Simple Life

Simple Life

Return of Jimmy the Lawn King

Fresh-cut grass stirs up memories

By Jim Dodson

It started with a simple phone call from our neighbor across the street. Mildred Horseman had seen me mowing my family’s yard and wondered if I might be willing to mow her lawn. Her husband, Gene, was just home from the hospital and under strict doctor’s orders to rest for a month. She even offered to pay.

It was early summer, 1968, and I was 15. We were new to the old neighborhood where everybody had lush green lawns. I’d been mowing lawns since age 12, trusted not to destroy anything or chop off my own toes.

“I’ll send Jimmy right over,” said my mom. “No need to pay him. He loves mowing the grass.”

That was partly true. I liked mowing grass. I also liked money, which I needed to buy the beautiful classical guitar I had my eye on at Moore Music Company. It was $95, a whopping $800 in today’s dollars.

So off I went with our crotchety old Sears & Roebuck power mower, which normally took forever and required a number of impolite muttered oaths to start. Mr. Horseman sat on his screened porch watching me unsuccessfully crank until I had to rest my arm. He finally got up and stepped outside.

“Jimmy,” he said. “Come with me. I’ve got just what you need.”

In his garage sat a bright green Lawn-Boy power mower, one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen.

“She’s got a few years of age on her, but will almost always start on the first pull. I keep her tuned up.”

He was right. One pull and she started. Gene Horseman went back to his club chair on the porch and I got busy on his lawn, marveling at the way his Lawn-Boy cut grass. When I finished and put his mower back in the garage, he waved me onto the porch. Mrs. Horseman had brought out lemonade.

“So what do you think?”

“Great,” I said. “Wish my dad would get one of those.”

“They’re pretty reliable,” he said. “One of the oldest brands in America, invented by a guy who built the first outboard motors for boats.”

As I drank my lemonade, I learned Gene Horseman was a retired business professor from Michigan. The Lawn-Boy mower, he explained, was created before WWII by a Wisconsin man who built Evinrude outboard engines. “I knew him when I was young. He became quite the successful businessman.”

Gene Horseman handed me a ten dollar bill. Sadly, I was compelled to explain that I was unable to take his money due to a mother who didn’t care a fig if I became a successful businessman.

“In that case,” he said, “how about we do a deal. You mow my lawn this summer and you can use the Lawn-Boy to mow lawns along the street. Sound good? I’ll even buy the gas.”

It did sound good, a potential gold mine at ten bucks a clip. But I didn’t know any of the neighbors yet.

“Print up some fliers,” he said. “Or, better yet, I’ll have Mildred get on the phone. You’ll have a job or two in no time.”

Within a week, I had two paying jobs, half a dozen regulars by the middle of summer. At ten bucks a pop, I was the richest kid on the block. By July, the Yamaha classical was mine. My mom took to calling me “Jimmy the Yard King.”

It was my first real job.

I also had my first real crush that summer on a cute girl from Luther League named Ginny Silkworth. Ginny had a great laugh and a solid right hook. When I asked her to go to the movies, she laughed and punched me sharply on the arm. We went to see Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet at the Cinema on Tate Street near UNCG, an evening somewhat diminished by the fact that my father had to drive us to the theater and never stopped chatting with my date.

That summer was long and hot for America, one of the most tumultuous in the nation’s history. Rev. Martin Luther King and Sen. Bobby Kennedy were both gunned down by assassins that spring, and an unpopular war in Vietnam took an even ghastlier turn. Race riots erupted in Cleveland, Miami and Chicago.

But it was also the summer that Ginny Silkworth and I went to see The Graduate, the Beatles released “Hey Jude,” and I snagged a second job teaching guitar to kids and senior citizens at Mr. Weinstein’s music store. Between mowing and teaching, my pockets overflowed. I started saving money to buy my first car.

Something about the orderliness and smell of fresh-cut grass and the satisfaction of a job well done permeated my teenage brain and grounded me in a way that made my narrow world seem oddly immune from all the bad news on TV.

It was the first and last great year of Jimmy the Yard King, though its impact was lasting.

Perhaps this explains why, when my wife and I built a post-and-beam house on a high forested hill near the coast of Maine — my first home ever — I created a large garden that featured more than half an acre of beautiful Kentucky bluegrass and fescues.

By then I’d graduated to a serious deluxe John Deere lawn tractor that gave me more than a decade of mowing bliss. A sad parting came, however, when we packed up to move home to North Carolina and discovered there was no room in the moving van for my dear old John Deere.

I seriously considered driving my Deere all the way to Carolina, but finally gave up and sold it to our snowplowing guy for a song. I still have dreams about it.

Today, back in the old neighborhood where I started, I own a modest suburban patch of grass I can mow with my Honda self-propelled mower in less than 18 minutes.

It’s a fine mower, but nothing compared to Gene Horseman’s marvelous Lawn-Boy. Professional lawn crews now roam our streets like packs of Mad Max mowers, offering to relieve me of my turf obligations for 75 bucks a pop, roughly what it once took me a full week to earn cutting grass. They seem offended by an old guy who loves to mow his own yard.

Sometimes, when I’m cutting grass, I think about that faraway summer and Ginny Silkworth, my laughing first date. We stayed in touch for four decades. Ginny became a beloved teacher in Philadelphia and passed away a few years ago. I miss her laugh, if not her punch.

Maybe the smell of fresh-cut summer grass does that. Whatever it is, if only for 18 minutes once a week, Jimmy The Yard King is back in business.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

Pleasures of Life Dept.

Pleasures of Life Dept.

Daddy Diaries

Day #1669: a letter to my unborn son

By Josephus Thompson III

When we found out we were having a baby — a second child and a boy, at that! — we were ecstatic! The American Dream, house, kids, boy and girl, white picket fence, car and SUV, entrepreneurism and W2 combination, we were building a life and chasing the dream, but I just could not shake this feeling that something was different with this pregnancy. And I could not put my finger on it. I was happy and excited, of course I was, but there was this thing looming. Fear? Anticipation? Doubt? The feeling was not overwhelming, but there. I could not see it, but I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. It was difficult to express and I wanted it out, the weight lifted. I needed to make it tangible, so I turned to the pen and this is what spilled onto the paper:

Dear Son,

They are going to try to kill you . . .

What I meant to say is, Dear Son, this world . . .

Argh, let me start over.

Dear Son,

Your mother and I are sooooo excited —

And terrified — to bring you into this world.

They killed Keenan last week, tased him till his life phased out, and all he wanted was help. You are Black and they will always see that first, then male, then threat. I’m not sure if human or son will ever enter their minds.

But know that you are mine and I love you.

I want to tell you that you come from Wakanda, Vibranium in your DNA, but neither of those things are real. Either way, you will become a superhero, and not by choice but over time in order to survive. Learn to wear masks and allow your truth to shine through your chest like a beacon of hope.

Dear Son,

I’m afraid my suppressed fear has stifled my excitement. I’m sorry . . . It’s hard to explain and . . . your name is coming. It’s on the tip of my tongue, afraid to leap.

But when it does,

Boy, you gonna fly.

There is a runway prepared for you.

But evolution means you probably won’t need it.

And Africa, yea Africa, is in your veins and we have traveled seas and overcome, chased the setting sun daily, praying to see it rise again. And we do and so will you. You are an epic poem waiting to be written. Wobbling in the womb, you are already consuming all you need. And we, we are waiting to welcome you with open arms, to protect you from harm. And the irony is, when your sister was born, I considered buying a gun, thinking, “I have a wife and daughter to protect.” But now, having a son, and then I can’t think of one example of how that might actually save your life . . . or mine . . . in this society . . . in this society.

Dear Son, you are a magnificent masterpiece, a bundle of joy waiting to be opened, beautifully and wonderfully made. You are enough and always will be more than meets the eye. You will transform the world, and I am already so proud of you.

And, at 20 weeks, you are already kicking up dust, getting your reps in, getting your weight up. Trust me, you will need it. And I, I will teach you of Lorraine Motel Balconies and Audubon Ballrooms of African uprisings and vast kingdoms that created culture and knowledge.

Dear Son, you are a miracle.

A rising manifestation of love and peace and joy,

of purpose, power and persistence,

You are Patience personified in God’s grace.

You are a greeting,

A morning sunrise,

A reminder of revolution birthed from sheer will and necessity.

You are needed.

And we anxiously await your arrival.


Dad  OH

Josephus III

Poet, Dreamer, Husband, Father, Son

Changing the world one poem at a time

@JosephusIII on all social media platforms

Sazerac June 2023

Sazerac June 2023

Unsolicited Advice

In 2019, Omaha Steaks conducted a survey in an effort to finally reveal what it is that Dad really wants this Father’s Day. The results shared in the New York Post are eye-opening. We thought we’d use them to create some helpful suggestions that will make his day an absolute dream come true.

The number one gift Dad wants? A phone call from a child. C’mon, Dad. You know we don’t use our phones for actual conversations and genuine human interaction these days. LOL. Won’t a text suffice? We’ll even make it more personal by adding a GIF.

Coming in second is a big, juicy steak. Due to environmental concerns, we’ll be making our dad a cauliflower “steak” that, when doused in enough seasonings, is sure to hit the spot. And give him gas. Hmmm, on second thought, make it a portabello.

Three out of four dads prefer an experience over a gift. May we suggest scheduling that colonoscopy dear old dad’s just about due for? And kudos to Dad number four, who isn’t ashamed to admit he likes being showered in prezzies.

Put down the “World’s Best Dad” mug STAT. As it turns out, 64 percent of fathers specifically don’t want anything with that moniker printed on it. Noted. *Adds “World’s Most Mediocre Dad” T-shirt to cart.

Looking for more insight? Check here:

Just One Thing

Juneteenth GSO has grown into a full-fledged four-day affair, “celebrating the culture” with events such as the Black Food Truck Festival and Gospel Superfest ( Feast your eyes on artwork and handmade goods crafted by local Black artisans at the inaugural Uptown Juneteenth Arts & Crafts Festival from noon until 6 p.m. at Sternberger Park, north of World War Memorial Stadium. Local artist Caprice Baynes will be on site with an array of original works. Baynes, 37, grew up sketching clothing designs as a child wanting to be a fashion designer. After earning a degree in advertising and graphic design from Alamance Community College in Burlington, she picked up a brush in 2010 and taught herself to paint. The resulting work, Blasian, is a fusion of fashion, graphic design, acrylic paint and, more recently, mixed media. It all blends together various cultures as seen in much of her work. Of the painting pictured here, she says, “I love Asian inspired art and fashion and I infused it with my own culture.” Baynes’ work can be found at Danny’s Restaurant, Demhaj Poetry Lounge in High Point, downtown Burlington’s 4th Friday Live Art Walks and, of course — you gotta go — at the Uptown Juneteenth Arts & Crafts Festival.

Sage Gardener

My tomatoes are in the ground and the race is on against my two next door neighbors as to who’s going to put the first ripe one on Facebook. We’ve joined something like 18.6 million other backyard gardeners, more of them (86 percent) growing tomatoes than any other vegetable. And yes, I know that “Botanically speaking, tomatoes are fruits because they develop from an ovary.” That from The Tomato Book by Sheila Buff, who also observes, “Almost all cultivated tomatoes [are] self-pollinating, since pollen from the plant’s own anthers can reach the ovary.” Which is way too much information on tomato sex for me. And this, from folks at ScottsMiracle-Gro: The average return on a vegetable-garden investment is 757 percent. (After the first year start-up cost, they say.) I tell this to Anne, who started ordering tomato-enhancing fertilizers and sprays in January. She reminds me that Bill Alexander did a cost-benefit analysis, from Havahart traps to Velcro tomato ties, on how much each of his tomatoes costs him. He’s the author of The $64 Tomato. Bill lives in the Hudson River Valley, where deer fences, we decide, must be way cheaper than here. “Here’s a guy on who identifies The 10 Best Tomatoes to Grow in N.C.,” I holler across the room to Anne. “Roma is No. 1, Brandywine is No. 2,” I tell her. “And he says that Brandywine is the hardiest, tastiest and easiest to grow of all heirloom tomatoes.” Her keyboard clicks: “Did you notice that he’s from Ohio?” I did not. I let her know that NCSU’s various extension agents flog disease resistant hybrids such as Whopper and Better Boy, but concede that German Johnson, Homestead and Mr. Stripey are heirloom varieties that stand up to North Carolina’s long, hot summers. Anne? She plants a dozen varieties, hoping she’ll get two or three that will thrive in spite of drought or too much rain or damp-off or early blight or wilt or tobacco mosaic virus or blossom-end rot or bacterial cankers. And one or two always do. But why am I bothering? I’ve labeled Anne the tomato police: “Dig that hole deeper so I can break off a few stems.” “Three feet apart.” “Never grow them in the same place twice.” “They need suckering.” “Not too much fertilizer or you’ll have all growth and no tomatoes.” After decades of arguing, I’ve become her designated yard boy and just say, “Yes m’am,” doing exactly what she says.     

Window to the Past

Photograph © Carol W. Martin/Greensboro History Museum Collection

A little birdie told us that the 1947 U.S. Women’s Open was held at Starmount Forest Country Club. Above, two golfers prepare to par-tee.

Everything Under the Sun

The things one mother remembers carrying while at the beach with a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old, aka a modern-day parent’s equivalent of “I carried a watermelon:”

The usual suspects: a sand covered paci, a handful of soggy goldfish that were for some reason spit into my hand, a half empty juice box that kept squirting me with its straw and a soaking wet swim diaper. All at once.

A decaying crab.

On one occasion, two wet beach towels, a cup of completely melted ice cream (flavor: “blue”), my infant daughter and a tiny white bird feather she picked up for her big brother, which was also blue by the time it reached him.

A just-purchased plush horse (“Horsey”) with a saltwater-soaked mane and sand-covered marble eyes, which silently ask me ”Why?”

A book, never opened.

My 4-year-old, extra long son, who is best carried by bending my body into a sideways C-shape while barely lifting his feet off the sand that was “freezing me, Mommy!” (He meant burning.)

A tiny, dime-sized pancake that he wanted to save.

A shell so sacred that it apparently had to be kept separate from all the other shells.

A rainbow Band-Aid — not ours — that my daughter would not stop playing with.

A beer, immediately knocked into the sand.

A sand-covered boogie board flying behind me like a kite while it knocked into innocent bystanders. If that was you, sorry!

A tiny human — my favorite carried treasure of all — with wild hair that smelled of sunscreen and sweat, and tasted, when kissed, like salt.    — Sarah Ross Thompson

Visual Language

Visual Language

Jennifer Meanley creates kaleidoscopic realities

By Liza Roberts 


Center: As if smoldering and smoke were oneness evoked by thought and expression, oil on paper mounted on panel, 15 x 15 inches, 2019.

Right: Milk-Ersatz, spilt, oil on canvas, 48 x 56 inches, 2017.

Intimate but alienating, lush and allegorical, Jennifer Meanley’s paintings appear to capture the moments upon which events hinge. Figures, often out of scale with their environments, gaze at odd angles within untamed, kaleidoscopic settings, more consumed with their interior lives than with the discordant scenes they inhabit. Animals, alive and dead, sometimes share the space. Something’s clearly about to happen, or might be happening, or perhaps already has happened. Are her subjects aware?

“There is often a sense of lack of synchronicity between how we experience our bodies and how we experience our mind, our emotional states,” Meanley says. Her paintings “often register that paradox, whether that’s with the animals, or the symbolism with the space itself . . . or whether the figure seems to be looking and registering and connecting” to reality. Or not.


Left: Midnight Filigree, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches, 2020.

Right: Repertory Lights in Deep-Night, oil on canvas, 61 x 72 inches, 2020.

At UNC-Greensboro, where she teaches drawing and painting, Meanley paints these large-scale depictions of human experience. Simultaneously capturing the spheres of action, memory, participation and observation, she invites a viewer to examine the parts and absorb the whole. Like poetry, her works reveal themselves in stages and elements: image, rhythm, tone, vocabulary, story. Color plays a major role. “I’ve always had a penchant for really saturated colors,” she says, especially as a way to indicate atmosphere, like light, air, wind and the grounding element of earth.

Does she begin with a narrative? Not really, or not always. In a painting underway on her working wall — in which a caped, gamine figure gazes upon a flayed animal, possibly a deer, within a riotously overgrown landscape — the New Hampshire native describes her impetus: “I was thinking of this sort of crazy Bacchanal,” she says, “or of a surplus, imagination as a kind of surplus.” Anything is possible in the abundant realm of the imagined, she points out. The real world is another matter.

It’s no surprise to learn that Meanley writes regularly in forms she compares to short stories that emerge from streams of consciousness. It’s a process she describes as if it’s a place where she goes: Language is “like a field that I experience, stepping in and noticing punctuation, noticing the spaces between things, or the pauses, the way breath might be taken. That’s all really, really fascinating to me.” When she’s teaching, she tries to create a corollary to visual language in much the same way: “What does it mean to literally punctuate a drawing, in a way that you would take a sentence that essentially had no meaning, and make it comprehensible?” she asks her students. “Through timing, and space, and rhythm, and breath.”


Left: Migratory Inflection, oil on Canvas, 18 x 24 inches, 2019.

Center: Roil, Oil on Canvas 18 x 24 inches, 2019.

Right: Beloved, oil on canvas, 72 x 190 inches, 2017.

All of which connects to physical movement, another practice Meanley credits with fueling her creative process. Long walks with her dog in the woods spark marathon writing sessions, which then engender drawings and paintings.

In the last year, her writing sessions have taken on new importance, Meanley says. Writing “is a way for me to deepen my personal exploration of my own psychic space, which is the origins of the paintings as well.” Though she doesn’t intend to publish these writings, Meanley is open to the possibility of including some of her words in new paintings. “I think the world that I’m exploring has to do with the idea of psychological interiority and how that can find representation” through words and images. In the meantime, the kinetic activity of walking continues to fire her imagination.

It has also attuned Meanley to the natural environment of the South, so different from what surrounded her in New Hampshire, where she grew up, and where she also earned her BFA at the University of New Hampshire, or even at Indiana University, where she received her MFA. In and around Greensboro, she finds nature so lush, so green, so impressive. “I started realizing that there’s this battle within the landscape. Just to even maintain my yard, I feel like I’m battling the natural growth here. It did amplify that sense of tension, of creating landscape as a narrative event . . .  as an important space to contemplate hierarchies of power.”

Summer, with its time away from the demands of academia, provides Meanley with more time for outdoor exploration and for contemplations of all kinds. She’s also looking forward to having time to tackle larger works, with the hope of a solo exhibition later this year or in 2024. “Doing a solo show is an endeavor,” she says. “Right now I’m gearing up.”  OH

This is an excerpt from Art of the State: Celebrating the Art of North Carolina, published by UNC Press.

Poem June 2023

Poem June 2023

this I know for sure

We are the breath the skin the muscles the heart the hands the unmeasurable bones whispering across the Atlantic Ocean. We are the bellies of Middle Passage ships. We are the blue door of no return on Goree Island. We are the mornings that broke with our living and our dead fastened together. We are the eyes bearing witness to sharks following our human cargo waiting for the feast of dead or sick bodies tossed overboard. We are the shadows in the back of the eyes of daughters throwing themselves and their babies overboard. Our blood is the red that stole the blue of the ocean. We are scattered bones rising up from the bottom of the Atlantic revealing a pathway marking the route. We are the fruit of those bone trees planted deep in the fertile Atlantic. We carry a DNA of survival, strength, extraordinary will. From forced migration to slave market we are all the links of all the chains of the past and future. Binding spiritual links from the bones in the Atlantic to the bones of slaves in a place like Galveston Texas where ancestral whispers became the wind… Caressing tired bones with a timeless spirit of rebirth and love. The wind heard first. Whispering from the trees, from the ground beneath their feet, whispering…




The wind knew and rattled tiny bones beneath the feathers of birds. The wind knew. Giving voice to the rain falling creating fertile freedom ground. The wind whispered to every butterfly, every insect pollinating from flower to flower. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. Eagles stopped in midair to listen to the wind’s song… Freedom came today. Freedom came today… And because our people are a chosen people we could understand the dance of the trees, the tremble of the water. Hoes stopped striking. Hands stopped picking. Feet stood still. A mighty storm named freedom rained over them. Soaked them clean. Mothers kissed hope into the air above babies’ heads. Grandmothers and grandfathers stretched prayers into a sky that would not bend. Men asked where will this freedom live. Children asked what does this freedom taste like. What does this freedom smell like. What does this freedom sound like.  What does this freedom look like. Mama, tell me what this freedom gonna feel like. We screamed a jubilee into the clouds. We shed the skin of a slave. We shed the rags of a slave into the river. Our freedom skin was a shining brand-new nakedness that outshined the sun. We be clothed in freedom’s gold. On Juneteenth dead bones came alive and flew on the wings of Sankofa birds all the way back to the river where blood is born… All the way back to the womb that never forgets. We are the Juneteenth resurrection… We are the ancient prayers answered. We are the cup overflowing inviting generations to this feast of freedom. 

— Jaki Shelton Green

Life’s Funny

Life’s Funny

In the Twitter Sphere

The making of a bird brain

By Maria Johnson

I keep glancing out the window, stalling over the keyboard, because I want a happy ending to this column.

Nothing earth-shattering. Just nice. Neat. Fitting.

I thought the perfect finale would have alighted by now.

It’s been more than a week. But, so far, zippo.

So, while I’m waiting, I’ll just say this:

I’m an early bird in one sense — rising well before sunrise — but I’m late to join the crowd in the “cheep” seats.

And, frankly, I’m shocked that I’ve arrived at all.

For the longest time, the word bird appeared just before boring in my personal dictionary.

Before I’m pecked to death by my beady-eyed friends, let me say that I’m migrating your way.

Perhaps it was inevitable.

My grandparents were backyard birders.

They maintained a heliport of sorts — a bulbous chandelier of whitewashed gourds atop a tall metal pole, the equivalent of a flashing “vacancy” sign for the purple martins that summered in their small Southern town.

They hosted a bluebird box (an early Airbnb?), cleaning meticulously between tenants.

My grandmother monitored a hummingbird feeder outside her kitchen window.

She watched, waited, studied.

That really stumped me as a kid — all the time spent watching, waiting and studying.

For what?

Birds. Trees. Flowers. With a few exceptions, they all looked pretty much the same to me.

The difference between a sparrow and a wren? Who knew? Who cared — except for the fact that my grandparents seemed happy to see wrens, not so much sparrows?

I hate to admit this, but I think my aversion to birding was cemented by Miss Jane Hathaway, the brainy secretary to Mr. Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies television show.

Miss Jane’s after-hours passion was the Biddle Birdwatchers club, and she regularly appeared in campfire attire, grasping binoculars in search of the elusive yellow-bellied sap sucker or some other rarity.

Miss Jane was seriously funny (actress Jane Kulp won an Emmy for her role) and the epitome of a bird nerd. The stereotype stuck with me.

Still, I found myself mesmerized by the crows that chattered in our backyard, except when they glided silently in and out of a nest they built at the tippy-top of a loblolly pine. Aha, I thought, that’s where the term “crow’s nest” came from.

At the beach, I caught myself trying to discern the difference between sandpipers and plovers, terns and skimmers, ibises and egrets.

Once, on a family walk around Lake Townsend, I was thrilled to see a bald eagle tracing a wide arc over the fish-filled water, which I was pretty sure meant at least two nesting pairs claimed Greensboro as home.

I felt a pop of joy. What the heck?

Still, when I bought bird feeders earlier this year, I did so under the cover of my husband.

I bought him a pair of tube-style feeders and a decorative double shepherd’s hooks for Christmas after he’d admired a similar set-up at a friend’s home.

For Valentine’s Day, I bought him a hummingbird feeder, mainly because it’s partly red and I was desperate for an idea that wasn’t another red golf shirt.

Also, the bird supply store was on the way home.

Also-also, my dad loved hummingbirds, and every time I think of that, it makes me smile.

He came to his hummingbird fascination late in life. In his last years, in his 90s, as his mobility waned, he delighted in watching the feeder that my mom hung on their deck, waiting for the tiny birds to arrive from their wintering spots in Mexico and South America.

“He’s here! He’s here!” Daddy would exult when he finally spotted a ruby-throated male, usually in April. “And look! He brought his little bride!”

I’m sure I rolled my eyes. Maybe I tossed the birds a token glance.

“Yeah, they’re nice.”

I mean, it was kinda cool, how they could move forward and backward and up and down so quickly. How their wings beat so fast — about 20 times a second — that they blurred. No wonder they stoked up on sugar water. They were doing some serious aerobics. Props to the hummers.

My dad is gone now. But my mom still keeps her hummingbird feeder full of sugar water, partly because she enjoys the iridescent show, and partly to remind her of his glee.

Same here. Sometimes, I wonder about the ingredients of his joy. Sure, there’s the pride of being “chosen,” though I’m sure he knew that any ol’ trumpet-shaped flower will do.

Maybe he saw the whole journey — not just miles covered and nectar drunk, but how evolution — a slow dance of time and necessity — had gifted the tiny bird what it needed to survive. He often talked about the miracles under our noses.

Thích Nhât Hanh, the late Buddhist monk, would have called this looking deeply.

Which requires a certain amount of stillness.

Which our culture calls a waste of time or, worse, sloth. That is, until we get older, and time saps our ability to flit away so quickly.

Then we call it wisdom — sitting still long enough to notice differences, getting curious about how and why those differences exist and following those questions.

And so here I sit with my volume of Birds of North America within arm’s reach, next to a pair of binoculars. There’s another window open on my laptop: a migration map at, where local birders report the first sightings of spring.

This is how I know that someone in Old Starmount spotted one earlier this week.

And someone in Willow Oaks saw one last week.

And someone in McLeansville saw two males at the same time — “a double treat to see.”


I sigh, turn my gaze outside, rest my chin on my hand and try to forgive myself for what I’m thinking: Sometimes, this wisdom thing is for the birds. OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. Email her at

O.Henry Ending

O.Henry Ending

Deep Dish

A family vacation to remember

By Cassie Bustamante

Every family has the quintessential summer vacation that stands out in its history. Ours is a 2017 road trip halfway across the country, from Maryland to South Dakota, with stops along each way in Chicago and St. Louis. I’d just sold the vintage store I’d set up with a friend and had decided to spend some of the profits on an epic family vacation, one the kids would remember for a lifetime.

We load up our cherry-red Ford Flex with snacks, pillows, luggage, plus 11-year-old Sawyer and 10-year-old Emmy, and all of their “necessities” (rainbow unicorn hooded blanket — check). My husband, Chris, a Virgo and Type A planner, has plotted out our vacation in great detail. As we begin our first leg, we excitedly chat about the fun things we’ll get to do and see during our two-night stay in our first stop, the Windy City: a Cubs game, the Field Museum, the iconic Bean and, of course — the most highly anticipated and arguably Chicago’s greatest contribution to culinary arts — deep dish pizza. In fact, Chris has planned it so that we’ll arrive in Chicago just in time to check in to our hotel and walk to one of the city’s most famed pizza joints, Lou Malnati’s.

About a half-hour from our destination, traffic slows a bit. “Mommy, I don’t feel so good,” Emmy calls from the back seat. From a young age, our daughter has been subject to bouts of motion sickness on long trips, so we chalk it up to that and assure her that we will be there soon.

“Just close your eyes and try to rest,” I say reassuringly.

A few minutes later, I’m rushing Emmy out of the backseat of the car so she can barf on the side of Interstate 80. It’s a routine we’re both familiar with. We give her a minute to make sure it’s all out, then hit the road again.

When we arrive in Chicago, Emmy’s motion sickness doesn’t seem to be passing, but the rest of us are the worst combination of exhausted and hungry. I tell her I’m sure she just needs some fresh air and time for her stomach to settle; the walk to the restaurant will do her some good.

After a few blocks, we arrive, put in our name, and wait outside Lou Malnati’s front door to be called. Emmy, we notice, still looks pale and miserable. Chris and I exchange “oh crap” glances as she says, “I think I’m gonna be sick again.”

In a moment of panic, I rush her toward the nearest restroom, dragging her by the hand behind me. She doesn’t make it into a stall and unleashes all over the floor, counter and sinks. I clean up as best I can while shouting to women at the door, “Do not come in here right now!!” (In retrospect, we should have stayed outside, as Chris likes to remind me.)

Mortified, I find an employee and explain what’s just happened, apologizing profusely. Emmy and I head back outside where Chris and I decide that the best course of action is ordering pizza-to-go for the rest of us.

Back at our hotel room, we tuck into the pizza with gusto — except Emmy, as you might suspect. And for the next few minutes, the subtle sounds of chewing and involuntary “mmmms” echo throughout. Chris, Sawyer and I are so swept away by deep-dish pizza we savor every warm and gooey bite while Emmy looks on from bed, eyes sunken and sad.

Thankfully, after a night of sleep, she’s fine. We scurry through the Windy City, taking in as much as possible in our 48-hour jaunt.

But six years later, it isn’t a tourist site or baseball game that is top of mind when we think of that trip. It’s that pizza — the one that Emmy never got to taste. And while it might not be what we had in mind when we set out to create the vacation of a lifetime, we’re confident we made memories our kids will not forget, no matter how hard they try.  OH