John Hart’s latest novel, The Unwilling, is finally here
By Page Leggett
Greensboro’s own John Hart, New York Times bestselling author of fast-paced thrillers, has just wrapped up a virtual tour for his latest novel, The Unwilling, released on February 2.
Set in a “bigger, dirtier, scarier” version of Charlotte in 1972, the novel is told from several points of view.
The thriller begins with Jason French’s return from three years in prison following a dishonorable discharge from the Marines during the Vietnam conflict.
“I created a nonexistent prison,” notes Hart. “North Carolina never used the electric chair, but I wanted one.”
Jason is a heroin addict prone to violence whose folks aren’t thrilled about his homecoming.
His younger brother, Gibby, desperately wants to reestablish a relationship with Jason, so they set out on a carefree journey that takes a chilling turn when they encounter a prison transfer bus on a stretch of empty road. Jason’s girlfriend, who taunts the prisoners, is later murdered. Although Jason is accused, he isn’t the novel’s villain. That role belongs to a mysterious character known as X.
Hart’s intricate, fictional plot began with two seeds from real life.
“First was the Mỹ Lai massacre in Vietnam and a brave soldier who stood down a murderous soldier intent on destroying a village,” Hart says. “He faced vilification. It was 30 years before he was recognized as a hero.”
The second came from a moment that happened 30 years ago. Hart and his then-girlfriend were headed to Wrightsville Beach and ended up on a deserted road with a prison transfer bus. What if the girl in the convertible, he wondered years later, lifted her shirt?
“Then, I wrapped those [ideas] up in a family story that takes place in a community split by war.”
Hart came to the writing life the same way fellow bestselling authors Scott Turow and John Grisham did — by first being a lawyer.
“I was a pretty unhappy law student and then a pretty unhappy lawyer,” he admits. He had two unpublished books, a wife and a young child and realized he needed time and space to focus on writing.
“With my wife’s blessing, I quit my law practice,” he says.
It might not have happened at the breakneck pace of his novels — and, he admits, it certainly didn’t happen overnight — but Hart eventually landed on what readers love most about his crime thrillers: characters they care about.
With The Unwilling, Hart has done it again.OH
For more information about The Unwilling and upcoming virtual events, visit johnhartfiction.com or follow@johnhartauthoron Instagram.
Dear Sam,I hope you don’t mind if I call you by your first name.
Or that I know your first name.
I know it because I emailed your department the other day to ask about the word “phthalate.”
It’s a kind of chemical used in plastics and cosmetics.
Honestly, I’m not sure how I know the word. Maybe from reading shampoo labels. Hell, I wasn’t even sure it was a word until I looked it up.
But there it was: phthalate.
And so I dashed off an email to Spelling Bee at The New York Times.
“I am not a chemistry geek,” I wrote, “so my pain is not as great as theirs, but PHTHALATE.”
At this point, I suppose I should mind my manners and express gratitude that your newspaper offers Spelling Bee.
I mean, I know your game is not as popular as the crossword puzzle — no offense, but everyone knows who crossword editor Will Shortz is, and if you ask people who Sam Ezersky is, well . . .
But there’s hope for you. I’ve read that Spelling Bee, which was introduced online only three years ago, is growing in popularity, and it’s easy to see why.
It’s an awesome puzzle, especially for wordies, and especially in these times when no one can seem to agree on anything. We live in a world of“alternate facts,” God help us. For the time being, at least, we still agree on how to spell words, even if we disagree on which words you, Sam, recognize as valid for your game — cough-cough-PHTHALATE-cough.
But more on that later.
I adore the design of your puzzle, how every day you give people seven letters arranged in cells like a little honeycomb. There’s one letter in the center cell and six letters surrounding it.
People like me — we’re known collectively as the Hivemind — spend wayyyyy too much time seeing how many words they can make with those seven letters while abiding by the rules.
Namely, each word has to be at least four letters long; each word must contain the center letter; and you can use letters more than once. Also, the game accepts no proper nouns, hyphenated words or cussing, which is a bleeping shame.
Still, it blows my mind how many words are possible. Like, the other day, more than 40 words were possible with just seven letters. How can that be?
I mean, I know the letters aren’t random. There are always vowels and letters that make up common prefixes, suffixes and combination sounds like “ch” and “sh” and “th.” I’m sure you have computers that figure these things out. It’s all very clever.
I also think it’s brilliant that you assign every word a certain number of points, and you grade people based on how many points they amass.
For example, on any given day, my performance could be ranked as beginner, good start, moving up, good, solid, nice, great, amazing or genius.
In life, I settle for being nice.
Not with Spelling Bee. Every day, I’m shooting for genius.
I don’t always get there.
Some days, I’m amazing.
I have been known to wake in the middle of the night and grab my phone from the nightstand to see if I can push myself from amazing to genius. I’ve discovered that if I wake up early and attack the puzzle while my mind is clear, I do really well. Sometimes, I start a puzzle in the wee hours. One morning, I got two pangrams — words that use every letter in the puzzle and, therefore, reward you with the most points — and achieved my goal while still in bed.
“I’m a genius, and it’s only 6 a.m.,” I announced to my husband.
He suggested that I stay in bed, that the day could go only downhill from there.
Also, he said I was addicted.
My first thought was: “A-D-D-I-C-T-E-D.Can I make that word from today’s letters?”
And my second thought was: “Go work your crossword puzzle.”
I’m not putting down other people’s games.
We choose the games we need to grow.
The Bee teaches me many things.
First, it shows me that success comes in small bites and in persistence.
If you halt at “halt,” you could miss “halting,” and “haltingly.”
Perspective is everything.
Which is why, I’m sure, you can click a key in the puzzle to rotate the outer ring of letters.
Sometimes, just looking at them in a different way, literally, opens your mind.
Taking a break and coming back to the puzzle with fresh eyes does wonders, too.
Maybe the most important lesson, though, is in revealing how I think of myself when I’m merely amazing, or great, or God forbid, nice.
Why is it that I feel so much better about myself every time I step up a level?
The difference can be just one word, one point.
But the difference in my feeling is enormous.
And it’s all in my head.
I’m the same person, whether I’m a genius or one point away.
What a hive-blowing thought.
Anyway, Sam, your team’s auto-reply came quickly. It went on about how y’all try to use words that are common knowledge, blah, blah, blah. Right. As if “entente,” a word on yesterday’s list, is an everyday term, and “oodle” — which you failed to recognize earlier in the week — is not.
Oodles of people know that “oodle” is a word, Sam.
And oodles of people know that “phthalate” is a word.
OK, maybe not oodles of people.
But enough people to form a doggone entente, or friendly alliance, I’ll tell you that.
I’ll be honest with you, Sam. That reply — which invited me to contact you directly — took the wind out of my sails.
I stopped playing the puzzle that day.
I was merely great.
But I can live with that.
Because I got your damn pangram.
Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a coastal weekend drew to an end, we stopped at Sandy’s, a fishmonger in Southport. With cruelly blue skies that made us reluctant to head westward, we decided that fish, fresh from that day’s catch, would extend our getaway.
Eating outside as dusk fell, the tender, flaky fish pushed thoughts of Monday morning into the great beyond.
Suddenly, I felt a bone graze my throat.
I reached for my wine glass. The sensation — scratchy — was still there. Then I reached for bread to push the bone down.
It was uncomfortable. But not unbearably so.
My husband suggested we go get my throat looked at, but I was unwilling. There were things to do for the workweek ahead. I busied myself, coughing, gargling and clearing my throat whenever he left the room. The clock ticked.
I put on my pj’s and climbed into bed. As soon as I was prone, I knew. This was not merely a scratch. When I got up to dress for the emergency room, my husband was unamused.
“Why couldn’t we have gone at 6:30 and not 10 at night?” he groused.
I was sheepish when checking into the ER at Moses Cone for the first time in my life. A fish bone lodged in my throat felt like an inadequate emergency.
At this point, my husband stubbornly believed there was no way a bone was in there. I glared at him as he instructed the staff to put dire emergencies ahead of us, and then we sat silently for what felt like hours on end as the waiting room grew steadily fuller.
When I suggested we leave and try our luck at Wesley Long instead, my husband grew more irritated but eventually agreed. Once there, we found an even busier ER.
When my name was finally called, they beckoned me to a curtained off bay. I noted my name scrawled on a white board: “Adams. FB.”Wincing at that, I cleared my throat to test if perhaps the bone had moved. It was too late to bolt and go home.
Eavesdropping on the patients adjacent to me, I soon realized one of my neighbors was having heart attack symptoms. The other had attempted suicide.
These people, my husband’s expression said, have real emergencies.
When the young physician pulled back the curtain, I immediately apologized for being there. He pointed out that “95 percent” of people who think they have a fish bone lodged in their throat actually only have a scratch from swallowing it.
I felt about as ridiculous as I had ever felt in my adult life.
Then he examined my throat. “Hmmm,” he said. “I’ll be darned.”
My heart leapt hopefully. “There is a bone?” I asked, relieved for the first time in four hours.
“Sure is.” He left to get forceps. My husband looked stunned.
The doctor returned wearing a miner’s light and carrying what looked like long, skinny barbecue tongs.
“What if you can’t reach it?” my husband asked unhelpfully.
“We will have to prep her for surgery,” he replied.
“Surgery?” I squeaked, sobering.
He explained that the bone had to be extracted or else my throat could become infected and sepsis could set in. Any pleasure I had from being in the right disappeared.
But the doctor managed to extract it, and the relief was immediate, much like having a splinter release.
“Thank you!” I shouted, as he showed us the bone.
“It’s good sized,” he marveled. “Want to keep it?”
I shook my head.
Any questions, he asked.
I had one. “Why did you have to write Fish Bone?” I asked, pointing to the scrawled letters on the white board. “That was so embarrassing.”
The doctor was confused but turned to look.
“F-B?” He asked with a grin.
My husband began laughing and I feebly joined in. Back home, mere hours before our alarm would blare, I stretched out and felt — nothing.
“Do. Not. Tell. Anyone.” I muttered. But the bed shook as he lay there.
And, I will admit it, I laughed, too — in spite of my fool self.OH
Contributing editor Cynthia Adams claims the fish was so delicious that her FB experience was almost worth it. Her husband still has a bone to pick over the experience.
March is as harsh as it is hopeful. The earth is aflame with tender new grasses. Dead-nettle spills across the lawn like a sea of purple kisses. The birds are twittering on high and the dog is cradling something in its mouth, looking up as if to say you’ve got to see this.
You are equally relieved and horrified to discover that whatever she’s holding is pink and wriggling and very much alive.
“Drop it,” you say.
And so, she does. On a soft patch of earth dotted with dandelion.
Blind and hairless, the newborn squirrel is utterly helpless. You look up to the fork of a nearby oak, hoping to see a wild, leafy tangle of nest. Back when the world was gold-and-rust, leaves rustling like starlings with each gust, you’d witnessed its construction. And by some miracle — because what held by sticks and faith is not — the nest is still intact. You scoop up the babe with a thin cloth, place it at the base of a tree like a sacred offering, back away and wait.
The dog is whimpering. She looks up at you with the worried expression of a mother, back to the squirrel, so pink and vulnerable, then back to you.
Patience, you tell the dog as a reminder to yourself. The earth beneath you softens, yet there’s a chill you cannot shake.
An hour passes. You have nearly given up hope that mother squirrel will arrive, but she does. And in an instant, she is gone, scurrying up the tree with the babe in her mouth.
March winds can be cruel. But dog was dog, not snake or hawk. And in spring, there is always hope.
Just listen to the birds.
I glanced out the window at the signs of spring. The sky was almost blue, the trees were almost budding, the sun was almost bright. — Millard Kaufman
Princess of the Pea
Although the robin has been announcing its return for weeks, official spring arrives on March 20 — and with it, the glorious, flowering redbud.
Blue sky or gray, redbud blossoms are utterly electric by contrast, seemingly more vibrant by the day. The Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), also known as the Judas tree, is a tree of the pea family. Christian folklore tells that this now small and somewhat dainty tree once stood tall and mighty as an oak and that, when Judas betrayed Christ, he hanged himself from one. But let’s talk instead of their delicate clusters of rosy pink flowers, shall we?
Yep, they’re edible. High in Vitamin C. And that they burst from bare-bone limbs before the tree’s first heart-shaped leaves never fails to dazzle. Pickle them or transform your spring salad into a work of art with a sprinkling or a sprig.
As for the seeds and pods? Edible, too. Eat the Weeds [eattheweeds.com], a blog for foraging newbies, suggests using the unopened buds as a caper substitute.
Just add pasta, garlic and butter.
In the Garden
Mid-month, transplant broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage into the garden. Ditto lettuce and spinach. And get ready for April. After the last frost, it’s time again to sow your summer garden. The earth is softening. But the birds tell you everything you need to know: spring is here.
How a funky house on Lake Jeanette became a fortuitous vision
By Ashley Wahl
Photographs by Amy Freeman
Plan all you want, but life has a way of leading you where you were always going, even if you don’t yet know it.
This adage has been a theme for Jay and Julie Brennan since the day they met. Why would the story of their unexpected dream home on Lake Jeanette be an exception?
Eight years ago, merely by chance, Jay and Julie each found themselves at Starmount Forest Country Club, where neither was a member. Mistaking Julie for someone he knew, Jay tried to strike up a conversation with her and was promptly shut down.
“I had recently divorced,” says Julie. “‘Do I know you?’ sounded like a pickup line.”
It wasn’t. Jay, whose own marriage was dissolving, “actually did think she was someone else,” he says.
You know where this story is going: They weren’t looking for love, but they found it. And two years later, when the newly engaged couple decided they’d like to buy a house together, they certainly weren’t looking for a full-blown project.
After their private wedding in 2015 — “we didn’t want to have to worry about re-titling,” says Julie —the Brennans closed on a house in Lake Jeanette’s Southern Shores community that met their three requirements: abundant natural light, ample privacy and proximity to Sherwood Swim & Racquet Club, where Jay plays tennis.
Today, their lakeside home — a modern stone, stucco and cedar vision with dramatic, angular rooflines and a sweeping view to the water from nearly every room — is everything they could have ever wanted. The interior is a playful 4,000-square-foot exploration of colors, patterns, shapes and textures (yes, stripes and polka dots can unite) with no shortage of light or whimsy. Hidden from the road by a veil of hardwoods, the five-bed, four and one-half bath house opens to a spacious ipe (Brazillian walnut) deck complete with outdoor kitchen, weather-resistant furniture and hot tub.
It’s less than four miles from Sherwood’s tennis courts.
But it’s nothing like the house they bought.
Built in 1989, the original house was designed by an architect who lived there with his wife until the bank took it from them in the early ’90s. The Brennans bought it from the second owners.
“It was unusual,” Julie says of the interior. Pink walls and handmade Mexican tile floors. But the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to the water rendered the house utterly resplendent with natural light. She saw potential.
Julie is a retired art teacher who worked for Guilford County Schools for 10 years following her move here from Lynchburg, Va.
“Light is very important to me,” she says.
Jay liked the privacy. Because the house is surrounded by trees and situated on a cove near a water main that keeps boats confined to the main lake, the Brennans would never need to draw another window shade again. Plus, the modern design reminded him of the house his parents used to own in Naples.
“I don’t think there were any right angles in the entire house,” says Jay.
It was funky, but they liked it.
And so, before they made an offer, Julie called up her tennis buddy, Marta Mitchell (as in Marta Mitchell Interior Design), to give the house her expert eye.
“It’s got good bones,” Marta told them. “We can make this place whatever you want it to be.”
Obviously, they would want fresh paint on the walls and new floors. (Many of the tiles were broken or chipped, Julie explains, and an uneven foundation would render all furniture askew.) But there were two major problems that the Brennans wanted to address: a lack of storage space — for all Julie’s dishes, Jay teases — and a fireplace obstructing the otherwise uninterrupted view of the lake from the living room. While they were at it, they figured, they just might be able to move that wall out a bit to invite even more light into the space. And they wanted to add a screened porch.
Having decided to save up funds to tackle the projects “all at once,” the Brennans moved into the house as it was and lived there for four years.
In spring of 2019, at long last, they were ready to move forward with the renovation. Their vision was simple enough. But following the discovery of water damage and mold in the walls, plans changed.
“Rip everything out,” said Jay.
Marta Mitchell drew up blueprints (there were none to be found), and with the help of Frank Chaney (architect) and Pat Parr of Classic Construction (contractor), the team got to work, making the best use of the space and taking full advantage of the opportunity to start from scratch. Not only would the crew resolve the storage dilemma and enhance the Brennans’ view to the water, but they would also transform wasted space into an additional bathroom (main floor) and an artist’s loft accessible via floating staircase through Jay’s second-floor home office.
“We were out of the house for almost 15 months,” says Jay, co-founder of a company that connects innovative startups with health care systems such as Cone Heath. Being displaced for over a year might have been disorienting enough in “normal” times. Never mind in the midst of a global pandemic.
But in July of 2020, the Brennans moved back into their home, which was transformed from the inside, out.
White stone and stucco complemented by warm cedar supersedes original exterior siding — unremarkable and gray.
Inside, the eye dances across lively, polychromatic silk rugs and hardwood flooring, a miscellany of colorful art and sumptuous furnishings, then on through the back windows, which, original fireplace gone, make the deck and backyard feel like an extension of the interior. In the living room, abstract prints pop against muted walls and sunlight flickers through an avant-garde handblown glass light installation suspended from the vaulted ceiling like something straight out of a Chihuly exhibit.
“We commissioned those,” says Julie of the glass pendants created by Ohio artist Doug Frates, who she and Marta discovered at High Point Market.
An open floor plan allows copious natural light and seamless flow from living room to dining room, where a matching set of bird chandeliers hangs above a Hooker table with chairs upholstered in fabrics most designers only wish their clients would let them pair up.
“It’s quite unconventional,” says Julie of the prismatic polka-dot-and-stripe combo. But Marta Mitchell and Annelise Tikkanen, MMID’s design team on this project, were clear on what Julie wanted.
“It’s eclectic . . . it’s Bohemian . . . it’s just color and fun,” says Julie. “It’s . . . me.”
Marta Mitchell describes the interior as a “unique reflection of the Brennans’ vision.”
“Comfort and function being top of mind,” she adds, “this house is now open and airy and lends itself for everyday living and for entertaining large groups — hopefully in the not-too-distant future.”
The living-and-dining area opens to the “screened porch wing,” where a 60-inch flat screen is mounted above a modish gas fireplace that no longer obstructs the view of the lake.
“We get a breeze from both sides, so it’s comfortable out here even in the summer,” says Julie.
Plus, Jay adds, “We have one of those nice Big Ass Fans.”
The contemporary kitchen, sleek and minimalistic, is decked in a sea of blue tiles and backlit glass-paneled cabinets that showcase Julie’s crystal. The Brennans love their hideaway fridge, sub-zero wine cooler and Wolf appliances, but Jay will tell you that the ice maker is his favorite feature. For Julie, it’s easily the hidden pantry, which has “tons of storage for all my porcelain.”
In the master suite, where one of Julie’s paintings picks up colors from the abstract pastel rug, the Brennans now have His and Her walk-in closets, each with a window to let in natural light. But the best view of the water is from their bed — or the adjacent deck, where two orange rockers await coffee at sunrise.
Besides the den (dark by design) and fitness and laundry rooms, there’s only one other room (upstairs) that doesn’t have a lake view.
“That’s Nicole’s room,” says Julie, whose granddaughter lives here too.
Nicole, 18, and her dog, Omar (a German shorthaired pointer mix), occupy a purple bedroom with a built-in wardrobe, fringe pendant lights and a small gallery of her own bold and colorful paintings.
Actually, Omar has a bed in nearly every room.
And he’s not the only resident smitten with the entire house.
Although Jay admits the renovation was much more extensive than he could ever have imagined — “let’s just say the budget and I were no longer well-acquainted by the end of the project,” he says — he and Julie pulled out all the stops and couldn’t be happier.
So, there you have it. They weren’t looking for it — and this house found them, more than they found it — but the Brennans are convinced that the house at the edge of Lake Jeanette was always meant to be theirs.OH
I exit the cockpit of a F2H Banshee Navy fighter jet, walk past the 20 mm cannons mounted on the fuselage and, surveying unfamiliar surroundings, gaze across a pristine lake. In the distance, my brother and sister are waving me over from an approaching train, steam bellowing from its bulbous black smokestack as it chug-chug-chugs to a halt.
I am 7 years old, and I’m with my family at Country Park.
Many children of Greensboro have similar memories. And lucky for all of us, public parks and recreational facilities were central to the city’s vision of a 20th century urban center. The crown jewel of Greensboro’s green space has always been Country Park.
Located off North Lawndale Drive, Country Park is the nucleus of a 217-acre entertainment destination that encompasses the Greensboro Science Center (a science museum and zoo) and its OmniSphere Theater; Jaycee Park and its Stoner-White Stadium; and Spencer Love Tennis Center.
It’s almost hard to imagine Greensboro without it.
In 1901, a 14-acre tract of lowlands flanking North Elm Street was the first land set aside for an official city park. Today we know the space as Fisher Park, but at the time, it was merely a swampy patch of undeveloped land likely donated to the city in an effort to save the surrounding neighborhood from overdevelopment. In coming years, sinuous walking trails were installed, allowing the public to fully enjoy its bucolic environs at long last. Also in 1901, Douglas Park opened on the south side of town, transforming an 8-acre plot of woods into a vibrant gathering spot with walking paths, a playground and a basketball court. It even had a stream running through it.
In 1902, far outside of city limits, the Greensboro Electric Co.’s streetcar system leased what was known as Lindley Park, where a dance pavilion, man-made lake, bowling alleys, a Vaudeville theater and refreshment booths once drew happy crowds. The iron-and-stone entranceways on Spring Garden are all that remain of that ancient amusement park. Yet somehow, without all the flashy accoutrement (showgirls, candlepins and ice skating, for instance), Lindley Park endures as a sacred place for relaxation and solace.
This sudden turn-of-the-century mushrooming of public parks was Greensboro’s bid to join a national social movement. The idea was to provide places to contemplate nature and recreate, reducing the stress and strain of urban life. Following the lead of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Central Park in New York City, cities from coast-to-coast began adding parks to their urban landscapes.
Initially modeled after the grounds of manors and estates in England, these parks catered mostly to rich families. However, over the decades, parks began accommodating the working-class families with playgrounds and recreational facilities. The prevailing theory at the time was that public money was well spent on these projects because they could potentially reduce class conflict, socialize immigrants and get kids off the streets. Building parks was a laudable social goal and demonstrated a city’s sense of social responsibility.
And so it was in Greensboro. In an outstanding demonstration of civic pride following the Great Depression, volunteers, city workers and laborers from the Public Works Administration worked together to turn 79 acres purchased in part with cemetery bond funds into Country Park.
The result of their efforts opened in 1934. When temperatures sizzled that summer, the park attracted nearly 2,000 visitors per day. A wooden superstructure known as The Bath House, situated along the eastern edge of Lake Sloan, the park’s northernmost and largest body of water, is where swimmers could change and shower. Just a few feet away was a high-diving platform. A vertical aquatic merry-go-round was positioned in the middle of the lake, and there was even a sandy beach-like shoreline for sunbathing. Swimming was suspended during the polio outbreak of 1948 but resumed in the 1950s.
Around 1952, the park welcomed a one-fifth scale MTC G-12 train that maneuvered around on a 12-gauge track. That kiddie sized choo-choo was in operation every afternoon in the summertime. Nearby, a full-size Greensboro Fire Department ladder truck and a Southern Railway boxcar acted like magnets, attracting children who couldn’t wait to climb into, up on and around the stationary machines.
By the 1960s, two other man-made lakes sparkled on the property, where rowboats and pedal boats floated in endless, lazy circles, with mallards and Canada geese watching from the shorelines. Fishing was allowed with a permit, and seven picnic shelters were scattered around the lakes with free-standing grills. The park had an archery range, ball field and a craft shop where you could buy a bottle of Pepsi for five cents.
A tram system shuttled motorless city folk about the park on weekends and holidays. Under the direction of Harvey West, the Municipal Band performed weekly Sunday night concerts from a pavilion located on the south side of Lake Sloan.
The Country Park train was replaced in the summer of 1959 by a much bigger attraction when Greensboro resident W.A. Cameron purchased a trio of railroad cars pulled by a 1,700-pound Crown steam locomotive nicknamed “The General.” Based on the design of an 1855 Western and Atlantic Railroad passenger train of the same name that had been commandeered by Yankees during the Civil War, the attraction was a hit. There was even a mini cowcatcher (exactly what it sounds like) up front.
The General was supplanted a few years later by a homemade contraption with faux caboose and a kiddie cage that looked like it might have been designed by the Merry Pranksters on LSD.
(The original Country Park railroad landed in the possession of a young, up-and-coming plastic surgeon, then was later purchased by a Climax couple who sold it on eBay in 2008.)
The first of two decommissioned Korean War-era F2H Banshee Navy fighter jets from Cherry Point arrived at Country Park in January of 1959, decades before playground equipment safety became a public-health issue. Donated by the Marine Corps, the jets were installed on the east side of the lakes; on one side of the planes, a ladder offered kids access to the cockpit, which they could (somewhat) safely exit via playground slide on the other side of the plane. That said, some residents still have scars from mounting those rusting artifacts, arms or legs singed from hot metal surfaces. And with less than adequate guardrails, I’m probably not the only kid that toppled off of those slides. The jet planes were removed in the late-1960s.
From day one at Country Park, the streets leading in and out of the park became something of a shortcut for drivers with a need for speed. Not ideal. Thus, in 1960, supplementary access was closed off in favor of a single entrance for automobiles. Around that time, the central body of water was filled in to allow foot traffic access to a 1.6-mile paved circle around the circumference of the park. That’s likely when swimming was discontinued.
As cities across the nation turned to more of a recreational-and-sports complex model for urban parks, construction of the Lewis Center’s multipurpose sports facility was completed on the west side of Country Park in 1964. Because the Greensboro Jaycees raised most of the money for the project, a 75-acre plot abutting the west end of Country Park was christened Jaycee Park in the 1970s, including three football/soccer fields, tennis courts, a Pony baseball field and volleyball courts.
Casey’s Bar-B-Q, a hometown favorite, operated a weekend concession at Country Park during the ’60s. In 1970, the Parks & Recreation Department’s Country Park Patio restaurant entered the scene, selling hot dogs, soft drinks, candy, snow cones and ice cream.
The original city zoo, located at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in the ’50s, featured a peacock, raccoons, an American bald eagle, two bison, alligators, a monkey, a vicious groundhog, several varieties of pheasant, an assortment of ducks and geese, five deer, a goose named Oswald and a black bear cub named Bruno.
As the zoo aged, concern mounted about the animals’ welfare and their being housed in “inadequate structures.” After a “Save Our Zoo” campaign in 1969, the idea of a new and improved zoo turned into a contentious, on-and-off-again affair, but thanks to a last-minute infusion of cash from the city, the new zoo finally welcomed their first visitors in spring of 1973. It was designed sort of like a big, rambling barnyard, with an indoor petting zoo and enclosures for miniature burros, coyotes, a cougar, an American Bison, two elk, black swans, cattle, opossums, turkeys, a llama and Bruno the bear, who had been a major attraction for 14 years at that point. Admission was 50 cents — 25 cents for children.
The Junior Museum, also commonly referred to as The Children’s Museum, got underway in 1957 — a collaborative effort of the Junior League, City Council and Greensboro Parks & Recreation. The staff (mostly Junior League volunteers) taught children about natural sciences, how to care for the small animals on site and how to help injured critters and birds. This facility would eventually evolve into the Natural Science Center, which now threatens to eclipse Country Park as a tourist attraction.
As a teenager in the ’70s, if friends wanted to have a backyard barbecue, Country Park was the preferred venue. (Who wanted to hang out with anyone’s parents?) In those days, the woods were so thick around the picnic areas that you couldn’t see past the tree lines. There was almost no foot traffic — a lone jogger, perhaps. It legitimately felt like you were luxuriating in the countryside.
About that time, ten cents of every dollar (up from 3.5 cents two decades earlier) expended by the city went into a system that included 109 parks, 86 tennis courts, 78 camp sites, 65 picnic sites, 42 playgrounds, 17 baseball fields, 11 community centers, 10 gymnasiums, five outdoor pools and two indoor pools.
Plans are afoot to make what might seem to be radical changes for the newly christened Battleground Parks District. Effectively erasing the largely undeveloped parcel between the Greensboro Science Center and Country Park, the overall concept proposes constructing boardwalks, viewing platforms, wooden abutments jutting into the water, weirdly-shaped climbing structures for kids, accommodations for food trucks, an amphitheater, a waterfall river, additional shelters, and — of all things — a zip line.
I don’t know what it says about our society that viewing stations would be requisite in order to ponder the existence of trees and waterways. Enticing to the zip line crowd, I suppose.
While neighborhood parks like Fisher and Lindley have remained virtually unchanged over the last half century, Country Park, on the other hand, has continually evolved with the times, following national trends about just what constitutes a park — and adapting to the recreational needs of each new generation. While the city’s footprint has stretched well beyond the park and its surrounding facilities, Country Park remains a tranquil oasis for fishing, exercising, meditation and socializing with friends and family. It’s nice to know that will never change.
And, who knows, I may even ride that zip line one day.OH
The author of five books, Billy Ingram was born and raised in Greensboro. Thanks to Nollie Washburn Neill Jr.for pictures of his trip to Country Park taken by his father in the early-1960s.
Piedmont Photography Club delivers the whole, glorious spectrum
By Maria Johnson
Let us take a moment — here in this month of mud, bluster and bursting forth — to honor ROY G. BIV.
That’s not a person. It’s an acronym for colors along the visible spectrum of light.
Red. Orange. Yellow. Green. Blue. Indigo. Violet.
Throw in black and white, and you have the ingredients of every color that any human has ever seen — or ever will see — with unaided eyes.
That’s shocking when you think about it.
We see so few colors.
And yet, we experience such joy in our wee rainbow, in the gradations and textures and juxtapositions with other colors.
It’s all about how they’re arranged.
And — as any student of Monet knows — how much light falls on them. There is no true color, of anything, only constantly changing reflections of constantly changing light.
Here’s the freaky part: the color happens in our brains. Objects have no inherent color — just surfaces that reflect light in different wavelengths.
Basically, the reflected light — a kind of electromagnetic radiation — hits the photoreceptors in our eyeballs, which dashes them off in chemical telegrams to our brains, which decodes them as colors.
From this neurological basis, we discern objects, depth, movement and sometimes awe. Witness the pleasure prompted by these photographs provided by the Piedmont Photography Club.
The club, which has been around since the 1970s, holds quarterly contests for members. These images, gleaned from last year’s competitions, showcase the wonder of color.
So, photo buffs — and photoreceptors — rejoice as we prime our senses for spring and revel in the glory of ROY and company.OH
Learn more about the Piedmont Photography Club at piedmontphotoclub.com.
Renee Russell, Winston-Salem
It looked like the sky was on fire. That’s how Renee Russell describes the sunset the night she and her husband, David, got to Atlantic Beach to meet with family last summer. She loved the smoky clouds — “I can see a Viking boat in that bigger cloud,” she says — and bristling sea oats below. Renee, a home-health nurse, has been taking photographs for most of her life, but capturing images has become a passion since David, also a prolific shooter, asked her to join the photography club with him about 20 years ago. Stress dissolves, she reports, when she shifts her focus to captivating scenes and starts snapping. “It’s a challenge, at times, to get the shot that you really see or want somebody else to see,” she says. See the couple’s work at russellphotoart.com.
“Facing the Light”
Bet Wilson, Winston-Salem
Talk to amateur photographers, and a theme emerges: They squeeze in lots of pictures while taking vacations. Or, more accurately, they squeeze in lots of vacations while taking pictures. A few years ago, Bet Wilson did both while visiting Arizona in late summer, the best time to photograph Antelope Canyon, which is on Navajo land near Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. She booked an excursion into the slot canyon with 10 other photographers. The guide drove them into the rocky hollow and threw up a handful of dust to accentuate the shaft of light that turned water-worn rock into cathedral. “It was one of the joys of my life to capture that,” says Bet. “I just feel so fortunate that I was able to time my trip so I could be there — and it was a sunny day.”
Bill Cowden, Winston-Salem
Maybe Bill Cowden wouldn’t notice the masked character today, now that half the world covers its face to filter out COVID, but two years ago, the lithe figure stood out on an art-plastered corner in Austin, Texas. “It wasn’t just junky graffiti,” Cowden says. “It was a lot of interesting different scenes.” Cowden lifted his cell phone and documented the urban tableau. This frame ended up in a club contest. “The competition is friendly,” says Cowden, the group’s president. “Our goal is to help anyone who needs help.” In non-COVID times, the club organizes trips to scenic places around the state, including Lake Mattamuskeet, where snow geese stop during their annual migration.
Ed Haynes, Oak Ridge
Sometimes, the best photos lurk right under your nose. Or outside your breakfast nook. That’s where Ed Haynes saw this butterfly sipping lantana nectar at sunset. “The backlit wings are what makes that one so good,” Ed says, explaining the challenge of capturing quick-moving subjects in low light. “You gotta get your exposure right. It’s a balance between getting enough light and having a fast enough shutter.” Ed’s daughter, Edie, turned him onto photography a couple of years ago, after Ed retired as a maintenance supervisor at the former MillerCoors brewery in Eden. COVID makes him grateful for his new pastime. “I’m glad I can do something in my backyard,” he says.
Susan Hayworth, Bermuda Run
Susan was stalking Monarch butterflies last September when she took the Blue Ridge Parkway to Doughton Park, a stop on a migration loop that stretches from the northeast U.S. and Canada, down to south Florida and Mexico. She caught this Monarch caterpillar mid-chomp. Soon, it would make a chrysalis and emerge to stretch its orange and black wings and finish the trip south. No single butterfly completes the loop; the journey spans five generations. Some monarch lines, fluttering northward after their winter vacations, stop in North Carolina in the spring. Charmed by the moderate climate and milkweed, they might stay for a few generations (the Monarch lifespan is three to five weeks except for those that overwinter; they can live a few months). Others continue to press north for the summer. Come September and October, their progeny reverse course and stop at Doughton Park to gas up on nectar for the long trip to wintering grounds — no time for royal whoopee. Thousands of Monarchs migrate south during that time, but “You’re not guaranteed you’re gonna see anything,” says Susan. “So for me to go on a hunt and see this — and have it turn out as well as it did — that’s pretty special to me.”
Franklyn Millman, Winston-Salem
On the way from Jackson, Wyoming, to Yellowstone National Park, Franklyn Millman and his wife, Susan Von Cannon, parked their car and took a walk. “The whole road was covered with these yellow aspen leaves,” says Franklyn, “but finding a scene where you have a lot of vertical trunks that don’t interfere with each other . . .” It took some doing. Finally, Franklyn found the frame. “It had a certain rhythm to it,” he says. “I like the simplicity, and of course I liked the color.” A devoted shutterbug and recently retired internist, Franklyn has traveled worldwide. Once, in Iceland, he ventured onto a wind-whipped beach to shoot chunks of icebergs. A giant wave reared. “It knocked me down and submerged my camera,” he says, laughing. He grabbed a backup camera and kept shooting until he bagged a keeper. “Your pulse actually increases, and you say, ‘Man, if I can capture that before it goes away . . .’Those moments are relatively infrequent, but sometimes conditions are just right and, boy, it’s amazing.”
“Egret in Carolina Blue Sky”
Boyd Rogers, Summerfield
Boyd was itching to play with his new toy, a 600 mm photo lens. An ideal opportunity came one morning at North Topsail Beach, when he spotted egrets coming and going in a bay behind the island. “You have to get them in focus, lock on and track them while you’re shooting,” he says. “It takes hundreds of pictures sometimes to get the one you’re looking for.” He likes this shot for its simplicity — “There’s nothing to distract your eye away from the bird” — and for the sharp focus on the bird’s pupil. “The eyes are the windows of the soul, I’ve read. Birds are not as much fun as mammals, but there’s a lot there, in birds’ eyes,” he says.
Sinh Nguyen, Winston-Salem
Painstakingly gorgeous. That describes this striking composition, which Sinh Nguyen pieced together at a workstation in his backyard. He snipped an unfurling frond of fern. He positioned a potted flower behind it. He used a syringe to apply drops of water to the fern. He positioned his camera, which was hitched to a Sony 90 mm macro lens, on tripod. He fired the shutter. Again and again. “I took it more or less one hundred times,” he says. “I picked the ten best ones.” Using PhotoShop, he merged the images, preserving the best of each. Thirty years ago, Sinh took a class at the New York Institute of Photography, but he had little money or time to indulge his interest. Now retired, he quenches his thirst for beauty. “I get bored and walk around with my camera and the ideas come,” he says. “I take whatever catches my eye.”
“Water Lilies in Sun”
Marinella Holden, Winston-Salem
The afternoon sun was tilting toward the golden hour at Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, S.C., when these water lilies pinged on Marinella Holden’s photographic radar. “It was just a vivid little area,” she says. “The colors were gorgeous, and the light was right.” Marinella took up photography after her husband, Jerry, was well into it. “I wish we’d taken this up earlier,” she says. “It just makes you more aware of your surroundings. Sometimes you’re not focused, but when you’re taking pictures, you are.” See the couple’s work at jholden1.smugmug.com.
Karen Vohs, Winston-Salem
Karen went to the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary hoping to see hues of blue; the photography club was having a contest with one category reserved for subjects of that color.
This puffy pachyderm fit the bill.Karen crouched low and shot upward — “like a little kid looking up” — to include the pink orbs that popped hot against cooler shades. An avid photographer for the last 10 years, Karen enjoys the challenges of the art: the quest to find and frame subjects, as well as the technical process of digital editing. She has learned much from her snap-happy peers. “There’s a lot of really good photographers in the club who are willing to share their knowledge,” she says.
How a hat and a T-shirt accidentally changed everything for a young Greensboro comedian
By Billy Eye
Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your home. — David Frost
“Why are you contacting me now?” Dana Ralph Lowell texted me.
Good question. Lowell had reached out to me much earlier, but now that I was compiling a database of local children’s programming for my website, TVparty.com, I had finally gotten back to him — 10 years after he’d first contacted me. Whoops.
Perhaps you remember him as Billy Bobb?
Back in the early 1980s, when WGGT channel 48 (“The Great Entertainer”) entered the Triad TV market, its bread-and-butter were schlocky horror movies, “professional” wrestling and former primetime network shows.
Broadcasting from the Cone Export building near the Carolina Theatre, this small UHF (ultrahigh frequency) station struggled financially from the very beginning. Then, in 1987, due to the success of Elvira’s Movie Macabre in national syndication, WGGT tapped local comedian Dana Lowell to host horror features on Saturday nights.
And they wanted him in character.
“As a member of a comedy troupe in the early ’80s, Lowell created Billy Bobb — “Almost like what Paul Reubens did with Pee-wee Herman” — as a way of lampooning local kids’ show hosts.
And the station loved Billy Bobb, as did his growing fan base.
“It was a zero-budget situation,” Lowell tells me of Billy Bobb’s Action Theatre. The set was “actually the news set turned around backwards to make it look like a garage.”
Billy Bobb hosted kung fu movies, then low-budget sci-fi and B-horror flicks.
The popularity of Billy Bobb’s Action Theatre led to a daily afternoon kiddie show.
Just like Greensboro’s own beloved Old Rebel Show on WFMY, local kiddie shows winked off the airways by the late-1970s, to be replaced by syndicated cartoons, often flogging children’s toy lines. Someone at WGGT thought the time was right for a revival.
“I never set out to be a kids’ show host,” Lowell insists, but he suddenly found himself hosting a daily cartoon show with a peanut gallery of young children on set.
As a nightclub comedian,” he says, “I didn’t know what made little kids laugh. I was rating my work by how much I could make the cameraman laugh, or the director in the booth.”
For Billy Bobb’s Fun Club, afternoons from 4–5 p.m., Lowell converted a Pac-Man machine into a puppet theater. “Junior Prankster became a little sidekick buddy for Billy Bobb,” says Lowell. It was all off-the-cuff. “We were on almost five years and never had a script.”
Kids wrote in by the thousands to receive their fan club certificate and hear their name mentioned on their birthdays.
Billy Bobb began eclipsing Dana Ralph Lowell.
Lowell received the princely sum of $25 per episode and $25 an hour for public appearances. “I had a two-part act going,” Lowell says. “Doing Billy Bobb in nightclubs, then doing Billy Bobb during the day on television.” Even though, adjusted for inflation, $25 is worth $50 in today’s dollars, “the most I made for a year being that popular TV character was $5,000 [$10,000 in today’s dollars], so it was not exactly fame and fortune.”
He recalls an encounter in costume with a child at the mall.
“He screamed and he came running up to me and said, ‘How did you get out of my TV? Did you get out of the TV at my house and then come here?’ He thought I lived in the television set.”
Besides filming car commercials airing on other stations, Billy Bobb would turn up at baseball games, Soap Box Derby races, rodeos, shopping centers, parades, at the drag strip and anywhere a crowd gathered. “And just about everything that was happening around the county, we were there with our camera crew and it became subject matter for the show.”
Lowell benefitted from what you might call the “Clark Kent Syndrome.”
“As soon as I took off that costume, nobody recognized me. I just took off the red flannel shirt and the goofy hat and the T-shirt that said ‘Too Funny!’”
For the entire run of the Billy Bobb program, the station was under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. “That’s another reason I had zero budget,” Lowell says. “Channel 48 was the clubhouse for a fraternity of folks having a blast making low-budget TV. It was a lot of fun.”
About a dozen professional wrestlers appeared on the show. “Household name types like Sgt. Slaughter and The Rock ’n’ Roll Express,” Lowell says. “They were such pros and such hams — we would have a blast. I remember Sgt. Slaughter picking on the puppet.”
The owner of a car dealership in Reidsville, Tar Heel Nissan, was impressed with increased sales resulting from a commercial campaign starring Lowell. “And I’m like, ‘Who drops 30 grand on a Nissan — makes major life purchases — because a guy on TV named Billy Bobb said to do that? Crazy!’”
After he had been doing the show for a year or two, “I found out that there was another Channel 48 in the late 1960s, early 1970,” Lowell says. “Very low-budget, even smaller than our Channel 48 was. This little station in the late ’60s had a kid show.” That show was called The Kiddie Scene with Mr. Green. (I, Billy Eye, actually appeared on it once as a 12-year-old in a skit I organized and (naturally) starred in with the neighborhood kids for a backyard performance.) A turning point in Lowell’s career came one day when he had a chance encounter with a tall, skinny old man working a concession stand at a ball game.
“He had also hosted horror movies as a ‘Shock Theater’ kind of character,” Lowell recalls.
“And here he is,” Lowell says. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, there’s my future. I’m going to be working in a concession stand when I get older, selling hot dogs at a baseball game. There’s my future in show business!’”
Today Dana Lowell operates a fine arts theater at a private college prep school here in Greensboro. “Since I did get my theater degree in scenery and lighting design, I’m teaching theater. It’s a dream job that’s different every day.”
Would a local kids’ show work in modern times?
“No, I think kids are too cynical today,” Lowell says. “I know we couldn’t get away with the humor because everyone’s so sensitive and politically correct. We would ruffle a lot of feathers. I can’t even imagine . . .”OH
Billy Eye’s TVparty is — according to The Discovery Channel — “Hands down the best site on the Web for classic TV.”
It maysound odd, but this is a good time to talk about hummingbirds. I have been fielding reports of these tiny, winged jewels for weeks. So far, I have banded 17 and have details on almost 100 more — and counting! Yes, even in the middle of the winter.
Here in North Carolina, hummingbird lovers can find or attract these amazing little fliers any month of the year. And this winter has been a particularly productive season for hardy hummers across the state. Predictably, the bulk of the hummingbirds I have encountered in the Piedmont have been rufous hummingbirds.
Annually, shorter days and cooler temperatures herald the return of rufous hummingbirds from points far to our north and west. The species breeds from the Rocky Mountains up into southern Canada and across to southeastern Alaska. They begin nesting when there is still snow on the ground and vegetation is sparse. In the cooler months, the majority of rufous can be found wintering in southern Mexico. However, it has been discovered in the last few decades that a wintering population exists in the southeastern United States. Across North Carolina, dozens of rufous take up residence between October and April. Many go unnoticed unless they appear at late-blooming plants or sugar water feeders. These are extremely tough little critters.
These tiny birds that spend their summers at high latitudes are well adapted to cold weather. They can forage in below freezing temperatures, searching thick vegetation for insects with little difficulty. At night and during colder, wet periods, they will seek out thick evergreen cover and use torpor, a nighttime hibernation, to conserve energy. The pines, cedars, hollies and magnolias in central North Carolina make excellent winter habitat for rufous hummingbirds.
The male rufous is very distinctive, having rusty body feathers in addition to a coppery iridescent gorget. Females, however, are a different story. Their size and shape are not very distinctive. Aside from reddish-brown color at the base of their tail feathers, and perhaps a smattering of brownish feathers around the face and flanks, they appear much like immature male ruby-throateds. They also look very similar to a few other species of Western hummers such as the Allen’s, broad-tailed or calliope hummingbird. For those with a good musical ear, the vocalization — a loud series of “stick” notes — may give a rufous away.
It is interesting to note that some of these tiny marvels return to the same feeder from one winter to the next. In fact, some individuals are faithful to the same location over their lifetime, which can be seven years. To date, we have had three females that have done just that, proven by the tiny aluminum bands I placed on their legs the first year. Some individuals choose to overwinter in different locations in the Southeast. This year we have two “foreigners.” One of them was originally banded by a colleague of mine outside Mobile, Alabama, two winters ago.
Furthermore, there have been some extremely lucky folks, including hosts in both the Sandhills and the Triad, who have hosted not one, but multiple rufous over the course of a single season. Last November, both a hostess in Asheville and another at Riverbend County Park outside Hickory each had three female rufous coming in for sugar water. A friend and research colleague who runs that park is investigating a fourth female rufous who turned up on February 1.
And no need to worry: Winter sugar water feeder maintenance is straightforward. Hang it in an open location and simply rinse and refill every two weeks or so. In our area, a feeder hung close to the house will be protected most days and many of the nights. The regular solution (4 parts water; 1 part sugar) will not freeze unless the air temperature drops below 27 degrees.
So, go ahead and hang a feeder any time. It is absolutely never too late to get noticed. Who knows? It may be found by a passing rufous hummingbird or two.OH
Susan would love to receive your wildlife observations and/or photos at email@example.com.