drinks the blood of her sister and can pull her skin off and on. Others lead mundane lives while battling monsters of their own.

Many of these characters eventually come together at a monster march, depicted as a kind of otherworldly Black Lives Matter rally when a large crowd marches through the Boston streets after Lincoln’s death, chanting, “No gods, no monsters!”

By using the sci-fi genre, Turnbull tempts his readers to explore tough and touchy topics such as drug addiction, police shootings, societal divisions and the monsters that can be created when neither side explores the motivation of the other.

Laina introduces us to Ridley, her asexual, transgender, anarchist husband who moved from Harrisonburg, Virginia, where his parents still live, to Massachusetts to open a co-op bookstore. We meet Rebecca, Laina’s girlfriend, who knew Lincoln, and Sarah, her housemate. Both Rebecca and Sarah have the ability to transform into sturdy-legged werewolves.

Throughout Turnbull’s book, we end up wondering whether monsters are people or people are monsters.

“You think monsters are dangerous? Or you think people who believe in them are? Which one? Both?” Sarah asks Ridley after he tells her he might not go to the monster march in Boston because he’s worried about the potential for violence.

“People need to be protected, too,” Ridley tells Sarah.

The book tugs and pulls its characters through inner wars as they deal with a fractured world around them and their own splintered lives. At one point, Ridley sees the Earth open up below a circle of glowing red ants while on a retreat at a collective peanut farm in Virginia. He tumbles into an abyss with monsters so jarring that he stays mum about his experience. What are the consequences of speaking out or the cost of staying silent?

Turnbull’s complex story takes readers across the surface of the Earth and into the many dimensions of the mind as his characters carom through a multitude of societies — some secret from long ago, some modern and seemingly ordinary but very destructive.

Even for people not typically drawn to sci-fi or fantasy novels, settling in with this story is well worth it.  OH

Anne Blythe has been a reporter in North Carolina for more than three decades. She has covered city halls, higher education, the courts, crime, hurricanes, ice storms, droughts, floods, college sports, health care and many wonderful characters who make this state such an interesting place.

Short Stories


Lion King Roars Into Town

“Giraffes strut. Birds swoop. Gazelles leap. The entire Serengeti comes to life as never before. And as the music soars, Pride Rock slowly emerges from the mist.” What is it? The description of the opening of Disney’s The Lion King, of course, which makes its premiere in Greensboro February 23 through March 6. With theatrical awe, visual artistry and captivating music, the story follows Simba, a young lion embarking on a journey to adulthood. The Broadway show (the winner of six Tony awards, including Best Musical) has entertained more than a million people worldwide. And why not — it is adored by children of all ages. Info:


Photograph bottom left: Lorraine O'Grady, Art Is . . . (Girl Pointing), 1983/2009. Chromogenic photograph in 40 parts, 20 × 16 in. (50.8 × 40.64 cm). Edition of 8 plus 1 artist’s proof. Courtesy of Alexander Gray Associates, New York. © Lorraine O’Grady/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
 Photograph bottom left: Lorraine O’Grady, Art Is . . . (Girl Pointing), 1983/2009. Chromogenic photograph in 40 parts, 20 × 16 in. (50.8 × 40.64 cm). Edition of 8 plus 1 artist’s proof. Courtesy of Alexander Gray Associates, New York. © Lorraine O’Grady/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Unparalleled Art

Consider these binaries: “both/and,” “Black/White,” “self/other,” “past/present,” “West/non-West.” Lorraine O’Grady has done just that since becoming a visual artist at the age of 45. Lorraine O’Grady: Both/And, on loan from the Brooklyn Museum, spans four decades of her work, exploring parallel threads in society and seemingly contradictory ideas embedded in our culture — via video, photomontage, concrete poetry, cultural criticism and public art. Previously an intelligence analyst for the U.S. government and then a rock critic for The Village Voice and Rolling Stone, O’Grady was raised in Boston by middle-class Jamaican immigrants. Assuming the radical persona of Mlle Bourgeois Noire, O’Grady — one of the most significant figures in contemporary performance, conceptual, and feminist art — “dismantles either-or-thinking in favor of broader possibilities.” A virtual discussion of O’Grady’s work, on display through April, takes place on February 10 at noon. Register at 


Not Guilty

In April 1989, a woman was raped in Central Park. Five men, who became known as the Central Park Joggers, were tried and convicted for a host of heinous crimes. Years went by before the Central Park Five’s convictions were overturned. Today, one of those five men, Yusef Salaam, has launched a crusade to vindicate racial injustices.

At 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 15, Salaam, an award-winning speaker, takes the stage as part of the Guilford College Bryan Series at the Tanger Center to share the injustices he has faced. For more information, contact



Wine-Tasting Cardio

We don’t always choc, but when we do, we choc a lot — with wine. The N.C. Wine & Chocolate Festival comes to the Greensboro Coliseum February 12 — just in time for Valentine’s Day. It had us at hello — and “unlimited tastings of North Carolina wines.” But if your preferred bar is made of candy, caramel and nuts, the festival has you chocolate-covered. Grab your pals and pour your heart out — 1–4 and 5–8 p.m. Refill. Repeat. (And did we mention there’s also shopping? Between candy and wine workouts, browse through mini boutiques with purses, jewelry, clothing and more.)


On Stage With Margaret Atwood

UNCG College of Visual and Performing Arts Dean bruce d. mcclung has announced the rescheduling of Margaret Atwood for February. The famed Canadian author was to kick off the 109th season of UNCG’s University Concert and Lecture Series in September but canceled all United States appearances through October 2021 because of COVID-19 concerns.

Atwood’s appearance, an evening of moderated conversation and performances of new works inspired by her prose and poetry by the faculty and students from the College of Visual and Performing Arts, has been rescheduled for Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022, at 7 p.m. All tickets will be honored for the rescheduled date. Any questions regarding the rescheduled date for Atwood should be directed to the College’s Box Office at (336) 256-8618.

Tickets for Atwood — or any of the other University Concert and Lecture Series events — may be purchased online through UNCG’s ticketing partner ETix at A full listing of the 2021–2022 series, which began on Oct. 8, 2021, with the Sphinx Virtuosi is available at



Ogi Sez

Ogi Overman

Last year at this time, as I got my first COVID shot, I was hoping for the rest of 2021 to be the beginning of a deliriously happy era. Well, I got the delirious part right. (Don’t get me started.) But this February, I hope against hope that the worst is over and that the lingering effects of the pandemic are subsiding. I pray that we see some semblance of normalcy returning. And that means getting our weary, couch-riding, junk-food-eating butts out in the real world where our souls can once again be rejuvenated with some live music. And, brothers and sisters, there’s enough of it out there, in the words of the Bard, to not only soothe the savage beast but to slay the bastard.

• February 3, Durham Carolina Theatre: Generally, I don’t send folks this far, but occasionally an act merits a little road trip. Back in the day, two of my all-time fave Zen-out (code) tunes were “Eye in the Sky” and “Don’t Answer Me” by the Alan Parsons Project. I had no idea they were still touring and recording, but here they are. And there I’ll be.

• February 5, R.J. Reynolds Auditorium (Winston-Salem): I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the Steep Canyon Rangers, dating back to their early days scraping up gigs at Greensboro’s Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. I’ve followed their meteoric rise to the top of the bluegrass heap and interviewed banjoist Graham Sharp, a Greensboro native. But here’s the twist: They will play with the Winston-Salem Symphony, following in the footsteps of Béla Fleck

• February 11, Greensboro Coliseum: Speaking of meteoric rises, a couple or three years ago, nobody outside the bluegrass world had ever heard of Billy Strings. And now the boy wonder is headlining shows at 20,000-seat venues. It seems almost sacrilegious to say it, but he is being hailed as the flatpick successor to the late, great Tony Rice. And that, my friends, is about the highest compliment a guitarist can be given.

• February 18, Tanger Center (Greensboro): I’ll give you five seconds to name the two greatest vocal groups of the Motown era. You’ll be excused if you said anyone other than the Temptations and the Four Tops, but, well, you’d also be wrong. Granted, there were dozens, but none have been touring continually since then. As a side note, Greensboro’s baritone saxmaster Scott Adair headed up the tour’s horn section for many years.

• February 19, High Point Theatre: Pardon me for being heavy on bluegrass this month, but sometimes that’s just where the musical chips fall. (And, besides, I’m eat slap up with it.) Darin Aldridge got his big break years ago when my bluegrass hero, the late Charlie Waller, asked him to join the Country Gentlemen. One day, he met his new playing partner, Brooke Justice, who soon became his life partner, as well. The duo is now the finest in the land, and if you don’t believe me, check out “Every Time You Leave.”