First Class

How the Page Pirates got their swagger

By Billy Ingram

In 1958, three seemingly unrelated events would lead to unforeseen inevitabilities, all but assuring that life in America would never again be the same — the nation’s first satellite was blasted into orbit, credit cards were test marketed in one small city and an obscure Texas Instruments’ engineer developed the first microchip. But, as far as teenagers around here went, they were under the thrall of Kookie’s comb and Wham-O Hula Hoops.

An assembly was held at Aycock Junior High in the spring of 1958 during which ninth graders were asked to come up with a mascot for Greensboro’s brand-new Walter Hines Page High, the school where most of those students would be attending in the fall.

Ironically to this day, it remains something of a mystery why the school was named for Walter Hines Page. The student body came up with “Page Pirates.” Perhaps apropos when one considers that, in addition to that enormous lake to the north of the property, just beyond the trees in front of campus sat another large body of water where Sherwood Country Club and Fountain Manor are today. Surrounded on all sides by lagoons and tall pines, Page High School was essentially an island unto itself.

On Thursday, September 4, 1958, around 500 students along with 30 teachers and administrators began a scholastic journey that continues to this day. A ready-to-go opening with varsity football, junior and varsity basketball, wrestling, cheerleaders, majorettes, band, along with girls speedball and basketball teams. Extracurricular activities included Junior Engineers, Hi-Y, Civitans, and Junior Optimists. Page was the first school in North Carolina history to earn accreditation in its first academic year.

Casual school day attire for men consisted of Madder-Tone shirts, polished cotton slacks and penny loafers. Male students were no longer required to wear coats and ties on a daily basis but it was still de rigueur for picture days. In a photo of the first senior class walking toward the camera, some subversive beatnik in the front row has no tie on, clad in a windbreaker instead of a sport coat. That guy’s cruisin’ for a bruisin’!

Co-eds strolled the halls in Kerrybrooke car coats, pullover sweaters, sensible blouses with Peter Pan collars, pleated calf-length dresses, with nylon stockings tucked into E-Jays saddle shoes or black ballerina flats. Single strand of petite pearls optional. Slacks? You’d be sent home to change into something more ladylike.

In Mrs. Luther’s Family Life class, students were subjected to educational films instructing kids on how to navigate the boundaries of a polite society, with titles like How to Say No: Moral Maturity, The Bottle and the Throttle and Duck and Cover (“when an atomic bomb explodes”).

Page’s Cafeteria was up and running on day one but students with wheels peeled out at lunchtime for Alpat or the snack shop inside the GI 1200 store, both on Bessemer. State Street Grill was closest to campus. No fast food chains, the city’s first McDonald’s on Summit was a year away from opening.

On Thursdays after school, cool cats and kittens pointed their jalopies toward WFMY’s studios to make the scene on the RC Dance Party, airing live at 5:30 p.m. Sponsored by Royal Crown Cola, Twisting teens gyrated to the sounds of The Big Bopper, Teresa Brewer, Ricky Nelson, and The Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley. Like endsville, man!

Changing out of school clothes, that’s when girls slipped into their pedal pushers, Blue Bell Jeanie capri pants and tight, pink cashmere sweaters (“Daaaad . . . all the kids dress like this!”). Date nights began with a fellow in his Sunday best appearing at the door, gotta chat up the old man before escorting his dish for a night on the town in his ’55 T-bird meatgrinder.

Daddy-os and dolls burned rubber to the edge of town at night for curb service at the Boar and Castle, a ‘Flake Shake’ with two straws at Monroe’s, making goo-goo eyes over a “Bucket Full” of spaghetti for only a buck at McClure’s Sky Castle, or catching — not necessarily watching — a double feature at the South Drive-In Theatre where guys hoped to engage in some Back Seat Bingo (“Hey baby, I’m layin’ it down but you’re not pickin’ it up!”).

With no athletic field to speak of, Pirate home games were played on the football field at Greensboro High School, soon to be renamed Grimsley. Taking to the gridiron on the Friday night after school started, it was a blowout, Fair Grove whipping Page 14-0. Next week was even worse, 21-0 in favor of Mebane. Finishing the 1958 season 2-8, it wasn’t until 1960 that Pirates and Whirlies squared off against each other, sparking a never-ending rivalry.

Yes, 1958 may have been an inauspicious beginning to the proud Page Pirates dynasty but at least a dozen athletic stars went on to impressive professional careers including Michael Brooks (Chargers, Cowboys), Lamont Burns (Jets, Eagles, Redskins), Lee Rouson (Giants, Browns), and Mo Spencer (Cardinals, Saints) who all played for the NFL. Former professional basketball player Danny Manning is currently head coach of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

The most famous Page alumnus would have to be pro tennis great John Isner, who twice reached the quarterfinals at the US Open, and physician turned actor Ken Jeong (Knocked Up, The Hangover).

Never underestimate the underdog, our landlocked Pirates continue to thrive on their veritable island of imagination, opportunity and individual visions for the future. Isn’t that the ginchiest?  OH

Billy Ingram attended Page High from 1971–74. He went on to a career in Hollywood as a movie poster artist and is the author of five books including Hamburger², a book (mostly) about Greensboro.

The Omnivorous Reader

Mystery of the Hunley

What killed the Confederacy’s submariners?


By Stephen E. Smith

With an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 Civil War—related titles published in the last 155 years, you might wonder if there’s anything left to write about. But science and technology have offered new methods of verifying the previously unverifiable, no matter how esoteric or insignificant the subject might be.

An April entry into the Civil War marketplace is Rachel Lance’s In the Waves: My Quest to Solve the Mystery of a Civil War Submarine. This 315-page semi-technical analysis of a single black-powder detonation that changed naval warfare forever should be of interest to anyone living in the Carolinas, taking place, by and large, at Duke University, and concerning an artifact that has, in recent years, attracted thousands of tourists to the city of Charleston.

Lance is a biomedical engineer and blast-injury researcher at Duke. She spent several years as an engineer developing specialized underwater equipment for the Navy and was working toward her Ph.D. when she took on, at the insistence of her dissertation advisor, the mysterious demise of the H.L. Hunley’s crew.

Any Civil War enthusiast (let’s dispense with the pejorative term “buff”; many Civil War readers are serious historians) will be happy to tell you that the Hunley was an experimental submarine developed by the Confederacy in hopes that it would break the Union blockade, and that it might have succeeded except that it disappeared along with the USS Housatonic, the first warship sunk by a submersible craft, and remained cloaked in mystery until 1995, when it was located 4 miles offshore in 30 feet of water. The sub was raised from the bottom in 2000 and has since become Charleston’s most popular attraction.

For those unfamiliar with the details of the Hunley’s story, Lance supplies a history of early submersibles and details the little sub’s short life, including the circumstances surrounding the first two Hunley crews, who perished when mechanical problems arose during testing. Even H.L. Hunley, the sub’s inventor, died when he accidently depressed the bow planes when surfacing following a test dive. After each sinking, the sub was raised and put back into service, even when it required that the bloated bodies of the dead be dismembered to facilitate removal, a decidedly unpleasant task relegated to slave labor.

For many years, it was assumed the Hunley had survived its attack on the Housatonic — it was reported that the crew signaled success by flashing a blue light — but there was no satisfactory explanation as to why the boat did not return to fight another day. Survivors of the Housatonic testified to seeing the Hunley shortly after the explosion, but no further evidence as to the fate of the sub and its crew was offered at the time.

Lance’s study focuses on the crew’s cause of death. Archaeologists found all eight men slumped at their stations in the submarine. Seven men were seated at the propeller crank, and the remains of the boat’s captain, Lt. George Dixon, were discovered in the forward conning tower. None showed signs of skeletal trauma, and there was no indication that the crew had attempted to escape the sinking craft. A careful examination of the boat’s skin revealed that the explosion had not breached its hull.

Since Lance is a blast-injury expert, readers might assume that she was seeking confirmation that the crew was killed by the shock wave from detonation of the Hunley’s torpedo, and not from suffocation or drowning. In fact, Southern newspapers speculated shortly after the sub’s disappearance that such a wave had sunk the little boat, and knowledgeable observers at the time of the sub’s testing warned that the Hunley would likely fall victim to its own torpedo, which was suspended on the end of a spar extending from the bow of the boat.

Lance’s objective was to prove beyond all doubt that a blast wave killed the Hunley’s crew, and In the Waves is a narrative history of her quest to gather evidence to that effect and to procure, in the process, her Ph.D. To do this she constructed a miniature Hunley-like craft (the CSS Tiny), procured black powder of the sort available during the Civil War, constructed a miniature facsimile of the torpedo, and conducted extensive testing in an appropriate body of water. Instruments to measure the true force of the blast had to be obtained from the Navy and made to function correctly under circumstances that were anything but ideal.

The development of testing criteria consumes most of Lance’s book, at times growing a trifle tedious and dauntingly technical. Failed test follows failed test, subjecting the reader to the same level of frustration suffered by Lance and her team of researchers. But she wisely couches much of the technical information in understandable terms and refers more punctilious readers to the open-access journal PLOs One. “This is a descriptive version of the math and physics,” she writes in a footnote, “and was written to be understandable for the general reader. It does not, therefore, go into all the complex details necessary to justify and complete the scientific analysis.”

While working to replicate the explosive force of the Hunley’s torpedo, Lance reveals the intriguing story of George Washington Rains. Born in Craven County, North Carolina, Rains almost singlehandedly supplied the Confederacy with black powder and torpedo technology. Southern soldiers may have run short of food and clothing, but they were never without powder and shot, a fact that no doubt prolonged the slaughter and destruction occasioned by the war.

In the Waves’ entertainment value is mostly a matter of scientific revelation. As a narrative it is made less successful by the inclusion of unnecessary details regarding the author’s personal life, and the occasional irrelevant sidebar and annoying digression. Is it worth reading? Certainly. If you have an abiding interest in Civil War history, you’ll no doubt find a place for In the Waves in your already overburdened bookshelves.  OH

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of seven books of poetry and prose. He’s the recipient of the Poetry Northwest Young Poet’s Prize, the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for poetry and four North Carolina Press awards.

Renaissance Man

Jan Lukens’ passion to paint

By Nancy Oakley


The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line — unless you’re pursuing a career as a professional artist, as Jan Lukens has discovered over a lifetime. His large, vivid, hyper-realistic canvases of horses, wildlife and cityscapes that fill his studio in Revolution Mill, all precisely wrought in the finest detail, are the culmination of a childhood dream. One that began with, yes, the straight lines of a child’s stick figures but took a turn in the Prehistoric Age.

“There was nothing remarkable about what I was doing,” he says of the rudimentary cowboys and Indians or soldiers engaged in battle that he and his first-grade classmates liked to draw in crayon during art class at Irving Park Elementary School. But at home, the seeds of his artistic ability were taking root. “I had a set of dinosaurs and printed on the belly of each one was the name.” So he could name and identify them: “the stegosaurus and the T-Rex and the triceratops, and all these weird amazing-looking creatures,” Lukens recalls. “I was always fascinated with animals anyway. These were crazy, wonderful.” He had also taken to copying photographs in Newsweek and National Geographic on sample pads of printing paper his father would bring home from his job at Pilot Life Insurance. Perched at a coffee table at his parents’ feet as the family watched TV, “I would do that two or three hours a night, just because that’s what I liked to do,” Lukens remembers.

A year later, those hours of practice would come to the fore when, one day, a second-grade class assignment was to draw a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Lukens’ advanced rendering of the dinosaur was well beyond those of his classmates, who, along with the teacher gathered round his desk expressing admiration and awe. “That’s when I realized, ‘Wow! I’m pretty good at this, and nobody else in the class can do it; this is pretty cool.” In the ensuing years, he would capitalize on Beatlemania, parlaying his skills into a lunchroom trade by copying images of the Fab Four from trading cards and other memorabilia for appetizing contents of his classmates’ lunchboxes. “I saw my market and I went after it,” he jokes. A foreshadowing of things to come.

By the time he was coming of age in the early to mid-1970s, Lukens had spent about a year at East Carolina before withdrawing to work for a couple of years. He also faced another hurdle: His preference for representational art, exemplified by Renaissance masters Titian, Caravaggio, Rubens and Velázquez and later artists such as Corot, Degas, John Singer Sargent, George Bellows and Edward Hopper, was unfashionable at the time. “It was all about Modern art,” Lukens remembers. With Abstract Expressionism ruling the day, art instruction emphasized “an idea,” he observes, while basic skills — drawing, composition, color — “got swept under the rug.”

Nonetheless, his dream of becoming a professional artist burned bright. To fulfill it, he enrolled in a nascent but rigorous commercial art program at GTI (now GTCC). He was one of only eight out of 120 students to graduate and embarked on a career as an advertising illustrator. “When I was in advertising, I would make ads and then do the illustration for it, because that’s what I really wanted to be doing. Not making ads. But I also needed to make a living as an artist. And this was the best way I could figure out,” he concedes. He talks of the layers of agency bureaucracy — art directors, creative directors, committees of clients — affecting the final outcome of his work. “You learn to put your ego in a box,” he notes.

After 15 years in the business and earning a good living, Lukens was approaching a turning point. He was also keenly aware of changes in the business that the digital age had ushered in. “All the art directors and illustrators were sitting in front of a computer all day long doing their work. And I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m going to do that.’”

He wanted to paint full time and knew he had to find a market — just as he had with his lucrative Beatlemania enterprise all those years ago — and considered wildlife paintings, which were popular. The only problem? “You do three paintings a year, you pay for a thousand prints of each and you’d spend the rest of the time selling those prints,” Lukens says. “That just didn’t appeal to me. I just wanted to paint all the time.”

In the early ’90s, a visit to the Sedgefield Horse Show with a colleague provided him with a solution. “I got the picture pretty quick that this is an expensive sport and all the people who participate in it are wealthy.” In other words, he’d found a market. It would take some trial and error, and making the rounds of the horse-show circuit with a vendor’s tent and forging connections that led to clients by word-of-mouth, but again, Lukens succeeded.

His approach to equestrian portraiture was unusual. Working in acrylics, Prismacolor pencil and watercolor from photographs taken at his clients’ stables (“you can’t get a 1,200-pound horse to stand still”), he applied his uncompromising representational style in depicting equine anatomy, highlighting every sinew beneath the sheen of his subjects’ glossy coats. But he brought to his compositions a contemporary feel, perhaps owing to his advertising background. In one painting, the graceful curve of a horse’s neck dominates the foreground, as its head is turned in profile. In another, the muscles of a foreleg are set in high relief, framed by the rider’s boot in the stirrup at the painting’s edge. Sure, Lukens’ artistic eye didn’t always jibe with clients’ wishes and he’d have to make concessions, as he did in the advertising business, but he was living out his dream.

Or partially.

Lukens’ desire to work in oil on canvas, like his Renaissance idols, tugged at him. “I started thinking: ‘How can I improve?’” the artist remembers. “I literally thought, ‘these old masters that painted oil on canvas .  . . I’m just not worthy.’” He tried the medium on his own, took workshops here and there “but just couldn’t get it.” And that’s why, at age 47, Lukens went back to art school.

At the time, in 1998, there were no institutions in the Southeast offering the classic academic curriculum the artist sought. His choices were by and large limited to the Northeast. Having lived for seven years alone on a 600-acre farm in Lewisville, he packed up his belongings and moved to a bungalow in the tiny coastal town of Old Lyme Connecticut, home of Lyme Academy of Fine Arts. “It was fantastic,” Lukens enthuses. “The second year I had over 1,000 hours of drawing and painting from a live model, which was the training that all my heroes from the Renaissance had.” With classmates ranging from recent high school graduates to 65-plus retirees, he was the only middle-aged student, but he says, “Everybody was in it together, there to learn.” He relished the moments, when live models would take breaks, affording the students opportunities to assess each other’s works. “I learned as much from the other artists during the model breaks as from the instructors,” Lukens says. One of them, Sam Adoquei, had made a profound influence in a life-drawing class. “He taught me how to construct the figure and the composition in a third the amount of time that I’d been spending,” the artist remembers. “That gave me two-thirds my time to develop my drawing. So all of a sudden, my work just looks phenomenally improved.”

He decided to study further under Adoquei’s tutelage at the National Academy in New York, conquering one hurdle of finding affordable housing through an equestrian connection, only to face another: The course of study began in early September of 2001. Lukens’ stay in New York started with the attacks on the World Trade Center, which the artist would witness from atop a 41-story building at 90th Street and Broadway. After a semester at the National Academy, he applied for the Copyist Program at no less than the Metropolitan Museum of Art, replicating the works of Velázquez. “It was as good as any class I took,” he allows. Sure, you can read about the artist or observe it. “Or you could attempt to copy what the artist has done, which forces you to observe all the nuances.” He likens the process to playing tennis against a stronger opponent, who ups your game. He was even filmed on PBS program, EGG the Arts Show, expressing a similar sentiment. Following his brief appearance on camera, the Met saw a spike in copyist applicants.

While living in New York, Lukens also took to painting streetscapes, but big city representational galleries were interested only in artists with Ivy League training. So in 2008, with his aging parents in need of help, Lukens headed home.

Greensboro, like so many places at the time, was falling into the slumber of the Great Recession, but Lukens still had his equestrian portraiture to keep him going. He was reconnecting with family and friends, ensconcing himself in the local arts scene. With a studio downtown, he took a notion to start painting streetscapes of the Gate City. In one, a ghostly Jefferson Building looms on the horizon. Another depicts the former location of the Green Bean, one of Lukens’ favorite haunts, glowing against a night sky. After his move to Revolution Mill, he would paint its courtyard, painstakingly recreating the individual bricks of the old factory. “I’ve always worked very tightly,” Lukens says. “I guess that’s my Dutch-German roots,” he adds

This tendency stands out in a close-up of a butterfly alighting on a flower. The brilliance of the wings, with every marking visible and every vein of a plant framing the foreground, stands in stark contrast to a plain background of dark green. Lukens explains how he had painted out a busier background consisting of hills and woods and a pond that competed with the butterfly. The plainer background makes the image pop. It’s also bears out the artist’s love of oils. Not only is the medium more forgiving, allowing him to paint over something if he chooses to change, it also “creates an aura” or added layer of energy to the painting.

Greensboro, it turns out, is more receptive to these true-to-life works. In fact, the world at large is waking up to the value of representational painting. “It’s huge!” Lukens says, citing a movement called Disrupted Realism, combining representational art with abstract, the vindication in his voice palpable. A major catalyst for the change in attitude? Social media. “I’m there for inspiration,” he explains. “When I have time to work on my own paintings, it’s the imagery that I’m finding on Instagram that inspires me that motivates me to tackle my next painting and how I’m going to tackle it.”

It’s also led him to other artists, such as the five he’s highlighting in a new show, Interiors, which opened last month at Gallery 1250, across from his studio at Revolution Mill. As chronicled in this magazine last fall, Lukens proposed a use for the space originally intended as an extension of Weatherspoon. “One of the things that motivated me to start this gallery: I want to show the best professional painters in the area and showcase them. I want to expose them to people who might not be familiar with their work,” he says. The role of gallery director is uncharted territory for the artist, who estimates it’s taking up about 70 percent of his time. Even so, Lukens carves out enough to sustain the dream that he’s pursued so relentlessly, for, as he says, “It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.”  OH


Nancy Oakley is the senior editor of O.Henry.

Drinking with Writers

Songs of Home

The Steep Canyon Rangers celebrate the music of the Old North State


By Wiley Cash     Photographs by Mallory Cash

What do you do after spending several weeks playing sold-out shows across Australia, some of them with Steve Martin and Martin Short? If you are the Steep Canyon Rangers, you come back to North Carolina and play a lunchtime show inside a strip-mall record store in Raleigh. If you are the Steep Canyon Rangers you even carry your own equipment through the front door and snake your way through the crowd on the way to the stage.

There were no crowds when I arrived nearly an hour or so before the noon show on a chilly Wednesday in early December. The Steep Canyon Rangers had just released their latest album, North Carolina Songbook, which they had recorded live at MerleFest in April. The album is a celebration of North Carolina music, featuring the band’s renditions of the work of some of North Carolina’s most foundational voices, including Thelonious Monk, Doc Watson, Elizabeth Cotton and James Taylor. The album was released on the Friday after Thanksgiving, a day that many music lovers have come to revere as National Record Store Day Black Friday. In support of the album, the Rangers had decided to play record stores, starting with School Kids Records in Raleigh.

If you want to feel uncool, I invite you to visit an independent record store that sits a stone’s throw from a university campus.

“VIPs only down front,” says the record store manager from behind the bar. I call it a bar because while it is a counter where you can pay for records and merchandise, it is also a bar in that beer is served from behind it.

“I’m friends with the band,” I say. He knits his brows as if he has heard this hundreds of times over the years from lame dads like me. But it is the truth. I went to college with mandolin player Mike Guggino, and I have written about the band and gotten to know them over the years.

I decide to try another tack. “I’m with the media,” I say, which is also true. After all, you are right now reading the media story I wrote, but this was not enough for the manager.

“You have to purchase an album to be a VIP,” he says.

“That’s it?” I ask. “I was going to do that anyway.”

“Great,” he says, not smiling. “You can be a VIP.”

As the clock crawls closer to noon, the store begins to fill to capacity with a mixed crowd that ranges from college students to retirees. Someone has ordered pizza. Beers are being passed from the bar back through the crowd.

“Do a lot of bands play here?” a middle-aged woman asks the manager.

“A couple times a month,” he says. He looks around. “But nothing like this.”

I hear someone say my name, and I turn to find Graham Sharp, one of the band’s vocalists, carrying his guitar case and pushing through the crowd. I say hello to him and pray that the record store manager has seen us greet one another by name.

The rest of the band streams in behind Sharp, each of them carrying an assortment of instruments. The band takes the small stage, nearly filling it. The room is warm and pleasant; everyone clearly happy to be out of the office or skipping class in favor of live music from one of North Carolina’s most famous bands.

“Hey, y’all,” Sharp says to the audience. “These are songs we recorded at MerleFest.” The crowd cheers at the mention of the iconic festival. “But we haven’t played them since April.”

“We relearned them on the way here,” says lead vocalist Woody Platt to the audience’s laughter. And then the band is off into a rollicking version of Charlie Poole’s “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” Platt’s rich baritone playing a wonderful historical opposite to Poole’s higher pitch.

The event soon takes on the feel of a college keg party, a feel that is intimately familiar to the Steep Canyon Rangers. The band was co-founded by Sharp and Platt at UNC-Chapel Hill in the late ’90s, when both were undergraduates. They released their first album in 2001, and they have released 13 albums since then, a few in collaboration with Steve Martin.

“This new album is a homecoming for us,” Platt later tells the audience. “We released our first record with Yep Roc Records, and that’s who’s just released North Carolina Songbook.”

And what a homecoming. The album is not only a celebration of famous North Carolina musicians and their music; it is also a testament to the Steep Canyon Rangers’ ability to blend and bend genres and styles while making a cover song seem like their own.

The band moves through gorgeous covers of Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk,” Tommy Jerrell’s “Drunkard’s Hiccups,” Ola Belle Reed’s “I’ve Endured,” Elizabeth Cotton’s “Shake Sugaree,” closing out the set with the state’s beloved James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James,” sung by bassist Barrett Smith, a longtime friend of the band who is the newest addition.

At the close of the show, Platt sets down his guitar and tells the audience that the band will hang around for a little “shake and howdy,” but they have to get over to Chapel Hill for a mic check. They are singing the national anthem at the Dean Dome before tonight’s Tar Heels game against Ohio State. A homecoming indeed, but while so much has changed for the Steep Canyon Rangers, shows like the one at the record store prove that so little about them has.  OH

Wiley Cash lives in Wilmington with his wife and their two daughters. His latest novel, The Last Ballad, is available wherever books are sold.

The Accidental Astrologer

Feeling Your Goats

Everyone will experience the Capricorn Effect in 2020


By Astrid Stellanova

Eat your peas and collards, Star Children. Tradition will matter.

Soften your hearts and strengthen your minds.

On January 3, Mercury joins the Sun, Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto in Capricorn, meaning none of the signs can escape the Capricorn Effect in 2020.

Here’s what the sky says: The new year brings a new vision, and, er, caps off the past two years of tumult, transition, mergers and misfires, with calculation and transformations that will change our realities. As any astrologer will tell you: The Goat always triumphs.


Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

You have to think about your professional image, Sugar, or feel like you do. You’ve worried yourself half sick over how you stack up, because you pit yourself against an old nemesis with big juju. Basically everyone from Here Comes Honey Boo Boo could outclass this old blow-hard rival. Stop worrying.

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

Confidential matters and family secrets have kept you knotted up. Listen, if karma won’t slap you, ole Astrid has to, because it’s time you noticed you don’t have to be the standard-bearer for integrity and discretion.

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

There are changes to your inner circle, and close networks that have been shifting. The old dynamic is completely changed, in case you didn’t notice. Want to be the ringmaster of the s*@t show? Don’t think so, Honey Bun.

Aries (March 21-April 19)

I’m thinking you seized the wrong freakin’ day, Ram. As your mission and position have changed, did you notice exactly what condition your condition was in? Right — you were too busy seizing. Let it go. Not yours to wrestle with.

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

You, Brothers and Sistahs, are sweet but twisted. Some of that blunt force you used will get you over the fence to new places this year, but also forces you to take a kinder view of the differences. That makes the new places mean something.

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

One side of you strongly wants to do the right thing. The other side of you wrestles with giving others their fair share, due credit and fair play. You insist it ain’t your pasture, not your bull crap, but, sometimes, Sugar, it is.

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

Focus on close relationships, Sweet Pea, like your partners at work and at home. It is worth remembering that they are the ham in your ham sandwich. The jam in your PB&J. The clapper in your Liberty Bell.

Leo (July 23-August 22)

You aren’t a fan of fitness or workouts, but your life and lifestyle demand a reboot. It will also need to be interior — think volunteering or offering your services. Don’t rush when you’re waiting for the last dang minute.

Virgo (August 23-September 22)

The next generation, Sugar, is writ large in your sign. Think babies, teens, pregnancies and young adults populating your life. Things are coming full circle. What does this signify? Why don’t you overthink it?

Libra (September 23–October 22)

Home, family and land are all at the center of your world. Given how outdone you feel by those near and dear, realize everybody knows your give-a-damn is busted all to pieces. But giving again, and communicating will be your redemption.

Scorpio (October 23–November 21)

You’re thinking, excuse me, Dante, but what circle of hell is this? Yet the things you excel at (even if you wish they would go away) include publishing, communicating and educating, and they keep offering opportunity. Take the stage, Sugar, and ascend.

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

Just show you the money. Everything you do concerning property, charity, and finance will work for you and benefit others. Keep your head up, Darlin’, or that crown will slide right off.  OH

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

Greensboring No More

For the Gate City, the ’20s are set to roar

By Margaret Moffett

Midsummer, like clockwork, it begins — the rat-a-tat-tats and oompahs and wah-wha-whas  floating across east Greensboro, teasing autumn’s arrival.  

“It,” of course, is the N.C. A&T State University Blue and Gold Marching Machine, a drum-banging, horn-tooting, whistle-blowing wall of sound that high-steps through half-times of Aggie home games several Saturdays each fall.

Year after year, the band starts preparing for football season around July, when air conditioners run without ceasing and even the evenings leave you hollow-eyed and sweat-soaked. 

Ask anyone who lives within a mile or two of campus — from Dunleath to downtown, East Bessemer to East Market. Ask them about the time they sat on breezeless breezeways, or opened their windows in the middle of a heat wave, just to hear The Machine practice. Not perform, mind you. Practice. 

They’ll tell you it was worth it. So worth it.

This is a small thing. Impactful, yes, and also delightful. But small.

Greensboro is home to a thousand small things. The lighted Christmas balls in Sunset Hills. The hippie scene on Tate Street, unchanged since 1969. The dogs that chase fly balls at Greensboro Grasshoppers games. The Eastern freaking Music Festival.   

Combined, they constitute the je ne sais quoi that is Greensboro. Woe betide any newcomer or visitor who scoffs at our je ne sais quoi:

“OK, maybe we don’t have a Trader Joe’s or a world-class auditorium,” we would snarl — obviously in the pre-Trader Joe’s/Tanger Center for the Performing Arts era. “But we re-enact the Battle of Guilford Courthouse here all the dang time. Plus our community swim meets are fierce. Oh, and Safety Town. Bet your kids didn’t go to Safety Town (clearing our throats for compulsory recitation of Greensboro’s unofficial motto). “This is a great! Place! To live!”

For years now, we have clung to small things as proof of this city’s worth. But they don’t fit neatly on marketing materials or land us on lists of Best Cities in America. The ice skating rink at LeBauer Park is all well and good to a Fortune 500 company looking for a new headquarters. Its leaders, however, would much prefer a robust economy and low unemployment; an entrepreneurial spirit and an energetic workforce; a youthful culture and a vibrant downtown. 

They’re looking for big things. And big things have been missing from Greensboro’s narrative for far too long.

But the times they are a’changing. Over the course of 2020, the city is set to blossom like a Greensboro red camellia (It’s our official flower. Look it up.) 

In the first quarter alone, the Greensboro Coliseum will host the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the women’s and men’s ACC basketball tournaments and first-and second-round games in the NCAA basketball tournament. The $90 million Tanger Center on the eastern tip of downtown will open sometime amid March Madness.

As the year unfolds, we’ll be treated to one of the busiest periods of construction and revitalization in the city’s history. That means more luxury apartments and boutique hotels. More office towers and mill renovation projects. More cool entertainment districts and cultural pop-up events.

You know, you almost could make the argument that this city is poised for a rebirth.

Aw, heck, let’s just go ahead and call it: 

Greensboro is back.


Shall we take a moment to recount the Dark Days?

Quickly summarized: Textiles and tobacco began their slow marches to death in the mid- to late-1990s. Then came 9/11, followed by a brief economic resurgence, followed by the Great Recession. 

Greensboro lost more and struggled longer than other progressive Southern cities, which seemed to more easily be replacing the high-paying manufacturing jobs lost to overseas competition and recovering from the disintegration of entire industries.

In North Carolina’s third-largest city, however, tobacco farmers and textile workers found themselves at the mercy of a service economy that offered lower wages and reduced benefits. Unemployment rose and median income fell. Corporate headquarters moved and longtime businesses folded. Developers delayed projects, or axed them altogether.

Greensboro was depressed. And depressing. 

Robbie Perkins had a front-row seat for the downturn — as a nine-term member of Greensboro City Council, including a turn as mayor from 2011 to 2013; as a commercial real estate developer who struggled to close eight-figure deals at the height of the crisis; and as a resident of four decades who was emotionally and financially invested in the community when it was at its most robust. 

“This city got hit really hard,” he says. “People who lived here and slogged their way through it don’t realize it as much as people from the outside.” 

One thing he knows for sure: “We’re better now than we were. A lot better.”

And then some. Median household income is on the rise — finally — as is the promise of better-paying jobs. Young people are sticking around a little longer. Exciting projects are beginning to gel. New industries have emerged. Vitality has returned.

For proof, look no farther than our burgeoning aerotropolis. About 5,800 people work in and around Piedmont Triad International Airport — roughly 1,500 of them at the world headquarters of HondaJet. Perkins notes the aviation economy is prompting an unprecedented surge in nearby development. Even as we speak, workers are grading 700 acres here and there around the airport, perhaps for future distribution and logistics operations, or maybe retail and office construction.

He’s expecting the N.C. 68 corridor to  pop sometime this year.

Then there’s the Publix distribution center, which Perkins promises will have “a substantial benefit to Greensboro.” Around springtime, the Florida-based grocer will start building a $400 million warehouse for 1,000 workers, whose $44,000 annual salaries will surpass the city’s median earnings.

Perkins goes on to praise Greensboro’s emerging downtown and incredible infrastructure. Plus, our universities will collaborate on projects like the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering — and even relocate some functions to the Center City, as they did with the Union Square Campus. 

So sayeth Robbie Perkins: “It’s all going in the right direction.”


If Perkins is correct that people outside Greensboro best recognized our economic malaise, then perhaps the reverse is true:

It takes someone with perspective to recognize our renaissance.

Enter Denise Turner Roth, a former city manager who left town in 2014 to work for the Obama administration. As the General Services Administration’s No. 1, she managed 12,000 federal employees, oversaw a $20 billion budget and travelled to just about every major metro in these United States. 

Upon moving back to Greensboro with her family in 2018, Roth immediately spotted the most noticeable — and to hear her tell it, the most significant — upgrade made in her absence.

There’s street art everywhere. On buildings and parking lots, storefronts and retaining walls.

“I thought it was an explosion of energy,” she recalls. “The colors jumped off and caught my eye. They made me want to stop and investigate.”

Most of the murals come courtesy of developer Marty Kotis, who has commissioned more than 100 pieces on buildings he owns across the city. City leaders followed Kotis’s lead, cataloging all of the city’s public art on a webpage — even relinquishing an old water tank at the Mitchell Water Plant to become an artist’s canvas.

Roth found it added an edgy, exciting, unexpected je ne sai quoi to the Gate City — the sort of quirky edge she noticed among other hip cool cities she visited as GSA administrator. 

“This is it,” she remembers thinking. “This is what Greensboro needs to be.”

Here’s why: If the city is to maintain its forward momentum, we must — What’s the right word? — mesmerize? captivate? beguile? Millennials and Gen Z’ers. Period. End of argument. They’re every successful urban area’s economic engine, not only as innovators and entrepreneurs, but also as homebuyers and consumers.

On that front, too, Greensboro has gained ground. You can see it in the way downtown comes to life after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. 

And in the sudden explosion of breweries and distilleries near Center City. 

And in the popularity of Boxcar, a combination bar and arcade on Lewis Street that’s packed with college students craving dollar mimosas and Dance Dance Revolution SuperNOVA (yes, it’s a thing) on Sunday evenings. 

Since Roth’s exit and return, the city has opened two skate parks, a long sought-after amenity in street-punk chic. And UNCG basketball, now experiencing its own renaissance, has become a popular, inexpensive hang for students and alums.

But Greensboro’s menu now offers something Millennials and GenZ’ers need more than microbrews and games: opportunity. Take LaunchLab, a business accelerator program provided by the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce. The program pairs its startups with college interns from the city’s seven colleges and universities, doing both parties a solid. Another small business incubator, the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship, offers budding business owners everything from coaching and office space to financial assistance.

And 2020 promises more of the Wow Factor 20-somethings demand.

Sometime this year, a new six-story Hampton Inn & Suites will open downtown, joining a Hyatt Place that welcomed its first guests in 2019 — and Westin and Aloft hotels are in various stages of development.

Also opening soon: a 188-unit upscale apartment complex — Hawthorne at Friendly — that’s so close to Friendly Center that residents will be able to smell the salmon patties cooking at K&W Cafeteria.

And later this year, redevelopers will finish a $54 million project bringing 200-plus apartments to the old Proximity Printworks Mill — just a hop across Yanceyville Street from the previously rehabbed Revolution Mill. That’s in addition to the nine-story, 111,000-square-foot office building set to open at the Greensboro Grasshoppers’ baseball stadium.

What was that we said about a deficit of “big things” filling Greensboro’s narrative? About fixating on “small things” to distract us from our economic unpleasantness? Meh, that’s so 2008. No, this is a city reborn, a city on the . . . Wait. Is that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” we hear coming from the general vicinity of N.C. A&T State University? Is the Blue and Gold Marching Machine actually playing Nirvana?

Cool.  OH

A graduate of UNCG, Margaret Moffett has called the Greensboro area home since 1985. After 27 years career as a newspaper journalist, she embarked on a career as a freelance writer and adjunct instructor of journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill. She resides in Dunleath in a 100-year-old house with her two cats.

Scuppernong Bookshelf

A Backward Glance

A look back at 2019’s favorite books from our favorite bookseller


Compiled by Brian Lampkin

Let’s take a column and look back at 2019 before we return to our regularly scheduled 2020. Here at Scuppernong Books we reject the idea of “Best Of” lists because we don’t believe that our authority extends to such absolute determination of quality. Instead we prefer the inarguable conviction that accompanies a list of our “Favorite Books of 2019.” Each staff member at Scuppernong has offered the two books they most loved — with a few reasons why — without any concern for hierarchy of quality. It’s a good way to go through life: Love more; judge less. Here’s a sampling of our choices:

The Furious Hours, by Casey Cep (Knopf, $26.95). A fascinating investigation of a corrupt, murderous, small-town Alabama pastor who terrorizes an entire county. Eventually, this nonfiction account connects to the unwritten last book of Harper Lee, whose own fascination with small-town murderous Alabama is well understood. It’s a remarkable piece of literary journalism, and Cep will be featured at the May 2020 Greensboro Bound Literary Festival. (Brian)

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters
, by Balli Kaur Jaswal (William Morrow, $26.99). Once again, Balli Kaur Jaswal proves herself to be a captivating and extraordinary writer. Full of authentic characters with rich histories, individual voices, relatable struggles and controversial dilemmas, this book manages to be a family portrait, a mystery, a drama, a cultural exploration and a comedy all at once. With the passing of pages, I alternately shed tears and laughed aloud, which, let me tell you, is no small thing. (Chella)

The Source of Self-Regard
, by Toni Morrison (Knopf, $28.95). Morrison’s death in 2019 left a crater in the literary world that is unlikely to be filled any time soon.  This collection of essays, speeches and meditations is her final published book. The Source of Self-Regard is brimming with all the elegance of mind and style, the literary prowess and moral compass that are Toni Morrison’s unique purview. (Ashley) 

Who Killed My Father, by Edouard Louis (New Directions, $15.95). “That’s the trouble with stolen things, like you with your youth: We can never quite believe they are really ours, so we have to keep stealing them forever. The theft never ends. You wanted to recapture your youth, to reclaim it, to re-steal it.” Skillfully and incisively balancing love, terror, and rage, this taut memoir examines Louis’ own relationship with his father, and the social and cultural conditions in France that formed his father and laid the groundwork for his death. A rare memoir of righteous anger laced with inexplicable affection. (Steve)

The Ash Family, by Molly Dektar (Simon & Schuster, $26). “You can stay for three days, or the rest of your life.” Thus is the ominous timeline given to Berie — renamed Harmony — when she runs away to live off the grid in the North Carolina mountains. At first, life with the Ash Family seems idyllic, but soon Harmony finds that the disturbing feelings she’s tried to ignore were rooted in sinister happenings on the farm. A literary thriller, this novel also has gorgeous nature writing that casts an eerie melancholy throughout. (Shannon)

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28). This is an honest look at the practice of psychotherapy as told by a therapist and the therapist’s therapist. “Therapy elicits odd reactions because, in a way, it’s like pornography. Both involve a kind of nudity. Both have the potential to thrill. And both have millions of users, most of whom keep their use private.” A must-read for anyone interested in psychology. (Timmy)

Normal People, by Sally Rooney (Crown, $29.95). This is worth all the hype! Rooney distills what it feels like on that curious edge of teenage/adult life while stumbling through a first love headfirst. Honestly, she may be a mind reader. She is that good at capturing the lives of two friends (and lovers) from very different backgrounds at Trinity College in Dublin. Sally Rooney, I love you. (Mackenzie).

Other choices: Dreyer’s English, by Benjamin Dreyer (Chella); Red at the Bone, by Jacqueline Woodson (Brian), Women Talking, by Miriam Toews (Steve); The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett (Shannon); A Devil Comes to Town, by Paolo Maurensig (Ashley); Monster, She Wrote, by Lisa Kröger and Melanie Anderson (Jenny); Trick Mirror, by Jia Tolentino (Mackenzie); Machines Like Me, by Ian McEwan (Timmy).  OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.

Come Join the Dance

Celebrating 36 years of life, the Greensboro Scottish Dance Society keeps ancient traditions alive — while flying into the future

By Jim Dodson     Photographs by Bert VanderVeen

First row: Pete Campbell, Jerry Cecil, Andrea Lee, Mary McConnell, Melody Glick, David Thomas Second row: Craig Davis, Sherri Davis, Kate Seel, Roger Seel, Patty Lindsay Kinkade, David Glick Third row: Sam Dawson, Catherine Holt, Judy Roy, Sarah Vincent Fourth row: Margaret Young, Fran Young, Esther Leise, Merritt Wayt

Fittingly, (as if from the very pages of Robert Louis Stevenson) it was a dark and stormy night.

As wind shrieked and rain swirled outside the warm confines of First Presbyterian’s cozy fellowship hall, the 50 or so members and guests of the Greensboro Scottish Country Dance Society, replete in their finest tweeds and proud clan tartans, performed a country a dance called “The Last of the Lairds” to a lively jig titled “The Stool of Repentance,” the fourth set on the program of their annual Emerald City Ball St Andrews Day Dance.

“It’s a fine night for a Scottish dance,” said Jerry Cecil, coming off the floor with his wife Andrea, a bit winded from a turn that requires both physical and mental fitness. “Then again, any night is perfect for Scottish dancing. Even a cold, rainy night like this won’t stop this crowd.”

Cecil, a retired IRS worker and avid golfer from Forest Oaks, knows what he’s talking about — having been a member of the Greensboro chapter of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society since 1987, a handful of years after the group was formed by Mary McConnell and later joined by her Renaissance husband, Pete Campbell.

This year’s Ball in late November celebrated the organization’s 36th anniversary. The large turnout in the midst of a November Nor’easter spoke volumes about the passion of these hardy Caledonian dancers.

As Campbell’s nimble piano and Mara Shea’s infectious fiddle filled the room for the next dance set  — a “Reel for Cosmo John” —  Cecil paused to explain that Scottish country dancing — a communal form of folk dancing from the 18th century, when it was done in the barn as well as the ballroom  — that got into his bloodstream near the end of his college days in California. But here in the Gate City, his passion found its truest expression among others who share his reverence for the past and a love of country dancing.

“Because each dance is different, with specific steps and patterns of its own, the switching of partners and such, Scottish dancing can seem a bit intimidating. I know I felt that way at first,” Cecil acknowledges, explaining that’s why most folks who do it attend classes to learn the steps and figures to the many different dances. The good news, he goes on to say, is, once you get a few basics down and practice a bit, everything tends to flow. “Scottish dancers aren’t at all judgmental. Everyone is welcome, especially beginners. You’ll never see Scottish dancers looking at their feet, he reflects. “What you’ll see instead is people smiling and laughing as they twirl around the hall. At heart, it’s really about music, fun and friendship.”

His wife of four years, Andrea, nods in agreement. “I’m afraid that I’m still getting the hang of it,” she allows with just such a grin. “But it really is fun.”

Cecil’s description pretty well describes any of the four dozen or so dancers on the fellowship hall floor at any moment, a diverse gathering of local members and visitors from similar clubs, some of whom traveled from as distant as Atlanta and Staunton, Virginia, simply to be on hand. Even the evening’s gifted fiddle-player, Mara Shea, was herself just off a flight from Aberdeen, Scotland, where she made a quick flight to attend her college graduation from Elphistone Institute at the University.

For her part, Mary McConnell got interested in this form of community dance after she learned about it during a Thanksgiving dinner at her sister’s house in Richmond, Virginia, in 1979. Back home in Carrboro, she spotted  a notice that a Scottish Dance class had just started in town and went to investigate.

“I was coming down a hallway and heard this magical Scottish music coming from the dance,” she recalls. “I knew this music from my childhood. I knew I’d found home.”

A short time later, Mary attended the first Thistle School in Banner Elk the week before the annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. It was there, in 1982, that she met Pete Campbell, a researcher in environmental sciences at UNC- Chapel Hill who’d been a country dancing aficionado since his days at Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania.

“Because I used to stay up half the night in the labs, you see, when everyone else was gone, I always listened to Scottish dance music to keep me awake. I was destined to get hooked!” he allows from his piano bench during a break between dance sets. A musical polymath who founded and played in numerous folks bands, Pete helped found  the international folk dance group at UNC, now celebrating its 55th anniversary,  and did a bit of everything from English contra dance to old-fashioned American square dances until he activated his ancestral genes and gave his heart to Scottish country dance.

At the Thistle School’s Teacher’s candidate class in 1982, Mary met Greensboro resident Karen Becker, who convinced her to start a similar class in the Gate City. The class began at Lewis Recreation Center in September of that year. Mary later went to St Andrews, Scotland, for her Teacher’s Certificate, relocating to Greensboro in 1983 to build the echocardiography laboratory at Moses Cone Hospital. Becker was a weaver at Old Salem with a strong background in early American domestic skills and international folk dancing.

“We started with a small group of about eight or nine dancers,” Becker remembers. “In Scottish dancing,  we dance with a  partner but it is the whole group, or set, that dances as a team.” Adds Mary: “Everyone dances with everyone else and has their part in the dance. There is no need to come with a partner. It’s a very egalitarian dance form.”  Scottish dance steps, she explains, are somewhat challenging and energetic. The figures are complex, and unlike contra or traditional American square dancing, there is no one calling out the moves. The steps, holds and patterns must be learned, something that requires both physical exertion and mental focus. “These factors set Scottish dance apart, and those of us who love it are forever young,” she adds with a laugh.

“It’s really not as hard as it seems to someone watching it for the first time,” echoes Becker, today a semiretired costume and living history coordinator at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia. “When it’s done well, with the springs and setting steps done in quick time, Scottish country dancing is like watching people take flight, barely tethered to the floor. The energy is quite striking and irresistible.”

Another misconception, says member Patty Lindsay Kinkade, a former American history teacher at Southeast Guilford High School who joined the dance group in 1985, is that participants are obliged to have Scottish heritage and a family tartan. “I happen to wear a Lindsay tartan but other members wear whatever tartan appeals to them,” she says. “Some have Scottish heritage. But many others don’t. “It’s the enjoyment of sharing the dance tradition and dressing up to celebrate this tradition that appeals to everyone.”

For her part, longtime member and textile designer Sarah Vincent points out that a Scottish dancer could go anywhere in the world and feel “right at home joining a dance that goes back hundreds of years.” She got hooked on bagpipe music in college in Michigan and soon found her way to the Greensboro group in 1985, a year after the local club became an official sponsored club of Greensboro Parks and Recreation.

Early on, the Greensboro Society became affioliated with the Royal Scottish Dance Society (RSCDS), based in Edinburgh, which promotes and develops Scottish country dance and music worldwide for the benefit of future generationa. They are now members of the Carolina Branch.

The local chapter found a new home and a boost in membership at The Guilford Grange Hall, which is also the home to the robust Fiddle & Bow Country Dancers. “The wooden floor there is perfect for country dancing — and much kinder to aging bodies,” notes Pete Campbell, inspiringly spry at 79 years and counting. “A good number of our regulars are older folks who find dancing like this a great way to stay in shape — and mentally sharp. It’s also the warm social aspect that appeals to everyone.”

No small amount of socializing goes on between dance sets, when some dancers inevitably “pause to take a rest and catch up on news and gossip,” quips Karen Becker.

“It’s really like a great big family,” agrees Sarah Vincent. “A social dance in which you change partners often and make friends easily doing it. Nobody really cares if you screw up. The fun and friendships are the important parts. Would you believe, weddings have come out of these dances?! We also attend each other’s anniversaries, births and even funerals.”

Over the years, the Greensboro group has performed at Celtic festivals around the state, including the annual one at Bethabara. Last autumn, the Greensboro dancers were featured performers at Hillsborough’s inaugural Outlandish Scottish Festival, with Pete Campbell introducing scores of festivalgoers to  traditional Cèilidh dancing that had whole families and young couples enthusiastically joining the dance. 

“Scottish country dance is really for everyone, young and old, from any walk of life,” says Mary McConnell. “For many of us, it is a joyful thing to dress up and dance the way others have done for centuries.” She adds that her hope is to  attract younger dancers from around the Gate City. In the meantime, the society’s regular dance class series, which began in September, is on Tuesday nights Tuesday night at The Grange. The first class is free of charge and open to all.

A highlight of the Scottish year comes this month with the annual Burns Night supper — a worldwide observance that typically celebrates the life and poetry of Ayrshire bard Robert Burns with music, poetry, dance and a famous “Address to the Haggis” on or about his birthday January 25.

This year, as in years past, Karen Becker will make the traditional haggis — best not to ask for the ingredient list — to be served with “neeps and tatties” along with traditional cock-a-leekie soup.

Piper David Thomas will lead the procession for the meal, followed by an evening of toasts, poetry and song, with Pete Campbell reciting the poet’s famous address from memory.

“It should be a wee fine time for all,” Campbell allows with his usual spry twinkle. OH

When Jimmy McDodson is toasting Rabbie Burns wi’ a wee dram, don’t inquire too closely what he’s wearing ’neath his kilt.

O.Henry Ending

Please, Don’t go

But Mama knew best


By Cynthia Adams

When a comedian once quipped that his mother was a one-way travel agent for guilt trips, I laughed. 

Hard. Too hard. And wiped helpless tears.

Our Southern Mama was just such a travel agent. We never parted without her entreaty, “Do you have to go now?”  It didn’t matter how long the visit — two hours or two weeks. It was her notion of expressing love.

Although . . . evidence to the contrary suggested this was born of habit. Even the carpet cleaner and pest control man got the same plea.

This refrain was a quirk, a true blind spot for our mother, much like the one in her trusted Lincoln Continental, which drove more like a Sherman tank after years of surviving Mama’s handling. You just didn’t know that utility post was about to catch you, then there it was, pinning you into the driver’s seat and smearing the side of the car with creosote. 

Hello light pole

She gave her own mother-in-law, Hallie, a tongue-lashing (behind her back of course — Mama was a Southern lady after all) for “hanging on hard just when you needed to go.” 

Poor Hallie was once accused of hanging onto the car door of Mom’s former land yacht, a Madea-worthy white sled with burgundy top and opera windows — just as Mama was heading home for her soap operas. (A grandchild long believed Mama was saying, “showstoppers.”) 

Mama never dragged our grandmother as she held to the Lincoln. Now that would have been a showstopper. For Mama, you see, was usually antsy, in a hurry, whenever it was time for her to make a departure.

Until the end, that is.

Her own leave-taking took so long I began to view her as capable of staying as long as she damned well pleased.

But the professionals knew otherwise. Mama had withered. And after 91 years and diminishing appetite, she was disappearing.

She received hospice care in her final months. My younger sister, who can be intractable, never understood hospice. Bless her heart, (Southern code for myopic) she just couldn’t grasp Mama would eventually leave us.

Could we blame her?

Weeks ago, Mama celebrated a birthday. We gathered for lunch and performed, like we had once done as children. 

I loved to make her laugh, so claiming I had discovered an ability to yodel, I cocked my arms like a baseball pitcher and operatically filled my lungs. Rivaling Florence Foster Jenkins, I unloosed a hideous yowl. 

Mama winced and grinned widely, so, I pretended this called for an encore.

She shook her head, saying “You won’t do,” which is another Southernism loosely meaning, “outstanding foolishness.”

I returned to Mama’s bedside with my hubby two days later, and we sat with her before her momentous departure. 

She gripped our hands with a surprising firmness. 

“Don’t go,” she asked.

The next morning, Mama slipped away.

Only a week afterward, I witnessed a lunar rainbow. It was a luminous, tremulous, indescribable vision. Earlier that day, my brother saw sun dogs — yet another beautiful celestial phenomenon.

Despite myself, I found myself whispering to the night sky. “Please. Don’t go.”  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry.