Remembrance of Things Past

Old-fashioned bleeding heart

By Ross Howell Jr.

A heart shape signifying romantic love was already a popular symbol on Valentine’s Day cards way back in 1846, when botanist Robert Fortune returned to England after a three-year-long expedition to the Far East.

As a youth, the Scotsman had apprenticed in local gardens, then taken a position with the Edinburgh Botanical Garden. He was serving as a superintendent with the Royal Horticultural Society garden in Chiswick when he was commissioned to search for plants in Asia.

During his trek, Fortune endured shipwreck, pirates and fever, entering China in disguise, since acquiring plant specimens for export to Europe was strictly forbidden.

Among the many plants that Fortune sent home to England were a beautiful tea rose called “Fortune’s double yellow,” a Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) and a Japanese anemone, along with various tree-peonies, azaleas and chrysanthemums.

Fortune also sent a kumquat (Citrus japonica) and a flowering plant that would become a Valentine’s Day tradition.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis had long been cultivated in the gardens of northern China, Japan and Korea and was also found in the wild.

The bleeding heart.

Fortune had brought to England nature’s living manifestation of the romantic heart, arranged in delicate, pendant rows of red or pink. Later in the 19th century, the bleeding heart made its way into American gardens.

The first blooms I remember seeing grew by the Dutch door that opened from the kitchen to the garden in the mountain farmhouse where my mother was born. The foliage of those plants reached about to my chin, and each pendant heart was considerably larger than my thumb.

The lobed shape of the bleeding heart was so different from other flowers I’d discovered in the fields and woods. They didn’t seem real. Their deep red color was the shade of my mother’s lipstick.

Descendants of Fortune’s Asian plants — like the ones I’m recalling here — have come to be called “old-fashioned” bleeding heart.

Recently I inherited two when my wife, Mary Leigh, and I purchased a townhouse in Blowing Rock.

I noticed them sprouting on a steep, partially shaded bank the first spring we were there. They bloomed feebly. Their foliage faded by early June.

That summer I became friends with one of our neighbors. Turns out, we’re the same age. He’s a cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking, pacemaker-wearing man with hands like bear paws, a successful entrepreneur, a gifted, self-taught artist, and a curmudgeon.

One day when I was on the bank pruning a rhododendron, my neighbor told me the bleeding hearts had been planted by his wife. She’d passed away suddenly the first night Mary Leigh and I spent at our place. We saw the EMT vehicle but knew no one in the neighborhood at the time and had no idea what had happened. They’d been married for 43 years.

That fall I scattered a little topsoil and layered the steep bank with leaves and hardwood mulch. The following spring, the bleeding hearts answered.

They produced thick foliage that cascaded down the bank with a profusion of pink hearts.

Sometimes from the kitchen window I’d see my neighbor stop to look at the plants when he was out walking his Pomeranian, a gift from his late wife.

A smile came to my face — watching that big, grumpy old man with the fluffy, little dog on a leash, gazing at the bleeding hearts on the bank.

I’m sure he was thinking about his wife. Just as I was thinking about my late mother.

Well done, Robert Fortune.

It’s good to remember those we love and those we’ve loved.

Happy Valentine’s Day!  OH

Ross Howell Jr. is a contributing writer to O.Henry. Interested in bleeding heart varieties, old-fashioned or native? Visit the University of Wisconsin-Madison Horticulture Extension www. and the North Carolina Native Plant Society,

A Legacy of Loving Energy

A Legacy of Loving Energy

A couple turns a former childhood home into an estate venue

By Cassie Bustamante     Photographs by Amy Freeman

Fashion Designs CassB

Models Kylie Nifong Nyger Catrice

Fashion Stylist Eutasha Simmons

Floral Designs Bea Morad

In January of 1984, Michael Newell, the youngest of six children, came home as a newborn to a stately brick three-level house, completed just in time for his arrival. Sitting on 16 acres in Pleasant Garden and thoughtfully designed by his parents, McArthur and Dottie Newell, it was a place where they raised their family and hosted large parties and events. Sadly, after Newell’s father passed away in 2002, rooms that had once been filled with life became unused and closed off. Now, almost 40 years since first crossing its threshold, Newell — and his wife, Marche Robinson — are pouring blood, sweat and tears into his former childhood home, making it once again a place for lively gatherings.

After sitting empty for some time, his mother was considering putting the house on the market. Then, in 2017, an idea popped into Newell’s head. “I don’t even know why I thought it would be a really cool wedding venue,” he reflects. But the house had served as home to so many events over the years, from bridge club gatherings with tables spread throughout the main floor to homecoming parties — and even his own sisters’ wedding receptions.

Shortly after the discussion began, Newell found himself engaged to Marche Robinson, his long-time love. “We were both working and planning a wedding, so there wasn’t really the room to be thinking about it seriously,” recalls Robinson.

And so it was that on October 19, 2019, the couple wed in The Merrimon-Wynne house, an estate venue in downtown Raleigh, closer to the home in Brier Creek where they were living at that time. Throughout their wedding planning process, Newell says, “Every step I was taking in that house, I was thinking about this house. It was boiling inside of me at the time.”

As time went on, he remembers “constantly being bombarded by what was possible.” And then one day he found himself saying, “Let’s buy the house, renovate it and let it still be a place that has a legacy of loving energy.”

Robinson, who could easily picture what could be, says, “An estate venue like this, they’re kind of rare. . . This house was already the perfect place.”

Newell and Robinson discussed it with his siblings and his mother. “She was actually really excited about it and super open to it,” says Newell.

“She loved the idea,” adds Robinson. She loved it so much that she envisioned having her 80th birthday party there. And, in fact, the couple hosted the celebration at The Newell House in early November of 2022 as their first major affair. It was what that they both refer to as “a full circle moment.”

Of course, the house needed major renovations to become the classic, polished gem it is today, but these two are no strangers to long hours of hard work.

Newell works as a lawyer and is co-owner of Dame’s Chicken & Waffles’ Chapel Hill and Cary locations. Robinson is a lawyer-turned-influencer and shares her content on instagram at @marcherobinson. She’s also the founder of Isaline, a clean, vegan and cruelty-free beauty brand.

Both grew up with hard-working parents as role models. Newell’s father was an OB-GYN who often left the house in the middle of the night to deliver babies. Robinson’s father was a Greensboro entrepreneur who started his own businesses, Scott Tree Service and Scott’s Cleaning Service.

“He would get up in the middle of the night after working all day and go clean these buildings,” she recalls, “and I would beg to go because I was a Daddy’s girl.” Seeing him work so hard to create something of his own instilled an entrepreneurial spirit in Robinson that didn’t scare her away from taking on this project.

With a plan in place, the couple moved forward in creating what would become the estate venue it is today, which they’ve branded The Newell House. Right away, they enlisted the help of “brother-in-law” Howard (actually Newell’s sister’s husband’s brother). According to Newell, he’s a “fix-it-all, handy, design” kind of guy. With his skills and ability to visualize with Robinson, they started making strides.

Newell, in awe of how Howard and Robinson could picture what was possible in a space, says, “I was just like, ‘Can y’all see the things you’re saying? Is your mind making this? Because my mind is just hearing words!’” Fortunately, he trusted their vision completely.

Howard, who fully grasped Robinson’s modern-with-vintage-charm aesthetic, added picture frame moldings — a classic Georgian touch — and built several pieces of furniture. Robinson points out a custom-made florist’s work table as well as three movable bars he created, one of them a popular shade of blue. “Everyone loves blue,” says Robinson. “I feel like the sky, especially when it’s so sunny out, is just the perfect shade of blue so I feel like it just brings a little of that in.” And, yes, she adds, Newell is a UNC Chapel Hill alum.

A non-movable bar sits in the basement level “speakeasy” — an inky green space the couple named after Newell’s father, calling it the McArthur Lounge. Now his favorite area of the house, Newell says, “It was supposed to be probably my dad’s man cave.”

Robinson adds, “But every video and every photo, it’s like their dad is down here watching TV and it’s like — there are kids everywhere!”

While his father never got to use it as a true man cave, Newell and Robinson have made it into a space that would perfectly suit its original intention, complete with a bar, moody walls, lounge tables with upholstered banquette seating and even a separate room with a poker table. It’s the ideal space for an intimate private party or a place for a groom to prepare with his groomsmen.

As with any renovation, the overhaul did not come without unexpected bumps along the way. The home still boasted its original ceilings — popcorn ceilings that were popular from the mid-’40s to the early-’90s. Robinson knew she wanted them gone, but Newell wasn’t convinced. Eventually, she prevailed.

“They removed the popcorn ceilings and then someone flushed a toilet,” recalls Robinson. “And it just started dripping everywhere!” The “popcorn” had been absorbing the unseen drops of water leakage. Robinson quips, “See, I saved you money! I saved you money!”

Another snafu arose from the foyer’s trademark feature, a 24-inch tile, charcoal-and-white checkerboard floor. The original flooring was checkered as well and Robinson wanted to “keep that classic look, but make it a little more modernized.” Unfortunately, mishaps resulted in breakage and they ran out of tile a week-and-a-half before the date of their first affair, a Sip & See open house set for September 24, 2022. Unable to find the same tile anywhere locally, Robinson called the manufacturer directly and was told, “It looks like we have some in Georgia.’” The very next morning, Newell and Robinson drove to Southern Georgia to retrieve the tile, bringing it back to Pleasant Garden at 10 p.m.“ And then the next day the guy was supposed to come and do the tile and couldn’t come because he was sick . . . ,” Robinson says, able to laugh about it now. Finally, with just 24 hours until the Sip & See, tile installation was complete. “And it was all worth it!” says Robinson.

While they had their fair share of tribulations during the renovation, many pieces fell easily into place. Newell and Robinson, who met as tweens at Mendenhall Middle School, maintained several local connections and friends in the area who ended up serving them well.

On a visit to a local nursery, Newell ran into an old childhood buddy, Landon, who’d just moved back to the area about six months earlier. Knowing that Landon had culinary expertise, Newell decided to approach him to help provide in-house catering.

“I just felt like it fell together in a way that it was meant to be,” says Robinson. “Because what are the odds that he moves back from New York, was doing catering, went to culinary arts school,” . . . and happened to be at the garden center that fateful day.

According to Robinson and Newell, Landon, whose horticultural experience has enhanced his gastronomy skills, utilizes fresh-from-the-garden, roots-still-attached ingredients. Robinson says, “Everyone who’s come to our events was like, ‘This is the best meal!’”

In the week prior to hosting that first Sip & See at The Newell House, Robinson recalls the help and hard work of Landon and another childhood friend, two of Newell’s best friends.

“I feel like that is a core memory for me,” says Robinson. “That week leading up to that Sip & See, it was me, Michael, our brother-in-law, Howard, and then it was Landon and David, who’s also a friend that grew up here. His parents still live literally right down the street.” She adds, “We really put, obviously, a lot of love into the house, but the fact that it can be friends that grew up coming to the house [now] helping is really cool.”

In addition to an in-house catering service, The Newell House also offers an in-house florist, who, you guessed it, just so happens to be a friend of Newell and Robinson.

Like Newell and Robinson, Adeola Glover wears many hats: lawyer, mother, and owner and lead designer of Bea Morad. “We both have these creative sides to us that you don’t really get to use when you’re doing [legal] contracts,” says Robinson. “And so she started her floral company right before we got married — we were her first wedding.”

Robinson reflects on hiring Glover to create the florals for own big day, knowing that every entrepreneur has to have that “first” client. “Sometimes we see these really successful people and businesses . . . you forget that they had to have their first job. If nobody took that chance, then they wouldn’t be where they are,” she muses. “And it’s kind of like with the venue, the first couple that gives your venue the chance. You know, you need that couple that breaks the ice.”

And have they booked The Newell House’s first wedding? Yes. In fact, the first marriage celebration is booked for October 22, 2023, just two days after the couple’s third anniversary, one day after Robinson’s birthday and two days after Dottie Newell’s birthday. But, in a true full-circle moment, the bride, who is getting married on her own late father’s birthday, was delivered into this world by none other than McArthur Newell, OB-GYN.

Newell smiles as he recalls his father as “this big figure that everybody came to. Super funny, always ready to talk.”  While he insists that he isn’t quite the talker his dad was, it’s clear that he’s working hard, like his father did, to build something lasting for his family.

“Obviously I can’t fill his shoes,” says Newell, “but being able to be there for my family, my mom, everybody else . . . and bring people happiness  — I don’t think I could have done it in a better way than doing this.”   OH

For more information or to schedule a tour of The Newell House, visit

Cassie Bustamante is editor of O.Henry magazine.

A Tale of Three Couples

A Tale of Three Couples

From cars to kismet, local marrieds share what brought them together 

A Highly Calibrated Meeting of Minds Under the Hood

Photograph: Kayla and Vincent Mulisano

In the classic comedy, My Cousin Vinny, actress Marisa Tomei steals the scenes with her encyclopedic knowledge of cars. It isn’t far from Greensboro’s own Kayla Mulisano, co-owner at Autologic of Greensboro. 

She and Vincent Mulisano are not only a couple, they work shoulder-to-shoulder at Autologic, where they’ve built a following among car aficionados. (They frequently work on cars from as far as Charleston, S.C.) Vincent, the master technician, founded the business in 2007. Kayla is the service manager.

“We work differently,” Vincent says, each one playing to his or her strengths.

He insists that “car chicks” didn’t turn his head. But — when he first got to know Kayla, her mechanical aptitude appealed.

Vincent adds shyly, “She was drop dead gorgeous and she knew cars.” Falling for Kayla happened very, very fast in his telling.

Kayla met Vincent through her older brother, but only in passing. In 2009, they began dating while she was working in BMW restoration at Korman Autoworks by day and taking college courses by night. “If I needed help on a car that none of my guys could figure out, he could help.”

“It started with a car thing. It began as just enjoying each other,” says Kayla. He admits he had serious thoughts about their relationship within six months. “It was pretty fast. I knew right off the bat,” he says.

In May of 2015 Kayla left Korman, joining Vincent at Autologic.

Well before then, by 2009, they were a couple. He began thinking about putting a ring on her finger, later spending months poring over the design with a friend who dealt in diamonds.

“I was the one, you had to hit me on the back of the head with a bat,” she says. “I liked his brain and his sense of humor. He made me laugh.” 

“It was a whole bunch of everything all at once,” a clearly smitten Vincent says. “Okay, she’s gorgeous. She knows cars. She’s quick witted. Snaps back with jokes. Say something snarky and she has a reply. Laughs, smiles. Acts like a girl, and giggles.”

And he liked Kayla’s proclivity to change her hair color with the seasons, and her feminine aspect.

Not just another car chick

But there was a shared romance with cars. Both have had personal project cars. Both did high performance driving (“racing” to mere mortals) events. For a long time, automobiles claimed a huge chunk of their lives. When they grew involved in animal rescue with greyhounds, they did less of those activities.

In 2011, Vincent planned his proposal. He called ahead to Bleu restaurant in Winston-Salem and asked to be seated in a certain place. To entice her to dress up, Vincent led Kayla to think they were meeting a valued friend and his wife. (“He’s like a father figure to me. She — Kayla— was very nervous about that.”) 

“We get to Winston-Salem and the friend calls,” he says.

Mysteriously calls as we’re getting out of the car,” she interjects, to cancel meeting them.

They were seated, ordered wine, and then, Kayla says, “He slapped a piece of bread out of my hand,” at which she explodes with laughter. Vincent was so nervous he admits he was struggling, trying to hold her attention while wrestling with the timing of the proposal — sabotaged by the arrival of the bread basket. He had a dreaded sense she would figure it all out and his surprise would be ruined.

“She was starting to feel something was going on and had a lot of nervous energy,” Vincent patiently explains. He absolutely couldn’t stall any longer. “So, I decided it was time.” 

He got down on bended knee “as she was doing these nervous nibbles,” Vincent laughs. Kayla hadn’t even noticed his princely kneel. “She had missed me completely,” he says — until she didn’t. He pantomimes her spluttering and blowing the bread out of her mouth. 

Then Kayla saw the ring.

He thought she’d say yes. “She said yes,” he says, smiling.

Five years later, they married at Topsail Island, October 26, 2016. In their wedding picture, they are standing in the sand, smiling hugely, with Elsha, an Irish wolfhound, at the forefront.

Officiant Reverend Skip did the honors, Kayla says.

“We were — soulmates — is an easy way to say it,” she says, “but we truly are.”

A creative duo tie the knot

Photograph: Chris King and Doug von der Lippe

Chris King and Doug von der Lippe can thank a treadmill and a goodhearted matchmaker for their relationship. Both entrepreneurs, von der Lippe is co-owner of Twin Brothers Antiques, formerly Shoppes on Patterson, in Greensboro, where identical twin Bruce is his partner. King is co-owner of Aqua Salon & Spa in Greensboro.

Von der Lippe says that “Our creative backgrounds allow us to understand and respect the hard work and dedication to a craft to become successful.”

“Chris and I first met back in 1999 — I think. We were both living different lives,” he says. He met King through his partner at the time. “I was a graphic designer and was asked if I could help with packaging graphics for a health food line that Chris’s partner was launching.”

Then von der Lippe moved to Florida where he lived and worked long term. Years later, his father, Eric von der Lippe, former director of the Greensboro Science Center, grew unwell, prompting his return to Greensboro in 2011. 

“My dad’s health was changing and it was time to come back home to help with his care and be closer to home and family.”

Soon came an opportune gym visit.

“I was at the gym on a treadmill running and a friend, Kathy, was on the treadmill next to me,” he explains. The friend asked a lot of questions, after having not seen von der Lippe in some years. “Questions like, where are you living, what are you doing for work, how are the kids, who are you seeing or dating, etc.?” But her last question was the kicker, von der Lippe says, and he told her he was seeing no one. The friend quickly asked if there was anyone he would like to go out with. 

“Without hesitating I said, ‘I wonder what Chris King is up to these days?’”

He still isn’t sure how his name happened to come to mind, yet adds, “I am so happy it did.”

As it turned out, Kathy had an appointment with King that week.

In rapid sequence, the matchmaker connected the two by phone and they planned to meet. “We had our first date [lunch date] at M’Coul’s Public House in downtown Greensboro and that is all it took.” That was April 18, 2011.

First impressions remain strong, adds von der Lippe:

Von der Lippe’s first impression of King was “Amazing blue eyes, looks like a model, handsome, genuine.”

King’s first impression was that von der Lippe was “a polite Southern gentleman, magnetic, who left an impression.”

After their date, both report there was an instant attraction to each other. “We definitely both felt that this could be significant,” admits von der Lippe.

“We dated for one-and-a-half years, then moved in together, and in 2014, when same sex marriage became legal in North Carolina, we knew we wanted to get married and make our blended family one,” he says. 

King and von der Lippe were married at the Congregational Church of Christ in a late morning ceremony on November 22, 2014. Von der Lippe’s children, Gabrielle, 21, and Grayson, 17, participated. Afterward, they all gathered in the fellowship hall and feasted on Honey Baked ham and other noshes.

Eight years later, commonalities outweigh the couple’s differences: “Love of family, caring, concerning, DIY’ers, love of the beach, wearing the same size — and — we can share our wardrobes,” von der Lippe jokes. 

King’s favorite thing about his partner is his love for and devotion to his children.

Von der Lippe says, “The glue in our relationship is our willingness to support each other no matter what. We always know that we have each other’s back. We are each other’s ‘ride or die’ partners for life.”

Two Couples, Two Weddings and a Broom Closet

Photograph: Don and Cynthia Adams

Lastly, a kismet story. 

I met my husband one golden autumn day at a Greensboro music festival. A fixup.

When a former colleague arrived with a guy in tow, a slow burn ensued. The afternoon was supposed to be a gal’s outing — gabbing about work and listening to tunes.

As for the new guy, he came along due to bassist Stanley Clarke’s jazz.

I mostly ignored the Fixed Up, who had the pleasing lilt of South Africa.

But that afternoon, I learned that it happened to be Fixed Up’s birthday. I believe that for at least one of the 365 days we earthlings spin around the sun in the vastness of space, one should be special. 

There should be cake. And tiny candles, pressing back against that universal darkness, to paraphrase Jim Dodson. 

And a wish granted.

Fixed Up eventually confessed that he was thinking of returning home to South Africa.

Relieved that this would be a friends-only relationship — after all, Fixed Up practically had one foot out the door — I thawed. 

We arranged platonic movie dates and hung out. He was educated, charming, progressive. Cultural references sometimes baffled him given TV was late (1976) in coming to South Africa.

As for me, there was a slow dawning.  Then, a stronger intuition. 

This man was supposed to be in my life.

I watched as he wistfully fanned pictures from home across the kitchen table: climbs in the Drakensberg, Table Mountain draped in clouds overlooking picturesque Cape Town. Paarl and the Winelands, the bush and game parks, exquisite Cape Dutch architecture.

His world. His home.

And Fixed Up was homesick.

Another night, over a glass of wine, he quietly told me he was on the cusp of resigning from his job. He seemed sad, as if he had failed himself. 

As an avid traveler, I opened my mouth to say, I will visit you.

But instead, independent of my brain, my mouth said, you’re not leaving. Fixed Up looked at me sharply. 

You’re staying here and marrying me.

In my memory, he left hastily as my cheeks flamed. 

He phoned a few days later to ask, “When?”

What had I done? 

Rattled, I blustered, saying work was terrible that week. A dance ensued. 

Six weeks later, we both ran out of excuses. 

We got a marriage license, thinking it best to elope. Perhaps Asheville . . . far from family who would question my sanity.

There we discovered our license wasn’t valid outside Guilford County, and the wedding was deferred

Otherwise, we had a wonderful time. Inscrutably, I bought him a dulcimer kit in Biltmore Village. I warmed to my intended. To Fixed Up’s affability, intelligence, good manners. Kindness.

We returned from Asheville in time to attend my friend’s wedding — a posh evening affair at Blandwood Carriage House. 

The bride, twice divorced, was beautiful, a highly strung artistic creature. She had a scrumptious gown (with makeup artist and hairdresser), string quartet, white tulips flown in from Holland, colossal cake and reception, and flowing champagne. 

As she floated down the aisle, you could hear breaths catching.

For the evening, I had paired a vintage dress with pearls and a veiled hat I’d bought at a yard sale, feeling Chanel-esque.

We fidgeted through the ceremony, thinking of our failed elopement.

“I’m here, you’re here, a minister’s here,” my intended whispered. “Let’s get married here.”

“We don’t even know the minister!” I hissed. “That’s not how things work here.” 

His look said, just watch me.

I was drinking wine when Fixed Up returned looking flushed and triumphant.

“Chuck says he’ll marry us. Put your glass down!”

We agreed no one could know; it would be horrible to steal someone’s wedding. Which is exactly what we were about to do. Our plans to slip outside were dashed by sleet: “It’s ice-balling,” my fiancé reported, utterly in awe of sleet — a complete novelty.

We stole through the basement surreptitiously looking for an empty room.

Finding a utility closet, we squeezed inside with Chuck. Needing Chuck’s wife as a witness, all four of us pushed against mops, brooms and buckets, which meant leaving the door ajar in order to breathe.

After vows, we danced, exultant, hugging our secret.

Before they departed on a Colorado honeymoon, after the cake cutting ritual, photos and champagne toasts, it seemed only right to tell the couple. “Take all the tulips home with you!” the bride exclaimed. 

It snowed, and my new husband spent a great deal of that night overwhelmed by its beauty.

The next day, a Monday, we returned to work, outwardly the same sort of different as before.

We skirted telling others. Because . . . who gets married at someone else’s wedding? Women told me that “they could never.” Men would high five my husband.

Our wedding benefactors did not last through the honeymoon. The bride returned home a few days later alone, never to discuss why. 

Weeks became months. Months became years. We are old marrieds now; stubbornly loyal, accustomed to one another. Quirky in the same places.

And we have no idea how it has worked, but it has.   OH

Poem February 2023

Poem February 2023

spring and some

the woman coming toward me

wears a red cape. she smiles

she likes my red hat and

she says so. the temperature

is dropping rapidly, the wind

is rising. they had predicted

rain and possibly snow; i

had not believed them. still

my red hat threatens to

blow away and her red cape

swirls about her. she says

i like your red hat, i smile

and say i like your red cape.

spring is coming by the

calendar, a red letter day,

but this day the temperature

drops, the wind blows up,

rain and possibly snow loom,

and we pass. red hat. red cape.

          — joel oppenheimer

Home Grown

Home Grown

Mama Buys a Horse

To have and to hold the reins

By Cynthia Adams

After decades of a volatile marriage, Mama had had enough.

Their Richard Burton/Liz Taylor stalemates were nuclear — often ending with bling. She loved jewelry, and Daddy liked extravagant gestures.

Our cash-strapped father loved land, cars and antiques. Once, he bought an Elvis Presley pink Caddy, then a horse-drawn carriage, displacing Mama’s Lincoln.

Her passions were big cars and hair and fashion.

My parents had eloped as teens, hiding the marriage license under the living room rug. When Mama developed a baby bump, they pulled back the rug.

They produced five young’uns. Daddy bought farmland — and baubles, pacifying Mama, who hated debt and his roaming eye. Arguments were the soundtrack to our childhoods.

Decades of stress, gravy and biscuits did their worst. He developed gout, “sugar,” and angina.

Mama developed breast cancer like her mother before her. Daddy, distraught, railed about disfiguring mastectomies, convinced of “laser alternatives.” She chose to excise it.

What couldn’t be removed was a metastasizing sense of betrayal.

Mama believed she had kept up her end of the marital bargain — at least all but the “in sickness and in health” part, which Daddy was failing, too.

She accepted a job assisting an elderly couple, packed up the Lincoln, and she and her best friend, Linda, left their husbands.

The left-behind men were a mess.

Daddy was bewildered. Their longstanding, unwritten contract was that if he capitulated, she was mollified.

A divorce required selling farmland.

“I’ll give her what she wants and she’ll come back,” he groaned.

She didn’t.

Daddy sourly predicted she couldn’t handle money, grousing, “She’ll blow right through it.”

She did.

We helplessly watched the wreckage.

Linda’s new boyfriend, Eddie, liked horses. Mama soon reported, “I’ve bought a horse! And the cutest riding outfit,” producing a picture of a quarter horse with a Western saddle.

Previously indifferent when we kept horses, Mama never learned to ride.

Our newly buxom Mama posed for Glamor Shots with an eye to the future, and her spending diversified beyond implants and horses.

She invested with hairdressers Perry and Terry in a startup florist business after a trip to Disney. Perhaps they twisted Mama’s arm; she’d returned with it in a cast.

The “Flower Pot” closed within 70 days. Seemed none of them knew or cared about actual floral work.

Next, she purchased an audacious ring in Miami, which we dubbed the Super Bowl ring.

Mama invested, then leapt out, taking a drubbing. “I’m not cut out for the stock market,” she frowned.

I inquired about her horse with no name. “Oh, I don’t know where it is,” she waved, sunlight setting her ring ablaze.

“You don’t know where it is?”

“Eddie’s taking care of it,” she said. “Somewhere. I’m not really a horse person.”

As it turned out, Eddie and Linda were over; Linda had reconciled with her husband.

Mama’s bank account dwindled . . . a missing horse . . . bad stocks . . . an empty Flower Pot. She began working at a consignment shop, easily affording new outfits every day.

Mama never looked better.

When Daddy died of a heart attack at 61, Mama sat with me all night as I sobbed.

“Your Daddy brought me a mess of collard greens a week ago,” she confided. “I sort of think he wanted us to get back together.”

I know he did, I gurgled through Tammy Faye-ugly tears.

Mama bought an extravagant spray of roses for his coffin.

Daddy had left her $10,000 to buy a diamond.

In death as in life, everything — and nothing — was resolved.  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry.

Say Yes to the Dress Designer

Say Yes to the Dress Designer

A local clothier paves the way for haute couture

By Cassie Bustamante     Photographs by Amy Freeman

During a game of hide-and-seek at a family friend’s house, 9-year-old Cassidy Burel found herself in a closet filled with glitzy garbs. When the fashionable homeowner discovered her and allowed her to try on an extravagant piece, Burel knew she had found her calling.

“It was decadent, glamorous. The way that I felt in that [clothing], I knew that was something I wanted to continue to feel,” says Burel, her dark chocolate eyes sparkling at the recollection of that moment. As she grew in age, she realized she could actually cultivate a career in the clothing industry and share her passion for fashion with others. “I knew I wanted to participate with other women and make them feel that way.”

Now, at the ripe age of 26, Burel, owner of CassB, seems well on her way to making her mark in the haute couture world, fulfilling her own dreams as well as those of brides-to-be and fashion-conscious clients. But it hasn’t come without hours of behind-the-scenes hard work, unforeseen pivots and willingness to trust her instinct, fueled by sheer drive. And it almost didn’t happen.

With her sights set on a career in fashion design, Burel, a Hickory native, made a solid plan and stuck to it — aside from a “five-minute detour” into engineering, her father’s own field, but one she found rather “boring.” She studied at Catawba Valley Community College for two years, then transferred to UNCG to study apparel design.

Before arriving on campus at UNCG in 2016, Burel had never even threaded the needle of a sewing machine. Within the span of her four years there, she worked relentlessly, eventually even taking the seat as president of Threads, the university’s student-run fashion club.

It was during her time on campus that she designed and sewed her first wedding dress, created for her best friend just three years after learning to sew. And that was the moment she knew she loved “making wedding gowns, loving being a small part of someone’s special day and making them feel confident.”

With her impressive undergraduate portfolio and strong work ethic, Burel was poised for success upon graduation with two job offers: one from a small fashion house in New York City and another in Boston. However, with the COVID pandemic shutting down much of the country during that spring of 2020, both offers were rescinded.

After a week-and-a-half of sinking into the weight of that disappointment, Burel said to herself, “Well, I still have to pay the bills.” She put her sewing skills to work, fabricating over 2,000 masks, and then took a job fulfilling orders at Target while she plotted out a new plan.

By fall of that year, shops had begun re-opening their doors. “It was my mentality that I wanted to work for someone, get a little more experience,” says Burel. “Instead of fully diving head-on into my business, I actually started working for a bridal boutique here.” Her time spent there offered her an education in consumer sales and client interactions. And under the guidance of two experienced shop seamstresses, she developed her sewing skills to the point that she felt confident to go out on her own in March of 2022.

“It was two years of the absolute intense pressure that I needed to go, ‘I can do this now,’” says Burel.

Now, six-and-a-half years after embarking on her fashion design journey at UNCG, Burel has designed several wedding dresses that “cater to the modern bride,” plus bridesmaid dresses and unique custom pieces that speak to her style, one that she describes as “very avant-garde, very glamorous, very nontraditional — and unexpected is what I really like to trademark on everything that I make.” Big tulle gowns have become her signature.

And who would be her dream client? Not one person, per se. “I would love to see my designs on the MET gala,” says Burel, referring to “fashion’s biggest night out,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s fundraiser. “One day, I would like some really fabulous he/she to put my look on and walk down the runway,” she says, her heart-shaped face aglow at the thought.

Though her post-graduation gig in the home to the MET gala — New York City — did not pan out, Burel has pivoted and paved her own way, working doggedly towards her dream, a dream that’s changed with the changing times.

These days she has her sights set on creating her own New York style fashion house right here in the Tar Heel State. While she recognizes it’s not the first place people think of when they consider high fashion, she sees the opportunity that lies within North Carolina.

And she’s received several affirmations that she’s landed in the right place for her business. Recently, Rose Shockley, “a beautiful client who works in the High Point furniture industry,” commissioned Burel to create a special piece for her Gatsby-themed birthday party.

“She said, ‘I want the wow,’ and I was like ‘I’ve got you on the wow,’” recalls Burel. Since most clients want to “tone it down,” Burel, who is “trying to do feathers and sequins and glitter and beading and all this stuff,” was ecstatic at the opportunity to go all out with a client who wanted the look to be “way too much.” The result? A one-of-a-kind champagne-colored, heavily-embellished mermaid tulle gown, complete with an ostrich feather bolero and a matching beaded purse.

“The dress . . . was everything I ever dreamed of and more,” says Shockley. “I felt so elegant and timeless in this piece,” which she refers to as “the most gorgeous gown I have ever worn.”

As for Burel, she lives by what she tells all of her potential clients, “Know this: You will not find anyone as excited to make [your gown] for you as I am.”

While this rising fashion star once assumed she’d call one of the major fashion meccas home, she’s realized that “God had a different plan for me.

“Maybe this is exactly where I’m supposed to be. Because I pushed and pushed and pushed to find opportunity elsewhere.” After trying her hardest to knock down doors that kept closing, Burel says, “I don’t want to say I gave up because that’s not what happened. It’s more that I took an alternative turn in attitude towards exactly where we are right now.”  OH

Omnivorous Reader

Omnivorous Reader

Hitting the High Notes

A debut novel delivers a musical thriller

By Anne Blythe

Brendan Slocumb’s literary debut, The Violin Conspiracy has been billed as a mystery, a musical thriller that takes readers across continents on a page-turning hunt for a valuable Stradivarius violin. While the story is suspenseful enough, the whodunnit is not much of a mind-boggler in the end. The true hair-raiser revealed in this coming-of-age story is the institutional racism that persists in the classical music world and the talented musicians of color these stubborn customs threaten to mute.

Slocumb is familiar with the story. He grew up in Fayetteville, received a degree in music education from the University of North Carolina Greensboro, and has performed in symphonies, where he typically is one of few Black men playing a violin.

Only 1.8 percent of musicians performing in classical symphonies are Black, Slocumb writes in an author’s note attached to the end of the novel. Only 12 percent are people of color.

“Music is for everyone,” Slocumb writes. “It’s not — or at least shouldn’t be — an elite aristocratic club that you need a membership card to appreciate: it’s a language, it’s a means of connecting us that’s beyond color, beyond race, beyond the shape of your face or the size of your stock portfolio.

“Musicians of color, however, are severely underrepresented in the classical music world — and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to write this book.”

Readers are plunged into the story of Rayquan “Ray” McMillan, Slocumb’s protagonist, in a New York hotel room “the morning of the worst most earth-shattering day” of his life.

The aspiring violinist orders scrambled eggs, juice and coffee from room service for him and his girlfriend. Lost in thought in the shower, he ponders the fingering of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto, the piece he plans to play almost a month later at an international competition. When he prepares to leave New York on a flight home to Charlotte, he discovers that inside the case that typically holds his nearly priceless violin — a Stradivarius his grandmother (unaware of its immense worth) had given to him as her grandfather’s old fiddle — was a white Chuck Taylor shoe with a ransom note on a sheet of paper folded in thirds.




Not only does the note launch an international investigation into the whereabouts of the violin, it serves as the instrument to delve back into Ray’s boyhood and the school music classes that changed the trajectory of his life.

Like Slocumb, Ray grew up in North Carolina in a family that expected him to “get a real paying job” instead of taking a path toward a classical music career in a world where few people looked like him. Instead of encouraging her son to follow his dreams, Ray’s mother told him to “stop with that noise,” take the GED and get a job at Popeyes so he could help with the family expenses.

Ray meets a music teacher who becomes a mentor who pushes him beyond such confining expectations and encourages him to join a world where he would be the quintessential underdog, an endearing and hardworking protagonist who is easy for readers to rally behind.

Ray’s grandmother, Nora, recognizes his affinity for music and pulls out an old “fiddle” from her closet for him to practice on in the summer, when the school rentals were not available. It had belonged to her grandfather, a former enslaved man, who had a musical gift, too.

That “fiddle,” spruced up and revealed for what it was, quickly drew interest from extended family members who were more interested in its value than in Ray — until he became a rising star in the classical music world and a bit of a media darling able to coax a better living than they had imagined from its strings. Not only does his own family seek to share in the value of the instrument, Ray has to fend off claims of ownership from the family that had enslaved his great-great-grandfather. None of them appreciates the questioning they face when Ray’s dilemma casts suspicion on them all.

As Ray frets over the whereabouts of his kidnapped violin, leaving most of the investigation to law enforcement and an insurance agent, he also has to continue practicing for the international Tchaikovsky competition. His musical talent transcends the bow and strings in his hands. Even without his prized hand-me-down, the unlikely competitor is a real contender, one who will not be held back by ransom notes and side dramas.

Through a cast of characters, some better developed than others, readers learn about the jockeying of musicians in the classical world, vying for bragging rights that come with lucrative invitations to perform solos and lead prestigious symphonies. Ray describes the difficulties that a Black artist — especially one from humble roots without exclusive connections from famous conservatories — faces as he pursues his passion.

“You work twice as hard,” Slocumb writes. “Even three times. For the rest of your life. It’s not fair, but that’s how it is. Some people will always see you as less than they are. So you have to be twice as good as them.”

Ray didn’t need his PopPop’s instrument on the international stage. Though the kidnapped Stradivarius remained missing during the competition, his talent shone brightly. As opportunities from around the world came his way, he got the clue that helped him — not the team of investigators he’d relied on — discover who slipped the sneaker into the violin case.

There’s a crescendo when Ray opens a door, testing his theory about who made off with the family heirloom. “PopPop’s fiddle — his own most prized Stradivarius violin — grinned up at him unharmed,” Slocum writes. “Perfect.”

In the end, without totally spoiling the whodunnit, it really doesn’t matter where the violin is throughout the pages of Slocumb’s mystery. Its presence and absence string together a tale that will strike a chord.   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.

Behind The Barn Doors

Behind The Barn Doors

A groovy roll in the hay with some guys and dolls on the outskirts of town

This is not the story of a place, but a snapshot from a bygone era, when a madcap company of young, stage-hungry performers were tossed into a singing and dancing whirlwind of entertainment that blossomed into lifelong friendships and happily-ever-after romances.

The Barn Dinner Theatre on Stage Coach Trail, the oldest continuously running dinner theater in America, has treated our community to remarkable performances for almost 60 years now, providing an outlet for creative expression by artists who have inspired generations of actors and directors.

The very first Barn Dinner Theatre was established in Roanoke, Va., in 1964 by Howard Wolfe, followed quickly that same year by The Barn in Greensboro. Within a short span, 27 Barn Dinner Theatres spread out across the country, concentrated mostly in the South. Wolfe’s insurance underwriter, Conley Jones Sr., took notice of how phenomenally successful this “play with your food” dinnertainment concept was. Conley, who died in 2015, ultimately purchased The Barn in Greensboro.

Productions were cast and produced by J. G. Greene in New York City, then directed in Roanoke before making their way to Greensboro, on to Atlanta, down to Marietta in Florida, and out to the other Barns. As soon as one show moved on, another was positioned to hit the ground running.

Advertisements touted the fact that “New York actors” were staging Broadway quality shows. Performers were guaranteed a six-month run with dinner and a free room on the premises. Stars who came through town in the 1960s included a young Fannie Flagg, Robert Blake and Mickey Rooney, but most of the working actors were unknowns.

After an all-you-can-eat buffet, the “Magic Stage” with actors and props in place descended from above via hydraulic motors. Within a minute the show was underway.

“I got called in by [UNCG theater department head] Herman Middleton,” actor Bobby Bodford says of his introduction to The Barn in 1969. “He said that the Barn Dinner Theatre had lost an actor and was looking for a young male that could learn lines quickly. This was early afternoon and I had to go on that night.”

Bodford was told by Conley Jones that his salary would be $50 a week plus tips, “And I said, ‘Tips for what?’ And he said, ‘You’ll wait tables up until about 20 minutes before the show.’” This was the era of brown bagging, and, in North Carolina, no alcoholic drinks were served. Customers brought their own booze and ordered whatever they wanted to mix it with.

At the end of each performance the actors would line up near the exit where customers had to walk past them. “I didn’t want to do it,” Bodford recalls. “The New York actors told me, ‘No, you definitely want to do this. You watch, they’ll shake your hand and remember you waited on them, run back to the table and put down a few bucks.’” One summer Bodford bought a motor home just from his gratuities. Not long after, professional waiters were hired and actors started making more than $50 a week.


Around 1969, some of the theater owners in the chain decided it would be more cost effective to hire their own actors and produce plays themselves. “They would refuse to pay the franchise fees,” Bodford says. Eventually a court ruled that theater owners could do as they please, even use The Barn name. “Once they figured that out, theaters started cropping up everywhere,” Bodford says. The Barn Dinner Theatre here switched over to locally produced productions as well. Still, almost every night the house was sold out.

Barry Bell was studying drama at UNCG when he first became associated with The Barn. “We weren’t supposed to work out there or do theater anywhere but school, but I did anyway,” he says. “The first couple of shows I did there were in 1969, so I missed Robert De Niro by two years.”

Did De Niro actually appear at The Barn? “My cousin, Michael Lilly, was wardrobe on Raging Bull,” Bell says. “De Niro told him, yeah, he was there. As the lead in a play called Tchin-Tchin, this was one of the budding actor’s first paid gigs, receiving $80 a week for a performance described as, “heart-warming” and “a delightful escape into romantic comedy.” De Niro was quoted as saying he enjoyed his experience in Greensboro, but Conley Jones circulated a rumor that the 23-year-old actor was fired because he refused to wait tables.

“Somebody was supposed to direct a show and didn’t come down,” Bobby Bodford says about transitioning from actor to director. “It was one of those things like, well, somebody’s gotta do it. Once I started directing, I really didn’t want to act anymore.” Not having to hang around for the monthlong run of the play, “I could open up a show here, then go to Tennessee and open a show there. I really enjoyed that more.”

James (Jimmy) Fisher was in graduate studies at UNCG in 1974 when Bodford cast him in one of his shows. “It was a play called Beginner’s Luck,” Fisher recalls. “The first play I directed was called Spinoff. Neither of them are great dramatic works. They were the kind of sitcom things that were very typical in those days.”

“It’s a funny thing about the theater,” Fisher says. “Because you really do build relationships very, very quickly — relationships that you remember the rest of your life. And sometimes you never see those people again, you know?” Bodford was directing Fisher in a production of Annie Get Your Gun starring an actress from New York, Dana Warner. “After a considerable effort on my part,” Fisher says, “she finally went out with me. And we’ve been married for almost 46 years.”

Katina Vassiliou Madison had been appearing in productions at Page High School and with Livestock Players in the early ’70s. As an undergrad at UNCG she made her debut at The Barn. “I jumped at the opportunity,” Madison tells me. “You rehearsed all day for two weeks and then boom, you had to be ready to perform two matinees and performances every night. Your energy had to always stay up.” Madison accepted a day-time position in the reservation office. When not onstage, she served wine and beer in the lobby. “I’d be stage manager, whatever job they had open,” she says. When an actor’s zipper ripped open on stage it fell on Madison to stitch it up: “I had to get down on my hands and knees to sew up his fly in the lobby,” she says. “You can imagine how funny that looked. I can vividly remember thinking, ‘Please God, don’t let anybody go to the restroom at this moment.’” Naturally there were mishaps and mischief galore this is the theater after all.

“A rat fell out of the vent one time into somebody’s plate,” Bodford recalls. “Conley came over and said, ‘I am not gonna charge you for that. You got something extra special for free.’ Seriously, and then he just left.”

“Brenda Lilly was playing a Cockney maid,” says Mina Penland recalling an onstage prank. “An actor named Randy Ball packed his suitcase with bricks and she’s supposed to go off the stage with it but she couldn’t lift it. So she ad-libbed for 10 minutes and the audience loved it.”

“In Last of the Red Hot Lovers, there’s a scene where Barry Bell’s character has to roll a joint,” Bodford recalls. “Barry said, ‘I’ve been told if you take Lipton tea and roll it up, it kind of has the same smell.” After a few performances smoking that tea, “We’re sitting in the green room when two detectives come in and want to go through our props because somebody said they’re smoking marijuana on the stage at The Barn Dinner Theater.”

It’s a distinct, irreplicable, zen-like experience when everything clicks, audiences and actors become like one, momentarily inhabiting a world entirely unto themselves. After the final bow, it takes hours to decompress from a peculiar form of exhilarating exhaustion. “We had lots of wild parties running around in the field behind the Barn, butt-naked, drunk . . . ” Bodford says. “That’s something you probably shouldn’t write.” Oops!

Conley Jones was, by all accounts, a colorful character who wore pistols in a holster on his hips, parading around like the caricature of a Southern sheriff — the sort of person who had people continually thinking, “I can’t believe you just said that out loud.” He considered actors a necessary evil. “He didn’t understand that we were the reason he was there,” Bodford says. With “no love for theater and no knowledge of how it worked,” Jones would refer to the players as “them goddamn actors.”

The performers’ quarters upstairs could house around eight people.  An intercom system allowed them to monitor the show going on downstairs. “This big actor named Steve accidentally walked into Conley’s office one night and he was listening into our rooms,” Bodford recalls. “Steve was so upset the next morning he got a screwdriver and disabled every single one of them. And Conley never said a word about it.”

Barry Bell returned from working in New York to run The Barn from 1981 until 1992. “I did Fiddler on the Roof three times,” he says. “Fiddler and Oklahoma were licenses to print money. We normally ran straight plays about four-and-a-half weeks and musicals about six. I think Oklahoma ran like 16 weeks.”

The most difficult aspect of Bell’s tenure was dealing with The Barn’s owner, who could, at times, engage in shady practices. “Conley Jones finally got caught and burnt by the IRS,” Bell recalls. “I got a check for almost $7,000 and the waiters were getting checks for 3,500 bucks.” On the other hand, Bell says, “If a show sold really well, Conley would come up to me the next morning and say ‘Thank you Barry, thank you a lot,’ and stick $600 in my pocket.”

Barry Bell insists the buffet was good for what it was. “They always had that huge steamship round of beef. And the giant halibut, some of them 150, 160 pounds that were five feet long. A lot of people loved that fish, but, to this day, I can’t eat halibut or roast beef.”

Lorrie Lindberg, who was in grad school at UNCG in the early ’80s when she began working at The Barn, recalls “I did A Couple of White Chicks Sitting Around Talking and Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.” Lindberg worked at a few out-of-town venues after she graduated. “When I came back to Greensboro, I had been told by tons of people that I needed to meet Barry Bell, but we never were in The Barn at the same time.” Bell would be in New York when Lindberg was at The Barn or vice versa. “Everybody that had told us that we needed to meet each other were all standing in the lobby at The Barn because I was dropping off a friend of mine who was doing The Mousetrap. They were all in that show that Barry was directing. So they all saw us meet in the lobby at the Barn.” That was 1983, “We started living together maybe a week after that and we’ve been together ever since.”

As one of several Barners who moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career, Bobby Bodford eventually found himself working as Angela Lansbury’s costumer on Murder She Wrote. “She liked what I did and she liked working with me,” he says of the legendary actress. “But she was always saying, ‘Go back to the theater.’” Bodford had fallen in love on the courthouse steps of the Back to the Future set and was now married. “I never understood why the heck I was in Los Angeles.” Wanting children but having no desire to raise them in the City of Anything but Angels, in 1992, “We decided we were going to move back to Greensboro and Angela was delighted to hear it.”

Barry Bell severed his ties with the theater in 1992. That’s when, on the road to Greensboro, Bobby Bodford received a most unexpected phone call. “Conley Jones heard that I’m coming back and he says, ‘I’ve got people here that say you would never direct another play for me.’ I went, ‘Oh, no, I will! I don’t have a job,” he recalls. It felt something like home and Bodford spent the rest of the ’90s as The Barn’s creative director. “It was more sophisticated than it had been previously. It was a big deal. I think even then it was six or eight bucks for dinner and a show.”

Lots of young actors who cut their teeth at The Barn went on to bigger things. “Beth Leavel, who just won a Tony a couple of years ago, worked at The Barn a bunch,” Bell says. Lillias White achieved stardom after wowing audiences in Barn presentations of Love Machine and The Color Purple. Nominated twice for a Tony Award, White brought it home in 1997 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Winning both an Obie and Drama Desk Awards for her musicality, she’s well-known to youngsters as the voice Calliope in the Disney flick Hercules.

When Conley Jones passed away in 2015, Ric Gutierrez had been manager and producer at The Barn for two decades. Barry Bell and Lorrie Lindberg moved to Richmond, where they both taught at Virginia Commonwealth University. He has since retired. Bobby Bodford still directs theater productions in the area. “My wife Nicole became a member of our theatre family the minute my friends met her. I’m no longer Bobby — it’s Bobby and Nicole,” he says.

“I ended up teaching in Indiana for 29 years,” James Fisher says of his post-Barn days. “My wife, Dana, and I talked all the time about retiring in Greensboro. UNCG was looking for a department head and got in touch with me about the possibility of applying.” Fisher served as head of the theater department at UNCG from 2007 until he retired in 2019, winning multiple awards for excellence and authoring several books.

“It’s all interwoven,” Fisher says upon reflection. “Barry Bell, Billy Wagner, Bill Rollerson, Jan Powell, Charlie Hensley, Michael and Brenda Lilly, on and on. These are people who have come in and out of our lives over what is now getting close to 50 years. We always talk about getting together and doing one more show. I doubt it’ll ever happen, but it’s fun to think about.”  OH

An abundance of thanks to Barn alumnus Charlie Hensley who provided connections to these esteemed performers and educators, allowing this humble scribbler to witness from the wings a magical moment of theater history.

Showboat Dinner Theater

In 1965, Showboat Dinner Theater, An American Scene Dinner Theatre, opened off N.C. Highway 68 on Gallimore Dairy Road in a building resembling a New Orleans riverboat. Patrons crossed a bridge over a man-made lagoon to traverse from the parking lot to the theater. Just about every night, Conley Jones would corral an employee to drive him over to the Showboat to count the cars in the parking lot.

“The Showboat used, if I’m not mistaken, union Equity actors,” Barry Bell notes. “And Conley, at The Barn, didn’t. He didn’t even pay the actors to rehearse the new play.” There’s a legendary story about what happened when Actor’s Equity came down from New York to organize a protest. “If you look at the front of The Barn, there are two windows up in the peak,” Bell says. “Conley’s desk was right there by that window and he threw M-80 fireworks out the window at them.” One of the trade papers sported a headline that read something like, “North Carolina Theater Producer Fires on Equity Protestors.”

Around 1969, budding actress Mina Penland was in rehearsals for I Do, I Do, directed by Bobby Bodford at the Showboat Dinner Theatre, which had opened four years earlier. That production never made it before an audience due to someone in management absconding with the funds, leading to the theatre closing. She ended up doing plays at The Barn and her brother Dodie Penland became the Barn’s stage manager, who greeted the audience as it arrived.

Showboat went under after just a few years and became Jung’s Galley, the new location for Jung’s Chinese restaurant, formerly located in a Tudor inspired mansion on Church Street, close to Summit Avenue. In 1977, the site became Bill Griffin’s Boondocks nightclub for a time.  OH

Sazerac February 2023

Sazerac February 2023

Scene & Heard

Wednesday Night Blues Jam at Ritchy’s Uptown Restaurant and Bar is fast becoming the place to be. Hosted by Shiela Klinefelter, an accomplished bass player and vocalist with Shiela’s Traveling Circus, and Chuck Cotton, it’s a great night of raucous melodies sure to get your feet moving.

Shiela’s been heading up jams on Wednesday nights for over 30 years, beginning with her former band, The Ladies Auxiliary. “The one at Ritchy’s started in the winter of 2021, about a year-and-a-half ago,” she tells me.

The opportunity is open to any musician who wants to play the blues, whether professional or still learning. “We provide backline,” Shiela says. “So they just show up with a guitar or their drum sticks, sign up, and I’ll put them up in groups. Each group plays four songs so we get a lot of great music that way.” They are occasionally joined by Shiela’s husband, Robert Klinefelter, aka “Big Bump” of Big Bump and the Stun Gunz, one of the Triad’s longest-running boogie bands.

In the heart of Hamburger Square on the most happening corner downtown, Ritchy’s is located above Longshank’s, which is above Shortshank’s, around the block from Little Brother Brewing on McGee Street at South Elm.      Billy Ingram

Window to the Past

Photograph © Carol W. Martin/Greensboro History Museum Collection

Taking your honey on a diner or drive-in date has been a sweet idea for over 60 years. Thanks to the Greensboro History Museum for this snapshot of the past, taken at Honey’s in 1963.

Unsolicited Advice

Those of us who are proud members of the bleak midwinter — meaning February — birthday club believe our month gets a really bad rap. Yes, the geniuses at the National Weather Service say it’s typically the coldest and snowiest month. But it’s also the shortest of the year — and its days grow noticeably lighter. 

Besides, for all you shivering ninnies who whine that Old Man Winter just won’t go away, there’s so much to take your mind off the weather. If history is your thing, February brings us Black History Month and Presidents Day, celebrating the birthdays of Honest Abe and Old George (assuming they are still in fashion), not to mention the Chinese New Year and the happiest day for florists and chocolate fanatics everywhere, St. Valentine’s Day.

If religion is your thing, February 2 is quite special both here and abroad. In addition to being your humble scribe’s birthday (Home Depot gift cards most welcome), many cultural historians believe Candlemas Day — celebrated across the U.K. and much of Europe to commemorate the day Jesus was presented to the Temple — is the inspiration for our own bizarre belief in the forecasting abilities of a sleepy rodent named Phil: If Candlemas be fair and bright / Winter will have another flight / But if it be dark with clouds and rain / Winter is gone, and will not come again.

Once upon a time, back in jolly old 713 BC, the Romans added January and February, a time previously known simply as “Winter,” to their  calendar, designating February as the last month of the year. Three hundred years later, however, in order to give Christmas a proper home based on a celebration of their Sun God,  Sol Invictus, Roman Christians invented December and rudely pushed January and February into the next year.

However this most misspelled month came into being, those of us who dearly love the bleak midwinter with its still and frosted mornings would like to advise you simpering winter haters to just relax and remember Mother Nature cherishes her rest just below the surface of the frozen garden.

If all else fails, take a nice warm bath with the last of the holiday wine and scented candles. The word February, after all, comes from the Latin word Februa — meaning to “cleanse.”

In the meantime, with a little luck this month, we’ll be out making angels in the snow.       Jim Dodson

Just One Thing

“Conversations with my mother, grandmother and aunts have always inspired me to base my artworks on Southern expressions and idioms,” says Beverly Y. Smith, whose quilt is featured in the Center for Visual Artists’ Woven into Our Fabrics exhibit. Smith says her work may be sparked by a childhood memory. Often, during its creation, she says, she sometimes encounters an unexpected epiphany. Mixing media such as machine-stitched fabric, embroidery, paint and transferred images, the epiphany portrayed in Plant a Seed strongly suggests a rich family tradition of books, both cherished and shared. “For this exhibition, we wanted to show the diversity and range of 10 North Carolina textile artists working in traditional and nontraditional ways,” says Devon Knight, the center’s art and community coordinator. “Textiles have a unique way of weaving themselves into the fiber of our being, while providing a thread between our past, present and future.” Info:

Sage Gardener

Let others search for what may turn out to be America’s most unwelcome Valentine’s Day gifts (according to one survey) — heart-shaped boxes of chocolates (22 percent say please don’t), flowers (28 percent!) and furry handcuffs (34 percent). Nope, not me. And I’m going to let you in on a very dirty little secret. The Sage Gardener’s partner in grime really digs receiving seeds and plants on February 14th. This year, for instance, I’m focusing on stinking lilies, members of the aromatic allium family, such as Bulgarian giant leeks, Walla Walla sweet onions and Dutch yellow shallots. Imagine the pleasure of spending more than half a century with someone who loves raw onions on top of pinto beans, 40-clove garlic chicken and scallion pancakes as much as I do. And on the off-chance you don’t have access to the internet, “Like oysters, chocolate and hot peppers, the allium is a secret aphrodisiac.” That, revealed in a no less authoritative source than Well+Good’s YouTube series, “You Vs. Food.” So buy now, plant now, and reap, ahem, the benefits of alliums in the spring, summer and fall. NCSU says it’s prime time to get most of them into the ground. My green-thumbed fairy already has leeks bedded down. Me? I’ve planted a platoon of Egyptian walking onions, which are reproductive wonders, multiplying underground while also producing what my neighbor called “bubbies,” botanically referred to as topsets or bulbils, proliferating at the top of the stalk where flowers and seeds would normally be. Let’s face it. What plants could be sexier than alliums? Suggestions welcomed.       David Claude Bailey