O.Henry Ending


And the art of moving on


By Nancy Oakley

“That was our hand-washing station,” he says, pointing to a snapshot of an orange Igloo cooler. The photograph is neatly laid out in a column among four others in a narrow album.

“There’s me, washing my clothes,” he explains as he turns the album’s pages. He looked as he does now, with the same buzz cut, squinting through wire-rim glasses, his toothy grin flashing beneath a woolly worm of a mustache. In the photo, he wore a tan T-shirt and fatigues, his booted feet planted firmly on the ground as he squatted before a bucket containing a shirt immersed in soapy water.

“We’d hang it up and it’d dry in the sun just like that,” he recalls, snapping his fingers. “Boy, it was hot, too. Not as hot as the Mojave when I was in training, though. That was brutal.” He pronounces it: MOH-JAVE, with a hard “j” and a long “a” and equal emphasis on both syllables.

Chief, as my friends and I call him, continues flipping through the photo album following his favorite dinner of grilled chicken and chops. He shows us the tent where he and his company lived, a large, white structure distinctive only because of the bland and barren landscape surrounding it — sand — and the narrow cot with his duffle lying next to it.
“There’s Fallujah,” he continues, “some Iraqi kids.” The photo reveals a depressing alley flanked by gray buildings, the latter, extreme close-ups of wide-eyed children mugging for the camera.

“And that’s mail. See? All those orange bags? Look at that!” Here Chief’s tone becomes more animated, as if he were reliving the thrill of receiving news from home.

Back in the day, home for Chief was one of the aging apartments in a leafy neighborhood we all lived in when we were young and poor. His was the smallest, because it was the cheapest — an ideal arrangement for a student who had lived for four years in a cramped submarine. As a new recruit, he had sometimes been relegated to sleeping in the tiny compartment over the nuclear missiles.

He’d wanted to be a Marine, but for whatever reason wound up in the Navy.

“When the guy at the recruiting office said, ‘How about submarines?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that sounds OK.’” Chief remembers. “And the first thing I thought when I got there was, ‘How do I get out of this?’” He laughs about it now. But at the time he had no other options, the laughing, skinny kid in another photograph from an even more distant era. The kid with a mop of hair, sporting cutoff jeans, whose stepmother showed him the door after his father died.

Chief moved from subs to helicopters. Reconnaissance. “I saw other guys doing that, and I said, ‘Hey, I want to do what they’re doing,’” Chief once explained. “That’s how you learn things. Move on.”

By the time we knew him, Chief was the odd man out, a bit older than the rest of us, with his trademark buzz cut, military posture and short fuse, not to mention his unabashed patriotism. A bumper sticker on his SUV read “Semper Fi,” an homage to his dream deferred — though he did join the Naval Reserves attached to a Marine unit. Then there was the vanity plate, “WETHEPPL,” which drew smirks among the hipper-than-thou set.

But Chief had a great sense of fun. He’d take one couple’s child for walks in her stroller, play fetch with their dog. His favorite movie was A Few Good Men, and Chief loved to quote the courtroom dialogue verbatim, ending in crescendo with its now famous line,

“You can’t handle the truth!”

Then he’d laugh and take a sip of Michelob, and replay the scene and quote the lines all over again.

On another occasion Chief had gone to a formal dance, wearing his dress whites. He came back, his date on his arm, and knocked on all our doors, pretending to have been stabbed, spilling fake blood on the sidewalk, before doubling over with laughter.

His date that night ended up becoming the mother to his only son, but Chief’s relationship with her soured, becoming fraught with custody battles. He moved in and out jobs but continued his Reserve duty, and long after he’d left our little enclave, he would return for dinners of chicken and chops, and screenings of A Few Good Men.

In 2003 when Reservists were called up, Chief left for his first tour, attached to a medical unit. One of us took care of the golden retriever he’d acquired. Even the ex-girlfriend cried and wrote letters — while demanding child support for their infant son.

We were relieved when Chief came home in one piece. Then he signed up for another tour. And another. And another. He rarely spoke of them.

After the last tour, he resumed his pattern of moving from job to job and tried to re-enlist — only to be rejected at his advancing age. He gave up a job at one of the hospitals to work at the V.A., in spite of the long commute it required.

Chief’s been at that job for a while, and he’s mellowed, preferring college football games on TV to A Few Good Men. He speaks proudly of his son, now 18.

“A neighbor of mine — I guess he’s about 70 — asked me if I wanted him to enlist,” he tells us after he’s closed the photo album. “I told him that was my boy’s choice. It kind of shocked him.” Chief pauses to take a sip of iced tea, having switched from Michelob for the evening.

We all stifle yawns and start to break up the evening, with “g’nights,” and hugs. Chief walks down the driveway to the modest sedan he now drives. He gets in and starts the ignition, waving through the window and flashing his toothy grin. As the car fades away into the darkness, the only thing visible between its taillights is the vanity plate: IRAQX4.  OH

Nancy Oakley is the senior editor of O.Henry.

The Accidental Astrologer

Mystery Men and Women

Sexy and secretive Scorpio vamps it up in November


By Astrid Stellanova

Sugar, here’s wishing all your champagne and caviar birthday wishes will come true. For starters, Dynasty is returning to the airways, checking at least one box for you. Scorpio is all about mystery, vamping and tramping. Everybody wants to date or be a sexy Scorpio at some point. And yet, think about how much we really know about even very public Scorpios . . . Julia Roberts, Katy Perry, Matthew McConaughey, Kathy Griffin, Bill Gates and Hillary Clinton are Scorpios. — Ad Astra, Astrid


Scorpio (October 23–November 21)

You haven’t wasted time this year; but you can’t get it back either. So don’t bother wishing you were younger, better looking, or had the body of an Olympic skater. Like Grandpa said, don’t we all wish we could be like a load of laundry and spin in the dryer to get rid of our wrinkles and shrink a few sizes? But you can realize you are one of the lucky ones, possessing your own teeth, both kidneys, and more class and sass than ought to be allowed. Mystery is not your whole history, Sweet Thing.

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

Are you kidding me right now? Don’t question yourself. Colonel Sanders had his finger-lickin’ chicken, but you have your own secret recipe. Yours is a finely tuned sense of intuition, and it is right on the money. Change your passwords, hide your money and don’t trust the very person you know you shouldn’t trust with your deep dark secrets.

Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

You get your revenge. And Honey, it feels so good, like sitting in a tub of
Cool Whip after a bad sunburn. But you will have to move on with your fine life and let it go. That double crosser won’t double-cross you again, but ask yourself if you wouldn’t be better off high-tailing it on out, and getting yourself into a new circle of trust.

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

You had a breakthrough and took a stand that needed taking, Sugar. But Lordy, Nancy Grace, just reel that self-righteous anger back in a little. By this time you are reading this, everybody that mistook your good nature for being a fool has figured out only the first part is true.

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

Yes, you won it hard and square, Sweetheart. But your windfall of cold hard cash had the effect of making your heart harden up faster than a pan of hot lard. It is possible to be frugal and also to help those who need it. Compromise a little and you will be rich in ways that matter.

Aries (March 21–April 19)

A straightjacket is not your best fashion statement. You’ve always had a knack for spotting trends, being the first and making others follow. But look behind you, Darling. Nobody’s there. It doesn’t matter so much how you look as how fulfilled you are, and right now you know you’re a quart low on fulfillment.

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

Jack Daniel’s said you could dance, just like it said you could do a lot of things. At least the glass was half full, Honey. When the line dancing ended, everybody had to agree you outdid yourself. Sometimes you just have to fly your freak flag and howl at the moon. No real harm done, Sugar.

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

Scary to take a long, hard look at yourself, right? Sometimes it’s like visualizing your skinny cousin Oscar wearing a hot dog bun. But being truthful and vulnerable is a good thing, and you are right to ask yourself if you are being true to yourself in your current situation. Don’t let yourself settle for a scenario that doesn’t honor your true self.

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

Mr. Sun and Mrs. Moon might have been your parents. Now, you are having an eclipse of your own. You helped someone and they somehow managed to cut in line in front of you. You are going to learn from this, recover, and they will make amends. Honestly. You’ll be basking in the sunlight and the moonlight.

Leo (July 23–August 22)

Attitude? Honey, you might want to chill. Lately, you make Leona Helmsley look like a GoFundMe charity organizer. Something got into you and all the state and half of Georgia knows it, too. You have bigger things to attend to, and after an attitude adjustment you’ll be sitting in the butter — and not alone.

Virgo (August 23–September 22)

Cool your heels, Darling, and let time wound all heels. Seriously, karma is reckoning with someone who took credit for your work. Whistle while you work and never let ’em see you sweat. Because very, very soon, they will. In the meantime, an escape from your worries is needed. Don’t ignore your health.

Libra (September 23-October 22)

You don’t need a whip. But a carrot would help your motivation, Honey Bun. Everybody thinks you are self-sufficient but you are like the rest of us — a kind word helps you feel your life is on track. Trouble is, the person you want approval from is not catching your drift. Hang on, hang in and don’t sweat it.  OH

For years, Astrid Stellanova owned and operated Curl Up and Dye Beauty Salon in the boondocks of North Carolina until arthritic fingers and her popular astrological readings provoked a new career path.

November Almanac

In the evenings
I scrape my fingernails clean,
hunt through old catalogues for new seed,
oil work boots and shears.
This garden is no metaphor —
more a task that swallows you into itself,
earth using, as always, everything it can.

Jane Hirshfield, November, 

“Remembering Voltaire”


Sweet, bare-branched November. Sweet hearth fires and gray dawns and Indian corn. Sweet, sweet pumpkin bars.

Many consider this 11th month to be an auspicious time for manifestation. But first we must clear out the old. We rake leaves for compost, pull weeds, rid the garden of debris. And as we harvest the last of the eggplant and peppers, autumn sunlight washing us golden, we offer gratitude for the glory and abundance of the present moment. Wisdom and beauty are here, now. Like the white-tailed deer, peacefully grazing on the forbs and grasses along the quiet back road. She will disappear beyond the forest veil in an instant.

In the spirit of manifestation, here are 11 seeds of inspiration for the November gardener:

Sow poppy seeds on the full Frost Moon (November 4) for a dreamy spring.

Ditto larkspur. The spur of this showy and complex flower resembles the hind toe of the crested songbird for which it was named.

Watch the last of the leaves turn.

Plant a fruit tree. Fig, apple, persimmon or plum? One way to decide: Consider future chutney, pudding and pie.

Cilantro is surprisingly cold hardy. Growing some? More is more.   

Feed the birds.

Plant asparagus crowns.

Stop and smell the witch hazel flowers.

Force paperwhites, hyacinth, and amaryllis bulbs for holiday bloom.

Visit a pumpkin patch. 

Sow gratitude and watch it grow.

Celestial Kiss

According to National Geographic, one of the “Top 7 Must-See Sky Events for 2017” will occur on Monday, November 13. In the morning twilight, low in the eastern sky, Venus and Jupiter will appear to join, separated by just 18 arc-minutes — “equal to the apparent width of a half-lit moon.” Epoch conjunctions such as this aren’t once-in-a-lifetime happenings. Still, watching the sky’s two brightest planets canoodle at dawn is nothing short of magic. You’ll want binoculars for this celestial waltz.

The Gathering

Bring the magic of nature indoors this Thanksgiving season with a centerpiece of your own creation. Hollow a pumpkin and fill it with dahlias. Ignite the senses with cinnamon and eucalyptus. Embellish with pinecones, acorns, branches, seedpods, gourds, clementine, pheasant feathers, pomegranate, bundles of wheat wrapped in twine. Allow earth to inspire you. Just save room for Aunt Viola’s pumpkin bars.

Paperwhites 101

Paperwhite narcissus — or just paperwhites, as they’re more commonly known — grow just as soon as the bulbs are planted. Start them now for a wintertime centerpiece that signals spring’s faithful return. Choose a container (3 to 4 inches deep), spread an inch or two of pebbles along the bottom of it, then position the bulbs on the pebbles, pointy ends up. Add more pebbles to fill gaps and cover bulbs to the shoulders, then add water until it reaches the base of the bulbs. Check the water level daily, and when you notice roots, move the container to a sunny window. Once they flower (3 to 4 weeks), move them to a cool spot with indirect light. Enjoy.  OH


To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Radiant Bride

The Weir-Jordan house is firmly wedded to Greensboro’s past

By Billy Ingram     Photographs by Amy Freeman

For the last 171 years, the veranda at the Weir-Jordan House at 223 North Edgeworth has been a not-so-silent witness to history — through Civil War and Reconstruction, Greensboro emerging from Greensborough, the Great Depression, two world wars, civil rights and women’s suffrage — a living testament to that fabled antebellum Southern charm thought lost to the ages.

Around the turn of the 20th century, when John Motley Morehead’s home Blandwood was her nearest neighbor, the Weir-Jordan home watched as the surrounding wilderness was developed into a charming neighborhood where generations of children were raised on the northwest edge of a burgeoning downtown. In the 1920s, one of our magnificent churches, Grace United Methodist, sprang up across the street while the Jefferson Pilot building rose in the distance, followed by more modern skyscrapers. As the center city expanded outward in the ’60s and ’70s, most of the homes in this neighborhood were razed and replaced by office complexes or were repurposed for locally owned businesses. So much so that Weir-Jordan is one of only three houses remaining north of Friendly on Edgeworth.

It has survived, and thrived, thanks to the stewardship of the Greensboro Woman’s Club, which has owned the home since 1921. Established in 1909, the Greensboro Women’s Club’s 157 initial members banded together in a push for “Better schools and community.” And, as it turns out, the preservation of what we believe to be one of the first 10 homes built downtown. The interior of the house features a double-pile floor plan with Greek Revival touches, four-panel doors, molded baseboards, and pilaster-and-frieze mantels. “There’s never been a major renovation of the entire house,” past president and Chairman of the Board of the Woman’s Club, Nancy McKee, tells me.

“These are the original plaster moldings. All the floors are original, the fireplaces, center hall, steps, newel, all of this is original [to Dr. Weir’s home].”

Greensborough was a “somnolent little Southern town” of around 400 people when Dr. David P. Weir established his successful medical practice in 1840, the next year he partnered in Jesse Lynsey’s drugstore not far from McConnel’s Dry Goods store. There was gold in them thar hills. North Carolina, in fact, was first in the nation in gold strikes and Guilford County was no exception. The Iron Horse had yet to ride any closer than Raleigh, so traveling by horse and buggy was the ultimate in luxury and sophistication in these parts. It was the dawn of the Crinoline Age when ladies wore inch-above-the-floor length dresses over hoop skirts, cinched tightly at the waist, while gentlemen sported long hair and whiskers, straw hats and tight fitting suits with tail coats.

In 1844, Dr. Wier was briefly in charge of the Edgeworth Female Seminary, a finishing school located on a plot of land situated directly between Governor Motley Morehead’s mansion Blandwood and the 6- acre tract where Dr. Weir began construction on his two-story home after marrying Susan Dick Humphreys in 1846.

Therein lies the mystery of Weir’s homestead. The important structures in its vicinity, Blandwood’s Italianate additions and the Edgeworth seminary, along with Greensboro College’s main building (the latter two destroyed by fire), were designed by renowned architect Alexander Jackson Davis of New York during this time period. We know Davis, who years earlier designed the State Capitol in Raleigh, presented Weir with floor plans for a home but it’s never been determined whether that plan was used or not. Davis drew inspiration from a number of architectural periods, having no one dominate style, so a home designed in the Antebellum Domestic architectural style prevalent in the Piedmont at that time, with Gothic and Italianate touches, wouldn’t be completely out of character.

Business was flourishing downtown in the summer of ’48, boasting a shopping district newly populated by a cobbler, tailor, haberdashery and a ready made clothing store located nearby Hopskin’s Hotel. That’s when Dr. Weir partnered with eccentric physician Algernon Sidney Porter to buy the Greensborough Drug Store, one of two druggists in town. Porter, who had been selling apothecaries at the old stand on North Street, took out an advertisement in the Greensborough Patriot asking those who were indebted to him to, “come forward and make settlement. May you have no power to resist!” the ad read.

Weir & Porter stocked “a large and well-selected assortment of drugs and medicines at a small advance above New York cost,” potions like Syrup of Naphtha, a cure for consumption, and Electric Lotion Pain Eradicator — basically granny’s rheumatism medicine. They also sold Bibles for the Guilford County Bible Society, although if the purchaser couldn’t afford one at “Society prices,” the Good Book would be “supplied gratuitously.”

This partnership was short-lived. Weir bought out Porter’s interest in the drugstore the next year. In their home around the corner on West Market, “Dr. Al” Porter and his wife Mary Jane Virginia Swaim Porter gave birth in 1862 to their third child, William Sidney, who would one day achieve fame as the writer O.Henry. A friend of O.Henry’s recalled the freckle-faced lad as he serenaded giggling seminary schoolgirls in 1880, “I can see Will Porter right now with his foot on a stump and his fiddle across his knee saying to Charlie Collins, ‘Charlie, gimme your  a.’. One number we sure could play — the “Old Saltello Waltz” — because we played it at every concert . . . The funny thing about this waltz was that, so far as we knew, it had no stopping place, no end. We just kept on playing and playing until Charlie Collins would say, ‘Look out fellers, I’m going to stop!’”

Weir went on to become a founding member of Greensborough’s first life insurance company, one of only a few dozen in the nation, while his wife Susan was as a key participant of The Ladies of Greensboro, who were very active during the Civil War. It was her task to collect provisions donated by the public and then see that they were distributed to battlefields in need. In addition, she supervised the sewing of troop uniforms.

A senior representative of the Sons of Temperance, Dr. David Weir died of consumption in 1865. After Susan Weir (Bell) passed on in 1890, the home was sold to prominent tobacconist, city commissioner and director of the Chamber of Commerce James F. Jordan for $5,000.

Because the house was so closely associated with the well-known Weirs, Jordan added his own imprimatur. Pointing to the initial ‘J’ on either side of the twin fireplaces, Nancy McKee reveals, “These were added in the 1900s when James Jordan owned the house. He was responsible for bringing a lot of Northerners down who liked to hunt.” Described in the press as ”one of the best marksmen in the South” Jordan, an inveterate fox hunter, was responsible for luring tobacco tycoon Pierre Lorillard to Greensboro; J. P. Morgan was another likely visitor to the home; he owned a hunting lodge near Climax.

It made the newspapers when a doctor in New York gave Jordan with, “a fine Winchester repeating rifle, model of ‘94. It carries twenty-five loads and is one of the most effective weapons ever seen here.” That gift almost led to the demise of his home in 1904. Jordan’s son and daughter were playing in the living room when a servant accidentally swept one of the cartridges into a fireplace where it exploded; the bullet grazed the little girl’s heel, while the resulting explosion of hot coals very nearly set the house on fire.

As for what the interior decorating looked like in those days, McKee says, “A graduate student in UNCG’s architectural design department did a color analysis of all the paint, so we know what colors the original walls were and how long they were up. They determined that by the dust layer in between.” What they discovered was a surprise: “I think most people assumed the walls were white or beige, but they were not.” They were red and blue-green, with the rooms downstairs yellow. “Some very bright colors were used,” McKee says.

When Jordan retired in 1906, after being reelected Sheriff twice, he purchased 300 acres of land on both sides of South Buffalo Creek, along the macadam road leading to Alamance Church, which he then subdivided into farms and smaller tracts, selling them at an auction said to have attracted some 10,000 potential buyers. Jordan’s widow, Mary, sold the house, situated on a smaller lot, in 1921 before it was subsequently acquired by The Greensboro Woman’s Club.

Making your way up the long walkway to the entrance of Weir-Jordan today, one can’t help but be struck with an unmistakable sense of the authentic antiquity it represents and how lucky we are to possess this pre-Civil War masterwork. Nancy McKee tells me, “The thing that keeps the house going are the rental fees from around a dozen civic and service groups that meet here on a monthly basis and we would love to accommodate more.” In addition, the revenue from private and corporate events, Christmas parties, rehearsal dinners and weddings serve to maintain this jewel.

You might imagine The Woman’s Club as being ladies in white gloves enjoying formal teas, playing bridge. And that was certainly a component at one time. Nowadays, they are, and have been for some time, much more focused on community activism. While initially working toward improving education and teachers’ pay, in 1917, the organization was instrumental in starting the local chapter of the American Red Cross. Five years later they established the city’s first curb market.

The Woman’s Club held its Cotton Ball at the new King Cotton Hotel in 1927, a cotillion celebrating the cash crop that fueled the South. At least a thousand partiers were presided over by a “royal court” headed by a King and Queen, a photo of the courtiers appeared in The New York Times’ rotogravure.

During the Second World War, these Wonder Women established a War Service Department that ‘adopted’ the wives of military officers serving at the Overseas Replacement Depot, planted victory gardens, and promoted the “Buy a Bomber” campaign that nationally raised enough money to purchase 431 fighter aircraft.

In 1961, the Woman’s Club enlarged the interior of the house by enclosing the first level of the two-story front porch. This was accomplished by pushing out the original front wall and retaining the original sash and trim. During that decade, the group sponsored the Greensboro Seniorettes Club at Grimsley High to promote “healthy activities, intellectual curiosity and spiritual compassion” and spearheaded projects to aid in the national war on poverty.

In the 1970s the club fought for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (spoiler alert: it still hasn’t passed) and sponsored an 18 1/2 hour telethon on WFMY that raised $212,000 for the North Carolina Zoo, enough to complete construction on the East African phase.

Despite the fact that membership roles have fallen to about 15 percent from its peak in the 1940s, that level of civic involvement continues unabated. Among the club’s projects: involvement in Urban Ministries’ Feast of Caring, along with animal rescue and foster programs, awarding of scholarships to high school seniors, making blankets for residents of Bell House, walks to fight breast cancer, support for Victory Junction for seriously ill children, and the decades-long tradition of wrapping Christmas presents at Friendly Center to raise money for charity.

Securely woven into the fabric of an ever-shifting landscape is this precious wedding cake of a house, Weir-Jordan, with an interior that has been described by the National Register of Historic Places application as retaining, “its original center hall plan and most of its simple finish. The stair which displays such typical mid-19th century features as a turned newel, turned balusters, and a molded handrail, rises in a tight, steep curve from what is now the front of the hall to a rear landing.”

As recently as the 1980s, there was a little old lady who lived upstairs and served as caretaker and cook when this was more of a clubhouse. Since then, the bathrooms have been modernized and WiFi and central air have been added. The kitchen has been outfitted as a state-of-the-art commercial banquet facility as McKee points out, “Stacy Street is our caterer, and she does fabulous weddings with big white tinsel on the front lawn; it’s gorgeous.” Bedrooms upstairs serve as separate bride and groom dressing areas.

The impressive upstairs veranda with its chamfered posts supporting a full-facade upper tier overlooks the grand front lawn. “Brides love to come here to have their pictures taken over the railing, with the photographer looking up,” McKee says. “It’s perfect for bouquet tossing and garter showings.” Banners and bunting can be hung from the railing for added dramatic effect.

As in days of old, ladies in hoop skirts and white crinoline, accompanied by gentlemen in fitted formal wear, can be seen dancing and celebrating on the front lawn, once shaded by large trees, now manicured and lusciously landscaped. McKee explains, “When brides call about having their wedding here, they express interest in wanting to get married in a Southern home; they want to be a part of Greensboro history.”  OH

For more information about The Greensboro Woman’s Club, go to greensborowomansclub.com.

Billy Ingram moved to downtown Greensboro 20 years ago after a career in Los Angeles as one of the team the ad world dubbed “The New York Yankees of Motion Picture Advertising.”

Physician, Heal Thyself

Five local doctors use art to heed time-honored biblical advice


Dr. Bobby Doolittle  Dobro Cures What Ails You

By Grant Britt     Photograph by Sam Froelich

There’s an instrument in Dr. Bobby Doolittle’s little black bag you won’t find in many doctor’s arsenal of healing tools. But that pear-shaped hunk of wood with the four courses of double strings is not there for the patients. Dr Doolitle’s mandolin is a healing tool for the physician, a device that enables him to maintain his own health after ministering to his patients.
Doolittle is done with doctorin’ for now, retiring a few months ago after decades of service in adolescent medicine. “They thought I was a pediatrician, but I was an internist first,” Doolittle says. “My training was internal medicine, but I did a specialty fellowship in adolescent medicine, tried to work a lot with kids, teens and young adults mainly.” But the good doctor found that it’s tough to make a living doing just that. “So the last 25 years I worked at an urgent care center [Cone Health’s Urgent Medical & Family Care]. I saw lots of adolescents by referral from people all over the city, particularly psychologists who needed them to see somebody.”
Music has been in Doolittle’s bloodstream longer than medicine, going back to his own adolescent years in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. “I grew up with a piano-playing mama who was fantastic, so I started playing in bands in high school, grew up in Muscle Shoals,” he recalls. You’ve heard of all those guys in the movie, [2013’s Muscle Shoals documentary, featuring the Fame Studios band, the Swampers] they were in the other high school bands; mine didn’t make it, and theirs did,” Doolittle chuckles.
Doolittle never thought for a minute about playing music for a living, but kept up his chops on organ, then guitar, taking lessons from local string-pulling legend Scott Manring. “About five or six years later I added the mandolin because my wife gave me a mandolin instead of giving me a wedding ring when we got married in ’75. Doolittle took classes from 1982 until 2000, “every Thursday at lunch, then he fired me, and said, ‘Look, just go get a band to play in and quit coming in and horsing around.’”
So Doolittle gave up horsing around for hopping around: For the last 15 years, he has been playing with the Alley Rabbits, whose music was described by a band member’s wife as “aging hippie acoustic folkgrass.” He’s in a jazz trio called String Swing that plays old-fashioned American standards including some Gershwin, a smattering of Duke Ellington and a pinch of early Django Rhinehardt. He also plays in a Latin Swing band serving up salsas and rumbas.
In addition to the fun it’s provided him, music has also heaped its share of therapeutic benefits on Doolittle. “I see it as a major way to let your soul get out of there when medicine is stripping you of your human values, or your humanity,” he observes. “There’s an intensity that goes along with the practice of medicine, having to deal with the preciseness of it, the science part and the bureaucracy of it, the insurance companies, the federal government.”
He contends that “music has this way of going beyond anything words can describe to keep you healthy.”
But while the doctor prescribes that medicine for himself, he’s not too keen on treating patients with it. “It really ought to be about them,” he says. Otherwise, a physician risks contracting a condition known as rockgawd-itis. “As a musician, you really have to be careful, because there’s a point where it becomes about you, then your head swells with a kind of hubris, and you don’t want to ever get there,” Doolittle says.
He also believes that not just the proverbial apple a day but “something artistic and something athletic every day,” should be a part of everyone’s regimen. “There is such a thing as music therapy, and I think it’s really good, I think there’s a future for it.”



Dr. Laura Lomax  A prescription for poetry

By Nancy Oakley     Photograph by Amy Freeman

You always wonder about the road you didn’t take. It makes me think: I wish I could have [lived] the movie, Sliding Doors, to see what it would have been like,” says Dr. Laura Lomax, with an easy laugh. The road she did take was dermatology, which she has practiced for nearly three decades at Greensboro Dermatology Associates. It was a circuitous route, from her initial plan of becoming a pediatrician, then an internist, but during her fourth rotation as a medical student, she found dermatologists to be “smart, savvy people.” And the practice of treating disorders and diseases of the skin had its benefits: Patients are more apt to follow their prescribed treatment, because they can actually see the results and, as medical practices go, dermatology doesn’t typically involve the stress of the ER or late-night calls — a boon when you’re raising a family.

Even so, Dr. Lomax continued to hear the siren call of that road not taken, the same road that physicians, from John Keats to William Carlos Williams have also followed: poetry. It was an avocation that dates to her childhood right here in the Gate City. “My dad liked rhyme. Before I could read, he would encourage me make little rhymes,” Lomax recalls. “My mom was one of those people who was a natural-born storyteller. Mainly family stories and that sort of thing, but she was just a real talker and good conversationalist and so, I got to love words,” the physician says.

Lomax started dabbling in verse as early as middle school, at Kiser. She would go on to head up a literary magazine in high school at Grimsley, where she devoured poetry in her English classes, a frequent topic of conversation with her sister-in-law, who is a poet and English teacher.

Though poetry and literature were her first love, Lomax also liked math and the sciences. “I have a brother who’s a physician and he influenced me,” she says, adding that it seemed easier to parlay math and science into a career than writing. And practical and economic reasons aside, a life in letters was off-putting for another reason. “I couldn’t see that I was a solitary enough worker to be a writer,” Lomax explains, adding that she is “sort of on that cusp of being extroverted and introverted.”

Being on the cusp gave Lomax perspective and fuel for her pen, which she picked up again midway through her medical career. “Dealing with peoples’ problems — not just the problems they came to you for, but their problems in general — deepens your understanding of human nature and the human condition,” she observes, adding that “ all that emotion and weight have to go somewhere.”

For Lomax, that might mean crafting a poem about camellias in bloom, the creative process, the ebb and flow of daily life. She prefers free verse to the rhymes of her childhood, because “It’s harder to write rhyme in a way that gets across deep thoughts without sounding corny.” Free verse, she adds, “just gives you a lot of leeway in terms of word choice, and it sounds stupid, but the freedom to use phrases that wouldn’t fit.” She enjoys the economy the genre requires, applying the discipline and precision required in medicine to adding and subtracting words, and reworking lines and stanzas.

In the last year, Lomax has joined an informal poetry group that meets once a month. It’s a mix of “retired English teachers and professors,” for the most part, and by happy coincidence, some neighbors. Most important, she says, “It has kept me writing poetry, and writing more. And also getting good feedback from people who are writing poetry.”

As her trove of poems grows, the physician/wordsmith hopes to publish a volume some day. Already she’s off to a good start, with “Wild Words,” which appeared among the pages of this very magazine in August of this year. It caught the attention of some of her patients, one of whom is also a poet. “She wrote me and we’re going to get together and share poems,” says Lomax, with a twinkle in her eye. As for her colleagues in the medical community? “They’re probably saying, ‘Why doesn’t she devote herself a little bit more to dermatology?’” Lomax speculates, her hearty laugh once again tumbling forth as easily as her words onto the page.


Dr. John Wrenn  The balm of oils on canvas

By Cynthia Adams     Photograph by Amy Freeman

Dr. John Wrenn is a Triad urologist who good-naturedly calls himself a “serial hobbyist.” After hours, he used his free time to master new things, woodworking, for instance. 

Then, a funny thing happened several years ago. While doodling during an office retreat, a tree began to emerge. Something took root in him, too, and Wrenn ordered a pencil set online. 

Working with pencil and paper he began experimenting, sketching his brother-in-law’s dog and his own golden doodle. “There was a lot of erasing going on,” he laughs.

Afterward, he turned to human subjects and sketched his daughter, “just playing around” with technique,  and he finds an early drawing of his children. “They hate this,” he observes wryly. Wrenn persisted, working quickly and often, using a variety of media. His technique and eye began to develop. 

“I have a fairly compressed learning curve,” he says. “I started trying to figure out perspective.” He took lessons under local artist Addren Doss, who exhibits her work at Tyler White Gallery.   

In 2013, Wrenn discovered pastels, “which give a broad range and super saturation of colors. And I like it because it’s fast.” 

A variety of subjects grabbed his attentions, especially coastal scenes, and he worked from sketches or his own photographs.  Sometimes he used vintage snapshots, like one of his father at the Outer Banks, during a 1950s fishing trip.

Wrenn took more classes, learning about composition and perspective.  As his skill evolved he dabbled in watercolor and then advanced to oil.  Oil was a challenge.  “At the time, I thought it was beautiful art,” he says before admitting with the same self-deprecating humor, “No, it wasn’t.”

He painted still lifes: sunflowers, sunsets, flowers, a trapper cabin in Georgia,  even mailboxes at the sea. Initially, he worked in a realistic style. Gaining skill and confidence, Wrenn varied not only the medium but technique, moving between realism and abstraction. 

Working from a photo of Snake Mountain near Boone, a place where his family has property, he created a large piece that at 12” x 24” is among his favorites. “As my wife will tell you, I can dive into things with intensity,” Wrenn admits.  Now whenever he can, he sketches or paints. 

Most important for his art’s sake, Wrenn is a keen observer.

Some of his most arresting and original scenes include a city intersection, an abstraction of a fire station near Lake Jeanette, a sunset over a local lake and a simple flower.  “I’ve always liked art,” he says, showing a range of subjects and composition, moving from still lifes to portraiture.

“I never knew I had any talent,” says Wrenn.

As for the art of medicine, the Memphis native graduated from Davidson College, returning back home to attend the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. Wrenn now works within Greensboro’s Cone Health Group.

“My father was the first pediatric surgeon at St. Jude’s Hospital,” he says.  “He worked on the smallest of the small.” Notably, he has painted his much-admired father in various scenarios.

He has always admired people who attempted many things. “I created this of the Grand Canyon from a purloined picture,” he says of an image with particular intensity, of surreal colors, as is the place itself. His work reveals a steady progression; it also reveals him. 

“It’s pretty good,” Wrenn says quietly, nodding. In his off hours, he is
an artist.

Artists have freedom. They’re free to to start over, erase, paint over mistakes. If the end result doesn’t work, there is a fresh canvas.

Nobody suffers. Nobody dies.

Turns out, the making of art, in and of itself, is good medicine, especially for this doctor.


Dr. Stephen South & Dr. Ravi Avva  Through Two Lenses

Story and Photograph by Lynn Donovan


What are the odds of two doctors at the same medical practice using the same art form to express their creative sides and soothe their souls? Dr. Stephen South and Dr. Ravi Avva both practice internal medicine at Guilford Medical Associates and both are also serious photographers. After graduating with a degree in chemistry from UNCG and getting a medical degree from Bowman Gray/WFU, Dr. South did his residency in internal medicine in Roanoke and completed a fellowship in endocrinology in Charlottesville at UVA before settling in Greensboro in 1992. Dr. Avva is a native of Greensboro, born at Cone Hospital. With an undergraduate degree from Carolina and a Ph. D. from Yale, he did his residency at Duke before coming to Guilford Medical in 1998. Both became interested in photography while in school.

Dr. South began medical school at Bowman Gray as a newlywed, and after the rigors of that first year, began to feel a bit overwhelmed. Inorder to “feel like I had some time to myself,” he enrolled in a six-week course in photography at Wake Forest, bringing with him a little darkroom knowledge from his time working on his high school yearbook in Randleman. 

Dr. Avva developed his interest in photography at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics in Durham It was there that he also developed an affinity for photographing landscapes. While an undergraduate at Carolina, he too lent his talents to the yearbook.

While both men have many things in common, they followed separate paths on choice of camera equipment. Dr. South began as a dedicated Minolta fan until the digital age took hold. He became a Canon shooter about 15 years ago. Dr. Avva began on Nikon and has stayed with Nikon, switching to digital about 10 years ago. Both enjoy landscapes, but Dr. South feels that people ruin a good picture and typically prefers wildlife and nature photography. Dr. Avva loves to capture family events, vacations and beautiful scenery.   

Both have honed their camera skills and fed their souls while traveling all over the United States and the world. Their choice of destination is dictated first by what they want to photograph. But they both admit to being swayed by how good the food and wine are. They have taken two trips together, one to Hawaii and most recently to Portugal.

Accompanied on these trips by family and friends, Dr. Avva finds that his art allows him to escape from the stress of daily life. His photos encompass the landscapes and scenic views of his travels, but many also include the people he cares about.

By contrast, Dr. South says that most of his actual photography is done while away from others, hiking up and down trails and valleys or to high vantage points for the “best view.” The best light of the day is sunrise or sunset for most outdoor subjects andtypically these are very quiet and centered times that are calming and energizing at the same time. Being surrounded by nature on a cool morning is an amazing experience, he says. In more recent years with travel to far-flung locales, he’s found increasingly that photography is more of a “healing getaway” than ever before. In recent years, his two daughters, both also photographers, have begun going with him on treks. Sharing their work with others is a big part of the process for both doctors. Framed prints of Dr. South’s grace the walls of the practice and the nursing home where he works. Piles of books showcasing Dr. Avva’s work are in his office and exam rooms for all to enjoy. The art captured through their lenses is no doubt a balm for patients — and in turn, continues to nurture creativity in the physicians behind the Canon and the Nikon.  OH


Patron Saint of The Farm

How an unheralded pioneer of women’s golf created a life of meaning and joy

By Jim Moriarty


Charlie Griffin hadn’t given up golf, exactly; he’d just taken a 30-year sabbatical. Senior advisers at the World Bank — his last position was as the director for Human Development in Eastern Europe and Central Asia — don’t generally travel with yardage books in their back pockets. In an effort to reboot his game in retirement, Griffin booked a lesson with Joy Bonhurst at Clubgolf Performance in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. In their get-to-know-you conversation, Bonhurst asked Griffin where he learned to play. Griffin explained that his aunt taught him the game when he was very young.

“Griffin,” thought Bonhurst. “Aunt” thought Bonhurst. “You must be Ellen Griffin’s nephew.” Guilty as charged. When Griffin stopped at the desk to pay for his lesson, Bonhurst spoke up. “Be respectful of this guy,” she said to the man at the cash register. “He’s from golf royalty.”

Ellen Griffin passed away over three decades ago at the age of 67 following a years-long series of surgeries, 16 in all, the first few for cancer, the rest to treat chronic Crohn’s disease. She tossed in a pair of strokes along the way. After the first one she gave up smoking her Raleigh cigarettes. After the second one she taught herself Spanish. “I don’t believe I’m going to be blotted out when I die,” she once told author Liz Kahn. “But it’s a new experience, and no one knows about it, so why worry?” She died in October of 1986 with the Major League Baseball championship series on the TV in her room at Moses Cone Hospital. Blotted out? As John Wayne said in Big Jake, “Not hardly.”

Blowing the dust off the accolades and achievements is a futile exercise in understatement, even if it were possible to touch all the bases. The Ladies Professional Golf Association’s annual teaching award is named the Ellen Griffin Rolex Award. The first-ever recipient in 1989 was another member of golf royalty, her close friend Peggy Kirk Bell. Together they brainstormed the Golfari name and concept that became a 60-year plus staple at Pine Needles Lodge and Country Club in Southern Pines. Griffin created the National Golf Foundation’s Educational Services Program and was the LPGA’s Teacher of the Year, both in 1962. Ten years before that she and Betty Hicks, co-authored the Golf Manual for Teachers, an indispensible tool of its time for college golf instructors. And, in 1944, along with Hicks and Hope Seignious, Griffin was one of the founders of the Women’s Professional Golf Association, a precursor to the LPGA.

The WPGA was launched using cotton money supplied by Seignious’ father, but its eyes were bigger than its stomach. It fostered a fledgling winter tour in Florida in ’45 and published a monthly magazine, The Woman Golfer, in ’46 and ’47 with a newsstand price of 25 cents — assuming you could find it on a newsstand — aided by Smith Barrier, a former sports editor at the Greensboro Daily News. And, though the WPGA surely wasn’t the sole motivating factor, the first U.S. Women’s Open was played in Spokane, Washington, in ’46. The time was ripe for something, just not the WPGA. It lacked three things: the uber promoter Fred Corcoran; the uber female athlete Babe Zaharias; and the not-so-uber but nonetheless reliable money of Wilson Sporting Goods, which came hand-in-glove with Nos. 1 and 2. The 13 LPGA founders (14 if you add Peggy Kirk Bell, which the founders always did) coalesced in ’49. That the LPGA had picked up the baton as the WPGA’s well ran dry bothered Griffin not a whit. She’d never intended to be a nomadic playing professional. She was a teacher, pure and simple. And therein lies the magic.

To say that Ellen Griffin was incorrigibly optimistic would be like saying a golf ball was determinedly round. It was simply one of her properties, like the sleight of hand tricks she pulled on kids of all ages. “She was one of those people that just affected your thinking and your feelings about yourself without directly talking about it,” says sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, who met Griffin through another respected woman teaching professional, DeDe Owens. “We brought her to the University of Virginia a couple of times to do clinics and everyone just loved her. She not only loved teaching players, she loved teaching teachers of players. She just had an incredible ability to make the game really simple. She had that knack of making you feel good.”

Her nephew, Charlie, lived with Griffin while he finished high school in Greensboro in the late ’60s, ultimately on the path to degrees at the University of Iowa, UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke and then the World Bank. “She was a free-thinking, inventive, creative saint, and she showered all of that on me for three years,” he says. “It was just infectious. Her method was Socratic. She was always asking questions so she made a real pest of herself. Ellen was like the most annoying saintly person you’d ever want to be around. She never left you alone.”

The oldest of three children, Ellen’s younger brother Charles became a physician in Dyersville, Iowa, and outlived her. A second brother, George, 10 years younger than Charles, was a Korean and Vietnam War veteran with 20 years in the Army and Air Force, combined. He died in 1977 at the age of 46. Her mother, Helen, was a niece of J. Edgar Hoover. Her father, Charles, was from Snow Camp, North Carolina, the seventh child in a family of 17. He retired with the rank of colonel after 39 years in the U.S. Army, was a veteran of both World Wars, suffered shrapnel wounds to his legs, was awarded a Purple Heart, survived a mustard gas attack, carried an embarrassing tattoo on his left arm — a basket of flowers with “Mother” written underneath — was the power-hitting catcher on the 29th Infantry baseball team at Fort Benning, Georgia, an expert rifleman and one of the best golfers at any base where he happened to be assigned. He saw his 7-month-old daughter for the first time when he returned from France at the end of World War I. That daughter found him behind his trailer in Level Cross, North Carolina, where he suffered a heart attack while shooting mistletoe out of a tree and died at the age of 58.

Between the World Wars, when the family was based in Georgia, Ellen’s father took her to a local golf professional, who gave her a cut down 2-iron with a hickory shaft, which she used to great effect on Fort Benning’s parade ground. “I was lucky my father was in the Army because we could open the golf course every Sunday at 6 a.m. He played 18 holes with me, then took me for a chocolate milk, after which I went to church, and Dad played golf with his men friends,” Griffin told Kahn in The LPGA: The Unauthorized Version. Her brother Charles, whom everyone called June, was pressed into service as a caddie. “My dad taught Ellen to play golf when she was 11. He taught me to caddie when I was 9. I was the original double-bagger on Sunday,” he said at Ellen’s 2002 induction into the LPGA’s Teaching and Club Professional Hall of Fame.

Once Ellen entered Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina, now UNCG, part of her never left it, though she ultimately did. She entered in 1936-37, graduated in 1940 and taught physical education at the university straight through to 1968, with the exception of her brief stint at the National Golf Foundation. One of her students was Annette Thompson, who grew up on a farm in Jackson Springs, was part of a graduating class of 26 at West End High School, and would receive the Ellen Griffin Rolex Award in 2002. “It’s hard to verbalize her influence because it was the person more than anything she said or did,” says Thompson. “She had that nebulous quality that makes somebody really special.” Griffin was the faculty adviser for LPGA Hall of Famer Carol Mann. “I took life lessons from her, not golf lessons,” says Mann. “Ellen Griffin was one of the most authentic people I ever met in my life.”

In addition to Griffin’s notes on how to teach virtually any sport known to man or woman, the archive at UNCG’s Jackson Library has two of her scrapbooks, neither one completely full, compiled during her undergraduate years. The edges of the pages crumble and crack like an Indiana Jones map. Nearly everything, one assumes, was worth saving. Terse, businesslike single sentence notes to attend a meeting in a professor’s office. Telegrams from her mother saying she couldn’t be there on such and such a day. A ticket stub from a Nelson Eddy concert in 1937. A coaster advertising something called Trommer’s Malt Beer. A note informing her she was considered overweight — at 62.4 inches and 126 pounds — and a printed card with suggested remedies: 4. Take a cool or cold bath every day; avoid extremely hot baths, as they are weakening. A limerick. A golf essay. A newspaper clipping saying she’d been elected junior class president. Her first semester freshman grades. The starting lineup of the university’s softball team — she was a catcher like her father and batted cleanup. No one item appears any more important than any other. It’s a collage of someone spellbound by life.

Beginning in ’66 and for the next three years, Ellen’s nephew, Charlie, the fourth of Charles’ 10 children from his first marriage, lived with her and her mother on Logandale Court, near old U.S. 421. Ellen drove him to school every day. They played golf every Sunday. “I would wear a suit with shorts underneath. She would drive me to the Catholic church on Market Street, drop me off and then pick me up and we’d go play at the UNCG golf course. That’s how she taught me how to play,” he says.

There was a lot to learn besides golf. “She had to have the latest technology of everything. She had the first color TV. She had the first Amana Radarange,” says Charlie. “That was very important because it made her breakfast much more efficient. Her system of creativity started at 5 a.m. every day. She’d cook two slices of bacon in the Radarange. She made two poached eggs and coffee. She wasn’t sick then but she had a hospital bed she would raise and lower electrically. She had a tray that would roll across the bed like a desk, and she would eat her breakfast and for those two hours think and write and plan. It was a quiet time when nobody could bother her, and it happened every single day of her life that I knew her.”

In 1968, Griffin walked away from her position as an associate professor at UNCG, eventually creating The Farm, her teaching facility in Randleman, on land owned by her brother, June, who relocated, however briefly, from Iowa to North Carolina. “It wasn’t just a business, it was an experience,” says Mann. Griffin kept her money in an old metal cash box. Written on top was, “The sole purpose of business is to make money but that’s not the soul purpose.”

Off Route 62, the land where Richard Petty once took a golf lesson is now occupied by one of June’s stepdaughters and her husband. The driving range is still mowed. There are flags in faux greens for targets. Some persimmon and apple trees remain. The pine trees that Ellen planted along two sides of the range are large enough now to aspire to being described as towering. Queen Anne’s lace grows in great swaths on the edges. Gone are the peacock, Mann, and the peahen, Carol, that once perched on the railing of the outbuilding Ellen called the Tee House. Instead of being full of student desks occupied with golf pupils from ages 7 to 70, it’s a man cave. The guinea hens and the mockingbird have disappeared. The poodles no longer curl up in the sun. The property next door doesn’t have cows anymore. The cement duck pond is dry. There is no need for anyone to shoo a wandering animal out of the line of fire on the range as Griffin did with the 8-iron she constantly carried or the bucket hat she always wore — both of which went to the grave with her — or the pants with the baggy back pockets that seemed to swallow her balled-up fists as she watched a student and asked questions in that low, husky voice. The visitors now are woodchucks and deer.

Dot Germain, Ellen’s protégé who played the LPGA Tour for 15 years and was the person who turned on the baseball games in Griffin’s final hospital room, owned a house through the woods on one end of the property. “She called herself the world’s greatest putter,” Germain recalls. “We’d have putting contests for millions of dollars.” A product of the imagination, of course, like everything else Griffin did. Debbie Massey, who played the LPGA Tour for 18 years, spent another five with Griffin and Germain in Randleman. “The Farm was really like being surrounded by Ellen’s life,” she says. “It was not just golf. It was science and nature and philosophy, psychology and mathematics that absolutely enveloped her life and golf was part of that.”

Sometimes at the end of a long day, Griffin, Germain and Massey would sneak off to play the nearby nine-hole Green Acres Golf Course. “It was
one of those courses that still had those three-wheel carts. You took your
life in your hands every time you played there. She loved that little golf course,” says Massey.

Ellen would get a package of cheese crackers and a chocolate milk, just like her Georgia days. “Sometimes she had me look at her swing,” says Germain. “I’d think, ‘Oh, yeah, she wants me to observe something. Make a suggestion. No, it was, ‘Look how good I am.’ Well, OK, Ellen.”

Griffin knew who she was. A golf lesson with her didn’t start until she knew who you were. Massey had been a ski instructor. “She used my skiing to help teach me because the footwork is very similar. And she knew that I loved mathematics. For my alignment routine she used angles and lines that I could see in the ground. To this day, I see them,” she says. “She used those specific things, skiing and mathematics, to teach me. For someone else it would be something different.”

In the evening at The Farm, after filling her favorite tall beer glass a time or two, Griffin might be seen dancing in the kitchen. A devotee of the New Orleans second line, Ellen loved the strut. “She was a performer, too. She’d get up and she’d get her hands up in the air and she’d start to strut around and she’d say, ‘This is how you do it,’” says Massey. “She’d have us all up banging with spoons, whatever we could find. And you could see her dancing in her golf swing. She had a beautiful swing, very athletic and a lot of footwork.”

In 1971, when Ellen was transitioning from the university to The Farm, something her nephew identifies as a Griffin family trait (“a long, proud tradition of completely throwing your career out the window and going into the great void,” he says), she indulged her artsy side. One of the ways was publishing the sayings she jotted down in those early morning hours that became A Book of Yours. The dedication is to three people, mentioned only by their initials. No one knows who the initials represent. Ellen never told. Each first edition was numbered, the way an artist numbers prints. Germain’s copy is 204 of 240. No. 1 is unaccounted for.

The book’s observations/poems are printed on rough-cut thick pages that surround pieces of exquisite, delicate Japanese rice paper. The last page reads:

One leaf left —

One last leaf

Defying the winds —


It has decided

When the air is calm


The ripples are ironed on the lake

It will float softly

To the moss bank



Some artist’s medium is simply being alive. What a masterpiece it was.  OH

Jim Moriarty is the senior editor of O.Henry’s sister publication, PineStraw and can be reached at jjmpinestraw@gmail.com

Fickett’s Charge

Five friends, a thousand paintings and the extraordinary legacy of Greensboro’s finest street artist

By Maria Johnson     Photographs by Lynn Donovan

It was a twist worthy of Maggie’s creativity.

There was a guy named Mike at the dog park. He had a basset hound, Buster. We got to be friends.

Mike and I did, too.

One day in 2014, as our pups snuffled around, Mike mentioned that he’d been helping an older lady who lived next door to him. She was having memory problems. She was an artist.

“What’s her name?” I said.

“Maggie Fickett,” he said.

My mouth dropped open. If I’d been running, I could have caught a Frisbee in my teeth as easily as any dog.

Thirty years before, as a newbie to Greensboro, I’d wandered into Maggie Fickett’s booth at a street fair. It was probably at Fun Fourth or CityStage, a now-defunct fall festival.

In any case, Maggie was minding a stall lined with her watercolors. As the daughter of an artist, I’d been taught to appreciate a keen eye and a quick hand. Here it was, right in front of me. A painting of Elm Street in downtown Greensboro caught my eye. It cost more than I wanted to part with, given my reporter’s salary. I exchanged greetings with the ash-blonde lady in the booth and left without the painting.

I regretted not buying that piece for a long time, but it did not diminish my fondness for Maggie’s work. I kept up with her loosely, through word of mouth and sightings around town. She was known for working en plein air, or on location. It wasn’t unusual to see her perched on a folding stool, sketching in a park or at a construction site.

She was a favorite subject of photographers at the News & Record where I worked. They often turned in Maggie’s picture as a stand-alone feature photo. It usually fell to a reporter who worked nights to write a cutline about the photo while weaving in, not very subtly, the next day’s weather forecast.

“Fickett spent Wednesday afternoon in Lake Daniel Park in Greensboro painting,” said a cutline that accompanied Maggie’s picture in January 1986. “‘When the weather gets good, I’ve got to get out and do something,’ she said. But the mild weather will end today with a high only in the low 40s . . .”

I saw Maggie’s work around town, in galleries and offices. Her prices climbed, and so did my appreciation for what she was doing. I came to regard her as the finest artistic chronicler of daily life in Greensboro in the waning years of the last century.

It wasn’t just how she painted, with a looseness that signaled deep study, but what she painted, which was basically everything she saw.

She preserved the unvarnished truth. Her streetscapes contained landmark buildings, yes, but also fire hydrants, and telephone lines, and birds, and traffic signals and campaign signs. There, on display, were all kinds of people, fashion, cars, seasons and animals.

Where other artists might edit out the “junk,” Maggie understood that recording the details was essential to recording the era. She froze time, but her work wasn’t frozen. It was fluid, full of life.

And yet, in the midst of the hubbub, her paintings were balanced, harmonious.

I might have been the biggest Maggie Fickett fan who didn’t own a Maggie Fickett painting.

Mike’s aside at the dog park brought all of that back to me.

I was happy that Maggie had a neighbor as trustworthy as Mike. Others had taken advantage of her kindness and her checkbook. Mike looked out for her. He communicated with Maggie’s nephew and wife in Maine.

Several months later, in April 2015, Mike broke the news.

Maggie, who’d never married or had children, had left Greensboro. Her nephew, Bob, and his wife, Debbie, had moved her back to Maine, where Maggie had been born 84 years before. Bob and Debbie were coming to Greensboro to finish cleaning out Maggie’s house before selling it.

Would I like to meet them?


It was pouring rain when I rolled to a stop in front of Maggie’s brick bungalow on Mayflower Drive near UNCG.

Mike was there. So were Debbie and Bob. So was Lynn Donovan, an O.Henry photographer with a deep knowledge of the Greensboro arts scene. The house was musty and smelled of cats, Maggie’s companions for years.

It was a tired house, a dated house, in the way that the homes of the elderly often become. Also, the place was being dismantled, so it was half-dressed, a state that always embarrasses me a little, as if I’ve walked in on someone stepping out of the shower.

Bob and Debbie had already taken the art they wanted to keep. They would stash the rest in a storage unit while they figured out what to do with it.

“The rest” amounted to more than 1,000 pieces. They were scattered about, stacked on shelves, on tables, in closets. Some of the work was framed. Most of it was unframed.

Hundreds of unsold prints were sealed in plastic. They depicted iconic Greensboro places: the F.W. Woolworth store downtown, home of the 1960 sit-ins; Yum Yum Better Ice Cream and Hot Dogs; War Memorial Stadium; Ham’s restaurant on Friendly Avenue; the Boar and Castle drive-in; West Market Street United Methodist Church.

We thumbed through Maggie’s original work, hundreds more pieces. Like the pulpy paper they were painted on, her renderings were rich to the touch and to the eye.

Flipping through her work was like taking a tour of Greensboro, with recognizable homes, streets, parks and gardens. Her still-life paintings juxtaposed flowers, vegetables, bottles, and knick-knacks, some still visible in in the house.

There, too, were paintings of places we did not recognize — beaches, city skylines, mountain valley farms, woody hillsides. And cats. Lots and lots of cats.

One of the cat paintings, an unframed watercolor on paper, stopped me. It showed two felines, both black and white, lounging in the folds of a red throw. The little leos were curled, facing each other. The background was impressionistic. The cats were sharper.

The thing that arrested me was a flap of onionskin paper. Maggie had used masking tape to attach a scrap of onionskin to the edge of the sketch paper. On the underside of the onionskin, she’d rubbed a graphite patch with the broad side of a pencil. On the top of the onionskin, she’d traced the contours of one cat’s face, applying pressure to literally make a carbon copy. She hadn’t been happy with the cat’s original face, and she wasn’t going to quit until it fit her vision of what it should be — or at least got closer.

That told me everything I needed to know about Maggie as an artist.

“That’s Jimmy and Emmett,” Debbie said, identifying the father and son that Maggie once owned. When she moved, she was down to one cat, Shadow. Mike was taking care of Shadow.

I made my case to Debbie quickly. I wanted to do a story about Maggie and her art and what it meant to Greensboro. But where to start?

I couldn’t interview Maggie, and it would be hard to grasp the scope of her work without sorting through the brimming gallery of paintings she left behind.

Later, Debbie and I made a few calls to local organizations. No one wanted the job of cataloging Maggie’s work.

So a few of us made a pact. We would go through Maggie’s work in storage, describe and record what we deemed the sellable pieces, then turn the ledger over to Maggie’s family, hoping that — when they found someone to dispose of it — Maggie would get her due, artistically and financially.

We were quite a team, Fickett’s Charge. We consisted of her devoted neighbor, Mike Decker; photographer Lynn Donovan and her husband Dan; my dear friend and former colleague Jim Schlosser, who’s a walking encyclopedia of Greensboro history; and yours truly.

We met a dozen times at the storage unit, working for a couple of hours every time, usually on a weekday afternoon.

We learned a lot in those visits, chiefly that we all enjoyed each other and Maggie, too. She made us laugh. She had a delicious sense of humor. Sometimes, she jotted witty comments beside her preliminary drawings.

Her satirical posters were a hoot. One depicts the evolution of women’s fashion as a circle, starting with a cave woman wearing a leopard skin, progressing through women in corsets and pencil skirts and business suits, cycling all the way back to a modern woman in a leopard dress and platform sandals.

The two leopard-clad women stand face-to-face, regarding each other with looks that say, “Don’t I know you?”


Sometimes, we laughed at things that Maggie didn’t intend to be funny, but that probably would have tickled her, too.

One example was a series of the same scene — the taillights of a car on a highway. It was painted from the viewpoint of a trailing car.

Maggie tackled that scene over and over and over again. In different lights. In different colors. In different styles. In different levels of detail.

Delirious from the repetition and numb from the meat-locker temperatures, we cracked up with laughter on the day we came across those paintings.

Really, Maggie?” we teased aloud. “Who the hell was in that car ahead
of you?!”

Piece by piece, we grew to love Maggie’s spirit, her sensitivity, her work ethic.

She painted or drew every day. She once told her dear friend and fellow Greensboro artist Jane Averill that she thought she might have Attention Deficit Disorder. She couldn’t focus, she told Jane, unless she was drawing or painting. Art delivered Maggie, and she gave in to her muse, which made beautiful things happen between her eye and hand.

Our respect for Maggie filled in, like glue, between the biographical bits of her life we already knew — and those we would come to find out.

A child of the Great Depression, Margaret Ellen Fickett was born in South Portland, Maine, in 1930. Her parents were farmers. They directed most of their attention to their son, Robert II, Maggie’s younger brother and only sibling. Maggie’s early life was difficult.

“It was just a very, very harsh, cold family,” says Debbie Fickett, who’s married to Maggie’s nephew Bob.

Maggie knew at a young age that she was an artist, but her family had little use for art. After graduating from high school, she worked in a Catholic hospital, prepping slides for a pathologist. The nuns at the hospital found out about her artistic ability. They encouraged her to attend fine arts school.

Maggie’s father refused to pay for a fine arts education, but he agreed to pay for commercial art school so Maggie could get a job. He took her to Boston and left her in a basement apartment. She had one year to make it, he said.

Maggie was on her own. She might have been emotionally starved, but she had been dropped in a visual Valhalla, and she feasted her eyes on Boston.

The macro and the micro enthralled her. She sketched and painted architectural details – cornices, iron railings, bay windows, columns, steps – as well as wide-angle views of Boston Harbor, Boston Common, Boston Public Garden, Beacon Hill and the Charles River.

She finished the School of Practical Art and worked as a commercial artist in Boston, but she didn’t enjoy it. She sought refuge in her days off, wandering the streets with pad, pencil and paint. She honed her skills by taking more classes at the Museum of Fine Arts and the Massachusetts College of Art.

She played with different styles. At times, her work appeared cartoonish. At others, abstract or impressionistic.

She experimented with acrylics and oils before settling into the medium that would define her work: watercolor.

“I enjoy working in WC because its light weight and fast application are very well suited to my temperament,” she wrote years later.

She painted scenes for a greeting card company. She worked at a Boston ad agency for 15 years. Her sketchbooks, dotted with self-portraits and snippets of herself, such as a curled hand holding a cigarette, suggest that she lived alone during most this time, but she was not without company. Lithe and blonde, with crackling blue eyes, Maggie dated several men, including a fellow from her hometown.

They were engaged for a while, but he was too quiet, she told friends. When she asked him why he spoke so little, he told her it was because she had a mind like a steel trap; she remembered everything he said.

His answer did not inspire confidence. Maggie gave back the ring.

Other developments pushed her out of Beantown.

“After being evicted several times to make way for condominiums in Boston’s Back Bay, I quit the job and came South at the suggestion of a friend here,” she wrote in one of her sketchbooks.

Driving a car packed with a sedated cat and her belongings, Maggie landed in Greensboro in May 1979.

“Didn’t know what I would do, but knew it wouldn’t be commercial art,” Maggie wrote. “Once I discovered Old Greensboro, I got the urge to do street scenes again . . .While working there, I was approached by a merchant who asked if I would do a watercolor of his home. This opened a whole new field for me . . .”

Thanks to Bob Blumenthal, who owned Blumenthal’s clothing store, Maggie had found her bread and butter: preserving private dwellings on paper.

Her patrons became her friends and champions, touting her work to others, who hired her to paint their own homes.

Maggie briefly considered leaving Greensboro. About a year after she arrived, her former employer, the Boston ad agency, wanted her back. She was tempted, but Greensboro had a lot to offer. She felt safe here – she’d been mugged twice in Boston – and people recognized her on the streets. They called her by name. It meant a lot to someone who was plagued by self-doubt.

She stayed and painted a new life for herself.

Her career rested on house portraits in Greensboro’s toniest neighborhoods: Old Irving Park, Starmount and Sunset Hills. She worked in Jamestown and High Point. Often her clients had second homes, and they hired Maggie to paint those, too.

Known for refusing to edit the gritty details out her street scenes, Maggie obliged her house-proud patrons.

“I can take out telephone poles and wire,” she told an interviewer. “I can change the seasons, put blossoms on the trees.”

She recorded landmark public buildings, too.

Occasionally, she painted a building that had been demolished, using pictures as her guide, but she wasn’t terribly interested in painting long-gone structures. The buildings she painted would be historical soon enough, by dint of development or disaster, she believed.

In 1981, fire confirmed her approach, gutting the Carolina Theatre on South Greene Street. The shell of the building survived. The interior was overhauled. Maggie made a print of the theater to coincide with its reopening the following year.

She captured South Davie Street in 1984, a year before a fire ravaged the area. She painted the George C. Brown & Co. plant, a cedar mill, before the complex ignited in 1997. She stuck to the present day while it lasted.

“I prefer to work on location and endeavor to catch the fleeting moment,” she wrote in a sketchbook. “Very often an unsuspecting pedestrian wanders into my scene and . . .”

Maggie immortalized the bystander. Typically, she sketched on location and trundled her pieces home, to a rental house on Spring Garden Street, to finish them.

“Although my scenes take two or three days to complete, I try to convey the feeling of spontaneity,” she wrote.

Often, she sold two versions of her landmark scenes: black-and-white prints of her pen-and-ink drawings; and hand-colored versions. She charged $10 for the plain prints, and $30 to $50 more for hand coloring, depending on the complexity of the subject.

She sold her work through the Greensboro Artists’ League, galleries, in-home shows and exhibits in office hallways.

Jim and Diane Stanley decorated the walls of their accounting firm with what they called a “Greensboro Collection,” local scenes by several artists: Wendy Wallace, Bill Mangum, Dale Gallon, Larry Johnson, Craig Hyman, Maggi Clark, Allan Nance and others.

Fickett’s work, more than 40 pieces in all, formed the foundation of the Stanleys’ 100-piece collection.

“Her style was so easy,” says Diane Stanley.

And portable.

Maggie left Greensboro in 1986, moving to coastal Wilmington, possibly to follow a man. She drew a light-hearted postcard to announce the move. The card shows Maggie in sunglasses, on the beach, surrounded by four cats. A paintbrush is tucked behind her right ear.

“WE’RE MOVING!,” the postcard says. “Our new home will be 501 S. Front Street effective 6-30-86.”

Two years later, she came back to Greensboro alone. Debbie Fickett guesses that there could have been another broken engagement. Maggie, a model of New England reserve, divulged little to family and friends.

She soothed herself with art.

“It was her escape,” says her friend, Jane Averill.

Old Greensborough, the historic area around South Elm Street between McGee Street and Gate City Boulevard, was Maggie’s favorite stomping ground. Southern Living magazine wrote about the district in March 1992. Maggie was the lead.

“I like to work on Sundays when there isn’t much traffic,” she told the writer. “Just me and the street.”

The changing face of downtown fascinated her. Wherever cranes swung wrecking balls and hoisted girders, Maggie was sure to be nearby.

She captured the construction of a second tower at Jefferson-Pilot headquarters, now a part of Lincoln Financial Group. She caught, in progress, an addition to the Greensboro History Museum. She recorded the birth of the downtown Marriott hotel.

She resumed painting homes, including her own. After returning from Wilmington, she bought the bungalow on Mayflower Drive.  She found inspiration in every corner.

Outside, she painted her garden, her home, her neighbors’ homes.

Inside, she painted her cats, her kitchen, the views from her windows and doors. A night owl, Maggie worked into the wee hours. The snowy screen of her rabbit-eared television kept her company.

Before screen shots were a thing, she captured Aretha Franklin. And Diahann Carroll. And people in courtroom reality shows. “Hootchie Mama (judge’s words)” Maggie wrote under the rendering of a provocatively dressed woman.

Everything was fair game to Maggie. What others might express in writing or by telling a story verbally, Maggie communicated in art. She talked in pen, pencil and watercolor.

When she traveled to Bermuda, she spoke of sun-bleached walls and impossibly blue water. Virginia was patchwork farms laid across valleys like quilts; Seagrove was kilns tucked under sloped sheds. In Maggie’s vernacular, Burlington was the carousel; Graham, the movie theater on Main Street; Winston-Salem, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Buildings. And Pinehurst? Not the golf courses that typically come to mind but horses that circled the harness track.

Her friend and patron, Greensboro developer George Carr, drove her to Pinehurst to capture the trotters.

“I liked the way Maggie could create a good image without it being too architecturally perfect,” Carr says. “I never wanted to use another artist after her. She would capture the relevant things that you didn’t know where relevant until you saw her art.”

Maggie pushed herself to improve, even when most people considered her accomplished. In preparation for a watercolor class, she filled out a survey assessing her skills. She rated herself strong in realism and description. She wanted her work to be simpler, looser, more painterly.

The survey ended by asking the students what their goals were. Among the many choices were “sell paintings,” “win an award,” and “produce paintings I find satisfying.”

Maggie checked only the last one.

No one who knew her would have been surprised.

If Maggie had enough money to live on, she considered herself a success. Her art came first. The rest of her life molded around that. She lived simply.

On Sundays, she attended mass at downtown’s St. Benedict Catholic Church.

She ate tuna fish, noodle casseroles and vegetables from her garden.

She splurged on tickets for the symphony, where she sometimes sketched right over the program notes, and on clothes from consignment shops. She gravitated to denim skirts, Bohemian tops and purses that did not match her shoes.

“She wanted funky clothes, nice funky clothes,” says her friend Jane Averill. Maggie’s free style was an extension of her values. Her inclination was to nurture and let be. She fussed at her neighbor, Mike, when he mowed over flowering weeds in her yard. She paid for ballet lessons for Debbie and Bob’s daughter. She donated to her church, to firefighters, to St. Jude Children’s Hospital, to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Toward the end of her years in Greensboro, she became an easy mark for scammers.

She knew she was slipping.

She left a note for a friend who stayed with her.

“I want to apologize for not being fully ready for your arrival tonight. As you and everyone knows by now, my memory has gone down the road and around the corner. Much to my dismay,” she wrote.

Her fender benders mounted. She missed appointments. She lost weight because she forgot to eat. Then came the calls from police saying that Maggie had been found acting confused at a grocery store or gas station.

Maggie had always been a little scatterbrained, like many artists, but finally it dawned on her relatives and friends that she had dementia.

She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. A doctor said that Maggie should not be driving. Maggie was angry. She told her friends to mind their own business. She was determined to drive. Her friends hid the keys and took the distributor cap from her car’s engine. Maggie started walking. She drifted for miles, unable to find her way home. She wouldn’t stay in the house.

It was time.

Mike, her neighbor, and Jane, her friend, cried as Debbie drove away with Maggie that June.

By the time they got to Maine, Maggie had forgotten what Greensboro was.

She sketched the whole way.

She seems happy today, in the assisted living center that cares for people with memory loss. Whenever Debbie appears, Maggie stares at her.

“Maggie! It’s wonderful to see you!” Debbie will say.

Maggie, now 87, always breaks into a smile.

She enjoys gardening on the grounds, puttering in special planters that stand waist-high. She dresses up for parties. From time to time, a night nurse on the Wyeth wing — named for one of Maggie’s favorite artists, Andrew Wyeth — helps her to draw while the other residents sleep.

As darkness deepens, a light shines in Maggie’s room.  OH

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

Art for Art’s Sake

When it comes to the art that’s cached in Greensboro, Maggie’s family would like for a college or nonprofit group to show and sell the works, with most of the proceeds going to create an art scholarship in Maggie’s name.

They’d also like to see some of Maggie’s paintings and sketchbooks archived here.

“We want her life’s work to create more art,” says Debbie. “That was so important to her, that the world be filled with art.” Debbie Fickett can be reached at sebago14@gmail.com. —M.J.

The Neighbor’s Pears

The Neighbor’s Pears

The last of the pears dot the neighbor’s

yard, their taut green skins giving way

to brownish pulp. Yellow leaves flung

from wind-tossed branches scud across

our lawns like golden clouds — the sun’s

slim rays a decoration, a bit of gilding

with no real warmth. It seems the time

has come when all of life seeks its place

before the soil hardens beneath a skein

of frost and pale blue skies turn gray.

Even pear trees go dormant, dreaming

of budburst and blossoms — little green

bells swinging again, from every limb.

— Terri Kirby Erickson

Wandering Billy

The Beat Goes On

From hippie days to now, Tate Street keeps on keeping on

By Billy Eye

“Do I want the Seventies to come back? No. The haircuts were terrible. Everyone stank. The food was awful.” — Douglas Coupland, Canadian novelist and artist

I was in 8th grade at Mendenhall in 1970 when a couple of female classmates, who were a little rough around the edges and a lot savvier than I was, asked if I wanted to hang out with them on Saturday afternoon. I said, “Sure, but what are we gonna do?” They suggested Tate Street. “What the heck is Tate Street?”

So we met up on Saturday and ventured in a direction I’d never gone, to this seemingly magical, funky plateau at the edge of UNCG’s campus teeming with college kids, high school misfits and newly minted hippies spread out across a grassy knoll overlooking the street. The ’60s were just getting underway in Greensboro around 1970; we always were behind the times, so that Summer of Love, flowers-in-the-hair vibe was palpable.

In reality, there wasn’t a lot going on down there. We leafed through thousands of vintage postcards at The Corner, were too young to get into the Jokers Three at the top of the hill, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was showing at The Cinema Theatre, no interest in that, so we tried on jackets and hats at Britton’s Guy Leather & Jewelry browsed the tchotchkes at College Shop, then ate at Pizza To Go next to Bi-Rite. I’ll skip the part about how the girls and I ended up in a sixth floor room at the high-rise Hilton Hotel across from Greensboro College. Anything you’re conjuring up in your mind right now would be a lot more salacious than the truth, trust me.

That evening my mother couldn’t have been more thrilled that I was finally making friends with girls my age, thinking maybe I’d put down those damn comic books and start focusing on the opposite sex. Instead she was horrified when I told her we’d been down on Tate Street. “Who were these tramps you were with?!?” Could juvenile delinquency be far behind — switchblades, tie-dyed T-shirts, a tightly wound joint hanging off my bottom lip? (A much more apt description of me today than it ever could have been then.) Naturally, I was forbidden to ever set foot on Tate Street again. So I set foot there practically every weekend, especially after Daedalus, a hip bookseller opened in a rundown, two-story house on Walker, now a parking lot behind the shopping center.


Did someone mention pizza? Charlie Sciabbarrasi and Ray Mascali were two Sicilian-American transplants from New Jersey when they opened the original New York Pizza at the Carolina Circle Mall in 1976, across from the skating rink. Two years later, they opened a second restaurant on Tate in what had been a Northwestern Bank branch. To add a bar in 1979, they leased the vacant storefront next door facing Walker, formerly The Campus Cupboard.

With NYP on Tate’s 40th anniversary approaching, I wandered over to All Fresh Produce off Spring Garden, a side business Charlie started in 1984. You see his trucks all over town delivering farm fresh veggies to the finest restaurants. When I walked into his office, with no advanced notice, I was surprised to see how happy he was to see me after more than 15 years. And I, him.

Of those early days on Tate, when a medium Neapolitan pie sold for $2.75, Charlie said, “It was the only decent place to eat in the area. There was nothing out there, food-wise. Students had the cafeteria and us.” It became generally accepted that NYP had the best pizza in town. As for the bar, “Liquor by the drink had just been approved, our license was one of the very first in Guilford County. Legal drinking age was 18. Most of the students were 18. And what do college students do? I rest my case.” It wasn’t uncommon for professors to meet up with students after class for test prep over beer and pizza. There was a sense of community, as Charlie noted, “With no parking, everyone was within walking distance.”

In the mid-80s, New York Pizza’s $2.50-pitcher-night special on Tuesdays and Thursdays was about the only excitement on Tate Street. Music venues Nightshade Cafe and Friday’s  had closed a few years before the drinking age rose from 18 to 21 in 1985. Fake IDs flooded the zone. Urban myth had it that NYP was part of a multistate heroin distribution scheme in the 80s. In reality, folks became confused when they read months of headlines about the infamous New York Pizza Connection trial that took place up north but had no local connection whatsoever. Still, the area’s undeserved reputation as a trouble spot was reinforced in the 1990s when, at freshmen orientation, UNCG admonished students to stay away from Tate Street. For all I know they still do that.

By the time I moved back to town in 1994, New York Pizza was still packing them in on Tuesday and Thursday pitcher nights. The young crowd was musically oriented, some of the brightest and most creative people I’ve ever met, not yet jaded by life’s oncoming train wrecks. In the late ’90s, when it was feast or famine for me, Charlie Sciabbarrasi and NYP kept me in strombolis and bourbon during the lean weeks. It wasn’t uncommon for my running tab to be in the hundreds of dollars. “It was a wonderful time actually, I enjoyed every day,” Charlie told me recently. The partners sold New York Pizza in 2001, “I’m very proud. I had fun with it, but this other business [All Fresh] needed more involvement in it. Also, after 25 years, I moved on to something more relaxing, you know?”

NYP changed hands again this summer and the latest caretakers of Greensboro’s cultural mosh pit, Orience LLP, are enthusiastic about carrying on this 40-year institution. There’s live music again on Tate, deejays, bohemian bartenders and cheap draft beer on Tuesdays, for old times’ sake. “At night the restaurant turns into a venue, the most eclectic mix of talent in Greensboro,” bar manager Jeff Losh enthuses. “A lot of Heavy Metal but on Jam Nights, we have a band called Jeb Trio that features members of Imperial Blend.” The best part for local talent and touring acts is they get pizza, PBR and 100 percent of the door. “The new owners are amazing. I’m really excited,” Losh called out as the bouncer tossed me out the door and over the curb. What do you mean I can’t run a tab?  OH

Billy Eye is O.Henry’s favorite — and only — Man About Town.


The Bald Eagle Flies Again

Though still endangered in these parts, our national symbol is on the rise

By Susan Campbell

Anyone who has had the good fortune to spot a bald eagle, whether soaring overhead or perched along a waterway, cannot help but be awed by its noble appearance. And to think: This large raptor, the only eagle found solely in North America, narrowly missed becoming our national symbol. Benjamin Franklin lobbied hard for the wild turkey, the only endemic bird species to the United States, but Congress decided on the bald eagle in 1782, as a result of the bird’s perceived fierce demeanor. In actuality, bald eagles are mainly carrion eaters, although they will attack wounded mammals, birds and aquatic animals, as well. They are very opportunistic and will also snatch prey from crows when given the chance.

During the first half of the 20th century, eagles were erroneously and relentlessly persecuted by raptor hunters, often by ranchers who were attempting to protect their investments. They were also affected by metal toxicity as a result of feeding on game containing lead shot. Additionally, during the period of broad scale DDT application, as most people know, the toxin tended to accumulate in carnivores at the top of the food chain. And, as was the case in several bird species, it caused eggshell thinning to the extent that eagle eggs broke long before they could hatch.

Bald eagles were declared an endangered species in 1967. Following the ban on DDT and the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, their numbers began to rebound. On June 28, 2007 the species was declared recovered. Here in North Carolina they are being closely monitored by state biologists. Although the number of nests and young has been increasing, they are still considered threatened here.

In the Sandhills, there are year-round sightings of individuals, most commonly on our larger lakes such as Lake Surf (Woodlake) or Lake Pinehurst. Farther north they can be frequently spotted around Falls or Jordan Lake in the Triangle. In February of 2012, O.Henry documented the avid eagle-watching activities at Lake Higgins, Brandt and Townsend (issuu.com/ohenrymag/docs/ohenry_february_2012/53) in Greensboro.

In mid-winter birdwatchers and endangered species biologists are on the lookout for eagle nests. Bald eagle pairs return to their breeding territories and lay eggs ahead of most other raptors (the exception being great horned owls that begin breeding activities a bit earlier). Their sizable platforms of dead branches and large sticks may or may not be easy to spot. Eagle nests, if they are reused from year to year, will be gradually enlarged but not massive affairs. But newer nests can be well concealed in the top of a live evergreen or large snag.

Eagle young, who typically fledge in April, take three to four years to mature. They will not successfully attract a mate until they have a fully white head and tail. Should you see an adult early in the New Year, keep an eye out for a second bird. A pair of adults may mean there is a nest somewhere nearby. If you suspect that you have found a nest, definitely give me a holler! OH

Susan would love to receive your wildlife observations and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.