Wandering Billy

Feline Fine

Cat Scratch and Cabin Fever


By Billy Eye

“Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.” — John Wooden

Due to recent unpleasantness, Wandering Billy’s ability to meander around town has been severely curtailed. I’m sure you’ve heard about the situation, it was in all the newspapers.

Not long before we were all sent to our rooms for someone else soiling the sofa, I gained something I never wanted but sure am glad to have — a roommate. A good friend of mine is going through a divorce, parachuting into my Fortress of Solitude just as the world went to hell in a ham biscuit. Now we’re living a never-ending episode of The Odd Couple — two Oscars, no Felix.

I’ve been living alone for almost 20 years, happily so. Despite knowing my friend (no names, don’t want to embarrass anyone) for at least 15 years, we don’t have a lot in common. He’s 25 years younger than I am, lead singer for a punk band, so we spend evenings listening to musicians with names like Jimmy Eat World, Spanish Love Songs, Tiny Moving Parts and The Jealous Sound. My nights DJ’ing lean more towards Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, Ella and Frank, and we get along great.

My roommate possesses that millennial superpower allowing him to thoroughly and completely tune out anything I’m saying whenever there’s a device in front of him — mental social distancing I call it. Some people might find that rude but I find it refreshing(ly rude). No joke, he’s a bit stressed being employed at one of those “essential” jobs, making sofas at a large plant where a good percentage of the workers think the virus is a total hoax, a media concoction, refusing to wash hands or use the Purell stations.

At home it’s not much better: My roomie has to navigate the halls with my mean cat whose name is either Good Kitty or Bad Kitty, depending. That crabby tabby’s not at all happy with someone else invading his domain, distracting his slave. Kitty barely tolerates me, and only when he wants something. I know this because he’s very verbal possessing an impressive vocabulary when it comes to expressing displeasure, usually when I’m not dishing out his Fancy Feast fast enough. At least he lets me pick him up now. When I first rescued that furry fussbudget he’d scratch and bite my forearms so ferociously, it looked like I’d held someone down to drown them as they clawed for their life. But I love him all the same.

Another challenge for my roommate is me being somewhat of a hypochondriac. Can you imagine worse timing? Anytime I see some new disorder advertised on TV I think, “I’ve got that!” My blurry vision could be the result of too many hours staring into a computer but more likely I’m having a stroke right now; my aching bones undoubtedly caused by post-menopausal osteoporosis. Whatever Ozempic is prescribed for, I need it. (“Oh, oh, oh it’s magic!” Really? Pop a pill for a little magic in my life? Won’t be the first time . . . paging Dr. Greene!)

Like others of a certain age, I spent a good number of years believing Armageddon was right around the corner: Duck-and-cover drills in elementary school, neighbors with underground fallout shelters, Ronald Reagan, now sheltering in place for the latest doomsday scenario. When this upheaval began, my roommate wanted to stock up on steaks, chicken and chops, but I said there’s no need when we’ve got so many squirrels, rabbits, possums, even a plump hoot owl, roaming around the property. With great-grandmama’s cookbook, we’ll never run out of food.

I say that in jest because that might actually be preferable to our suppertime fare. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been watching YouTube videos attempting to learn how to cook. The smoke detector has to be relocated outside before I begin, but lately we’ve been dining on exotic dishes like beef bourguignon, coq au vin, tom kha gai, fettuccine Bolognese, and Cracker Barrel Hashbrown Casserole. It sure sounds as if we’re going to have a delish meal but if I hear, “Are we getting a dog or is that tonight’s dinner?” one more time, I’ll scream. 

Seriously, it’s important to remember that every societal disruption unleashes a wealth of opportunity. For entertainers who lost their regular performance venues for the first time since the early days of the Internet, there’s a level playing field: Network late-night stars are broadcasting from home just as local musicians like Jessica Mashburn and Craig Baldwin are, with comparable production values. Every Thursday night at 8 p.m., The Carolina Theatre hosts virtual open mic nights via Facebook for live hometown entertainment. I’ll probably start a Vlog.

Human beings generally fear the unknown. How often I’ve whispered to the clouds, “I wish life would continue on just like this,” knowing it won’t. No matter why or when, change is inevitable and that’s a good thing, long-term. Still, uncertainty gnaws at the best of us.

With this level of unprecedented unpredictability, to unlock the unknown I went to get my palm read but couldn’t go to a regular palm reader. I had to go to a psychic palm reader. How else would she see the lines in my hand through a blue latex glove?

Then again, there are those who believe that all of life is written in The Book. If so, may I request an advanced copy please?!?

* * *

You’ve noticed pundits comparing contemporary events to 1918’s viral outbreak. Did you know Greensboro played a part in the nation’s recovery over a century ago?

After Lunsford Richardson purchased the Porter and Tate Drugstore at 121 South Elm in 1890, he set about blending menthol and various oils with petroleum jelly to create what he called Richardson’s Croup and Pneumonia Cure Salve, eventually rebranded by son H. Smith Richardson as Vick’s VapoRub in 1912. When the Spanish flu epidemic erupted a few years later, VapoRub proved an effective means of opening nasal passages for those afflicted. Sales more than tripled. Greensboro’s VapoRub plant on Milton Street was churning out little blue jars of goo 24 hours a day to meet demand. It must not have been of much help for Richardson however. He died of pneumonia in 1919.

When I was a kid in the 1960s, VapoRub hissing and misting from a humidifier was our family’s cure-all. I wonder now if that was partly because Vick’s was a local concoction? And lest we forget: Before becoming Lunsford Richardson’s epicenter for dozens of unique potions, liniments, syrups, and pills — the Porter and Tate Drugstore employed teenager William Sydney Porter, known today as short story master O.Henry.   OH

Billy Eye reminds you, if you don’t want to miss an issue or venture out to find us, subscribe today to O.Henry magazine, delivered right to your door. We’re all in this together!

Food For Thought

Strawberry Fields Forever

Classic shortcake is nice. But it’s hard to beat this spirited twist on summer’s most luscious berry


By Jane Lear

Although it may sound strange, soaking, or macerating, strawberries in a mix of sugar, orange juice, and Madeira or sherry is far from a new idea. Macerated fresh fruit was a Victorian fad borrowed from the French, and in Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book of 1857, by the popular American cookbook author Eliza Leslie, you will find “Strawberries in Wine.” There’s no citrus, but Miss Leslie does specify Madeira or sherry. The berries are “served at parties in small glass saucers,” she noted, “heaped on the top with whipped cream, or with white ice cream.”

My grandmother used glass saucers for serving as well — they hold the winey juices nicely — but her rationale behind macerated strawberries wasn’t a special occasion but a too-hot-to-bake day. By June, her house would be dim and shadowy, the tall windows shuttered to keep out the heat and bright shafts of sunlight.

Preparations for the evening meal — a pot of snap beans set to simmer, for instance — usually began in the cool of the morning, after the breakfast things were cleared away. A “strawberry bowl,” however, was left until the drowsy afternoon. I’d be pulled away from Nancy Drew to help wash a colander full of the ripe fruit (“always leave the caps on, dear, so they don’t get waterlogged”) and pat them dry with well-worn tea towels reserved for just that purpose. Trying to copy my grandmother’s neat flick of the wrist made quick work (or so I thought) of hulling.

You may wonder if a fortified wine such as Madeira or sherry — or port, if that’s your preference — will overpower strawberries, one of the softest, most perishable fruits, but I’m reminded of the “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” line from the movie Dirty Dancing. Although each wine adds its singular, supple balance of sweetness and acidity to the berries, the fruit not only holds its own but gains extra resonance. (The same is true of strawberries with balsamic vinegar, traditional in Modena, Italy, the home of aceto balsamico. For this, you need the best, oldest balsamic vinegar you can find; the kind that’s been reduced over time to a syrupy liquid.)

Strawberries need warm sunny days and cooler nights for peak flavor and fragrance. When shopping, look for even coloring (those with white shoulders haven’t had enough time to fully ripen) and a captivating aroma. Those that travel the least generally taste the best, so seek out local growers.

Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream à la Miss Leslie are perfectly fine accompaniments to macerated strawberries, but my grandmother’s favorite embellishment was actually an exercise in household economy: leftover (i.e., slightly stale) sponge cake or pound cake, cut into fingers or cubes and toasted. The end result was modest and restrained, yet completely refreshing, and afterward, everyone at the table stood up, ready for a game of cards or Parcheesi.

What I realize I’m ready for, though, is a set of Victorian cut-glass saucers. And maybe some Nancy Drew.

Strawberries with Madeira
and Orange

1 quart ripe strawberries

Sugar to taste

About 1/4 cup freshly squeezed
orange juice

About 1/4 cup medium-dry Madeira
or sherry

1. Quickly rinse the strawberries and pat them dry. Hull them with a paring knife and put the whole berries (halve them if large) in a serving bowl.

2. Generously sprinkle them with the sugar and gently stir in the orange juice and Madeira. Refrigerate, covered, until the berries release their juices and the flavors have a chance to play well together, about 2 hours.  OH

Jane Lear, formerly of Gourmet magazine and Martha Stewart Living, is the editor of Feed Me, a quarterly magazine for Long Island food lovers.


Photograph by James Stefiuk

Rednap’s Revenge

For next year’s 250th anniversary of the Battle of Alamance, the Regulators get their due as early sons of liberty

Story and Photographs By David Claude Bailey

Two-hundred-and-fifty-two years ago, two of Ted Henson’s ancestors signed a petition complaining about unjust taxes, exorbitant fees and rampant corruption of Colonial officials — with no idea that they — and everybody else who made their mark or signed similar petitions — would be branded outlaws as members of the Regulator movement. Later, two petitioners were summarily executed, others were apprehended by Gov. William Tryon’s provincial government and marched all about the countryside in chains before six of their number were hanged by the neck until dead in the courthouse square in Hillsborough.

“They were not revolutionaries,” Henson, a former teacher and retired school administrator, insists. “They said again and again that they were not trying to overthrow the British government. What they wanted was to put regulations in place to make things fairer for the people,” he tells anyone who will listen to him whenever he dresses up in Colonial-era, backcountry garb at re-enactments. Henson assumes the fiery character of Rednap Howell — an itinerant schoolteacher and balladeer who became one of the leaders of a group of backcountry farmers. Their ragtag movement came to a calamitous and bloody end just across what is now the Guilford County line at Alamance Battlefield — a full decade before America’s Revolutionary War.

“I am very proud of the fact that my ancestors were willing to take a stand against what they perceived as unjust practices in the government,” Henson says, fixing his listener with his piercing hazel eyes. Heeding a call from the distant past, he has become the Regulators’ unofficial apologist, determined to set the record straight, especially as the 250th anniversary of the battle draws near with a re-enactment and educational programs planned for next year.

How does he respond to the descendants of Loyalists, who viewed Regulators as nothing short of ignorant and uneducated hayseeds — terrorists, in fact, who took the law into their own hands? “They tried for a number of years to get regulations placed on the local officials,” he says. “I think the Regulators were pushed into a corner and had no choice but to fight back.” When petition after petition and repeated court suits failed to make any substantial changes, “Their frustration boiled over into armed conflict,” he says. Unlike the Founding Fathers, who were inspired by Classical ideals of democracy to challenge Britain’s monarchy, “the Regulators were fighting for survival rather than any high principals,” Henson says.

Tryon Palace, home of Governor Tryon

Though their grievances had been festering for some time, they reached fever pitch in August of 1766 when Regulators presented North Carolina’s Colonial assembly with their Advertisement Number One. Its complaints centered on what would become a call to arms a decade later — taxation without representation. The Colonial government was starved for funds in the aftermath of the French and Indian War. Adding to the burden was the ongoing cost of Governor Tryon’s extravagant Palace in New Bern. When completed, it was the most expensive house in all of Colonial America — a regal edifice Regulators complained they would never even see. But at the very heart of the conflict was the almost systemized corruption in the collection of taxes and fees. “There were no posted courthouse fees or tax rates, leaving a lot of room for corruption,” says Henson. Sheriffs were responsible for collecting taxes, and no less than Josiah Martin, North Carolina’s last Colonial governor, admitted that sheriffs would collect “Double, Treble, nay even Quadruple the value of the Tax.”

1775, five dollar note with Tryon Palace in left corner

Perhaps equally chafing to the Regulators, many of whom were Baptists, Presbyterians and other sects that came to the Colony seeking religious freedom, was a vestry tax levied to support the Church of England. To heap insult upon injury, marriages performed outside the auspices of the Anglican Church were not recognized as official. Finally, taxes and fees had to be paid in cash rather than by barter. Scarceness of currency, especially in the backcountry, resulted in sheriffs’ regularly seizing chattel, property and land to pay taxes. This “tripped the wire of farmers’ anger and became a major Regulator target,” according to Shuttle & Plow, the definitive history of Alamance County.

In April 1768, 70 Regulators mobbed Hillsborough to reclaim a horse that had been seized by the sheriff for nonpayment of taxes. In retaliation, the Regulators seized the sheriff, mounted him backwards on his horse and marched him through town. For good measure, they shot a few holes through the roof of the house belonging to one Edmund Fanning, the commander of the Colonial militia. A month later, when two of their number were arrested, 1,500 Regulators massed around Hillsborough. When Fanning tried to get them to disperse, he was publicly humiliated. Up to that point it might have seemed like good backcountry fun, but not to Fanning or the Crown.

In June of 1768, Regulator Advertisement Number Nine, the one Henson’s relatives signed, was presented by Howell and a co-conspirator with 474 signatures. A lot of back and forth ensued, with the Regulators refusing to pay their taxes. Mobs became frequent with 3,700 Regulators gathering for another court session in September. In response, Tryon marshaled 1,500 militiamen to protect the court. Admittedly, Tryon did officially admonish corrupt officials, but at the same time he ordered Regulators not to “molest” them.

Spiraling into increasing violence and open disregard for the law, the Regulators mobbed Hillsborough when court was held in 1770, interrupting the session and demanding that their indicted leaders be tried immediately, with a newly formed jury. Forget about the jury duly chosen by justices of the peace. They considered it stacked. According to the presiding judge who fled the scene, the Regulators “severely whipped” four of their foes, including the clerk of the court and a justice of the peace. They also entered the courtroom and hauled Fanning from the bench, dragging him out of court by the heels and unmercifully beating him before he escaped. “They tore Fanning’s house down wall by wall and scattered his papers to the wind,” Henson says.

When the assembly met for the first time in Tryon Palace in 1771, Tryon was so worried that Regulators would burn down his new home he called up the militia and had a trench dug between the Neuse and Trent rivers. The legislature enacted the “Johnston Riot Act” (later ruled unconstitutional by no less than the Privy Council) — authorizing force against any group of 10 or more people who did not disband within an hour of when the act was read aloud — which occasioned the phrase “reading the riot act.” It retroactively made almost anyone who had ever been associated with the movement an outlaw and authorized the governor to use the militia to put down the Regulator revolt. It also declared anyone who resisted or fled an outlaw. Ultimately, the Privy Council declared the act “full of danger . . . and unfit for any part of the British Empire” — but not before it had been used to justify and mount the Battle of Alamance.

When 2,000 Regulators, only half with guns, gathered in a show of force, Tryon mustered 1,000 militiamen — Colonists, not British soldiers — who massed on the banks of Alamance Creek near the present-day town of Alamance, just south of Burlington. On May 16, 1771 — 250 years ago next year — the two sides locked in battle.

Unlike much of the other history surrounding the Regulators, accounts of the battle are numerous (and often conflicting). Fans of warfare can seek them out. One highlight includes Tryon’s own militiamen reportedly refusing to fire on what, to some, were their neighbors — to which Tryon responded, “Fire on them or fire on me.” By some accounts, Tryon himself shot one of the negotiators who tried to flee the scene. He is also reported to have summarily executed one of the prisoners after the battle.

Crucial to the outcome of the battle was Tryon’s use of artillery. He brought not only cannons with him but also a detachment of sailors from Wilmington who could expertly aim and fire their six carriage-mounted swivel guns and two three-pounder cannons. Carole Watterson Troxler in her exhaustive Farming Dissenters quotes what a Moravian diarist heard from a Regulator only days after the battle: “The most important point seemed to be that the terrible cannonading of the Governor’s troops had badly frightened the Regulators, who had thrown down their arms and run, even leaving their hats and coats.”

“Gov. Tryon and his militia had a plan and executed it. The Regulators’ plan was ‘You’re all free men. Do what you think you have to,’” Henson says. When the cannon smoke cleared a scant two-and-a-half hours later, the Regulators had been routed, many of them fleeing helter-skelter, leaving their guns and other possessions behind them. By the official account, only nine Colonial militiamen died in action. Other estimates claim, at least twice that number of Regulators were killed, with something like 100 wounded. Though many Regulators fled beyond the reach of the Colonial government, those who didn’t were required to sign an oath, swearing allegiance to the Crown. About 6,000 did so. What may seem at first surprising is that only a few years later, former Regulators took up arms against the Revolutionary “Patriots” who fought the British in 1776 — honoring their oath to the Crown. (Two of Henson’s descendants fought for the Patriots, another for the British.) A month before the armies of Lord Cornwallis and General Nathanael Greene squared off at Guilford Courthouse in 1781, former Regulator John Pyle led a group of Loyalists against Greene’s Southern Army. Under the command of Col. Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee and Gen. Andrew Pickens, the unit so thoroughly surprised  Pyle’s men near the Haw River that the encounter is now known as Pyle’s Massacre. Henson’s alter ego, Rednap Howell (to whom he is not related), was of course branded an outlaw, wanted dead or alive. He fled first to Maryland and then New Jersey. Next year, two-and-a-half centuries after the battle, Henson will suit up, tune his dulcimer and channel a ballad that Rednap wrote: “When Fanning first to Orange came/ Both man and horse won’t worth five pounds/ But by his civil robberies/ as I’ve been often told/ He’s laced his coat with gold.”

Says Henson, “These men did not die in vain. Many of the demands they made would be written into the Constitution of the United States. I believe we owe them respect and gratitude for all they did for us.”  OH

David Claude Bailey lives about a mile down the road from Alamance Battlefield, where he walks amidst the now peaceful woods. 


Art Unlimited

GreenHill goes virtual


You could while away the hours, conferrin’ with the flowers or consulting with the rain, as the song goes. Or, you could let your imagination roam and create something. Not the creative or artistic type, you protest? Nonsense! We all are. But if you need a muse, look no further than GreenHill and its weekly online initiative Virtual GreenHill, launched in late March.

The idea is to bring art, artists and art-making directly to you and your family with some of the centered longtime programming. Masterpiece Fridays, for example, consists of story time and art activities geared toward preschoolers. One of its first suggested projects centers around the children’s classic, The House that Jack Built and encouraged little ones to create their own house out of construction paper or any materials lying around the house that could be repurposed. (Remember, this exercise is for the imagination!) Hands on at Home addresses creative problem-solving for the Kindergartner-through-tween set, while GreenHill Connections highlights art-making and crafts for all ages. Want to “exhibit” your work? Then share with the community on Instagram at #virtualgreenhill.

As for the pieces by professional artists, there’s plenty to feed the soul. Curator’s Picks features in-depth discussions of art featured at GreenHill, such as Felicia van Bork’s colorful abstracts, currently on exhibit via NC Women Abstract Painters, which, by the way, has been extended to July 11. For a behind-the-scenes perspective, check out Artists Highlights, which takes you into the processes of notables like James Barnhill, the sculptor responsible for the Nathanael Greene statue downtown. Taking a cue from PBS icon, the late Bob Ross, Barnhill demonstrates in a video his technique for drawing portraits. Other treats — Edie Carpenter’s video unveiling Greensboro Portaits in Tanger Center’s Dr. John and Barbara Lusk Gallery, plus a virtual gallery showcasing artists across the Old North State — round out Virtual GreenHill, which we suspect will continue to expand its trove of offerings. After all, the imagination knows no bounds.

— Nancy Oakley

For more information — and inspiration —  go to greenhillnc.org.



Photographs courtesy of GreenHill Center for North Carolina Art


Birdz in the Hood

This time of year, the ponds are full of hooded merganser


By Susan Campbell

Have you seen a male hooded merganser lately? They’re hard to miss with their extensive white hoods, black-and-white chests and chestnut sides. Or perhaps you have noticed a female — a tan bird with a stiff short tail and cinnamon crest? If you’re really lucky, maybe you’ve seen a pair courting, the preliminary dance to successful reproduction. The drake flares his crest and vigorously bobs his head, surely impressing his intended. These handsome little birds are a species of diving duck restricted to North America.  Affectionately known by birders and hunters as “hoodies,” they are quite spunky in spite of their diminutive size.

Hooded mergansers can be found statewide year-round here in North Carolina. Good numbers of migrants from farther north show up during the winter months. But by spring, pairs are more localized.  Breeding birds may turn up on small ponds anywhere from the mountains to the coast. Needing clear water for foraging, they are quite at home on beaver ponds and slow-moving backwaters of smaller rivers and streams.

With a relatively long and sharply serrated bill, hoodies excel at catching fish. These birds have what are called nictitating membranes — an adaptation that protects the eyes but still allows them to see while underwater. Even new ducklings can dive in shallow water to feed within a day of hatching. Alert birders sometimes spot hooded mergansers swimming with their heads submerged, scanning for prey below the surface.

Unlike dabbling ducks such as wood ducks (or “woodies”), hooded mergansers’ legs are set farther back on the body to facilitate propulsion while underwater. This means that they are rather awkward on land, so you will seldom see them walking or even sitting out of the water. Furthermore, these birds need a waterborne running start in order to get airborne. Once aloft, however, their short wings make them quite adept at negotiating flooded timber or grassy marshlands.

Hoodies are one of a few species of waterfowl that use cavities for nesting. Early prospecting for suitable sites begins at the end of the summer.  Females search for holes high up in either live or dead trees to deposit a clutch of up to a dozen white eggs. They prefer an opening of 3 to 5 inches across, making cavities created by larger woodpeckers ideal. Since leading their fledglings overland to water is awkward, nesting usually occurs close to the water, unlike woodies that may nest up to a quarter-mile or more inland.

These animated little birds are quite long-lived with individuals surviving ten years or more.  Furthermore, breeding productivity is quite good nowadays since hoodies have adapted to man-made boxes for nesting. Regardless, seeing hooded mergansers in the warmer months in the Sandhills or Piedmont is quite a treat indeed!  OH

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos at susan@ncaves.com.

Simple Small Places

And how they produce some of life’s greatest moments


By Jim Dodson

Marcus Tullius Cicero, the famous Roman philosopher and statesman, once observed that all he needed to live was a good library and his garden. I’m beginning to know what he was talking about. 

In a world where life as we knew it outside home has largely come to a standstill, familiar people and places that provide a measure of comfort and sense of normality are more important than ever. 

In my own narrowed sphere, I am fortunate to have a home library and garden where I can find useful diversion, fresh perspective and life more or less unchanged. As any reader knows, a good library can transport you anywhere in the world you’d care to go without leaving your comfortable armchair. And a garden keeps on growing regardless of the day’s news. 

Before it became a library, the small room that leads to the large screened porch out back was where our house’s previous owner, Mama Meryl Corry, spent most of her days during the final years of her life. Her late husband, Al, was a larger-than-life character and a gifted contractor who built a number of the first houses in our postwar neighborhood, including, in 1951, his own dream house for Meryl and their four children. It’s a cozy brick-and-wood bungalow that looks more like the private retreat of a Hollywood starlet than a Carolina housewife and mother.

In fact, Mama Meryl was both — at least in the opinion of a kid who grew up two doors from the Corrys but was always in and out of their house with their two youngest sons, Craig and Britt.  At a time when preteen boys begin to notice such things, Craig Corry and I maintained that we had the best-looking moms in the neighborhood. Meryl was a statuesque beauty with flowing auburn hair who looked a lot like filmdom’s leading lady Maureen O’Hara. My mom was diminutive and blond, a former beauty queen from Maryland who could have been Doris Day’s kid sister. Not surprisingly they were best friends, their alliance forged by the noisy abundance of boys underfoot.

Several years ago, as if by the sweet hand of Providence, Mama Meryl passed on and the Corrys reluctantly placed their family home on the market, just as my wife Wendy and I happened along in search of our own perfect house in which to grow old. We purchased the place within a week. The Corrys were delighted. To this day, you could never convince me that Mama Meryl and Big Al, wherever they relocated, didn’t have some say in the matter.

During the first two years we were updating and renovating rooms, the one space that proved to be a puzzlement was the small room with a fireplace that connected the dining room to the large screened porch in back — the same room where Mama Meryl spent most of her time after Al was gone. From oldest son, Chris, I learned that the space was originally an outdoor patio with a fireplace — another California touch. Al enclosed it for a cozy reading room featuring an entry door at the rear of the carport, allowing easier access and a good view of the arriving postman. 

Sometime during our second spring in the house, as I turned my attention to tearing apart and rebuilding Mama Meryl’s overgrown gardens, it suddenly hit me that the room was ideal for a home library like the one I had for two decades in Maine.

Earlier this year, we completed work on the library, providing space for 500 or so books in custom-built maple bookcases, with new gallery lighting, original artwork, vintage rugs, a handsome antique walnut writing table and five comfortable chairs suitable for any and all sort of visitors, including spirits.

In ancient times and in every culture, libraries and gardens were considered sacred places that nurtured the human spirit. The Great Library of Alexandria in Egypt was considered the spiritual wonder of the world, housing the writings of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates, and many others — until, after years of decay, Julius Caesar was blamed for burning it down. Jesus spent his last night on Earth praying in a garden and, of course, Adam and Eve were reportedly invited to leave one dressed in fig leaves for violating property rules. 

I’m pretty sure Mama Meryl approves of how I’ve updated her garden and reading room, evidenced by the fact that I can almost feel her presence in both places.

With nobody but the dogs and me likely to occupy my library’s armchairs for the foreseeable future, I’ve lately taken to inviting the spirits of well-loved authors who anchor my bookshelves to come sit for a spell in a chair of their choosing. 

As Mama Meryl hovers approvingly, methinks Walker Percy prefers the houndstooth club chair while — naturally — Joseph Campbell fancies the mythic oak chair with Egyptian carved heads. Mary Oliver lounges in the elegant red Deacons chair where Annie Dillard often sits, and the big comfy wicker number is rightly claimed by my friend Elwyn Brooks White, whose iconic children’s books (Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web) and collections of essays shaped my views on life and writing from age 6 onward. They inspired me to chase a career in which I’ve wound up eating my own words — or at least living off them.

At times like these, E.B. White’s Pulitzer Prize-winning essays, letters and other works have traveled with me since the year I graduated college, and are a tonic for the captive soul.

Particularly endearing is his essay, “Death of a Pig,” which details the author’s struggles to save an ailing pig and make peace with his own grief.  After burying his pig beneath a wild apple tree with his rambunctious dog Fred in attendance, White confides: “I have written this account in penitence and grief, as a man who failed to raise his pig . . . The grave in the woods is unmarked, but Fred can direct the mourner to it unerringly and with immense good will, and I know he and I shall often revisit it, singly and together, in seasons of reflection and despair, on flagless memorial days of our own choosing.”

White and his wife, Katherine, lived on a saltwater farm in North Brooklin, Maine, an hour or so up the road from where my first wife and I lived after we married in 1985 — four days after my favorite author passed away.

I never got to meet him, though an unlikely connection unexpectedly came my way through the garden.

Upon learning that Wendy and I planned to move home to North Carolina in the winter of 2007, an elderly friend who claimed to be friendly with Katherine White gave me a remarkable going away gift — a clump of white Italian coneflowers she claimed originated in the garden of Katherine White.

Remarkably, the flowers made it through a succession of long-distance moves and careful transplantings, faithfully returning spring after spring for more than a decade.

Ironically, our last move home to the Corry house proved to be the undoing of my well-traveled coneflowers. Perhaps their uprooting in late summer and the idea of making it to another spring was simply too much for them to contemplate.

In any case, I think about those coneflowers from time to time, usually when I’m resting with a cool beverage in an old wooden chair after a day of work in the garden, my other sacred sanctuary in the time of coronavirus.

From the depths of that old chair, I find it reassuring to study the stars before dawn and while the birds of late afternoon are dive-bombing the feeders as the last light falls like a benediction over the yard.

Certain questions, for the moment at least, remain unanswered. For example, I shall probably never know if those handsome white coneflowers really came from Katherine White’s garden, though I like to think that they did. Their message is clear.

“To live in this world,” advises my friend the poet Mary Oliver from her grand red chair in the library, “you must be able to do three things. To love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends upon it; and when it comes time to let it go, to let it go.”

Mama Meryl knew this. I suppose I’m finally learning it, too.

Someday this house will pass into other hands and the books of my fine home library will be boxed up and donated to the annual church auction or carted off to the community book sale.

Likewise, without me around to keep it trimmed and tidy, my garden will likely overrun its borders and spread into places it was never meant to go, a disordered Eden that may prompt the new homeowner to hack it down without a trace.

But for now, like long-gone Cicero before me, these are the simple small places where I seek and find whatever there is for present comfort during these flagless memorial days — from books that still let me roam the world to a garden where, I noticed just yesterday, the bluebirds have returned for the third year in a row to start a new family — a sign that life always begins again.  OH

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at jim@thepilot.com.

Short Stories

Plant-Based Medicine

And no, we’re not suggesting growing pot, but potting growth with a houseplant to keep you company while you shelter in place. In addition to brightening up your surroundings, turning over new leaves will also deliver extra oxygen. (The better to help you take some deep breaths.) Learn more about the therapeutic benefits of green things from America in Bloom, an independent nonprofit organization that promotes beautification programs, and individuals’ and communities’ engagement with flowers, plants and trees. And if you’ve never gotten your hands dirty or want to expand from houseplant to a vegetable patch or full-fledged South 40, AIB can help. Simply check out its resource page at americainbloom.org/resource . . . and exhale.


Virtual Veggies

Craving a crisp salad made with greens just sprouted from the ground? Instead of, er, shredding your leafy dream, why not realize it with a trip to the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market — without leaving the comfort of your well-worn sofa? Thanks to its Virtual Marketplace, you can have your cake — and fresh eggs, pork, collards, cheeses, jams, even doughnuts — and eat them, too. Every Thursday at noon the Market’s website, (gsofarmersmarket.org/our-vendors), will be updated, allowing you to shop with vendors and choose from options for home deliveries, curbside pickup from certified farm stands, direct shipments and more. After all, ya gotta eat your spinach, Baby!


Art of the State

If you’re worried about being charged mileage on gigabyte globetrotting tours of great museums, you can stay right in your own backyard. At the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh it’s possible to explore the collection virtually by going to ncartmuseum.org. Another feature, “NCMA Recommends,” highlights film, music and art from the collection. The Reynolda House Museum in Winston-Salem is producing “Call-a-Curator” to anyone on its email list where team members share their view on art and all things Reynolda. The Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington launched “Structure in Space and Time — Photography by Phil Freelon.”


Night (and Day) at the Museum

Though the kids have turned the kitchen table into a classroom, no reason not to take ’em on a field trip to the North Carolina Museum of History. Through short videos and blogs on the museum’s History at Home web page, you can step back in time for an ice cream sundae at the counter of a 1920s drugstore; watch hemlines — and necklines — rise and fall with a backward glance at fashion; learn the ways of the state’s indigenous peoples; take off into the wild blue yonder and have a gander at beloved toys — Matchbox cars, Slinky, Barbie, Twister and more — from the 1950s and ’60s. (Sorry, Millennials, but our money’s on G.I. Joe over Mighty Morphin Power Rangers any day!) The best history lesson of all? Admission is free for this vast wealth of knowledge.
Info: ncmuseumofhistory.org/history-at-home.


Ogi Sez  Ogi Overman

Well, brothers and sisters, several shows scheduled or rescheduled for May have already been postponed until June. Yet, somehow the show must go on.

By mid-March, virtual living room concerts had become all the rage. Scheduling is often last-minute, but dozens of our local faves are hosting either regular or sporadic shows; venues such as the Carolina Theatre (carolinatheatre.com) and Triad Stage (triadstage.org) are soliciting videos for online broadcast; and Fox8 is airing weekly living-room concerts. Rather than a sketchy and incomplete list, I would simply implore you to check your social media sites, log in, and — oh, yes — tip. If you haven’t used PayPal, Venmo, CashApp, etc., learn. OK (fellow) Boomer, figure it out.

Also, ArtsGreensboro has set up a musicians relief fund to assist those in the direst of straits, so why not kick a few bucks for the cause? Triad Musicians Matter (triadmusiciansmatter.org), headed by local, nationally acclaimed songwriter Kristy Jackson, got the ball rolling with a gift of $5,000. Significant though that is, considering the number of artists who’ve lost their sole source of income, it is but a drop in the bucket.

And above all, let us remember the words of Baba Ram Dass: “We’re all just walking each other home.” Or in this case, singing.


Barnes Storming

The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia has been running short daily pieces featuring one of its curators talking about one of their favorite pieces of art in the extensive collection of over 900 impressionist, post-impressionist and modern paintings that include works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Amadeo Modigliani, Edgar Degas, Vincent Van Gogh and Georges Seurat. The collection also features African masks, Greek antiquities, Native American jewelry and more. The “Daily Servings of Art” are available in bite-sized portions by going to YouTube and searching for “Barnes Takeout.”


Take a Hike

Staying home is all well and good but if you feel the need to get out and explore you can do it safely by taking virtual tours — or watching live cams — at a number of National Parks, including Yellowstone at nps.gov. Other parks offering virtual tours are Yosemite, Denali, Kenai Fjords, Hawai’i Volcanoes, Carlsbad Caverns, Bryce Canyon and Dry Tortugas. Or, you can explore 35 of them on Google Earth. You’ll need a comfortable pair of boots.



Mood Lighting

Now that you’ve been staring at the four walls for a bit, have you grown bored with your home décor? Well here’s a light-bulb moment — literally! You can transform a space without the hassle and expense of a complete overhaul by flipping the switch on its lighting. Check out the latest from Currey & Company, for lamps, chandeliers, sconces and more, running the gamut from traditional to Mod, Imperial to Boho. We’re partial to the whimsical, springlike hibiscus designs from Sasha Bikoff Collection. To order consult your local designers, many of whom are working from home, or go to the dealer locator tab at curreyandcompany.com.

Tealing the Show

A wave of bold color transforms a Burlington kitchen

By Maria Johnson

Their nest may be empty, and roomy for two, but Allison and Eddie Gant are staying put.

Even though their children are grown and gone, the Gants — he’s 58, she’s 55 — plan to remain in their two-story brick Colonial home in west Burlington.

Their reasons are many — architectural, emotional, financial, logistical.

Their master bedroom is on the first floor, a layout conducive to aging in place.

Their home, which they’ve occupied since 1999, holds treasured memories of their children, Olivia and Edmund, growing up there.

The location is convenient to other family members; Eddie’s parents and Allison’s siblings live nearby.

The 3,800-square-foot residence is paid for.

And not least of all, the Gants are attached to the place they’ve lavished with love and work for the last 20 years.

“This house really reflects who I am with the design and the decorating,” says Allison, a professional dance instructor who serves as chairwoman of the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education.

Eddie works for Shawmut Corp., which bought part of Glen Raven Inc., the textile company founded by Eddie’s family. Eddie still sits on the Glen Raven board of directors, and he and Allison are active in church and civic organizations. They’re deeply entrenched in their community, and in their home, where they love to entertain.

But just because they’re sticking around doesn’t mean they want their home to stay stuck in time.

Room by room, they’ve been updating upholstery, paint, hardware and accessories over the last several years.

Last summer, they focused on the kitchen, which they’d spruced up 10 years before.

“It was just really tired and ready for a complete refresh,” says Allison. “I wanted to bring it into the 21st century.”

To help, she called in Emma Legg and Sydney Foley of Greensboro’s Kindred Interior Studios. The duo, both 32, became friends when they were interior design students at High Point University. Each worked for other design shops before joining forces.

They’d helped the Gants with smaller projects, and the Gants liked the way the young designers understood and applied their tastes.

Emma and Sydney believed they could continue to capture the couple’s essence, especially Allison’s love of boisterous colors.

“I’m not a beige girl,” Allison confirms.

As for her husband, Allison says, “He’s gracious enough to live with what I choose.”

For this project, Allison picked a bright teal backsplash that leaps out against newly pale cabinets and walls.

The old backsplash, done with 1-inch tile squares, contained some teal accents, along with nips of brown to tie into brown granite counters, but it packed nothing like the aquamarine punch of the new backsplash, which comprises several shades of the color.

“You have your showstoppers,” explains designer Emma, alluding to the new turquoise wall and an island that repeats the color. “In order for those to shine, we kept everything else neutral.”

To stay within the budget, all parties agreed they would stick with the kitchen’s L-shaped footprint — no walls would be added or removed — and they chose to preserve the cabinet boxes, as well as the island.

They also agreed not to change the location of lighting fixtures.

“There was some construction, but it was minimal,” says Emma. “It was in between a cosmetic and gutted-to-the-studs renovation.”

The upgrade was managed by general contractor Kevin Reeves of J&K Builders of NC, based in High Point. The renovation involved a cabinetmaker building an “appliance garage” around what had been a catch-all desk incorporated into a wall of light brown cabinetry.

The “mom desk,” as Sydney calls it, was original to the 1988 home. It served as a workbench for the tools of family life: mail, papers, purses, pens and Allison’s Rolodex. An original NuTone intercom and radio system was set into the wall above the desk.

Out came the intercom and the desk. In went a new cabinet with doors to conceal the coffeemaker, microwave and other small appliances that once populated the countertops.

“At the end of the day, you can close the doors, and it’s a nice, clean look,” says Emma.

Cabinetmaker Andrew Bereznak routed the new doors to match the existing cabinets. All of the cabinetry, new and old, was painted a faint gray.

The old hinges, which had been visible from the outside, were replaced by hidden hinges.

A built-in corner cabinet, once fronted by a door that framed a colored glass tulip, got a new pane of clear seeded glass, flecked with bubbles, so Allison’s collection of pottery, china and cheerful barware would show.

Above the kitchen sink, a curved wooden valance disappeared so the glossy teal backsplash — subway tile from Studio Tile & Design in Greensboro — could be extended above a window.

To create more interest on that wall, contractors installed floating shelves with a finish resembling the room’s oak hardwood floors.

The former bisque-colored, under-mount sink was booted for a white porcelain farmhouse sink with a deep apron.

Brown granite countertops — installed during the last remodeling — were tossed in favor of milky, veined quartz with an eased edge.

The same white quartz, from Greensboro’s Ivey Lane, tops the island and spills over two sides of the box, creating a waterfall effect. For the front-facing side of the island, Allison chose custom tile from the online store Cement Tile Shop. The patterned tile, painted in teal on a white background, flirts with the bold backsplash. Emma and Sydney suggested the design to spice things up.

“That’s not anything I would have thought to do,” says homeowner Allison.

Over the island, lighting fixtures with clear glass globes and Edison bulbs replaced the old pendants. The lights illuminate a new flat black cooktop — successor to a Jenn-Air range — that matches existing black appliances.

To harmonize with the appliances, cabinet doors and drawers received matte black knobs and pulls.

Emma and Sydney recommended changing the color of the kitchen walls from light bluish-gray to white, a clean backdrop for the tidal wave of teal and other smacks of color, including Allison’s plucky kitchen rugs.

“My pink, yellow and blue rugs are very happy,” she says.

The restful whites also give plenty of elbow room to the bar stools that usually sit at the island. The stools are covered with hot pink leather and silver nail heads.

“They’re fabulous,” says Allison. “I’ve always been drawn to color.”

The Gants are so tickled with the outcome of the kitchen, they’ve hired Emma and Sydney to juice up the home’s exterior with new lighting, a wrought-iron hand rail and deeper navy blue shutters.

“They know my taste,” says Allison. “It’s definitely been a collaboration.” OH

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

Papadaddy’s Mindfield

Outdoors Is Not Closed

A gift that amazes the child in all of us


By Clyde Edgerton

I’m writing these words in late March 2020.

My gentle editor recently told me that the Salt magazine theme for May’s issue would be “the outdoors.” I took a walk to think about how to write about that subject during these dark times.

More people are taking walks, riding bicycles — missing beaches and closed parks. I can only guess at how things will be in early May, when you are (now) reading these words. It does not seem far-fetched to guess that, by then, you or I — or both of us — will have lost people we knew, and perhaps loved. I know of no time since World War II during which I could have said that.

On my walk, I notice a wisteria vine behind a neighbor’s house. I think about how, unchecked, it will begin to take over bushes, shrubs, trees — a nuisance vine. But the beauty of its blossom may counter that, depending on your relationship to the vine; that is, if it’s growing in the woods you can admire it, but in your yard it may become invasive and unwelcomed. The reason I notice the vine on this walk is because late March and early April are days of Wilmington’s wisteria blooming — light purple — for its three- or four-week colorful span.

I rarely, if ever, see a wisteria vine without remembering a particular wisteria vine. My mother remembered it being planted in about 1915 at the base of a trellis in her grandmother’s backyard. That would have been three years before the Spanish flu epidemic. Twenty-one years later, in 1936, the federal government bought 5,000 acres in the vicinity of the homeplace, where the vine grew on its trellis, and offered it to the state of North Carolina for a dollar, with the understanding that the acreage would become a recreational site. The site became the William B. Umstead State Park, situated between Raleigh and Durham. Graveyards, as well as stone and glass remnants of an entire community, can still be found near trails and streams.

The wisteria vine planted by my grandmother survived the land transfer, and once every year for the past 70 years or so, I’ve helped family members clean the family graveyard near the site of the homeplace. By the 1950s, the wisteria vine began taking over wild shrubs and pine trees around the graveyard, and for a while in the early ’80s it arched magnificently over a dirt road that ran through the park. This memory of it in bloom, reaching up into and over pine trees, and over the road, is unforgettable. Park rangers painstakingly extinguished the vine in the 1990s. Sadly, in my view.

My guess is that you remember an outdoor childhood spot — near a certain tree, or creek or hillside. Perhaps there was a path that led to a secret place. While outdoors interests adults, it often amazes children. When did you last climb a tree?

In a sense, outdoors is childhood. And outdoors is a gift, like a sense of humor, like strong relationships with people we like and love. Gifts. Not acquisitions growing from what we don’t need.

Granted, we need toilet paper, but it’s not free.

Outdoors is free.  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.


Illustration by Harry Blair

Scuppernong Bookshelf

Self-Isolation: A Reader’s Odd Paradise

Books running the gamut from dark to light, to keep you company in uncertain times


By Brian Lampkin

As we enter another month of enjoying our time with our families and roommates, we’re all thinking about what we should read next (because really how much FaceTime Monopoly can we play?). Here are some suggestions that deal directly (or indirectly) with pandemics, crisis and dystopia. But that’s the last thing some people want. So let’s add another list of some great reading to avoid despair, decay and disease. For best results, choose one from each column.

The Worst of Times . . .

There are some obvious choices here like Camus’ The Plague, Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, or Stephen King’s flu epidemic novel The Stand, but let’s look at some more recent titles that might illuminate our current crisis or even directly address it.

Erik Larson has a new non-fiction (The Splendid and the Vile, Crown, $32) that explores a country’s response to seemingly unbearable conditions. The daily WWII bombing of London and England generally by the Nazi regime created an atmosphere of fear and constant risk of death. How does a country survive such daily dread? Larson looks closely at Churchill’s role in communicating the reality of the situation along with a conviction that his country will persevere.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (Vintage 2015, $16.95), imagines a rapidly spreading flu epidemic, overrun hospitals and barricaded isolation zones. Too on-the-nose? Mandel’s novel is terrifying yet somehow also about survival and the necessity of art in even the direst of circumstances. Her latest work, The Glass Hotel (Knopf 2020, $26.95), is another story of crisis and survival, and Ron Charles at The Washington Post calls it “the perfect novel for your survival bunker.” It’s also an exploration of money, beauty, white-collar crime, ghosts and moral compromise in which a woman disappears from a container ship off the coast of Mauritania and a massive Ponzi scheme implodes in New York.

Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World, by Laura Spinney (Public Affairs 2018, $16.95), The Spanish flu of 1918–1920 was one of the greatest human disasters of all time. It infected a third of the people on Earth — from the poorest immigrants of New York City to the king of Spain, Franz Kafka, Mahatma Gandhi and Woodrow Wilson. Spinney draws on the latest research in history, virology, epidemiology, psychology and economics, to masterfully recount the little-known catastrophe that forever changed humanity.

There’s a new understood queen of science fiction and N. K. Jemisin’s, The City We Became (Orbit 2020, $28), reminds us why she wears the crown. Five New Yorkers must come together in order to save their city from destruction in the first book of a stunning new series. Every great city has a soul. Some are ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York? She’s got six. When a young man crosses the bridge into New York City, something changes. He doesn’t remember who he is, where he’s from, or even his own name. But he can feel the pulse of the city, can see its history, can access its magic. And he’s not the only one. All across the boroughs, strange things are happening. Something is threatening to destroy the city and her six newborn avatars unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.

Always Look On the Bright Side . . .

There are classics in the genre of offering comfort in troubled times as well, and many of us have personal favorites. When I was a young man (but still too old to actually admit to my age here), a friend read Trina Paulus’ Hope for the Flowers to me when I was feeling down and out. It helped. My teenage daughters recommend the Percy Jackson series as a diverting and hopeful alternative.

More recent releases include the hard-to-keep-in-stock Untamed, by Glennon Doyle (Dial Press 2020, $28). Soulful and uproarious, forceful and tender, Untamed is both a memoir and a galvanizing wake-up call. It offers a piercing, electrifying examination of the restrictive expectations women are issued from birth and shows how hustling to meet those expectations leaves women feeling dissatisfied and lost. Untamed shows women how to be brave. As Glennon insists: “The braver we are, the luckier we get.”

With graduation upon us — even if actual graduations are sadly absent — it might be nice to offer a book that refuses the heavy pretentiousness of the occasion and offers instead some much-needed irony and a great deal of generosity of spirit. Kurt Vonnegut’s If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? (Seven Stories 2020, $17.95) has been newly reissued and expanded. Remember this: “There was one thing I forgot to say, and I promised I would say, and that is, ‘We love you. We really do.’”

We’re in nature a lot these days. I recently read Thorpe Moeckel’s wonder almanac Down By the Eno, Down By the Haw (Mercer University 2019, $16) and found it the perfect book for the times. Hallucinatory in its immersion in the wild and in its strange and specific language, I found this book diverting in just the way a great walk can be: awed by the new, charmed by the familiar, and fully engaged with the present.

And finally, each of the following North Carolina writers have had books published in the recent weeks and have had all of the events promoting their new books canceled. Imagine the muted excitement of having a new book published to the sound of crickets. Order their books if you’re interested and able:

Tyranny of Questions, by Michael Gaspeny (Unicorn Press, $18). A novel-in-verse that dares to believe in the literary imagination and a writer’s empathetic chops.

I See You So Close: The Last Ghost Series, Book Two, by M. Dressler (Arcade Publishing, $24.99). Guilford College writer-in-residence brings us part two of her engaging series.

Blue Marlin, by Lee Smith (Blair, $15.95). A very personal novella from North Carolina’s literary force.

The More Extravagant Feast: Poems, by Leah Green (Graywolf, $16). Greensboro native and winner of the 2019 Walt Whitman Award.  OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of
Scuppernong Books.



Hey faithful O.Henry readers! Scuppernong Books remains open in these isolating times for all orders: website (scuppernongbooks.com), email (scuppernongbooks@gmail.com) or phone call (336-763-1919). We can’t allow walk-in traffic, but we can ship books out to you and in most cases you’ll get your literary survival kit within a week. Please try to remember all of our small and local businesses during this continued social distancing.