The Bear Facts

By Maria Johnson

You’d be amazed at the walk-ins we get here at the O.Henry office on Banking Street. We get people wanting to talk to Astrid Stellanova about her horoscopes; people wanting to see the editor of Our State magazine (?!); people wanting to mail a first-class package (we’re next to The Pack-N-Post). Mostly, we get people who want to pitch story ideas, which is great. Recently, there was a thud at the door, followed by a low rumble. We figured it was someone wanting to know if he could park in our lot while he ate at the hot new burger joint around the corner. But when we opened the door, there was a black bear.

Here is a transcript of the conversation:

OH: Can I help you?

B: Do you mind if I come in?  It’s getting a little hot out here, if you know what I mean.

OH: Huh?

B: (Looking over shoulder): Animal control. They’ve been tailing me all day.

OH: Sure, come in. Can I get you something?

B: I know it’s trite, but do you have any honey?

OH: I don’t think so. How about some agave syrup?

B: Sure. I like to try new things. I ate at a Thai dumpster last night. Tore me up. The sriracha, I guess.

OH: (Handing over syrup) Here you go. How can we help you?

B: I want you to write a story.

OH: About . . . ?

B: People. Every year, when my bros and I ramble through here, we see more people. Where do all of these people come from?

OH: Oh, they migrate here from all over.

B: That’s what I hear — they follow the highways into town.

OH: Is that a problem?

B: It didn’t used to be, but this is getting crazy. This time of year, we see people all the time. Take this morning — I was nibbling berries by a creek. I looked up, and there was a pack of people. A den, whatever you call them.

OH: What were they doing?

B: Just staring at me. It was unnerving. I thought they might attack.

OH:  What did you do?

B: Whaddya, nuts? I froze. I thought about running, but then I remember that you humans love to chase things. So I walked away very slowly. No disrespect, but you never know what humans are going to do.

OH: Have you ever tried scaring people off by making some kind of noise? Maybe standing up to make yourself look bigger?
B: Are you kidding? You know what happens when young black males like me get assertive.

OH: Hmm. By the way, what are y’all doing in these parts?

B: (Winking). Oh, you know. Looking for honey. No luck so far.

OH: Guess not. The state wildlife people say that breeding females have been confirmed as close by as Forsyth and Stokes counties, but not in Guilford County. Not yet, anyway. If anyone has photos of a mama bear and cubs in the Piedmont, they’d like to see it.

B: Me, too.

OH: . . . Because if we have breeding females around here, we’re going to be seeing a lot more of you guys from May through July.

B: Got that right. But look, we don’t enjoy urban life. Here’s what happens: We young bears get driven out of our home ranges by the older, dominant males. We go looking for new ranges and new females, so naturally we cruise the creeks and rivers at night. We have a few too many acorns, lap up a little too much branch water, and boom! Come sunup, we’re in the city. Suddenly, we’re on TV. Whoa! And I’ll tell you something else, it’s happening more often.

OH: Yeah, well, the number of people in this area is growing, and your populations to the east and west of the Piedmont are growing, so we’re bound to intersect more often.

B: Makes me want to build a damn wall.

OH: You could try it, but I doubt it would work. Besides, you admit that once you’re in the city, you raid trash cans and birdfeeders. Heck, you even eat pet food.

B: Have you ever tried gluten-free dog food?

OH: No.

B: It’s not bad. Hey, if you don’t want me on your porch, don’t keep kibble or hot young sows there. Seriously, though, I don’t want to get all up in your grill . . . mmmm . . . grillll . . . Where was I? Oh, yeah, I don’t want to get all up in your business anymore than you want me to. This morning, before I left my thicket, I actually looked around for people. Can you imagine?

OH: So what made you think you’d be safe at O.Henry?

B: Didn’t you dress up like a bear to promote A Walk in the Woods for the library’s One City, One Book campaign last year?

OH: Uh, yeah.

B: (Pounds his heart with his paw).

OH: OK, here’s my advice. Mind your own business. Generally speaking, humans won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. Sooner or later, they’ll move on. Just be patient.

B: You sounds like a Berenstain.

OH: Sorry for moralizing. Just be cool.

B: Whatever. Can I ask you something?

OH: Sure.

B: Which way to that burger joint dumpster?

OH: You like cheeseburgers?

B: Do I go in the woods?  OH

O.Henry maintains an open-door policy, just BYO honey. To learn more about bears, go to If you have a picture of a female bear with cubs in the Piedmont, contact the district wildlife biologist at

Easter Still Rising

Depending on whom you ask, Robin Doby Easter is either one of the area’s most talented and acclaimed actresses or one of its most dynamic and powerful vocalists. Fortunately, hers is not a “never the twain shall meet” situation, for in truth she does both with equal aplomb and perfection.

“Seems I’m rehearsing for something all the time,” she says with a hearty laugh, “either with a band or for a musical or for a play. I’m definitely staying busy.”

Busy is an understatement. For starters, in May alone Easter performed twice at the Levitt AMP Greensboro Music Series at Barber Park — with a different ensemble each time. She is one of the Gate City Divas, a group composed of eight of Greensboro’s top-flight female vocalists, who just released an album, Goin’ to Town, and two weeks later, at the behest of pianist extraordinaire Dave Fox, sang with the Healing Blues Project. And while gearing up for those two shows, she was also rehearsing for a June 3 play at The Barn Dinner Theatre titled Miss Mary and the Boys  . . . before performing at City Market, Summertime Brews festival and with the Divas at the Greensboro Summer Solstice. And oh, yes, Easter just started a day job as a tour guide at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. And to top it all off, she is the proud mother of four boys, who’ve blessed her with eleven grandchildren.

Amidst all that, Easter’s primary gig is fronting her own band, Doby, a five-piece funk/soul/rock outfit that has been electrifying local and regional crowds since 2010. Prior to that, she was a member of the Stovepipes, a blues ensemble fronted by well-known guitarist David Bolton.

A Lynchburg, Virginia native who migrated to Greensboro to attend Bennett College, Easter’s initial pursuit was musical theater. Her credits include Dreamgirls, Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Raisin and The Color Purple. She then decided to try her hand at nonmusical drama, joining the Touring Theatre of North Carolina, under the tutelage of Brenda Schleunes.

“She believed in me enough to cast me as a Nazi in one play,” Easter discloses. “Now, that was a stretch.”

The highlight of the singer/actress’s career thus far was touring with the world premiere cast of Maya Angelou’s And Still I Rise.

“It was the best experience ever, and I got to know Maya quite well,” she says. “She treated all of us like family. One day she invited me into her study where she was writing a poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she read at President Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.”

This month, look for Easter and Doby on the road to Floyd Fest in Virginia on July 29 and 30, and will be back in the Triad at Winston-Salem’s Bull Tavern August 4 and on the stage at a MUSEP concert on August 14 at Bur-Mil Park.

Of her career path, Easter obviously has no regrets: “I did it for love and then started getting paid. God has given me some diamonds.”  OH

— Ogi Overman

Short Stories: July 2016

High Notes in High Point

Beat the Monday blahs with Sunday night blues — or bluegrass, folk, Latin and soul — with yet more free, outdoor music. Joining Greensboro’s MUSEP and Levitt AMP concert series is High Point Art Council’s Arts Splash 2016. On July 10 grab a lawn chair and your dancing shoes, for there’s likely to be shimmying and shaking in Commerce Street at the Mendenhall Transportation Terminal when The Legacy Motown Revue takes the stage for the inaugural performance. It’ll prime you for the rest of the season’s lineup that includes The Collection, the cover story for the September 2014 issue of O.Henry, but decidedly not a cover band; Big Ron Hunter; plus The Robertson Boys; and Don Flemons, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who winds up Arts Splash at the GTCC Amphitheatre on August 14. Info: (336) 889-2787 or

Glass Act

The colorful, translucent glass of Venice, Italy, appeals to just about everyone. And if you’re one of the world’s pre-eminent glass artists? Then expect the muse to strike — in a big way. That’s exactly what happened in 1988 when Dale Chihuly traveled to Venezia and on seeing its Art Deco vessels, decided to create his own sculptures with the help of two Venetian glass artisans. Bearing mythological creatures, cherubs and other themes related to the Queen of the Adriatic, the fantastical pieces are assembled in Chihuly’s Venetians: The George R. Stoemple Collection, which makes its only stop on the East Coast at the Alamance Arts Council (213 South Main Street, Graham) from July 1 through October 15. Info: (336) 226-4495 or

See You at the Movies

Escape the inferno outside for the cool, dark comfort of a movie theater at two film festivals playing in the Gate City throughout July and August. Starting on July 11 the Carolina Theatre’s annual Summer Film Fest delivers chills and thrills from Hitchcock’s Rope to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, as well as kitschy, campy popcorn flicks such as Blue Hawaii, Beach Blanket Bingo and Cry-Baby. Take the day off with Ferris Bueller, ride with The Duke’s posse in The Searchers or sing along with the Von Trapps in The Sound of Music. Tickets: (336) 333-2605 or For more high-minded — and free — fare, Greensboro Public Library’s Foreign Film Festival, (through August 30) takes you abroad to Ireland with Grassland, a family drama and 2015 Sundance award-winner; sets your heart afire with Austria’s Amour Fou; and ramps up the adventure quotient with Theeb, an Academy Award nominee from Jordan about a young tagalong in a Bedouin tribe. For a complete listing and screening locations:

Harry Plotter

If you’re having Game of Thrones withdrawal, binge on the Bard with Henry IV, Part I, with Drama Center’s Summer Shakespeare in the Park production at Gateway Gardens (2924 East Gate City Boulevard). Among the most popular in Shakespeare’s canon, “One Henry Four,” if you’ll recall, has an aging King Henry worried about advancing armies, an uncooperative and hot-headed ally, Hotspur, and his wastrel son Prince Harry, who loves to spend his days imbibing and wenching in taverns with his buddy Falstaff. Does the young prince have what it takes to be king? Find out July 28-–31. Tickets: (336) 335-6426 or


Release your inner Katniss Everdeen — or Robin Hood, or Cupid — at a series of archery clinics, courtesy of Greensboro Parks and Recreation. Held at Hester Park (3615 Deutzia Road) every first and third Thursday of July (the 7th and 23rd — and continuing through September), the two-hour sessions are open to anyone 8 years old on up, beginner or advanced. For a fee of $25, you’ll learn range safety and shooting techniques and how to size the equipment (which is provided, by the way). But don’t get too — heh — arrow-gant with that quiver and try any William Tell stuff: You could put someone’s eye out with that thing. To register: Call Remy Epps at (336) 373-3741.


Why fly down to Rio for games of hide-and-Zika when you can watch the USA Masters Games right here in the Gate City? From July 21–31, some 6,000 athletes age 21 and over, and hailing from around the globe, will compete in twenty-four different sports, including the usual suspects: baseball, basketball, cycling, soccer, tennis, golf, soccer, swimming, and track and field. There are the seasonal anomalies, too (figure skating and ice hockey, in July?), as well as the kinder, gentler activities — badminton, pickleball and functional fitness — for creakier joints. Competitions will take place throughout the city with the Greensboro Coliseum serving as hub central, replete with a Games Village. So come out and cheer on the competitors and boast that you’ve been to the Masters — without having to eat crummy pimento cheese sandwiches. Info:


Invented in Greensboro, everyone should know that Vicks VapoRub is a eucolyptus and camphor salve that still soothes bronchial symptoms under Procter & Gamble’s banner. Now you can see precisely where VapoRub started: the mortar and pestle that Lunsford Richardson used to mash up the first batch. Greensboro’s Anne Carlson, who’ll turn 90 this month, recently donated the hefty brass set to the Greensboro Historical Museum (, where it’ll be displayed in a case labeled, “This Just In,” before moving to a permanent exhibit. Museum director Carol Hart says the grinding device is an example of an object that wouldn’t bring much on eBay, for instance, but is priceless because of its historical significance to Greensboro. “It connects to a time when Greensboro was becoming what it is,” she says. Its provenance? One night in 1894, when Carlson’s mother-in-law, Laurinda Richardson Carlson, was sick as a child, her father ran down to his pharmacy on South Elm Street and crushed up the ingredients to be plastered on his little girl. Shazam! She got better overnight. Richardson named the concoction for his brother-in-law, Dr. Joshua Vick, sold the rub in small blue jars, and a national brand was born. A footnote: Four years before Richardson invented VapoRub, he and a business partner bought the drug store from F.A. Tate and W.C. Porter. Porter’s nephew William Sydney Porter had worked in the store and later became a writer under a different name: O.Henry.

Sauce of the Month

The label of A La Brava Hot Sauce wonders: “Are you brave enough to try it?” I was and found that this “Authentic Salsa Diabla” — first whipped up in Chihuahua, Mexico, by Mama Nana, the grandmother of Winston-Salem resident Marcos Medina — is, in fact, considerably hotter than Texas Pete. Its blistering bravado comes from a blend of chipotle and “rat’s tail” (arbol) chilies, giving it a really distinctive South-of-the-Border accent, with no sugar, gracias. You’ll find it on the shelves of Super G Mart, Compare Foods  or other, smaller tiendas. Bravissima! — DCB

Ogi Sez

Fourth of July fireworks are by no means the only way to light up your hot summer evenings. There are plenty of musical pyrotechnics on tap in and around the ’boro, so let’s light the fuse.

  • July 1, Blind Tiger: Americana music was invented for this band. Yarn encapsulates everything good about the nonmainstream genre: great harmonies, superb acoustic musicianship, music with a message and a good time on stage that transfers to the crowd.
  • July 6, Greensboro Coliseum: Given our demographics here, I debated whether or not to include this one. But since many of us have kids and grandkids, I opted to inform you that “The Biebs” is coming to town. And if you don’t know who that is, ask your kids and grandkids.
  • July 10, Doodad Farm: More often than not, I highlight national acts in this space, but three that ought to be — Molly McGinn, Sam Frazier and Jon Shain — will appear together in this lovely, rustic, outdoor venue. National caliber at local prices.
  • July 16, High Point Theatre: Greensboro’s favorite son for five decades, Billy “Crash” Craddock, who graced the cover of this fine publication not long ago, will headline this Country Jam. Also on the bill are the darlings of rockabilly, the Malpass Brothers, and up-and-coming crooner Michael Cosner.
  • July 16, Carolina Theatre: If Americana was made for the aforementioned Yarn, it’s only because Steve Earle invented it. The legendary Texas tunesmith is carrying on the tradition of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. Joining him will be frequent collaborator and star in her own right, Shawn Colvin.

Treasures From a Vanishing World

By Jim Dodson

Not long ago, while taking a back road home from the coast, I rounded a curve and saw a handsome old farmhouse sitting in an overgrown field, clearly abandoned, with wild roses claiming one end of its sagging porch.

Ignoring a rapidly approaching thunderstorm, I pulled off the road to sit and look at the house, wondering about the people who once called such a beautiful old place home. I saw birds — swifts or starlings, I think — flying in and out of its flower-wreathed porch and thought of a recent conversation with a friend who roams the rural landscape of this state salvaging architectural pieces and forgotten artifacts from abandoned houses and farms, everything from doorknobs to bathtubs, barn doors to family Bibles, broken gates to foundation stones.

He calls his finds “treasures from a vanishing world,”provocatively insisting that these ordinary objects and pieces of abandoned habitats not only bear the spiritual imprint of their former human associations, but also deep ancestral memories.

“You can see them everywhere,” he says, “old houses sitting off in the woods, barns abandoned to make way for housing developments or wider highways for a society that can’t get there fast enough.

“Such sights should haunt us,” he adds with the fervor of an evangelical preacher. “We’re throwing away our nation’s natural history, destroying our heritage piece by piece, forgetting who we are and where we come from. It’s a tragedy, something everyone who is truly patriotic ought to care about.”

He showed me a beautiful bell salvaged from an abandoned schoolhouse near the town I regularly pass through. The craftsmanship was superb.

“The schoolhouse was made from the finest red brick, built by real craftsmen in a time when that meant something special, pride of hand, probably from the early 1930s, the heart of the Great Depression. It had charming wooden windows and handmade doors and an actual cupola. You could almost hear the voices coming from that empty schoolhouse — the place where kids learned to read and do their multiplication tables, memorized the fifty states and Pledge of Allegiance and fell in love with a girl or boy seated near them. Today saplings are growing through the floor of that beautiful old building, the wind whistling through its busted-out windows.”

Like my friend Rick, I spend a lot of time driving the back roads of this state, looking at the land and noticing abandoned fields and places where someone once raised a family, birthed a child, waited for the passing of a loved one, or simply sat on a summer porch snapping beans in the long summer dusk the way my grandmother Taylor loved to do.

My reverence for small-town values and winding back roads — the slow way home, as I call it — is unapologetically romantic and lately seems almost as endangered as Rick’s old schoolhouse bell, somehow connected to the soul of our collective patriotism.

What we worship, a wise man once told me sitting on his sagging porch in Vermont, we become. (But more on him in a slow lane moment.)

Every road I travel nowadays seems to be in a state of constant construction, half-built and ever widening to obliterate nature and anything that happens to be in in its path, reminding me of my own vanished heritage.

Four generations back the patriarch of my family operated a vital gristmill on the banks of the Haw River and worked as a contract surveyor for the state, plotting out the boundaries of several central counties just after the Civil War. This man somehow found time to also serve as an itinerate Methodist preacher traveling from one rural parish to another, Piedmont to western hills, preaching the Gospel.

One winter afternoon a few years ago, my wife and I found George Washington Tate’s headstone in the burying ground of a small Alamance County church. It was simple, dignified, garnished only by moss and time. He and his wife lay side by side.

It would have pleased me to show my Yankee wife the remains of G.W. Tate’s once thriving gristmill on the banks of the Haw, but it was no longer there or simply hidden from view.

As a kid, I saw it several times and even fished from the stones of its original millrace, feeling as connected to that place as if it were consecrated earth. Today, you cannot find this spot because the Interstate was doubled in size two decades ago, swallowing my great-great-grandfather’s gristmill whole.

As I sat on the shoulder of the roadside feeling the wind rise from the approaching storm and pondering the fate of that elegant old farmhouse that’s now a home to birds and wild roses, fancifully wishing I could find a way to magically save it, perhaps by starting an Old Farmhouse Rescue League, another voice popped into my head — the one warning that what we worship, we become.

It belonged to Reverend William Sloan Coffin, the former CIA man, Yale chaplain, firebrand preacher and longtime civil rights and peace activist.

On a spring day in 1991 I found my way to his rural Vermont farmhouse door for a conversation about patriotism.

He poured me a cup of coffee and we sat down at a table in his kitchen. Lying between was the latest copy of Time magazine, its cover proclaiming “A Time to Savor.” Just days before, the First Gulf War had officially ended and flags were flying from porches along the main street of his tidy Vermont town. Coming on the heels of the end of the so-called Cold War, America was in the grip of patriotic fever, eager to start spending what some called the country’s hard-earned “Peace Dividend” on much-needed domestic issues.

Time once called Rev. Bill Coffin “America’s Last Peacenik.” I asked him if he savored this time in America.

Coffin smiled and pointed out that the Japanese had actually won the Cold War and insisted that the much-publicized “peace dividend” was mostly being spent to develop new and better ways of obliterating any future enemies at the expense of America’s working poor and homeless. He added that pollution was destroying our rivers and other natural resources and mentioned mindless urban sprawl that was killing small towns and obliterating the night stars.

I joked that he didn’t sound much like a true patriot — more like a grumpy uncle.

The famous preacher grinned and boomed back, “On the contrary! I’m an incurable patriot! True patriots are those who carry on not a grudge fight but a lover’s quarrel with their country — a reflection, if you will, of Gods’ eternal lover’s quarrel with the human race. The two things you must not be, as a true patriot, are a loveless critic and an uncritical lover.”

He added that our history was his source of hope and patriotism. “Plato said, ‘Whatever is honored in a country will be cultivated there.’ My version of that is, whatever we worship we become. Unfortunately, our society worships professional athletes and better highways.

“But if you look at when this country got started as a nation, with something like just three million people, we managed to turn out Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin and Adams — a list of great thinkers as long as your arm. Now, with a population eighty times as large, you have to ask yourself why we can’t turn out one statesman of that caliber.”

Before I could pose another question, he sipped his coffee and added, “American democracy is such a precious thing. For the moment I fear it’s in grave condition. Half the population feels it’s useless to vote — they feel their voices don’t matter, and they’re probably right. Every night 100,000 children sleep on the streets of this nation, the wealthiest in the history of the world. And 37 million Americans go to bed with no more health insurance than a fervent prayer that they will awaken in decent health in the morning.”

He shook his head as we walked back out to his porch. “The gaps between the classes are widening dangerously — the very rich and the very poor are effectively seceding from America, I fear.”

“So, I gather you’re not really optimistic about the next twenty-five years,” I prodded.

Coffin laughed. “On the contrary! I’m always an optimist. Hope is a distinctly Christian idea and America is a place founded by farming optimists! Optimism is in our DNA — and so is diversity. Patriotism should not be based on agreement. It’s based on mutual concern. When hearts are one, all minds don’t need to be. In a democracy, God help us if all minds are one.

“Tell you what,” he declared, “come back and see me in twenty-five years and we’ll both see if anything has changed for the better. What year will that be?”

“Two thousand sixteen,” I said, hurriedly working out the math in my head. At that moment the year 2016 seemed light years away.

He gave me a final robust grin. “Right. This house is 200 years old and I’ll only be 92. Hopefully we’ll both still be here. I’ll wager the roads in Vermont will be whole lot better, too.”

We laughed and said goodbye.

Sadly, I never got back to Bill Coffin’s farmhouse. Like a treasure from a vanishing world, America’s last peacenik passed away in 2006, the year my wife and I officially moved home to North Carolina.

But I never forgot the things he told me that spring afternoon.

As I sat in a kind of reflective daze by the side of the road, a bolt of lightning hit a tree in the distance and the rain came down with a Biblical vengeance. The birds flew away and I drove on, passing a roadside notice that said the road was scheduled for widening sometime later this summer.  

Contact editor Jim Dodson at