Wandering Billy

Remembering Marion

She never missed a beat. And I sure miss her


By Billy Eye

Sweet is the memory of distant friends! Like the mellow rays of the departing sun, it falls tenderly, yet sadly, on the heart. – Washington Irving

Marion Hubbard, a dear friend and remarkable woman, passed away a few weeks ago. Marion and her husband, A.P. (Ainslie Perrow), were two of my parents’ closest friends. I’d known them all my life and grew to love them like they were my own family.

The Hubbards lived in a lovely home on Sunset Drive, where they raised their two daughters, Libby and Ada. A.P. was a businessman. For many years, his wholesale lumber company was a prime resource for the city’s leading contractors, supplying wood for homes being built in Kirkwood, Sunset Hills and Starmount Forest. Eventually, A.P. Hubbard Wholesale Lumber blossomed into an international, multimillion-dollar enterprise.

Marion, on the other hand, led the life of a fairly typical Atomic Age housewife. She golfed and dined at the Greensboro Country Club, volunteered with the Junior League, served as a Rotarian, rode horses with the kids, taught Great Books in public schools, attended Holy Trinity Church and traveled the world. She was also a voracious reader, a veritable one-woman lending library filling life’s blank pages with verve, warmth, laughter, love and a keen sense of purpose.

A.P. died suddenly in 1997, when Marion was 68. I interviewed Marion Hubbard in 2016 for an article that was never published. It’s the untold story, in her words, of how she stepped up as CEO of A.P. Hubbard Wholesale Lumber in the wake of her husband’s death. If a movie is ever made of Marion’s life, they’ll have to resurrect Barbara Stanwyck for the lead.

Marion started the tale by saying that just before A.P.’s funeral, someone from the company approached her.

“Marion, you really have to be in the office on Monday,” they told the newly widowed homemaker.

That, she said, got her attention. After all, she knew enough about the current state of the business to know that she could lose a lot of money if she didn’t immediately take charge. “When I went in,” Marion recalled, “one salesperson that works for A.P. came up and said, ‘Well, do you know about my bonus?’”

“Yes, I do know about that,” replied Marion.

“Well, do you know about that job we’re doing down in Charleston?” he retorted. 

“I know about that too, yes,” she said.

“Well, do you know about . . .”

This went on and on, she said, always with the same response: “Yes, I know.”

The salesman became so furious his face went red. “Well, A.P. lied to us,” Marion recalled him blurting out. “Your husband said he never talked about business after 5 o’clock.”

“He didn’t,” quipped Marion. “But he came home for lunch!”

As it turned out, that salesperson had assumed — and even told everyone — that he would be in charge in the event that A.P. passed.

This gave me a glimpse into the kind of relationship that A.P. and Marion must have had. Although she was a housewife, Marion had been aware for many years of the inner workings of her husband’s company. For instance, she said they would go into the office together on weekends and A.P. would look over the books and discuss upcoming jobs. “So he really did give me some insight,” she said. “It wasn’t just completely cold turkey.” She felt she had no choice but to take the reins of the business when she did.

“I would be left with all the obligations but none of the benefits if I didn’t,” she told me. “A couple of people in my family told me, ‘Well, you can’t do this.’ And by that, meaning, ‘You’re probably not capable of it.’ Of course, that did not sit well with me.”

There were, she recalled, some immediate, unexpected hurdles. A competitor, who was also a friend, attempted to lure away her most productive salesmen. Also, the bank initially refused to lend her any capital as they normally would have done for the company.

“I suggested to the bank that maybe they were treating me that way because I was a woman,” Marion told me. “They were genuinely shocked. They said, ‘Oh no, it’s because you’re inexperienced.’ Which I thought . . . that’s reasonable.”

Fortunately, A.P.’s life insurance benefit provided the temporary finances to keep commerce, and timber, flowing.

But one challenge followed another, as will happen in business.

Embezzlement? Yep. That, too. 

The good news was that sales were “huge, in the millions, but our profit margin was so tiny, I’d be embarrassed to tell you what it was,” Marion said. Because they sold truckloads of product, any mistake was a big, expensive mistake. If a truckload of lumber disappeared, your bottom line could go from black to red overnight. In fact, that actually happened. “A truck driver called and said he didn’t have time to make a delivery,” Marion told me. “So he parked the truck outside his house, and it was gone the next morning.”

Here’s where luck came into play: One of the salespeople was returning to Greensboro from a sales call when, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something odd. “He makes a U-turn, drives back into the woods and there’s the tractor trailer with the lumber on it!” Beating a hasty retreat, he called the cops who recovered the stolen goods.

She proved to be a tough businesswoman who steered the company successfully through the worst recession since the 1930s. But Marion was always generous, attributing the success to having a low overhead and a dedicated workforce. “We really did have some really good people. We had one of the buyers come in and say, ‘We can’t believe you did this much business out of this little office.’”

The company had its best year in 2015 — so good, Marion said, “it nearly killed us.”

Collecting what was owed her at times presented a challenge. “I talked with this guy in Alabama who had declared bankruptcy. I felt sorry for him, of course, but I said, ‘Oh, you can start over.’”

She was in her late 80s at the time.

“Oh no, Miss Marion,” he told her, “I’m too old to do that.’”

And she said, “How old are you?”

The man was 35.

“My goodness,” said Marion, “You know J.C. Penney started his ten-cent store when he was 75? You are not too old.”

Can you believe he had the nerve to ask how old she was?

He gasped when she told him .

When Marion retired in 2017, A.P. Lumber was one of just a handful of lumber brokers remaining in Greensboro.

I feel extremely fortunate that my sister and I had the opportunity to visit Marion last October. We enjoyed a lovely afternoon talking about times past and folks passed. She certainly didn’t seem like someone who would no longer be with us in just a couple of months.

A true Southern doyenne, I deeply regret that the unsinkable Marion Hubbard isn’t here to read this now. Thankfully her warmth and zest for life live on in memory.  OH

Mr. O.G — Original Greensboro — aka Billy Eye would love to hear from you. Email tvparty@bellsouth.net.

Home by Design

Between Worlds

What’s in an entry hall? See for yourself


By Cynthia Adams

Consider the entry hall. Really.

The entry hall actually is a pretty big deal. Two hundred years ago, nobody would have had an entry — nor a hall, for that matter — unless they were living in a grand residence.

Entry halls only entered into our vocabulary around the 1840s. 

According to Benjamin Briggs, executive director of Preservation Greensboro, the entry hall was formerly regarded as something solely for the affluent; that added square footage required wealth. And more.

“The hallway is a filter. Meant to be a filter for your true self,” says Briggs. “So, a presentation out front. If people were admitted deeper into your soul or existence, you allow them into the formal room — that would have awed them. Levels of entry — it’s about control.”   

Those sophisticated French view the entry hall to the home as a preview of the owner’s private world — a tantalizing glimpse of what they prize most. 

(And historians say we Americans were once of the same mind.)

If that were the case in my family home, it might have misled visitors to imagine my folks were the Andrew Lloyd Webber’s of Hell’s Half-Acre.

When my parents purchased a ranchburger with a foyer, they installed their newest acquisition there: an enormous “Mediterranean style” stereo from Tucker’s furniture store. It left room for little else, including one’s feet.

It was even larger than the hulking “Early American” television in the adjacent den. (Question: Did all early Americans have a special weakness for enormous cabinetry? Or for spice cabinets, faux coffee grinders, wood salad bowls, spindles and chuck wagon lamps?)

Our stereo was so ungainly that when the house was burgled, the burglars cleaned out nearly everything but it.

Nowadays, foyers are so ubiquitous they are beneath mention in Triad real estate listings.

“If you go back to the Medieval period you would enter into a large multipurpose room . . . with cooking happening, and sewing in the corner,” says Briggs. 

Upon entry, you were inside the very life of the family.

“You’re plunging into the deep end of the swimming pool,” he says with a laugh. “No privacy. All of life is happening in this one, big, hall room.”

Nowadays, nothing much is happening in the entry hall other than arrivals and departures. Here we take off jackets, shuck off shoes, stash umbrellas, hang our hats. It scarcely gets a notice. 

Bill Bryson described the hallway as the most “demoted room in the house” in At Home, his fascinating study of domesticity.

Early Triad settlers built single-room log cabins. Sometimes with a second room or loft. The historic houses on view behind the Greensboro History Museum demonstrate how ordinary folk lived — and there was certainly no entry hall, as Briggs says.

There was the “big square room with cooking fireplace and wonderful mayhem.”

But if you were somewhat middling to wealthy, adds Briggs, you built a floor plan — the Quaker plan — which became the subject of his graduate thesis. Space evolved.

“If you catalog the floor plan,” he explains, it is thus.

“First a one-room house. Then, a parlor popped onto the side.” He says the parlor is where the owners not only slept but entertained visitors.

“The bed would have been one of the most expensive things anyone owned. When the minister made his rounds, he would be brought into the parlor and they would have tea. The consideration of privacy — that you would never bring anyone into your bedroom — would never have happened.” Briggs pauses thoughtfully. “As you can imagine, this is almost coming back (with open floor plans).”

Over time, a center hall appeared in homes. “Then, in the Victorian period, the organic plan [with rooms branching off].” He continues to discuss the Craftsman-style plan, whereas, once again, “you open into the living room.”

This no-entry hall trend continued in mid-century modern design. But in the 1800s, a Georgian-period trend toward hallways found its way here into the Triad. Notably, at Blandwood, Governor John Motley and Eliza Morehead’s mansion in downtown Greensboro.

In 1845, Morehead returned to Blandwood at the end of his term. At the time, it featured an entry hall designed five years earlier by A. J. Davis. 

The Governor and Eliza could now order visitors to wait in the hall. And housekeeping got a boon.

“You kept the mud and dung from the streets of Greensboro out and it was easier to clean,” Briggs adds.

The entry achieved something even more important: a way of presenting yourself to the wider world. A screen.

“As the French described, a controlled presentation of your life,” observes Briggs. “Maybe not allowing people to come into your life, but to make a judgement of your life based upon your ‘controlled’ goods.” 

Controlled goods, meaning, displays of wealth and status. These varied.  “Perhaps an expensive wall paint color, a carpet, a piece of furniture.”

Blandwood’s decor, including the new entry hall, grew worldlier, more classical. Those Morehead portraits bespoke social standing.

British designers still insist that one should consider the entry hall as more than a passage from one space to another. (First impressions, and all that.) British magazines and Pinterest devote much editorial to hallway inspirations.

The British entry hall has a theme, often poshly appointed with rugs, mirrors, table, bench, portraits. Even the tiniest Notting Hill entry hall.

Beloved Farrow & Ball paint (especially the vivid green color “Folly”, which evokes that playful yet classical sense of well-heeled European aristos) jollies up what could otherwise be a purely functional, even glum, place. 

Personally speaking, I’m clinging to the idea of an entry hall. It may not live up to the French or British standard, but it keeps the dogs from rushing the UPS driver. And mud and dung outside.

This year, I vow to show ours more love. OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine.

O.Henry Ending

The Happy Hour

On the balcony, overlooking the water’s edge, hope and friendship grow


By Cynthia Adams

On recent coastal trips, we’ve noticed a complete turnover of residents in our community, which is populated by an older demographic.

Among first friends here, Chuck and Judy were our “balcony buddies.” We loved to sit on our adjacent balcony, batting away no-see-ums and hoping a dolphin might breach in the “Ditch,” — Chuck’s name for the Intracoastal Waterway. 

We chatted across the small distance, swapping stories and admiring the blooms that would spill from Chuck’s planters and pots. Chuck used to own a nursery.  Whereas he was understated and reserved, Judy was spunky, joyful — a vivid petunia. Yet her memory was slipping.

So Chuck had become her memory-keeper.

Last year, as the plants on their balcony began to vanish, we realized we hadn’t seen the couple for months.

We sent a message to their son, who told us that Judy was in a facility, and that Chuck was usually there with her.

Not long after this, we witnessed Chuck total his sedan while parking, a lapse in judgment that shook him to the core. I kept an arm around his shoulder as we waited for the medics. Deeply embarrassed by the accident and his injuries, Chuck could barely speak.

“Judy,” he whispered tremulously, “has dementia.”

His body began to shake.

“I don’t want to lose my license,” he added. “I go to visit Judy, you see.”

Soon after his accident, Chuck suffered additional issues requiring long term care.

We were thrilled to discover he was back home by summer, even riding out hurricane Isaias with a shrug. He made daily rounds at the condo, using a walker to tread the walkways, determined to regain his strength. 

And one day, he reappeared on his balcony with a glass of wine, silently staring at the water as a lonely sailboat clipped by.

I called over, suggesting we grab our wine glasses and share a COVID-era happy hour.

Chuck shook himself out of a reverie and nodded. The wind whipped our voices.

His, which had grown fainter, was sometimes indiscernible. 

No matter. We raised our glasses, and I managed an awkward toast:

“To friends we will always remember and times we’d like to forget.”

Chuck offered a wan smile, and we talked about sundry things as the sun dropped, the muddled corals on the horizon growing fantastical over the marshlands. A white egret grew visible in the transformative contrast of darkness and light.

He talked about Judy and his intro to FaceTime. We commented on the new set of wheels in his parking space. “An old man’s car,” Chuck said with a grin. But at least he can drive to see Judy once a week. During the pandemic, he told us, they’re only allowed half-hour visits.

As we chatted over the wind, dusk falling, the white egret grew nearly impossible to follow in the marsh grasses.

Tomorrow again?

At this, Chuck smiled broadly.

The next afternoon, despite Chuck’s hardships, a single green plant appeared on his wrought iron table. Would more follow? I wondered, draining my glass. 

With flickering hopefulness, I scanned the water’s edge as the light dimmed, searching for a talisman in the darkening space. The egret, always alone, would no doubt reappear.  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry.

Illustration By Harry Blair

January Almanac 2021

By Ashley Wahl

Flat lay natural light green snap peas isolated on white background pattern

January cold guides us inward. You find yourself studying your hands, quietly tracing the lines of your palms when, suddenly, there is movement in the periphery. A flash — and then nothing.

The mouse is back. How he gets inside you’ll never know. And yet, the mystery keeps you smiling, keeps you guessing. You catch and release him into the yard

again, and as he scurries off, heart pounding like a tiny hammer, you wait for him to turn around, maybe wink his beady eye as if to say see you ’round.

Here we are again, January. By some miracle we’ve made it. And just like the mouse, we carry with us new stories, new wisdom from our journey.

This is a time for planning and dreaming.

You order seeds.

Next month, when the first of the daffodils burst through the soil in rapturous glory, you’ll sow sugar snaps and snow peas, carrots and parsnips, lettuce and spinach, maybe mustard seeds. But for now, you’re back to quiet contemplation, thoughtfully observing the lines on the back of your hands. The etchings and wrinkles begin to resemble the rings of a tree. There are stories here, you think. Lessons in each tiny groove.

And out of the blue, Aesop’s Fables pops into your mind.

“The Ants & the Grasshopper”: There’s a time for work and a time for play.

“The Crow & the Pitcher”: In a pinch a good use of our wits may help us out.

“The Lion & the Mouse”: A kindness is never wasted.

You think of that crafty house mouse, smiling at his persistence and how you’re not so different from him. Your needs are the same: food, shelter and warmth. No doubt you both dream of the tender kiss of spring. And like the mouse, you, too, rely on a kindly universe to smile upon you, to gently guide you along your journey, granting you stories and wisdom for your future travels.

January is a year of lessons in the making. Notice the creatures, great and small, that remind us how to live. And remember: you are one of them.










Winter Blooms

Nature always gives us what we need. And in the dead of winter, when the bleakness of the landscape nearly becomes too much to bear, she gives us flowers.

Prunus mume, commonly known as flowering apricot, blooms in January. Its delicate, fragrant flowers — pink, red or white — ornament naked branches much like the cherry blossoms of official spring. Amazingly, this small, ornamental fruit tree was virtually unknown in the United States prior to the spirited efforts of the late Dr. J.C. Raulston, beloved horticulturist and founder of the nationally acclaimed arboretum at N.C.S.U. Raulston devoted his life to growing and sharing rare and spectacular plants, P. mume among them. This month, when its vibrant flowers offer their spicy aroma and the promise of spring, surely, whisper, thank you.


Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’ . . .

— Alfred Lord Tennyson 


Looking Out, Looking Up

How will your garden grow? Per Aesop’s “Ants & the Grasshopper” fable, now’s a good time to plan ahead. This month, order quality seeds and map out a planting calendar for year-round harvest. Sure, it will take a bit of work. The ants know something about that. But educating yourself on what to plant and when is a game changer. And when you’re harvesting fresh veggies from your backyard spring through winter, no doubt you’ll be singing like a grasshopper in June. 

But while you’re planning, don’t forget to look up. Although a waning gibbous moon will try to outshine it, the Quadrantid meteor shower will peak on Sunday, January 3, from 2 a.m. until dawn. The first new moon of the New Year lands on Wednesday, January 13. Consider this cosmic reset a good time to set intentions and launch into a new project. Through darkness comes light.

Progressively Fresh

How one Greensboro couple went room to room with interior improvements

By Maria Johnson     Photographs by Joey Seawell


Recent retirees Marnie and Jim Fenley wanted a designer’s help with upgrading the two upstairs bathrooms in their Sunset Hills home.

Two bathrooms. That was it.


Of course, it’s easy to guffaw now, a year and a half later, considering that most of the couple’s home has been redecorated and everyone is giddy about the outcome.

It happened so naturally, and relatively painlessly, that no one seemed to mind the mission creep, which started, really, with a squirt of envy.

It seems that Marnie’s dear friend, Catherine Harrill, who lives in a Fountain Manor condo (that was featured in this magazine in April 2019) had her digs transformed by the principals at VIVID Interiors, Gina Hicks and Laura Mensch.

Marnie loved the result, and she wanted what Catherine had, only in her own home, with her own stuff and in her own style, which, truth be told, is pretty much Catherine’s style, too.

To wit: Marnie and Jim bought a distinctive turquoise patio chair at The Red Collection consignment shop. Catherine came to visit.

“That’s my chair!” Catherine exclaimed, as if she were laying claim to the curio.

Marnie: “No, it’s not. It’s mine!”

Catherine: “No, I mean I took it to The Red Collection.”

You get the idea.

So Marnie and Jim invited designers Hicks and Mensch — whose names cry out for a Netflix detective series — to their home, a very beige, very boxy, very buttoned-down 1950s residence that’s distinguished on the outside by a Mars-red front door and, come summer, fiery pots of matching geraniums that flare around the magnolia-studded yard inside an iron fence.

Like a splashy tie and pocket square, it’s an exterior ensemble that says, “fun in socially acceptable ways.”

But step inside the home, and whoa Nelly. You’re hit full force by a carnival of colors and styles, a place where funky dances with formal, and prim converses with primitive, and somehow all of those adjectives get along fine.

The profusion of art, especially on the walls, is warm and welcoming to all stripes of expression. The message: Don’t take yourself so seriously.

“See that deer?” says Jim, nodding to a paisley stag’s head over a kitchen door. “I shot it in a fabric store.”

The couple’s playfulness is infectious.

“The first time we went in, we were like, ‘Wow! We want to be like them when we grow up,’” says Gina Hicks. “They have great art and a great spirit, and they definitely have a Bohemian, eclectic style.”

Marnie returns the compliment: “They got us. They completely got us, and they didn’t pressure us.”

But back to “the project.”

Each upstairs bathroom was mid-century small and situated on the main hallway. After the Fenleys’ daughters, Isabel and Jennifer, grew-and-flew the nest, Jim and Marnie used the spaces as his-and-hers dressing rooms; the master bedroom had no en suite plumbing.

By the time they hired VIVID, the Fenleys already had embarked on updating the facilities with new flooring, vanities and tiled showers enclosed by frameless glass.

They wanted help with wallpaper, fixtures, cabinet hardware and lighting.

Hicks and Mensch didn’t hold back. For Marnie’s bathroom, they prescribed bold botanical wallpaper (starring split leaf philodendron, a.k.a., Swiss cheese plant, for the flora-driven) and sleek brushed gold fixtures, hardware and lighting. Using computer-assisted design, they rolled the ceiling with avocado paint.

The overall effect: clean and green.

They gave Jim’s space the geometric treatment, covering the walls with black-and-gold-foil hexagonal wallpaper. Lighting, hardware and accents repeated the color scheme.

The Fenleys were thrilled with the fancy baths.

“We felt like we were in a hotel,” says Marnie.

Mission accomplished. Right?


“We decided we wanted something a little different in the bedroom,” says Marnie.

Playing off a riotous batik-style bedspread that Marnie got at Anthropologie, Hicks and Mensch papered over the faux-painted walls with a peach-tinged material that resembles grasscloth but is actually woven from slender tubes of paper.

To dress the bed, they added a tall headboard, covered with nubby, cream-colored fabric, and framed the space with white, teardrop lamps atop new mid-century style nightstands.

Much to the Fenleys’ delight, the VIVID women incorporated many of the couple’s love-worn pieces: an Oriental rug, an old desk, some green leather chairs, a bureau and dresser, and a remarkable combo clinging to the wall over the dresser: an oval mirror with a frame resembling a white gear cog, and on each side of the looking glass, a white goose that appears to be coming in for a landing, webbed feet outstretched.

“Gina and Laura said, ‘What the hell. They look good. Keep ‘em,’” recalls Marnie, who appreciated the pair’s conservation of furnishings for sentimental and monetary reasons.

Everyone raved about the bedroom.

The Fenleys were done. Yes?

“Fortunately or unfortunately, once you start, it’s hard to stop when you’re trying to perk things up after 35 years,” Marnie explains.

It was true; the upstairs office looked awfully office-y, despite an abbreviated yoga wall complete with metal plates and a padded belt that Marnie and Jim use to stretch their cranky backs.

Marnie demonstrates, using the belt to flip upside down mid-sentence.

“It just feels good,” narrates Jim.

Team VIVID went with the hanging-from-the-trees vibe, tipping the room more toward safari than spreadsheet. For the office walls, they pulled in the same avocado paint used on the ceiling of Marnie’s bathroom. They quite literally dragged down two leopard-print side chairs from the attic. Never mind that the Fenleys’ own tiger, their late orange tabby, a ruffian named Bob, had clawed the upholstery on the back of one chair. The shredded fabric would stay. This was a safari, dammit.

The VIVID gals also brought down a brass and copper burro head that Marnie’Ms mother, Isabel, had bought in Mexico when Marnie’s dad, Jack, went there on textiles business a half-century ago. The zebra-striped lamp on the computer desk would stay. The bookcases would continue to shelter a papier-mâché bear, as well as a crazy cat head crafted by Marnie’s former sister-in-law, Mitzi Fancourt, who gave it as a birthday gift.

“It’s a lion. I’m a Leo,” says Marnie.

Jim, who built the wall-mounted bookcases in the office, reprised another improvement; he repainted the wooden floor with a black checkerboard design he’d brushed on years ago.

“You have to tape, and re-tape and tape again,” he says. “It’s not easy, but it looks good.”

With that, the upstairs was finished.

The End?

“We were like, ‘Well, let’s walk down to the living room,’” says Marnie.

The living room, the Fenleys agreed, needed some attention. But it had great anchors, chiefly a yellow leather sofa that came from Marnie’s mother’s home in Sedgefield. Her mom’s portrait, in profile, hangs across from the tufted sofa. Isabel is a knockout. So is her couch. Visually speaking.

Practically speaking . . .

“It’s the kind of couch you sit on and slide off,” says Marnie.

“We really need to put Velcro on it,” says Jim.

“People do sit on it. It’s just not a place you want to spend a lotta, lotta time,” Marnie explains.

However, the seat makes a great gallery for pillows, one of Marnie’s weaknesses. A shopping trip to High Point’s furniture market netted a fuzzy, blue number that recalls the texture of the Fenleys’ beloved standard poodles.

As counterpoint to the sofa, Jim picked a fuchsia rug, and the couple bagged a cherry-colored wall hanging populated by camels, horses and men in turbans.

They also bought two new club chairs and had them covered with floral fabric in tempo with the room’s bouncy melody of fuchsia, blue and amber.

They calmed the ferment by hanging long, white drapery panels from high-mounted rods, by keeping the sea foam walls, and by extending the cool paint color to the fireplace mantle and surround.

The mantle decorations are pure Fenley: a gilt-trimmed mirror; a bonsai-like vase and branches; and a frilly-framed, acrylic painting depicting a steer skull and owl figure. The painting was made by their New York-based niece, Anna Fancourt, who comes by her artistic chops honestly. Her mother, Mitzi, made the lion head in the upstairs office. Anna’s father, Walter Fancourt — who is Marnie’s brother — is an artist, as well as former co-owner of Liberty Oak restaurant and former chef at Maria’s gourmet deli and catering shop.

“I buy everyone’s artwork in the family,” says Marnie, who expresses her genes in the arrangement of art and in her willingness to take visual chances.

That’s why no one was surprised when she said OK to covering the ceiling of the dining room — did we mention that the VIVID crew moved on to the dining room next? — with a black and white wallpaper that Marnie describes as “Dalmatian spots.”

Neither did it surprise anyone to know that Marnie and Jim — “I just shook my head ‘yes,’” Jim says — allowed the figurative Dalmatian to run off-leash, peppering the walls of the adjoining kitchen and keeping room, a compact living area clipped to the kitchen.

The outbreak of spots seemed to have been pre-ordained, says VIVID’s Hicks. After the wallpaper was up, everyone noticed that the flecks matched the shirt of a woman depicted in a painting in the keeping room. Also, the inky dabs were the reverse image of white flakes in another painting the Fenleys owned: a dog in a snow storm. They brought the dog in from the cold, transplanting him from the home’s main stairwell to the sunny nook.

And then, finally, the Fenleys stopped.

Faked you out.

They did one more room: the den.

“The transformation in this room is probably the greatest,” says Jim.

“It’s where we live,” says Marnie.

The couple replaced their saggy thrones with contemporary swiveling winged chairs and ottomans — all done in plush periwinkle — along with fresh pillows. They ditched dingy grasscloth for walls the color of spicy mustard.

The backdrop highlights treasures acquired over 36 years of marriage: an elaborately carved oak buffet that came from Jim’s great aunt Sally; an epoxy covered, Picasso-like painting that was bought at a Lindley Park art fair and later framed by blue window shutters; a novelty lamp with Japanese figures resembling Kewpie dolls, camped under a telescoping red metal shade.

More unconventional light emanates from an oil painting of a clown looking wistfully toward a blue sky, a gift from the Fenleys’ friend, Dan Stoner.

“Everybody says it’s scary, but I love the colors,” says Marnie.

“He had a fear of clowns, and he was working through it,” says Jim, 72, who understands that healing is a process. In 2015, he retired as clinical director of Fellowship Hall, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Greensboro.

Marnie, also 72, has a background in counseling. And catering. And creating a home from what started — in 1984, when they bought it— as a fairly bare stage on which their lives would play out. Over time, the Fenleys dressed the home with unique sets and props.

“When I think about how it started out, it has morphed and morphed and morphed into something we really love. It’s like we’ve been able to fulfill it,” Marnie says.

“When I look at old photographs, it’s pretty amazing how it’s grown and changed,” Jim adds.

Marnie summarizes: “Jim says he’s dying here. We’re going to stay as long as we possibly can.”

Refreshing their home in stages, expanding the scope and paying as they went — a typical experience, according to designers Hicks and Mensch — was much less daunting than plunging into a complete overhaul from the beginning.

“I think that’s the only way I got it past Jim,” says Marnie, laughing. “Otherwise, it would have been a nonstarter.”

Jim acknowledges this fact with a smile.

Marnie says their daughters prefer more monotone interiors, but granddaughter Jacquelyn values their juicy aesthetic.

“I told her, when your grandfather and grandmother die, you’d better get over here, and get what you want as fast as you can,” says Marnie.  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. She can be reached at ohenrymaria@gmail.com.



Photographs contributed by Vivid Interiors

What We’re Made Of

While researching her own family narrative, author Shonda Buchanan uncovers pieces of a story that belong to all of us

By Virginia Holman     Photograph by Nathalie Gordon


“Where do you come from?”

This was the question that professor Shonda Buchanan, author of the memoir Black Indian, was asked when she was a child. As she became an adult, the question grew larger. It’s the question she thinks about “when I look at the multitude of shades in my beautiful family, and in America.”

Born in Michigan, Shonda Buchanan’s multiracial heritage was something she always knew about, but only partially. “I’m African American with Native American ancestry, and I identify as Black Indian,” though she also notes that some may use the term Afro-Native.

“My mother often told me that the family was Native American, White and Black. Yet she could never tell me who those Native American members were; she didn’t know the tribes of our ancestors. That information was just gone.”

As Buchanan became aware of the gaps and erasures in her family history, she decided to find out what and who had vanished from the family narrative. When she taught at Hampton University and the College of William & Mary, she began researching her heritage. Eventually, she was able to trace her ancestors’ journey from Eastern North Carolina (Sampson County) to Virginia, and then into Indiana and Michigan.

Buchanan says that even though she did a lot of archival research, she doesn’t consider herself a historian.

“I consider myself a storyteller,” she offers. “I’ve spent a lot of time not just in libraries but also talking with people and unearthing these stories.”

Her goal as a storyteller has been to make sense of her family’s oral history, genealogy and DNA-based ancestry.

Some of the family stories she recounts in her memoir are complicated and painful. There are accounts of violence, discrimination and self-loathing. But there are also stories of joy and awakening, of a girl who grows up and into an artist who is able to tell a complicated family history. “My family lost language, lost culture, lost ancestors’ names,” Buchanan says, some of which can never be recovered.

Even so, what she did discover has led her to honor and celebrate traditions that lay outside of her upbringing, if not outside of her blood. And as Buchanan learned more about her ancestors, she began participating in Native American customs in order to more fully understand this part of her heritage. It’s been a challenging journey. Here she treads respectfully but never shies away from issues of origins, race and identity in America. In essence, she asks again and again, “Who am I? Who are you? Who are we?” As she dances in powwows and visits sweat lodges to connect to this part of her ancestry, she finds she always asks herself, “Am I doing it right?”

Buchanan’s memoir also delves into some of the ugly policies that shaped how people were classified in the United States, in particular the legacy of Walter Plecker, whose views on race resulted in “one-drop” policies and antimiscegenation laws that outlawed interracial marriage. These policies, she writes, are part of the reason her family history vanished — even as she and her family flourished and grew. “I was a cartography lesson,” she writes. “I was the geography of the intersection of enslaved Africans, Eastern shore American Indians, indentured White servants; their journey was on my face. I was the seed of a memory my grandparents wanted to erase.”

Buchanan’s story resonates because of her willingness to engage in historical reckoning, her struggle with her painful family history and her desire to claim her whole self publicly. At one of her first sweat lodge experiences, she sings a West African song and then a Native American song to honor both of those parts of her identity. This is the story’s strength — whether Buchanan is at a sweat lodge or powwow, at the “door of no return” in Senegal or on the doorstep of her relative’s home — it is the author’s openness and willingness to work and struggle toward a greater understanding of identity, of humanity.

She says that her memoir’s true purpose is instructive. “I’m always asking myself: How can I talk to people about this? How can I educate?” Writing Black Indian has allowed her to uncover traditions and culture that her family lost. The book, like its author, defies easy categorization, which is to say that it achieves what the author envisioned, “to show that the stories I grew up with, the stories I uncovered, are part of the rich tapestry of America.”

After all, she says, quoting the author James Baldwin, “We are trapped in history and history is trapped in us.”

Learn more about Shonda Buchanan and Black Indian at

Author and creative writing instructor Virginia Holman lives and writes in Carolina Beach.

The Memory Keeper

A photographer’s journey through cameras

Story & Photographs by Mark Wagoner


Photographer Mark Wagoner’s origin story is one of seduction. In the early 1960s, when Mark was 4 or 5 years old, his older brother kept a darkroom in the basement of their home in Reidsville. The mystery of what went on behind that door ignited a curiosity within him that developed into full-blown obsession. He wanted in on the secret, the alchemy, the magic. Hence, as soon as his father would let him hold the family’s Kodak Brownie, Wagoner began exploring life through the lens of a camera and never stopped. A career photographer for over four decades, Wagoner has maintained an assemblage of cameras that rivals a Kardashian shoe closet. And as he’s pared them down, the process has revealed a trove of sacred memories. Imagine rock legend Bob Weir handling his most precious guitars, recalling where he played them, who was with him, what he loves about their shapes and sounds. Wagoner blushes at the comparison but admits that the sentiment he feels is apt: “I feel an emotional attachment when I hold these cameras,” he says, “but whether it’s an external energy or an energy that the object inspires, I can’t say.” Here, in his own words, are the memories that each of his cameras evokes. 

– Ashley Wahl




This is the camera that belonged to my family when I was a child. I used to try and take “serious” photos with it, like portraits of my family and photographs of trees. Recently, while looking back at some of these old pictures, I could trace a fairly straight line from where I am now to who I was then as a photographer. One such photo is of a park sign on a snowy playground. Look closer and see that the sign has been pelted by snowballs. This glimpse into my younger self reveals my earliest exploration of visual jokes and play, which have long fascinated me.



When I was on the Yearbook staff at Reidsville Senior High from 1972 until 1975, we spent so much time in the darkroom that we had our own key to the school. This old press camera was given to me by my high school principal. It belonged to the school and had essentially been collecting dust since the 1950s. Since it shot a weird film size that wasn’t readily available — 3.25 x 4.25 — I would take 4 x 5 film into the darkroom and cut it down with a paper cutter. I used this Graphlex in high school and college until I had my own view camera, but I continued using this lens for years.




I was 10 years old when my parents gave me my very first camera. We were driving to Elks Camp for Boys in Western North Carolina, so of course I brought it with me. During those two full weeks at camp, I probably shot one roll of film — that’s it. But when you put a bunch of 10-year-old boys in a cabin together, you end up learning lots of different things.



Dad’s Voightlander

This camera is particularly special to me and always has been. It was purchased by my father, Raymond Wagoner — in Italy, I think — during WWII. I still have a lot of the pictures he took with it when he was in Europe. Pictures of the guys clowning around in their uniforms; one image of them posing beside a bombed-out Jeep.


Canon F-1

When I was in college, most people had Nikons. But I was drawn to Canons. After taking basic photo classes with my $12 Yashica, my dad bought me this Canon in 1976 — my first professional camera. The F-1 was my main 35mm camera for probably 20 years. I’ve taken them all over the world, including the Great Wall of China.



For years, this classic Hasselblad was the camera of choice for many professionals. I used one at multiple jobs throughout my career, including an 18-month assignment in Saudi Arabia in my 20s that opened up my world. I wound up with a digital version around 2010.


Kodak Brownie 8mm Movie Camera

Yep, this was the family camera I used to shoot my very first movies. Things like my brother on his mini bike, jumping over obstacles. I’m lying on the ground, of course, looking for the most dramatic camera angle I can find. 


Polaroid SX-70

In the early 1980s, when I lived in Saudi Arabia on an assignment with The Parsons Company, an engineering firm from California, the photo department had access to what was essentially an unlimited supply of film for it, likely from some kind of restocking blunder. Everyone in the photo department bought one of these cameras. We must have taken thousands of photos with them. Imagine . . . a bunch of bored, fairly youngish guys with nothing to do. I mean, thousands of photos. I kept a collection of the best of the best: pictures from our scuba diving excursions, our drives through the desert, dudes in shorts smoking chicken on the patio. 


The Blank Canvas

Three local artists share their radiant visions of hope for the New Year

By Ashley Wahl     Photographs by Bert VanderVeen


Our thoughts create our reality.   

Mystics and writers have long explored this simple yet radical notion, borrowing wisdom from nearly every ancient culture.

I’d like to think there’s some truth to it.

From the late 1930s until his death in 1972, New Thought philosopher Neville Goddard taught that imagination and faith are the secrets of creation. “Be careful of your moods and feelings,” he wrote, “for there is an unbroken connection between your feelings and your visible world.”

In the late ’70s, New Age author Shakti Gawain said as much in her bestselling book Creative Visualization, defining imagination as “the creative energy of the universe.”

Oprah brought this metaphysical concept to the masses in 2006 when she plugged The Secret on her show, praising Rhonda Byrne’s “life-changing” book and documentary film for bringing to light the Law of Attraction, aka the spiritual principle that like attracts like.

“Quantum physicists tell us that the entire Universe emerged from thought,” writes Byrne.

Although critics have rejected this claim, arguing that “the secret” has no scientific foundation, it certainly has a following.

Perhaps it’s difficult to certify that our thoughts hold the power to change our world, but consider the studies conducted by Japanese researcher Masaru Emoto, who claimed that our consciousness could alter the molecular structure of water and had the photos to prove it.

Human beings are largely made of water.

Ditto Planet Earth.

And so, if only for the sake of our own pleasure, let us imagine that this maxim holds true — that our thoughts and intentions can change us and therefore our reality.

In this spirit of optimism and imagination, O.Henry’s editors began looking at 2021 as a literal blank canvas, asking ourselves how we might wish to see it — what colors and textures we might add, and what space we might leave for positive changes.   

Then, just for fun, we reached out to three wildly talented local artists — Krystal Hart, Jessica Yelverton and Beka Butts — to see if they might play along, sharing with us their very real, deeply heartfelt “visions of hope” for the new year.

You might treat this as a dream board kind of rendering, we suggested. A vision you might create in a spacious morning.

The artists floored us with three refreshing and exclusive visual responses, which they graciously agreed to share in the pages of O.Henry.

We hope that their art might inspire you, dear reader. And if this new year looks or feels anything like their visions — soft, dreamy and full of hope — then things are looking up.


Krystal Hart

Krystal Hart is a North Carolina native whose work bridges cultures and communities by exploring our shared human condition. Her mission is to shift perspectives toward restoration and regeneration. Through abstraction, Hart navigates boundaries and space within the human experience. She communicates through painting, collage, audio and moving image. Inspired by Nihonga, an early 20th century style of traditional Japanese painting, Hart uses precious natural and synthetic materials that are subjected to trauma. These works of art express emotive color fields that balance tumult with delicacy.

Artist’s Statement: The green and blue hues in my vision invoke feelings of new life and fresh perspectives. The dark shapes represent the recent past: systems and situations that we are still trying to make sense of. And the bright pops of color and geometric shapes remind me of a child’s building blocks — symbols of hope for a bold and playful reality that we are all invited to co-create. Imagine in 2021 not taking ourselves — or even our recent past — too seriously. Imagine assuming a jovial attitude, regardless of circumstances. Imagine our wonder for goodness and beauty restored. I see thoughtful, honest and careful steps forward. May our reflections looking back at 2020 lead us to surprising innovation and new ways of seeing and being. May we be more careful with ourselves and others — more kind. May we seek and discover the loveliness within each moment. And may we be confident, sober and courageous in our thoughts and actions. 

Media: Natural minerals, pigments, white charcoal, graphite powder, sumi and walnut ink, silver leaf, tulle, cheese cloth, colored pencil, twine fibers and mitsumata paper on kumohadamashi paper mounted on wood panel, 30 x 40 inches

Read more about Krystal Hart in the Winter 2020 issue of Seasons Style + Design and at her website, www.krystalhart.com.

Essentially, Child’s Play. 2021


Jessica Yelverton

Jessica Yelverton, aka HighBrow Hippie, is a Greensboro artist who draws inspiration straight from nature and translates it into landscapes, seascapes and botanically-themed paintings, primarily in watercolor. Endlessly fascinated by the juxtaposition of control and chaos that watercolor allows, Yelverton describes the creative process of setting pigment free as one of her favorite phenomena on the planet. Watercolor, the artist says, demonstrates thoughtfulness, grace, graciousness and trust — all the traits she hopes to reflect through her life and artwork. 

Artist’s statement: Several months ago, I learned somewhere — probably on a podcast — that plants communicate with one another. They do this through intricate root systems underground; partially their own, partially with help from the threadlike roots of fungi. This seemed almost unbelievable to me — plants and mushrooms as conscious entities! But they do indeed talk, and not only to their own kind, but across species. Plants communicate about everything from nutrients to water levels, from sunlight to pest protection. They also share resources with one another. If a tree in the forest is attacked by a predator, for example, information spreads beneath the forest floor. Defenses are put into place, and nutrients from surrounding trees flow to aid the one in need. What if we take our cue from plants as we enter 2021? What if we recognize that we don’t have to be homogenous in our thinking to successfully communicate and support one another? We are varied, yes, but what if we saw our differences as our collective strength? No one wants a forest or a garden with only one species. Variety is what makes life together beautiful. Communication is what makes it work.

Media: Pencil and watercolor on paper, 12 x 12 inches

Read more about Jessica Yelverton in the Winter 2020 issue of Seasons Style + Design and at her website, www.highbrowhippiestudio.com.

Varied, Rooted & Whole, 2021



Beka Butts

Beka Butts is a Greensboro illustrator, artist and maker dedicated to contributing to the growth and vibrancy of the Triad’s art scene. Born on the Border in El Paso, Texas, Butts explores social issues through a lens of Hispanic folk art and defines her work as a mix of Chicano and Southern influences. Drawing inspiration from nature, the artist employs intricate patterns and detail while creating everything from large-scale murals to tiny works of wood-burned jewelry.

Artist’s Statement: What do I see — and hope for — in 2021? People taking care of each other. To me, this means supporting local restaurants, artists and makers who are struggling, tipping generously, buying handmade, wearing masks, being kind to others and ourselves, being as safe as possible, and being conscious of every healthcare worker who keeps showing up, day after day, throughout this pandemic. I want to see us taking care of our teachers and the parents who have become teachers, too. Let us take care of our community, especially those who are most vulnerable. Keep checking on our family and friends. Send the text message, the video, the letter, the gift — let’s remind each other that we’re not alone.

Find Beka Butts’ handmade jewelry at the locally curated Hudson’s Hill in Greensboro and explore more of her artwork on social media @Bbutts_illustration or facebook.com/BekaButtsIllustrator.

We Take Care of Each Other, 2021



Poem January 2021

What It Was about that First Marriage

The floors were fine. Gorgeous,

in fact. Blond as sunshine, clean,

polished, alive with the kind of promise

we had dreamed. But oh those two

mismatched tables. Same height,

so we kept trying to line them up

as if they were a unit. One was maple,

right out of somebody’s 1950s Nebraska kitchen, with a scalloped leaf that folded down,

though it was years before we saw it

for what it was. The other, streamlined,

sleek. Once we tried pushing them together

and covering both with a patterned cloth, though dinner guests kept banging their knees. When I look back, I’m amazed

we didn’t toss it, haul it to the curb.

But, no, we struggled for years

to make it work, painting,

and painting again, turning it sideways.

— Dannye Romine Powell