Top Dog

Top Dog

World famous poodle handler Chris Manelopoulos, of Alamance County, dishes on how he gets blue-ribbon performances out of his show dogs

By Maria Johnson

In the world of big-time dog shows, handler Chris Manelopoulos is a stud.

He’s comparable to legendary horse trainer Bob Baffert, except Manelopoulos is trainer and jockey in one.

He tutors purebred canines from around the world at his Tarquin Kennels in Alamance County, then he trots his cold-nosed champions around the most storied rings in dogdom: the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the AKC National Championship, the World Dog Show and dozens of smaller contests.

In recent years, he has handled an outstanding Afghan Hound and several Russell Terriers (commonly known as Jack Russells), but poodles are his specialty.

His most decorated student, a white standard poodle named Remy, won 63 Best-in-Show titles during her short career in 2007–08.

Twice, she pranced away from Westminster with a blue ribbon in the nonsporting group.

Twice, she clenched the national title from the Poodle Club of America.

Her victories boosted Manelopoulos’s profile, which has grown stronger since. To date, his charges have sunk their teeth into four national poodle club titles, tying him with two other handlers.

At age 46, he’s likely to smash the record and become the top poodle guru ever.

“In handler years, I’m coming into my prime,” says Manelopoulos, a native Aussie with a hearty laugh. “Many of the top handlers are between 45 and 60. It’s a little bit like horse training where experience and reputation mean a lot, especially to the more premier or elite clients. It takes time to get to that point.”

Manelopoulos and his wife Rachel Corbin, also a trainer and handler, moved from the West Coast to the Raleigh area in 2000. For eight years, they lived in Greensboro, where they rented part of the Nanhall kennel, before settling in rural Haw River.

Recently, we sat down for a tongue wagging on Manelopoulos’s porch; in the background, big-haired show poodles frolicked and yapped in their runs; beside the home’s front door stood two fabric-over-wire poodles. They were made as Christmas decorations, but here, they stay up all year.

How did you become a poodle handler?

I grew up in Melbourne, Australia, and my parents had toy poodles. They showed them a little, and I lived across the street from a park where there was a big obedience school. I used to go watch the dogs, which led to me going to obedience trials, which led to going to dog shows. As a teenager, I started showing dogs for a very famous all-breeds judge in Australia. She asked me if I would be interested in coming over to America for six months to learn about dog shows. That was 27 years ago.

Did you have a breakthrough show or dog?

I had a miniature named Nina. She won a (Poodle Club of America) national, and that got people to notice me. That was in 2000. Then, in 2003, I got a bitch from Australia . . .

Wait, do you correct you yourself a lot when you are talking about bitches to non-dog show people?

Yes, because in magazines, they don’t like you to say “bitch.” But in 2003, I got a bitch, a black standard poodle from Australia named Tasha, and she was the top nonsporting dog, so that was my second national. She won Westminster and all those top awards. Remy was the next one. She’s still, to this day, my top-winning dog.

What makes a dog special?

There are a lot of things. Being really good in structural quality, the physical part, is the first part. Each breed has a breed standard that the judges go by. There are several good dogs out there, but what makes a dog a really top one is having that “it” factor, just as in acting or modeling, that kind of thing. It’s like I say to people all of the time: You can see two women walking down the street and one may not be quite as physically attractive as another one, but they way they carry themselves, their attitude, can definitely make a difference. Some dogs just have it.

Do they know it?

Yes. The top show dogs love the attention. They love going to dog shows, they love the performance part of it. They love the clapping of the crowds and they react to that. Many of the top show dogs — if we go to a small show, they don’t show as well because there aren’t as many people, and the dogs really seem to pick up on it.

Can I put you on the spot and ask if you’re the same way?

Yeah, I am. When I go to a small 500-dog show in Lumberton, N.C., it’s a little hard to get as excited as I would walking on the floor of Madison Square Garden in New York, but as a professional you have to put forward the same amount of effort.

Tell me about the role of handler.

A lot of people don’t understand the role of handler. Yes, it’s to guide the dog around the ring and have it show, but there’s a lot more to it than that. You have to be very aware of your surroundings and your situation and things that might distract your dog. You have to be in tune with your dog to get the best performance out of her. When they’re happy, they show better. They look better.

So it’s not just about a constant stream of treats, which I’ve noticed the handlers keep giving.

Yes, because sometimes that’s distracting to constantly be feeding them. It’s about encouraging them to be confident in themselves. Some days, they have a bad day. Some days, they don’t feel like it. Some days, they’re tired or they slept wrong, and they’re sore or whatever. They don’t always show the same every day. It’s picking up on those things. There’s a lot of mental work that goes on with the dogs.

How would you buck up a poodle that was not having a good day?

A lot of it is the way you talk with them, your mannerisms. You have to be calm and purposeful and deliberate in what you do and encourage the dogs to be the same. Being frantic and panicking doesn’t really work. The dogs need consistency, steadiness and encouragement.

And they can tell?

Yes, dogs react more to the tone than the actual words. The words are not that important. People are the same way. You can have very serious conversations with people, but if you have it in the right way, people react much better than they do of you are yelling and screaming. Dogs are exactly the same.

How might you talk to a dog?

I talk to them almost constantly when we’re in the ring, primarily to encourage them and to keep them focused on me. I’m quiet and subtle, but I talk a lot in the ring.

Give me a clip of what you might say in the ring?

Oh, if they’re excited I’ll say, “Just be easy. Don’t go too fast.” If they’re a little slow, I’ll say, “C’mon, let’s go! Let’s go!” These are not things you’re going to hear. I’m only a foot or two away from the dogs, so I don’t have to be loud. A lot of the time, I tell them to watch the judge.

And they’ll do that?

Yeah, I’ll practice with them in the ring, and I’ll have someone pretend to be the judge and feed them. So often they think the judge might give them a little treat so they focus. There’s a lot of training to do things like that

Is it true that poodles are the most intelligent dogs?

Oh, I think they absolutely are. They’re extremely easy to train. They’re very social. They require more mental stimulation than physical stimulation. The number one thing a poodle wants to do is make you happy. That’s not true with all dogs.

Let me ask you about the classic poodle haircut, the pom-pom bracelets and the big hair and ears, and the puffy tail and jacket. Where did that come from?

Originally poodles were hunting dogs so people would take them in small boats or around water to retrieve ducks. People think it’s a French breed, but it’s not. It’s a German breed. They have a water repellant coat and they don’t shed, so they constantly grow hair all over their bodies. The hunters found they could shave the dogs so water could drain away, and they’d dry quickly. They left the jacket because in Germany the water was cold, and they wanted hair around the heart and lungs to keep the internal organs warm. They would shave the legs from the elbow to about the pastern, or the knee, and that was so the water would drain away from the chest quickly.

What about the pom-poms?

They left the pom-poms on the front legs so when they ran through brush, it wouldn’t cut their knees. They would shave the feet so they would not pick up mud and dirt. They left the pom-poms on the hips to protect the hips and kidneys in the cold water. They shaved the back legs so the water would drain away quickly, but they left the hair to protect the hock joints in the brush. They say the only reason they left the hair on the tail is so when they were swimming in the water, or running in the brush, they could see the tip of the tail. Obviously that trim has become very stylized, but the basis for it is a tradition hunters did 200 years ago. So when then they started showing poodles, they wrote the breed standard to say they had to be shown in this hunting trim. It’s called the Continental trim today.

Are poodles still used as hunting dogs?

Yes, many people hunt with their poodles. I think on Duck Dynasty they hunt with a poodle.

But they don’t trim them like that. In fact, I will give you $1,000 if you can convince one of the Duck Dynasty guys to hunt with a poodle in a Continental trim.

Honestly, I’ve never watched Duck Dynasty.

Did you see the movie Best in Show?

Yes! They used three standard poodles as stand-ins for the one standard poodle. One of them was one of my poodles. When I was in Seattle, they filmed the movie in Vancouver. For two weeks they needed poodles for the shoot. One of them was one of mine, named Gina.

Did you think the movie was funny?

Oh yeah, I love that movie. Some dog-show people hate it because they’re like, “Oh, it characterizes the dog-show world.” And I’m like, “But it’s a fairly accurate portrayal.” It’s a little extreme, but there’s a lot of truth in it.

What’s you’re next big show?

We’re going to the World Dog Show in Amsterdam in August. I’ll have two dogs there, Brie and Venus. Brie will go to the AKC show in December. I don’t know about Westminster. If we don’t take Brie to Westminster (in February), we’ll take Venus. The world show is different in that the biggest American show is five and a half thousand dogs. The World Dog Show attracts over 20,000 dogs.

That’s a lot of bitches, Chris.

Exactly!  OH

The Real Patch Adams

The Real Patch Adams

Life with a new puppy is nothing short of comedy

By Cynthia Adams

Photograph by Mark Wagoner

Comedian Robin Williams made Dr. Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams famous when he portrayed the physician and social activist in a 1998 biopic. I met the good doctor in a Washington airport in 2006 as he departed on his trademark Gesundheit Global Outreach Clown Mission.

Adams was impossible to miss in a sea of weary travelers; he sported a handlebar mustache, gray hair tucked into a pony tail, and a clown suit rather than scrubs, adopted in order to dispense laughter as the best medicine.

When I tapped him on the shoulder of his lurid Hawaiian shirt to say hello, he grinned as if we were old pals, and in minutes it seemed we were. (An Adams meeting an Adams seemed hilarious to him.) Dr. Adams gave me his card, extolling the value of good humor for good health and urged me to take his laughter training course. So, I did, in June that same year. (My certificate is signed by the Cheerman of the Bored.)

Another Patch Adams entered my life, but he looks nothing like the physician, even though he too is a born comedian and has curative powers. He has bottle-brush whiskers, a wonky, slap-happy gait, and is brown mostly except where he isn’t.

He is funny without trying, but if he could talk, he would say he wasn’t born yesterday, yuck yuck — but he was born last year.

This is the true story of the real Patch Adams. 

Patch Adams wasn’t funny right off the bat. He was wary. His brown eyes were wide; he twitched occasionally but was largely silent.

He had just left his mama and family for the first and last time. There was a lot on his mind. Mostly, he kept to himself, close to his blanket and laid low.

We cooed at him, took pictures, provided him with puppy pads (given the subzero weather) and plied him with holistic treats and kibble, carefully chosen for his optimal growth and good health.

Perhaps we overplied him.

Within hours of being in his new home (which we carefully introduced to him room by room, just as Cesar Milan has instructed in his books) the tiny pup was sick.

He vomited. Then vomited again.

The little guy kept being sick. By daybreak on a frigid Sunday, we zoomed off to the emergency vet. It was hovering around 6 degrees outside. They quarantined us in case he had parvovirus. They asked his name. (We had a list of possibilities. Patch Adams was on the list.)

We tested the name, telling the vet staff the pup’s name was Patch Adams and this elicited laughter. 

Yet we didn’t feel like laughing. We texted the breeder, asking if any of his litter mates were sick, terrified Patch wouldn’t make it a full 24 hours in our care. In another hour, they had given him fluids and antibiotics. Chastened, we brought puppy home.

No more holistic treats.

He recovered within 24 hours. We abandoned Milan’s instructions and let him go wherever the hell he wanted, grateful that the puppy was still alive.

The plucky little guy, now introduced to the scary world of medicine, was officially Patch Adams.

“Puppies are adorable,” writes Oprah Winfrey.

Winfrey’s “adorable puppies” article is spread in my lap while multi-tasking, reading, writing a draft and glancing at the Dog Days webcam, where 4-month-old Patch is spending the day at play in doggie day care.

I’m a nervous wreck. And exhausted.

Our miniature schnauzer came to us on January 6. His predecessors in our household, Kip and Zoe, were also terriers and lived to be 16 years old. We had long forgotten how having a puppy around the house is a lot like having a newborn infant: the sleeplessness, feedings, check-ups, immunizations, and all- important potty training.

Immunization figured largely into our lifestyle. Puppy could not go into public spaces until he had all his shots. Friends came over and brought gifts — toys, a portable water bottle and treats.

Hubby and I begged off no matter the invitation. (I even skipped an invite to go backstage at the Bon Jovi concert in Charlotte. Don’t judge.)

After three months, puppy had proper immunity, and hubby bought a day-care package at Dog Days so we could drop him off for socialization.

The entirety of puppy’s first day, I checked the Dog Days webcam, jogging between cameras to be sure that the little guy — barely 6 pounds —  could handle the manic pack of dogs that endlessly circled him as if they were skating at Rockefeller Center. 

I yearned for him to be bigger, faster. TEN POUNDS is the magic number. Hawks and other predators can easily grab up such a tiny pup. I willed him to become bigger.

Speaking of magic, Patch is unnaturally cute. Of course, all puppies are adorable, like Oprah says. But from the day I took him in hand (literally, he fit in my palm—weighing 2.74 pounds) there was no denying this liver-and-tan colored mini-mite has something special. Forget yucky liver and think chocolate: Patch is the color of a melted Hershey’s bar with dabs of marshmallow cream.

We weighed Patch each evening and recorded his data in my orange journal if I didn’t fall asleep while writing.

We tag teamed between our bill-paying jobs and puppy training. (Actually, my husband does the training; I do back up, clean up and fretting.)

Since that first week, puppy commanded our complete attention as the natural world commanded his. At one point, hubby shoveled 9 inches of snow in order to make a path that would not swallow Patch, who liked snow. Puppy had a snow rapture, eating it, burying his face in it and digging his way to Mongolia. 

The weather was Biblical. Soon after snow came a deluge. The first three months brought 31 days of rain and relentless cold. Patch didn’t mind. He humored our following him around, umbrella in hand, as he meandered in the yard seeking the perfect spot to pee, unhurried by sideways rain and stinging winds. He studied each tree root and base as if the secrets of the universe were encrypted there. He sniffed and inspected moss, weed and ivy as if he were a botanist and had the fullness of time.

Of course, he has time; he is brand-new and the world is his.

In desperation, hubby spent $75 on a party tent, which he erected smack at the back door at the end of a puppy ramp he has built for tiny Patch. Our winter fitness ratcheted up, as we logged 10,000 steps searching out perfect pee spots. We strived to convince puppy, a born skeptic, that the perfect pee spot lay directly underneath the tent.

Hubby bought weights and tie-lines to secure the tent during a ceaseless onslaught of storms.

One fine day, Patch attempted the dog door, although he wasn’t large enough to push his way through the flap. We stood on either side, brandishing treats and encouragements. “You can do it!” we said helpfully, my voice unnaturally high, cheering him.

When puppy mastered his first re-entry via the dog door, we were ecstatic in full-on Snoopy Happy Dance mode. We grabbed up Patch and inhaled his essence.

Speaking of essence: Patch’s breath smells of puppy: sweet, grassy, delicious.

Patch’s favorite discoveries are rocks as large as he is, sticks, pine cones, organic matter such as wads of grass and weed. And, not to overlook this, puppy is enchanted by any paper product.

He eats, licks or chews everything in sight, including my hair and face. His favorite squeaky toy is hot lips, a ridiculous looking rubber Mick Jagger 40-Licks imitator.

On his second stay at Dog Days, I logged on to the webcam while writing an academic piece. Patch was hard to spot at first because he was literally inching along the wall in shadows, trying to make himself invisible. This again summoned childhood experiences at the roller rink.

My heart thrummed.

It took all the strength I could muster to not leave my desk and race over to rescue him from a frisky black Lab that could have eaten Patch for a snack. Unnerved by the Lab, Patch backed himself into a corner, clearly looking for a human to rescue him  He hugged the wall until forgetting his momentary panic, darted directly underneath another very large breed, appreciatively stopping to inhale the dog’s hindquarters.

I mumbled, Oh NO!

Patch treated the larger dog like a fragrant overpass and yet — luckily — nobody died.

By this time my mind was so far from my writing it was hopeless to pick up the threads of the draft. I called hubby. Did you see that???

He had.

I turned off the webcam, calmed myself and looked at other dogs on Pinterest. Is Patch as cute as I think he is? Yes.

Then I scanned the Internet for puppy training videos. I am particularly fond of a schnauzer named Chumpie. And another owned by an English couple who proudly videoed the mini-schnauzer, roughly Patch’s age. On her homecoming, the triumphant new mom announced the wee pup’s name was Peggy. This struck me as a name for a grandma with a fondness for the accordion.

The couple also announced their plans for Peggy’s training, installing her in a crate downstairs, leaving the tiny creature utterly alone her first night. Peggy whined softly, then the whine bloomed into a gutting wail.

The young husband cried, too, saying, “Help!”

Peggy had “made sick” three times inside the crate.

Oh, familiar territory, this.

During a March 12th snowstorm, the party tent collapsed as I worked out of town. Hubby dejectedly told me the tent was toast. The tent kept our sanity. We played “Taps” for it as it was stuffed into the garbage can.

We were invited to a dinner party. I texted the unflappable hostess that we would not be able to stay long.

“Bring puppy!” she texted back.

I was not in my right mind. I elected to take puppy to a grown-up dinner party. The entire time, I strained to see where puppy was and cringed at the thought that he would break with his much-touted training and have an accident.

Patch managed nonchalance. We did not.

We are a nation of dog lovers. Most homes have a pet (68 percent). In case you ever wondered, Arkansas has the highest percentage of dog owners (47.9 percent) and Illinois has the fewest (32.1 percent)

This year’s Wes Anderson film, Isle of Dogs, was a runaway hit. The Isle of Dogs Facebook page had, at my last count,167,828 likes and 170,534 people following it.

I watched the trailers more than once and put the movie onto my Netflix queue.

We started taking Patch out in public and noticed how different it was to take a walk with a puppy. People literally began smiling 20 paces away.

Patch, now sturdier and thoroughly immunized against all the scariest diseases, walked with us in Latham Park on our usual route. Except nothing is usual any longer.

Patch has charisma, according to my brother Kevin.

This must be what it is like to be born with charisma: strangers smile beatifically. They speak lovingly. They wish to stroke your perfect coat.

“He looks just like a plush toy come to life,” gushed a perfect stranger last Sunday afternoon. “Like Pinocchio!” blurted her walking buddy. Pinocchio?

“I don’t know!” she blathered, staring at Patch. “He’s just so adorable.”

We knew.

“What is he?” was the next question.

We thought we knew. The breeder said he was purebred schnauzer, but we had niggling doubts. Could chocolate-brown Patch be a Yorkie?

“I didn’t think we were getting a Yorkie,” hubby worried.

He sought Dr. Janine Oliver’s opinion. “Patch sure is small and has such a little nose. And he’s brown . . . ” the good doctor says, leaving any doubts to bloom in the air over our squirming, albeit charismatic, puppy of uncertain pedigree.

“There are DNA tests,” Oliver replied. “That’s one way to be sure.”

Unbeknownst to me, hubby ordered Wisdom Panel’s DNA test. He took a smear of saliva from Patch and sent it away to a lab.

When he told me, I asked whether he would he feel differently if Patch weren’t a mini-schnauzer?

Hubby said he just wanted to know.

As we waited for the DNA verdict we read training books, watched dog programs and compared Patch to every mini-schnauzer we encountered.

Out and about, strangers stopped to stroke his gleaming coat: “So cute, but what is he?”

We had jokey replies. Puppy was a muggle. A hamster. A schnauzer.

Eyebrows shot up.

I’m back at the webcam. Patch is in day care again. This is important for his socialization. The training books stress this. A kind woman in a hoodie picks him up and carries him around. He lies down near a friendly looking golden doodle, and then hoodie-wearing woman scoops him up again, giving him a cuddle. Patch, being no fool, licks her appreciatively, showering her with kisses.

Nearly every time I log on, which is approximately every half hour, someone has him in arms, stroking him.

Charisma, I think.

DNA cannot be tested for that.

My sister-in-law Mary (who lives in the dog-loving state of Arkansas, by the way) also has a mini-schnauzer, which my brother, John, named Leroy.

Leroy is two months older than Patch.

He has been losing his deciduous, or baby teeth. Mary phones to discuss this. When Patch began losing his, we collected them, tiny calcified shards. He crunched on them, like popcorn seeds, as he teethed.

Does the tooth fairy visit puppies?

At our front door is a concrete statue of a mini-schnauzer bought eons ago in Southport. It has grown green with age and bears Kip and Zoe’s dog tags.

When the last of the two pets died, I wrote a piece about it and sent it to O.Henry’s senior editor at the time, David Bailey. He called me. “We cannot publish this,” Bailey intoned. “It is so dark. Everybody would want to kill themselves. But I hope writing it was therapeutic for you.”

It wasn’t. Now I felt even more depressed.

Still deep into mortality matters, I asked family what things they might want as we updated our will. After radio silence, my Arkansas niece replied by email. She wanted the concrete dog statue.

The DNA report confirmed that Patch is as the breeder said.

Patch is now 11.58 pounds of pedigreed schnauzer and has begun developing a personality as the vet predicted. Patch is perceptive, affectionate and joyful. He is loyal. Pick a superlative. Pedigreed or not, we couldn’t have found a better friend.

Patch’s puppyhood will evaporate, a fact both anticipated and dreaded.

On my desk is an item torn from the December 2017 Tatler concerning pet burials. It reminds me of one of my favorite epigrams, penned by Alexander Pope: “I am his highness’s dog at Kew;/Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?” There are stories of Lord Byron’s dog Boatswain and his fine tomb. Accounts of the Queen’s private graveyards at Balmoral and Sandringham where the royal corgis rest.

The article posits the million-dollar question: “will our animals go to heaven?”

The Reverend Professor Andrew Linzy of Oxford, who specializes in graveside memorials, answers thusly:

“Animals will be in heaven. They’re not sinful, faithless or violent in the same way human beings are, therefore there’s no bar to redemption.”

I second the writer Charlie Gilmour’s succinct end: “Amen to that.”   OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry.  She is shopping for a miniature Hawaiian shirt for Patch, just in case anyone should spot one.


Little Brown Bird How I love Thee!

In search of the rare grasshopper sparrow

By Susan Campbell

One of the rarest breeding birds here in the Piedmont is the grasshopper sparrow. This diminutive, cryptically colored bird can only be found in very specific habitat: contiguous, large grassland. Such large fields are increasingly hard to find across our state these days. And even if you seek out the right habitat, seeing an individual, even a territorial male, is not very likely because they are so secretive and well camouflaged. But if you persist, you might hear one of them. Their voices are quite characteristic: a very high-pitched buzzy trill. It is the combination of their call and the typically grasshopper-rich areas in which they are found that gives them their name.

Nowadays these birds are only found in manmade grasslands. In the Sandhills, the only location where they breed is at the Moore County Airport. I have identified as many as 12 grasshopper sparrow territories between the runway and Airport Road. I suppose some birds may use what are called drop zones, areas targeted for paratrooper operations at Fort Bragg. However, these typically have a variety of plants — not ideal territory for these birds. Up around Greensboro, I hear that they can be found scattered among the agricultural fields along Baldwin Road. If you make the trip, also be on the lookout for a dickcissel, a fairly, large, yellowish sparrow-like individual that is an even rarer find.

Grasshopper sparrows return from their wintering grounds in Mexico and the southeastern coastal plain of the United States by mid-March.  Males spend much time singing from taller vegetation, often beginning their day well before dawn. They use short, low fluttering flight displays to impress potential females. Eggs are laid in cup-shaped nests in a slight depression, hidden by overhanging grasses, containing four or five creamy-colored eggs that are speckled reddish-brown.

Habitat loss has certainly affected the small local populations of these birds, plus routine mowing of these fields usually destroys nests. But the birds stay and attempt to nest again. In shorter grass, their nests are easily detected by predators, such as foxes and raccoons. Therefore, breeding success tends to vary greatly from year to year in these types of locations. If the habitat remains unaltered from May through August, grasshopper sparrow pairs can produce two (and sometimes three) families in a year.

But these birds are also vulnerable to the effects of pesticides. Although they do eat small seeds associated with the grasses that grow around them, they also rely upon significant numbers of insects, especially when they are feeding young.

Grasshopper sparrows are surely not easy to observe in summer but, in winter, they are even harder to find. They mix in with other sparrows that frequent open spaces and seldom sing. But for those experienced birdwatchers who enjoy the challenge that comes with sorting through “little brown birds,” (like me!), their flat foreheads, large bills and buffy underparts are a welcome sight.t OH

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos. She can be contacted by email at

The Story of Doghouses

Better Hounds and Gardens

Fanciful doghouses fund worthy causes across the Triad

By Nancy Oakley     Photographs by Amy Freeman

Like most good ideas, it all started with a casual conversation. John Grein, a professional dog trainer who trains and handles police dogs for High Point Canine Solutions, was chatting with Robin Lindsay, a volunteer with Davidson County Animal Alliance. The two had gotten to know one another two years ago after Lindsay had sought Grein’s help with a German Shepherd rescue that was showing aggressive behavior. “I do a fundraiser every year in May for the High Point and Archdale police departments’ retired K-9 units,” Grein explains. A retired builder, he remembered another fundraiser from 20 years ago, “where we built playhouses for the community, and I challenged other builders to build them.” And then came the light-bulb moment: “‘We should do doghouses.’”

Under the handle, “Raise the Woof,” the two friends formed a board that included Lindsay’s cohort in animal rescue, Allyson Little, along with Mary Souder Hites. They put the word out last winter (typically a slow period for builders), with a goal of auctioning off 30 custom-built doghouses to benefit four charities. “We wanted to help two children’s organizations and two animal organizations,” Lindsay says. They chose to support Backpack Beginnings, which combats food insecurity among children; GOFAR (Go Out For A Run), a nonprofit that Lindsay founded to address childhood obesity; the High Point Retired K-9 Heath Fund, which helps with medical care costs for retired police dogs (many of which have sustained aches and pains and injuries in the line of duty); and Davidson County Animal Alliance, which rescues neglected and abused animals, and champions spaying and neutering.

Teaming up with High Point University and High Point Canine Solutions, the crew secured a date in late February for the fundraiser. They invited several vendors, some hawking food and jewelry, others, such as Break the Chain and Camp Bow Wow, advancing dog-related services to gather in The High Point University Community Center in the former Oak Hollow Mall. The appointed day arrived . . . and far exceeded anyone’s expectations.

Some 60 doghouses started pouring into the Community Center. “I was amazed at the craftsmanship!” says Lindsay. “The detail!” The structures included everything from a Snoopy Red Baron doghouse to a Boeing jet. Thomas Built buses fashioned a house from the grill on the front of one of its buses and a replica of one of its early trolley cars. On behalf of the High Point Police Department, David Saintsing of Royal Remodeling in Thomasville created a Swiss chalet with a long, low-slung shingled roof. “Price nursery had flowers on top of theirs. It was out of this world!” Lindsay recalls. Orrell’s Food Service recreated one of its tractor trailers with a slight name change in its logo, “Orrell’s Woof Service,” taking a couple of food bowls along for the ride. Prizes awarded for Best In Show, Most Unique and Funniest, the last of which went to a camper (an “aarf V”?)  that was ultimately shipped to some dog-lovers in Florida.

“We estimated we had 400 to 500 people come throughout the day,” says Grein. “We sold all 60 houses and grossed right around $20,000.” All of it went “right back into the nonprofits,” he says.

Grein credits Lindsay, Allyson Little and Souder Hites as the driving forces behind the event. “We had such a good feedback and response that we have been asked to do it again next year in February and include cat houses and bird houses,” he says. An event that will be worth Tweeting about, no question (for forthcoming information, go to In the meantime, this year’s entries, scattered hither and yon, are enjoying a second life as homes to pooches in need of shelter, as objets d’art for dog-lovers, or curiosities that give one  . . . paws.


Best In Show(place)

Take a stroll down Woof Lane on the property of AA Stables off Groometown Road and you can’t miss it: a miniature copy of the horse barn on the hill just above, with its own landscaping. “Dale and I talked about doing a fundraiser,” says Aryn Schloemer, the stables’ owner, referring to her best friend Dale Jennings, whose family has owned and operated Bicycle Toy and Hobby in High Point since 1927. Raise the Woof provided them with a ripe opportunity. “We’re super competitive. It was winter  . . . and we were bored,” Schloemer says. They would find out just how competitive, though, when they set about collaborating on the project. “This is Dale’s design,” she says laughing, as she produces a crude pencil drawing square with a triangle on top and a single arched doorway. Then she reveals her mother Myra’s design, which would become their blueprint. It contained a front door with a porch, a side doggie door, dormers and a silo. Jennings would build — and build, and build, as the level of detail ratcheted up. His simple arch for a doggie door gave way to sliding-track double doors. And a house has to have windows, too. “Mom does stained glass,” Schloemer explains, “so we made her put one in.” And why not some LED lighting and a solar panel? Schloemer’s father-in-law, an engineer stepped in to help. “There were intense moments, because we’re all very aggressive,” Schloemer admits. The silo would double as a chute for the dog food to slide down right into a bowl. And the interior of the house seemed plain, so Schloemer enlisted the help of an artist friend to paint a mural — of dogs, dontcha know. But the real test, not only of craftsmanship but also of friendship, was the little front porch with the slate foundation. “That porch was the undoing of us,” Schloemer recalls. “It was ridiculous!” Jennings chimes in. And it was about the only thing the two friends seem to agree on, as a bemused Robin Lindsay confirms. “They were bickering with each other the whole time,” she laughs, remembering their setting up on the day of the Raise the Woof fundraiser. But pain usually produces great art, and on that day in February, AA Stables and Bicycle Toy and Hobby took home the first-place prize of Best In Show. Which means Dale Jennings is no longer in the doghouse.

O.Henry Ending

Barkelaureate Pedigree

Adventures of the dog who loves Guilford College

By Nils Skudra

It begins about a quarter of a mile before the first entrance to Guilford College off Friendly Avenue: the whimpering and moaning, low and throaty, which crescendos as we reach the campus proper. By then Jackson, a white, fluffy, impossibly big-headed, double-coated, curly-haired Bichon Frisé, is standing on all fours, and his barking has gone from allegro to prestissimo in a matter of seconds, which can mean only one thing: He wants to get out and touch ground on his beloved campus if not for its rich history and rolling topography, then for its invitation for him to be the nature boy he was meant to be.

I am a Civil War historian and Jackson, named for Gen. Stonewall Jackson, is affectionately known as “the history dog.” In truth, he is my service dog, helping me navigate the “real world” and intricacies of human interaction, so often confusing to someone like me, adrift on the autism spectrum. He has traveled with me to more than 40 cities in North Carolina, which I have visited in an effort to document their roles in that bloodiest of conflicts. During our sojourns, Jackson has been on several university campuses and even peed on the Old Well at UNC before I could stop him — much to the shock of a group of humorless students. He walked up the steps of the Duke University Chapel and gave Robert E. Lee a meaningful look before authorities took the statue down. Closer to home in Greensboro, he favors the area near the Foust Building at UNCG where I hang my academic graduate-school hat, but it is Guilford College that has his bestial heart.

Twice, weekly we seek solace from Guilford’s tranquility and reserve and its stately buildings. There is something in the air that is holy and sacred here. Jackson is leashed by legal necessity but moves with enthusiasm and alacrity, bounding up the steps of Dana Hall. He loves this place and on one occasion, caused me to lose my footing and my grip on his leash as he ran through its open doors reveling in momentary freedom. A guard, heavy with his sense of duty, demanded, “What’s that dog doing at this school?” Imagining the worst, (a call to the campus police, a severe scolding, invoking State sanctions and levying of a fine, which I really don’t need since I had still not paid my delinquent Piedmont Natural Gas bill), I gathered my wits and responded that the best part of Jackson’s day is whenever he can spend some time at Guilford College. “It is his ‘hallelujah time’ when the spirit of unfettered canine glory rises up in him and he is at one with the world,” I explained, mentioning my dog’s unfettered glee at exploring each tree and bush, careful not to disturb the Eastern bluejays and mourning doves — though the omnipresent squirrels might be another story altogether. The guard suddenly laughed and broke into a smile.  “OK, then,” he said.

The possibility of censure is gone and we leave Dana Hall, past Duke Memorial for the Hege Library. And wouldn’t you know it? Déjà vu all over again.

Jackson bolted through the open door, his leash trailing him and I in hot pursuit, as everyone in it shrieked with delight. He was running amok and simultaneously barking at the top of lungs, having a field day in the Hege!  Running after Jackson I yelled to the librarian behind the desk that he is my service dog and she yelled back, “What service is this dog providing?” “Er, circulation?” I offered, as Jackson headed in the direction of the Quaker Room. I managed to scoop him up, get him tethered again, and race out of the library, volleys of laughter in the background.

This is his campus and bounding everywhere upon it, he unabashedly claims it as his own. I have often wondered whether he had a past life here; perhaps he was Levi Coffin’s dog or sat under a nearby pulpit listening to hymnals being read. When no one was nearby I even looked him squarely in the face and asked if he were a reincarnation of some Quaker personage, a possible explanation of his great affection for this school. Whereupon he cocked his head, met my eye and winked, smiling that endearing Bichon Frisé smile, broad, beaming and mysterious. A Friend’s best friend indeed.  OH

Hailing from the San Francisco Bay area, Nils Skudra moved to Greensboro UNCG’s History MA program with a concentration in Civil War/Reconstruction History. As a recent graduate, he hopes to find full-time employment as a research historian, archivist or curator. In his spare time he writes for local publications, such as the Greensboro News and Record and Asheboro Magazine.

Scuppernong Bookshelf

Road Reads

Satisfy your wanderlust with tales of travel and faraway places

Compiled by Brian Lampkin

I’ve done things. Some good; some perhaps less so. But one thing I did when younger that still brings shameless joy to my heart was to crisscross the country by car, by train, on foot. Those travels, almost always begun in July, inform my understanding of the American environment and remind me of the need to take risks, to get out. It’s hard to find the time for a three-month jaunt through the backroads and byways, but longing for something is another reason to live. Here are some new books, published this month, to nurture your desire to move around.

July 3: Flash: Don’t Make Me Pull Over!: An Informal History of the Family Road Trip, by Richard Ratay (Scribner, $27). In the days before cheap air travel, families didn’t so much take vacations as survive them. Between home and destination lay thousands of miles and dozens of annoyances, and with his family Richard Ratay experienced all of them — from being crowded into the backseat with noogie-happy older brothers, to picking out a souvenir only to find that a better one might have been had at the next attraction, to dealing with a dad who didn’t believe in bathroom breaks.

July 3: Between Hope and Fear: A History of Vaccines and Human Immunity, by Michael Kinch (Pegasus Books, $27.95). Vaccines are part of world travel, but watch out for those communities that have created new pockets of old diseases. This book is a smart and compelling examination of the science of immunity, the public policy implications of vaccine denial, and the real-world outcomes of failing to vaccinate.

July 3: The Promise of the Grand Canyon: John Wesley Powell’s Perilous Journey and His Vision for the American West, by John F. Ross (Viking, $30). “John Wesley Powell was not just a great explorer — he was the great prophet of the arid West whose vision is now coming true in a dusty era of drought and wildfire. This book reminds us to pay attention to savvy people, not to our preferred dreams and delusions — in that sense it couldn’t be more timely.” — Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature.

July 10: Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont, by Saul Austerlitz (Thomas Dunne, $27.99). Travel to your favorite summer music festival with joy in your heart, but remember this: The Hell’s Angels are not any one’s idea of an appropriate security system.

July 10: The Last Cruise, by Kate Christensen (Doubleday, $26.95). “In The Last Cruise Kate Christensen has given us a smart literary thriller whose ambitions extend well beyond its genre. It’s terrifying in ways you don’t expect.” — Richard Russo, author of Nobody’s Fool and Empire Falls. I always knew that cruises were a nightmare waiting to happen! Stick to the roads.

July 17: Homeplace: A Southern Town, a Country Legend, and the Last Days of a Mountaintop Honky-Tonk, by John Lingan (Houghton-Mifflin, $27).  In the tradition of Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting With Jesus and J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, an intimate account of social change, country music and a vanishing way of life as a Shenandoah town collides with the 21st century.

July 24: Driven: A White-Knuckled Ride to Heartbreak and Back, by Melissa Stephenson (Houghton-Mifflin, $23). “With a searing honesty, Melissa Stephenson examines the decisions of her life and the often unexpected consequence. Driven races through time like one of the many automobiles she drives, repairs and loves. Ultimately, she loves literature more, and this book is the grand and glorious result.” — Chris Offutt, author of Country Dark.

July 24: The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places, by William Atkins (Doubleday, $28.95). In the classic literary tradition of Bruce Chatwin and Geoff Dyer, a rich and exquisitely written account of travels in six deserts on five continents that evokes the timeless allure of these remote and forbidding places. OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.

Gate City Journal

Unchained Melody

How Break the Chain is breaking new ground in caring for dogs

By Billy Ingram

“Absolutely not, we are not bringing a dog into this house.” That was Dad’s predictably visceral reaction after a neighborhood teenager rang our doorbell late one night, cradling a newborn puppy in the palm of his hand, one he’d found whimpering unaccompanied down the sidewalk. Our neighbor believed, correctly as it turned out, that a puppy would be a natural addition to a home with young kids and no pets. Dear Old Dad didn’t see it that way. But with three chirping birds pleading to adopt that wide-eyed orphan, he finally gave in.

We named her Molly, and she spent the first night in the kitchen howling and crying. When we got her back from the veterinarian late the next day, it was my father who was howling and crying, that skin-and-bones pup was, by weight, more worms than dog. Although he made more than a decent living, our father was raised a country boy during the Depression and found it difficult to accept that, “I just spent $200 on a beagle mutt!”

When Molly needed to do her business, we would just open the back door to let her out. We lived on Blair Street, across from what is now Bill Craft Park, so it seemed like a reasonable idea. Except, for some unknown reason, Molly had a penchant for roaming one block up to Hammel where our aunt lived, baying incessantly outside her back door. As a result, our dog would get snatched up by Animal Control. A lot. So we fenced in the backyard, with wooden posts to disguise the chain links. Not that Molly didn’t — all too often — tunnel her way out so she could howl away at that aunt she was weirdly fixated on. 

I hadn’t thought about that adorable pooch in years. Not until, on the road to High Point, Sylvia Mayon turned to ask, “Are you a dog person, Billy?” I replied somewhat reluctantly, “Not really. I mean, I loved our mutt Molly growing up but, to be honest, I only like my own animals.”

Doris Day I’m not. But this isn’t a story about dogs, per se. It’s about a local power couple, Andrew and Sylvia Mayon, who created Break The Chain Kennel Kru to identify dogs habitually chained to one spot in someone’s backyard. The nonprofit’s goal is to build for them a deluxe, well-appointed kennel so that animals can experience some level of freedom.

The Mayons came up with Break the Chain 2 1/2 years ago. Together with a cadre of determined volunteers, this nonprofit has erected more than 50 canine habitats. “I always got angry when I saw dogs at the end of a chain,” Sylvia explains. “We had volunteered with Project Heart where we delivered dog houses, educated owners on spay and neuter, but when we left, that dog was still on a chain. Instead of being angry all the time, I wanted to do something about it.”

Some ways these dogs are tethered can be inexplicably cruel as Andrew told me, “These chains can be heavy, metal logging chains weighing down their necks that can get wrapped around a tree, causing the animals to be protective of a very short space.”

How does a dog end up this way, confined for a decade or even their entire lives, I asked as we were on the way one Saturday afternoon to erect a kennel for a Gulf War veteran’s pet. Sylvia told me, “Many times, as in this case, the dog was abandoned by its owner and someone stepped up to save that animal from the shelter,” Sylvia adds. “In their mind they’ve ‘rescued’ a dog from being euthanized.”

“We’ve heard it all,” Sylvia laments. “One dog owner said, ‘He’s our alarm system.’ We told him, ‘We have three big dogs and they all live inside and they know when Andrew is coming home from a block away. So they can be an alarm system from inside the house as well.’ I mean, they’re not going to be able to do much on a chain or in a kennel.”

“Some people have just grown up with a dog on a chain,” Andrew adds. “It’s just the way they’ve always known it. Grandma and Grandpa had their dog on a chain, Mom and Dad had their dog on a leash.”

That’s where another major portion of their mission comes into play. “We are so much more than unchaining dogs,” as Sylvia says. “A lot of it is education and providing resources.” She tells me that spay/neuter is the No. 1 requirement, and that all pets in the household have to be fixed. Then to qualify for this service, clients must be on some form of governmental assistance or low income.” That does not automatically qualify someone for a kennel however. “I do a phone interview first,” she says. “I have a questionnaire where I can get a better idea of the situation.” Once she determines they might be a good candidate for our program I will do a home visit with another volunteer. That way, Sylvia continues, “We can actually see the situation and meet the owner, meet the dog. If they’re looking just to get a free kennel and then not see us anymore, that is not part of our program.”

They’ve partnered with Project B.A.R.K., an organization that offers to spay/neuter for $10 or $15 depending on the size of the dog. This must be paid by the owner. “That’s crazy inexpensive, but it gives them some skin in the game,” Andrew explains. “Many of these dogs have never been to a vet, never had their shots. So we have a great relationship with Benessere Animal Hospital. The hospital provides other low-cost services, he says. “I did not want to go unchain a dog then build the kennel, walk away, and know that that dog might be dying of heartworms. Dr. [Janine] Oliver [Benessere’s owner] has been a part of our journey since the very beginning because she believes in our mission.”

Their commitment involves making home visits every four to six weeks, plus providing replacement straw and dog food for owners who that are disabled or lack transportation. Volunteers will even take one of these pets home for a night so they can experience for the first time what it’s like to sit on a couch or sleep on a bed. If a pooch is outside due to bad behavior in the home, Break the Chain will hire a trainer. “We try to get the dog integrated back with the family,” Andrew says. “Most of them are pit bulls, pit-bull mixes, so I like to show the softer side. Just because they’re on a chain and they’re a pit mix does not mean they’re a bad dog.”

Arriving at our destination, a tidy mid-century home in High Point, we meet Bronx, a pit mix abandoned when his previous owner relocated to another state. That sweet boy could not have been friendlier or more enthusiastic, bounding about excitedly, reveling in the attention from the 16 folks gathered to build his pen.

Although this Saturday afternoon’s crew was largely made up of novices like myself, the whole enterprise was quite enjoyable. The 10’ x 20’ kennel was easily assembled and then outfitted with a new igloo, straw flooring, water and food bowls, pooper scooper, and an overhead tarp for shade and weather protection. Inside the igloo they spread cedar chips, a natural flea and tick repellant.

Many of the Kru were friends and coworkers of Edward Jones employee Cathy Johnson Deal, who had recently passed away at a young age. With her daughter Taylor in attendance, a commemorative plaque was placed on the kennel door in Cathy’s honor.

That leisurely but emotionally charged endeavor took about an hour. “With the regular crew we can set up in as little as 15 minutes,” Andrew says. “For us it’s not about how fast to get the kennel up, it’s spending time with the owner, getting to know the dogs. That’s what builds trust. When you have a connection, hopefully they will be more apt to listen and take your suggestions.”

Sylvia gave me some background as we’re were packing up the tools, “This dog [Bronx], you didn’t see him tied to the tree like I did with blankets in his igloo. Which was a teaching moment. When we did the home visit, the temperatures were freezing. What the owner didn’t realize is that those blankets absorb the moisture, so basically the dog was lying on ice. And right away, as we were leaving, [Bronx’s owner] Charles removed all the blankets.”

Afterward, everyone congregates at a nearby restaurant, as is custom, for fellowship and to discuss that day’s effort. If indeed you are judged by the company you keep, Cathy Johnson Deal must have been a truly splendid person.

On the trip back to Greensboro, the Mayons recalled for me their first build, for William Jones, now a member of Break the Chain’s board of directors. While he had been very much attuned to his dog’s needs, Animal Control had been out to warn him about a new tethering ban that levies a $500 fine.

Sylvia met with Jones and, “I was so impressed by William I said to Andrew, ‘What do you think if we send out an email to a few of our friends and we raised enough money to build his dog Cash a kennel?’ And Andrew said, ‘Let’s do it.’ In three days we raised the $500 needed.” She laughs remembering, “Mind you Andrew and I had never seen a kennel close up. It took us 3 1/2 hours to build that kennel.” That was before they discovered you could assemble one with panels like they do today, “Once we saw Cash lie down in that straw it literally brought tears to my eyes,” she says.

“As we were building Cash’s kennel we looked over and two backyards down was another dog on a chain named Fido. His owner came out and asked what we were doing and I told him and, on the spot I said, ‘What if I raise the money to build Fido a kennel, would you get him neutered?’ and he said, ‘Absolutely.’ We got back to the car and I said, ‘I just found my purpose in life.’”

If a client moves, the kennel is theirs to take with them. The team will even assist with that. If there comes a point where someone doesn’t need it anymore, the kennel will be repurposed for another dog. The Mayons have only had one person sell a kennel out from under them.

Referrals may come from a neighbor of a recipient or from Animal Control when someone has called them out about a chained dog. If they feel the family might be a good prospect for Break the Chain, Animal Control will give them a flyer about the program.

Although approached many times to franchise the operation, Andrew demurs, “We tell them no, we’re not interested, but we’ll be happy to share the concept and tell them how to do it. Break the Chain is just us, just Guilford County.” Sylvia adds, “I’m very detail- oriented, so to me it’s not how many dogs we can unchain, it’s the whole experience. I want it all to be a class act.” With so many components at play, this outreach consumes several hours every day. “We try to do a build every other weekend but we also have straw deliveries going out and transporting dogs to the vet for emergency surgery.”

Days after his kennel was erected, Bronx was one tail-wagging, happy pup as he left Benessere Animal Hospital with all of his shots and his first bath. They even boarded him for a couple of days so he didn’t have to be out in one of those thunderous storms we had a few months back.

Folks from all around the country, along with corporate sponsors, fund this worthy operation. Andrew is proud to say, “Every dime goes into our builds. We don’t buy dinners or fuel the car with donations.” I can testify to that!  OH

How can you help freedom-loving animals from these torturous conditions? Make a generous tax deductible gift at or hit the email link there and ask how you can best contribute to this cause.

The author of five books and creator of, Billy Ingram is, in the words of the L.A .Times, “one of the nation’s top pop culture gurus.”

True South

Hit the Highway

An ode to the road

By Susan S. Kelly

It’s a universal truth of summer in North Carolina, when the beach and the mountains become our magnetic poles, that sooner or later you’re going to be traveling on Interstate 40. Or “Forty,” as its fans and its haters call it.

I’m a fan.

You can have your backroads. How can a pastoral scene compare with the racetrack of 423.6 miles that (somewhat) horizontally slices the state? Every mile is pure entertainment. Sure, the “Bridge Ices Before Road” signs get boring, but the stuff people are hauling more than compensates. Where else but on I-40 in North Carolina can you find Christmas trees and golf carts and watermelons and boats? Plus, skis, surfboards, bicycles, kayaks, coolers, tobacco, cotton, horses, coonhound cages, Airstreams, and the requisite pickup or two hauling a chest, a mattress, a La-Z-Boy, and a fake tree, tarp a’ flappin’. It must be admitted that when I pass one of those silver-slatted semis, I strain to see if there are hogs inside, just before I avert my eyes and try not to think about their ultimate destination. Same for the vanilla-colored school bus whose sides read “Department of Prisons.” Don’t tell me you haven’t tried to peer into those windows crisscrossed with wire. I grew up with a father who always pointed out the guy with the rifle on his shoulder while inmates worked on the roadsides. Don’t see that much anymore, or those silvery mud flaps sporting silhouettes of naked ladies. Now the rigs are hot pink, for breast cancer. Progress.

I’m not the slightest bit offended if a rig driver honks at me as I pass. If someone still finds my 63-year-old knees attractive, I ain’t complaining.

How does a town get a name like Icard?

I particularly like those lead drivers with flashing head and taillights that warn of “Wide Load.” What a cool job. Like Dorothy Parker, who famously said that she’d never been rich, but thought she’d “be darling at it,” so would I in one of those cars. Think of the books-on-tape you could finish.

The amazing variety of stuff dangling from rearview mirrors — sunglasses, leis, air fresheners, Mardi Gras beads — all give a glimpse into a driver’s personality, like bumper stickers. (Question: How did so many Steelers fans wind up in North Carolina?) And while Virginia holds an unofficial record for vanity tags, I-40 is no slouch in that department, either. PRAZGOD. KNEEDEEP. IAMAJEDI. JETANGEL. Hair seems to be an ongoing tag topic: HAIRLOOM. NOHAIR. And this: SPDGTKT. Seriously, why not just call the cops instead of advertising?

I do not understand convertibles on interstates.

Do not fret yourself over aliens and vampires: If I-40 traffic is any indication, white pickup trucks are far more likely to take over the world.

You can’t fail to notice, while the Athena cantaloupes you bought at the state farmers market are growing more and more fragrant in the backseat, that, let’s face it, the flowers and trees planted in medians around Raleigh are way more attractive than anywhere else in the state. Harrumph. Near Fayetteville, D.C. license tags get more numerous, just as around Asheville, the Tennessee tags multiply, and around Benson, the New Yorks and Floridas proliferate.

Granted, I’d swap a few Bojangles and Cracker Barrel signs for South of the Border and Pedro puns on I-95, but that Mobile Chapel — a permanent trailer in the parking lot of a truck stop near Burlington — never fails to intrigue. As does Tucker Lake, a Johnston County curiosity with a fake beach and so kitted out with rope swings, slides, ski jumps, cables and random docks that you can scarcely see the water. Moreover, a stretch of I-40 around Greensboro has its own ghoulish nickname — “Death Valley” — for its unfortunate statistic of wrecks. And how about those cell towers disguised as pine trees? Come on. The “trees” are so spindly that they look like they belong, well, somewhere near the actual Death Valley.

So much to see from mountains to coast. What you won’t see, though, is the sign where I-40 begins, in Wilmington, that reads “Barstow, California 2,554 miles.” It was stolen so often that the DOT got tired of replacing it. Meanwhile, if you happen to have a list of locations for the elusive Dairy Queens along I-40, please text me. Calories don’t count when you’re a friend of Forty.  OH

Susan Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and proud grandmother.


Changing Customs, Fading Manners

Who is minding what?

By Clyde Edgerton

“Mind your mannersî is a phrase that is probably less heard today than it was 60 years ago. Back then (I was a teenager), I would have no more worn a hat inside a house or building than I would have peed in the street. (I would have peed in the backyard, down toward the woods, and that would not have been considered bad manners where I’m from in rural North Carolina.)

Are we sometimes talking about changing customs, or changing norms, rather than changing manners? Shades of difference move between those three terms: customs, norms, manners. Your mama, or another trusted relative, probably never said to you, “Mind your customs,” or “Mind your norms.” Customs and norms describe habitual stuff out there in a society — descriptive. Manners are more about what happens in smaller group settings — prescriptive, connected to right and wrong.

And sometimes I think (like other older folks) that manners haven’t changed; they have simply disappeared. Well, almost. Perhaps disappeared in other parts of the country, and are hanging by a thin thread in my home section of the country, the South, where people do not have accents unless they are from elsewhere.

Let’s take family reunions — and “eating order.” Family reunions in my childhood were like Christmases. The family planned ahead for, and looked forward to, each family reunion. It was a big deal. We had five of them each year. (It’s down to two now.) When it was time to eat from the big long table with covered dishes (you were likely out of doors), the older folks served themselves first. Had I, as a child, started for the food right after the blessing, my mother would have said, “Mind your manners, Son,” and I would have remembered that children served themselves last, not first. It was a matter of right and wrong, good and bad. Simple good manners.

There were only good and bad manners, no debatable manners, or, for that matter, “politically incorrect” manners. “Politically correct” — for better and/or worse — hadn’t been invented.

My first brush (that I know about) with my own politically incorrect manners happened at a dinner party (among academics) in about 2000. Each of us stood behind our own chair before being seated. When it was time to sit, I reached for the chair beside mine because standing behind that chair was a woman. As I started to pull back her chair for her to sit, she quietly held the chair in its place.

I didn’t get it. I assumed she was looking the other way. I tried again, and then looked into her eyes. The message was clear. She did not like what I was doing. She remained silent. I turned loose of her chair and tended to my own. I was confused, but there was no doubt that she did not like me messing with her chair.

I have since figured out what was perhaps going on. (I have two daughters, and would like to consider myself an intersectional feminist who believes rational feminism can lead to men’s liberation.) I think back on that occasion, on the matter of customs, norms, manners; on the woman beside me at the dinner party; on my mother (not an academic by a long shot) and how she behaved in social situations. I’m pretty sure my mother, had she been a modern-day feminist, would have said, “I’d prefer to pull out my own  chair, but thank you.” She would have said that because she had good manners — innate good manners.  OH

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.