Fashion-ating Rhythm

When it comes to Greensboro’s sense of style, past is prologue

By Billy Ingram

Photograph © Carol W. Martin/Greensboro History Museum Collection

In 2009, I opened the newspaper to see an enormous color photo taken on State Street of my mother, Frances Ingram, doing what she loved most: shopping. How apropos, I thought. Mom made the rounds to her favorite shops, an ever dwindling number as she grew older, every single day.

As a youngster in the early-1960s, one of my earliest memories was Mother getting all dolled up to cruise the downtown department stores for clothes to wear the next time she went out shopping. A holiday highlight was a trip to Ellis Stone to meet Santa, who handed out wrapped gifts from under a fireplace made from shoeboxes and wrapping paper. Department store windows at Belk, Meyer’s, Montaldo’s and Ellis Stone were glittering, snowy greeting cards come to life.

Julian Wright, one of the brave souls who stormed the beaches of Normandy, found his post-war calling staging those lavish, dioramic window displays for Ellis Stone in the 1950s throughout the ’60s and, then, after the store was rebranded as Thalhimers. Wright’s idealized snapshots of American life, defined and enhanced by the products being peddled, became genuine tourist attractions with adults and children alike nose-to-glass, eyes awash in every vivid detail.

Little did little-me know I was witnessing the beginning of the end of shopping as a spectator sport.

By the early 1900s, men could buy off the rack, but there was no such thing as ready-to-wear women’s clothing when Vanstory and Belk opened their small, downtown Greensboro dry goods stores alongside a newly brick-and-block paved street called Elm. Both carried everything a woman required — silk, cotton, wool, buttons, laces and lacings — to construct her own frocks and even undergarments.

For society doyennes, the fashion of the day was pleated, flared skirts down to the floor with tight-waisted bodices and Leg o’mutton sleeves. That level of intricacy required the services of Mrs. T. W. Hancock, a renowned dressmaker on West Fourth Street in Winston-Salem. “Miss Molly” purchased fabrics and finery on her frequent forays into New York City, paying a handsome price for the latest Parisian haute couture patterns. She employed a retinue of seamstresses and cutters to fabricate exquisite wardrobe pieces for everyone who was anyone in the region.


Ellis Stone was well-established in Durham before launching a Greensboro location in 1902. Today the name is enshrined above the entrance at 226 South Elm. Foreshadowing the dawn of the full-service department store, Ellis Stone began taking ladies’ measurements, then dispatching them to New York for tailor-made suits and dresses. As it gained a reputation for being the epitome of taste and style, Ellis Stone made its home across the street (most recently Elm Street Center) in a $1.5 million, starkly modern 78,000-square-foot shopping mecca with a spectacular winding marble staircase, 20-foot tall mirrors and richly appointed sales floors.

Just down the street, in 1924, the city’s first enclosed shopping mall opened on the ground floor of the Jefferson Standard Building in 1924 with a barber, dentist and clothiers including Vanstory Clothing Co., founded across the street around the turn of the century. Vanstory catered to the city’s elite, offering Botany 500 suits and Don Roper ties. Flanking Vanstory’s entrance were some positively surrealist window displays, overly-starched shirt sleeves folded meticulously into tightly wrapped geometric puzzles, everything in frame cocooned in a warmly lit, thickly lacquered wooden cavern. Very European.

Vanstory rented out a portion of its storefront in 1933 to Montaldo’s, a small chain specializing in high end, ready-to-wear dresses run by two sisters out of Kansas. “When Montaldo’s came to Greensboro, that kind of upped the game,” fashion maven and owner of Design Archives Kit Rodenbough says. “Before that everybody had custom dress makers. Montaldo’s would have an outfit from a designer modeled in the store and women would order it in a custom fit.” Montaldo’s became a beacon of elegance on the corner of Elm and Friendly in 1942 when it moved into its curvaceous, two-story white-brick building. The front door looked more like a modern home than a commercial enterprise. And its wide windows displayed a dazzling array of wedding gowns, lingerie, millinery and cosmetics.

Meyer’s Department Store got underway around 1910, but it wasn’t until 1924 that it welcomed customers for the first time into a magnificent five-story showplace on the corner of Elm and Sycamore (now February One Place). Most striking to modern eyes would be the spacious aisles, neat glass and wooden cases, and finely dressed men and women standing at the ready to offer assistance. Sweaters and slacks in various colors and sizes lay neatly on tabletops with wardrobe essentials like dress shirts, gloves and undergarments displayed inside transparent enclosures. There was very little you couldn’t find at Meyer’s with its story after story sales floors staffed by over 500 employees. The operation eventually took up an entire city block, comprising a veritable shopping mall before such a thing existed, with 700 brand names under one roof, everything from “bobby pins to refrigerators.”


Left & Middle: Meyer’s
Right: Brownhill

Best of all, department stores had their own credit system. Customers need only scribble their names on the bill of sale and be on their way, merchandise in hand. Itemized bills arrived in the mail at the end of each month and were generally paid by mail.

In 1925, decorated in canary-colored walls and upholstery, primary-colored plaid curtains adorning floor-to-ceiling windows lining the Sycamore Street side, Meyer’s Tea Room opened on the second floor for afternoon light lunch. For the 53 years of its existence, the decor changed, but the menu not so much — everything prepared fresh, never canned. “My mother was a hairdresser so she always had Mondays off,” Charlie Hensley recalls of his childhood, circa 1960. “Often we would have lunch with my grandmother at Meyer’s Tea Room. The shopping experience was a lot more civilized back then, especially with the Tea Room, like an immersive experience. My mother was still wearing hat and gloves to go shopping then.”

The Belk brothers of Charlotte christened their first store in Monroe in 1888. A decade later, they opened a Greensboro branch. In 1939, they cut the ribbon on a Charles C. Hartmann-designed palace at Elm and Market. An exterior of glass and stone on the street level, glass brick detailing on the second and third floors, it took three boxcars worth of walnut to construct the hundreds of display cases, accented with birds-eye maple and primavera. Besides clothing, Belk offered a full-service beauty salon, candy counter, and cosmetics department.

Hensley’s first job as a teenager was as a sales associate at Belk downtown in the late-1960s. “It was the first time that I realized if you worked retail that you got a discount,” he told me. “The guy who ran the store was Mr. D.O. Tice, who looked a little like J. Edgar Hoover. I always thought he was a bit of a bulldog. When he would come through, the crowd would part. I don’t remember him being unpleasant ever, just formidable.” Hensley’s clients were very well-dressed matrons. “Part of what they expected from me as a 14- or 15-year-old was to be the expert advising them about what their husbands would like or what their sons might want.”


Two clothiers, Sam Prago and Adolph Guyes, joined forces in 1940 to create what would become an empire with four Greensboro locations and multiple stores scattered across the state by the 1970s. Down the block from Belk at the Dixie Building, across from Woolworth’s, Prago-Guyes’ lit-from-behind, emblematic logo glowed atop an entranceway bathed in color and light. Surrounding customers as they arrived were wraparound windows adorned with the latest ensembles. Another glass casement stood in the center of this impressive frontage. Their vast shoe department tickled the air with the scent of leather and vinyl. If you wanted to be hip to the latest gear, Prago-Guyes bragged, “We’re In Touch.”


Laurie’s Sportswear, popular with the Jet Set since opening on Elm in 1951, became the first major downtown retailer to close up shop and head for the suburbs when Laurie Queen and her three brothers signed on as an original tenant of Friendly Shopping Center in 1957. “I just thought it was beautiful,” Carolyn Andrews-Allred says of the spacious showroom, since repurposed for Harper’s restaurant. “I started working for Laurie’s my last year at Grimsley in the spring of 1972. It was the only place I wanted to work.” Harland Pell was its window designer, “I learned how to ‘fly the merchandise.’ That’s what they call it, to make garments hang in the air kind of magically with fishing wire.” Managers and brothers Edward and Marshall Simon had taken over operations by then. “Very strict business people,” Andrews-Allred says. “If somebody came in two minutes late, they were fired immediately.”

Salespersons were instructed in an almost mathematical method for moving merchandise. “We used it to sell not just one item, not just a dress or a blouse,” Andrews-Allred notes, “but you could figure out how to sell an entire set of clothing.” Very effective, at least in one sense. “I was thinking, ‘Wow, these people are buying so much — this is great,’” only to discover customers returning a large percentage of their purchases. “That’s just the way the fashion business was. You bought a lot and returned a lot.”


Left & Right: Montaldo’s

After leaving Laurie’s, Andrews-Allred took a sales position at Brownhill’s downtown in the mid-1970s. “It was much tinier, very much upscale,” she recalls. “Much more formal, like Montaldo’s.” Brownhill’s was established in 1927 when Elmer Brownhill arrived from England to open “a shop for stylish gentlewomen.” Before long the image of the “Brownhill’s lady” became iconic. Lewis and Adele Rosenberg bought the store in 1945, instituting Breakfast at Brownhill’s, a catered Saturday affair with models in the latest outfits strolling the aisles. Longtime employee Jack McGinn took ownership in 1963, his refined taste further cementing Brownhill’s impeccable reputation. Plushly carpeted throughout, there was a posh mezzanine level shoe emporium that the well-heeled accessed via a curved stairway.

While Brownhill’s added a charming storefront at Friendly, they remained downtown until 1987, long after every other upper-cruster had fled the scene. Over the years it gained the reputation as the primary go-to spots for prom dresses and debutante gowns. “They made sure if they did sell a gown to somebody that they weren’t attending the same gala as someone else who bought the same dress,” Andrews-Allred says.

For decades, consistency and uncompromising quality were the hallmarks of Younts-DeBoe located across from the Jefferson building since 1929. As a pre-teen, I can recall tagging along with dear old Dad once a year to be fitted for a new spring sport coat. With ladies’ tailored clothing at ground level and men’s and boys’ on the second floor, what is most memorable to me was the elevator operated by a gentleman who greeted us with a wide grin, “Good morning Mr. Ingram, watch your step.” An anachronism by 1970, long after others automated their lifts, Younts-DeBoe steadfastly refused to break with tradition.


Left & Right: Meyer’s

Younts-DeBoe was home of the Greensboro Nettleton, a prestigious soft leather loafer that will set you back about $600 today. “The shoe originated out of New York,” says long-time fashion consultant Dan Dellinger, who bought his first pair as an eighth grader at Kiser Junior High in the ’60s. “At that time they were $27.95. It’s not the same shoe. Today it’s fully leather-lined and has a thicker sole than the original, which had a canvas lining with partial leather, a much lighter weight.” Still, adjusted for inflation, a pair of Nettleton loafter purchased in 1965 for $27.95 would cost the equivalent of $258 today.

Younts-DeBoe was acquired by Henderson Belk in 1980 with the stated intention of leaving this downtown mainstay open. Regardless, just a year later, it fell upon previous owner Hank Millican, who had been with the store from the very beginning, to oversee the dismantling of the solid oak showcases built in 1929 for a short-lived relocation to Four Seasons Mall, about which the less said the better. You can still see Younts-DeBoe’s logo inlaid in the marble flooring in the lobby and embossed into the sandstone exterior at 106 North Elm.

In-store fashion shows were heavily attended events in the 1940s and ’50s. By the late-1960s, Greensboro’s Fashion Week came in October with a runway show held in the main room of the Coliseum. “It was a huge thing for a few years,” Charlie Hensley told me about his brief fling as a model. “Sandy Forman used to direct this thing and it was very posh, high production values, very well mapped out.” Staging was constructed for the event and a live band accompanied the show. “Backstage they gave you boxes of clothes. Everything was racked according to the model.” A representative from every store was standing in the wings to review everyone’s look before they strutted forward. “I modeled for Joel Fleishman who had a store at Friendly. My God,” Hensley gasps, “those were beautiful clothes.”


Right: Belk’s Department Store, 1951
Left: Montaldo’s, 1953

In the ’70s, the program migrated over to the Carolina Theatre where 15-year-old John Shepherd walked the runway wearing clothing from his parents’ store, Bernard Shepherd, “which I hated but I got roped into it.” Shepherd says, “Mom would come up to all the male models and slap a Kotex mini pad under our armpits so we wouldn’t perspire on the shirts because they were going back into stock.”

My family frequented Bernard Shepherd at Friendly ever since the grand opening in 1967. It’s where the menfolk bought all of our suits while my mother was often outfitted from the ladies’ section up front. John Shepherd began working for his parents, Bernard and Eleanor, in 1987 at 19 years old. Primarily a men’s outfitter, Bernard Shepherd carried high-end traditional menswear lines with the option of being measured for a custom fitted suit. “We had a box full of swatches you could go through to pick your fabric, lining, your buttons, everything,” Shepherd says. Clothing manufacturing reps with their goods hanging on racks rolled into the office at the rear of the store, “Or they showed up in big motor homes parked behind the store. They had all of their latest styles displayed inside.”

The malling of America had a chilling effect on traditional mom-and-pop retailers. To combat this phenomenon in 1976, Starmount, Friendly Center’s owner, introduced Forum VI nearby with a promise of being Greensboro’s climate controlled, bougie apparel and dining destination. Anchored by Montaldo’s after they finally closed what had become their downtown tomb on Elm and Friendly, the city’s fashion shows were now held at the Forum.

Shopping malls were fully open on the sabbath, which is why, beginning in 1990, Starmount required all tenants at Friendly Center to conduct business seven days a week. The Shepherds were against doing so on religious grounds. They sued and won what was a pyrrhic victory. “Starmount threatened to padlock the store,” John Shepherd tells me, which they apparently had a right to do. An agreement was forged in 1990. The store could stay closed on Sundays, Shepherd recalls, “but Starmount would pay to outfit a new store and build it out at Forum VI.”


Right: Belk’s Department Store, 1951
Left: Meyer’s Department Store

That same year and for the same reason, Brownhill’s was redirected into Forum VI. Both stores experienced a steep decline in sales. For a multitude of reasons, Forum VI never really caught on. Montaldo’s liquidated all of its stores in 1995, and Bernard Shepherd was shuttered a few months later. After almost 70 years in Greensboro, Brownhill’s sold everything, down to the fixtures, in 1996.

In terms of fashion locally, it became a race to the bottom when Cone Mills instituted dress down Fridays in the 1990s. Around that same period, VF downtown went every-day-casual, with others quickly following. “As it progressed,” Dan Dellinger points out, “some people looked like they were mowing yards when they came in to buy clothes.” Employee standards dropped so low at VF, it had to initiate a dress code. “Casual Fridays at the office, that was the beginning of the end,” Kit Rodenbough says with a sigh. “Once the men didn’t have to wear neckties and suits every day, the women were like, you know, [forget] this!”

Downtown, Meyer’s intricately detailed, monolithic 1924 castle is intact, serving a useful purpose as headquarters for the Chamber of Commerce and others, but Belk and Montaldo’s former residences long ago succumbed to the wrecking ball. Ellis Stone/Elm Street Center has a date with one, having already been stripped clean of every sumptuous design element.

Laurie’s at Friendly Shopping Center, 1970s-1980s

Seeking continuity? At 530 South Elm, Laurie’s original 1951 location, you can pursue your passion for fashion at Vintage to Vogue. Plaza Shopping Center and the cluster of 1950s era bungalows behind it on Pembroke remains a fashion-forward location for women and children just as it was in the 1960s and ’70s when Prago-Guyes had a storefront there and Lollipop Shop was a long-time tenant. On Pembroke behind Plaza in the ’50s, my grandmother enjoyed the ambiance at Helen Mulvey’s Handicraft House, which sold Yankee Peddler cotton dresses and country shirts.

Locally sourced panache still bubbles over in boutiques at Plaza Shopping Center: The Feathered Nest for ladies and Polliwogs for the kiddos. Steps away, next door to the former Handicraft House, is my late mother’s favorite place in town, Carolyn Todd’s. “They have the correct cheese straws,” she would remind us every holiday season. Her last Christmas, I accompanied Mother to Carolyn Todd’s, where she procured a major portion of her presents that morning. As we were checking out I watched bemused as — this was just a few years ago — she signed for her purchases and we were on our way.  OH

Billy Ingram’s fave article of clothing is a 1960s Sy Devore short-sleeved, striped knit shirt once worn by Frank Sinatra.

World War II brought shortages of everything from denim to nylon, essential goods diverted to shore up our troops. At war’s end, when word got around that the first shipment of nylon stockings in four years would be available at Meyer’s on a morning in 1946, a line of nattily attired ladies began forming as the sun rose. It would, over the next few hours, stretch around the corner and down the block.

Cigarette Pants

Scraps of History

One clothing retailer stubbornly remained downtown until the ground underneath became far more valuable than the business on it.

In 1926, Blumenthal’s got underway in a cubby hole at 358 South Elm. “The store with a heart” expanded into a new building built on that spot and adjoining properties in 1945 to create an 8,140 square-foot footprint specializing in denim jeans, work boots and hunting knives. Big and tall with extra, extra large sizes — a huge pair of bib overalls often on display to everyone’s amazement — could be found inside. Plus, they peddled cigarettes at prices so low, they were practically being given away just to get customers in the door. It worked. With 60 brands on hand, Blumenthal’s sold more smokes than any 10 stores combined.

Stacks upon stacks of Wrangler and Levi’s jeans, and the easy availability of Converse sneakers made Blumenthal’s back-to-school central for generation after generation. Suspended from the ceiling were three gigantic neon accented metal signs promising a free dollar bill if your receipt was incorrect or a complimentary pack of smokes if any of the numbers on your receipt matched numbers inscribed on the sign.

I won’t say this place was déclassé, but, for a time, there was a loudspeaker that allowed Abe Blumenthal to admonish people who parked too long out in front of his store. Blumenthal’s relocated to West Market in 2005 and closed its doors for good seven years later. The original location was supplanted in 2012 by an apartment complex named after the store.

Fashion Flare

Scraps of History

Proprietor John Mitchell began folding shirts and assisting his father and his uncle at Mitchell’s Clothing across the street from the Cadillac dealership when he was 12-years old. He’s a spry 95 today. In business since 1939, John Mitchell bought the place in 1962. “I changed things,” he tells me. “We were selling work clothes, work shoes, but I went into high fashion and men’s dress clothes.” Mitchell’s clientele has traditionally been and remains about 80 percent African-American.

Sales went through the roof when Mitchell picked up on an emerging unisex fashion trend out of Europe via New York City: bell bottom pants. “Belk and Meyer’s had ‘em first,” Mitchell admits. “But they couldn’t sell ’em so they quit. A year or two later, I got big into bell bottoms.” That was around 1970, when flared legs suddenly became the hot, hip-hugging style for both men and women. “For a while I was the only store in Greensboro selling bell bottoms and the Tom Jones[-style] rayon shirts with big, wide collars and stack shoes with the high heel.”

Besides Stacy Adams’ Madison shoes and crisp dress shirts, Mitchell’s is known as the place in town to find funky chapeaus from Stetson, Kangol, and more obscure designers. “People come from all around the country to buy my hats,” he says. Does he have any polyester era bell bottoms or platform shoes still hanging around? “A guy came in from California looking for those things and he bought all those old fashioned shoes and men’s clothes.”

Omnivorous Reader

Watergate Revisited

A thorough look at the end of our political innocence

By Stephen E. Smith

If you don’t believe history can turn on insignificant details, consider this: The political firestorm known as Watergate was precipitated by a piece of cheap tape. In his Watergate: A New History, Garrett M. Graff, a former editor of Politico Magazine, has gathered the particulars of America’s most infamous political scandal into an 800-page history that thoroughly examines the minutiae that brought down the 37th president.

If you’re among the millions of Americans born after the Watergate scandal, here’s what you need to know. In the early hours of Saturday, June 17, 1972, a security guard at the Watergate Complex in Washington, D.C., discovered that duct tape had been used to ensure that a couple of doors remained unlocked. The guard called the cops, and five officers disguised as hippies apprehended five men in suits and charged them with attempted burglary. It was the beginning of the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency and America’s political naivete.

If you suffered through those troubled times — June 1972 to August 1974 — you’re probably wondering if another Watergate history is necessary. Given the number of books, articles, documentaries and movies that have investigated every possible facet of the Watergate debacle, it’s difficult to imagine the need for a retelling, but once you’ve begun your retrospective journey in Graff’s “new” history, there’s no turning back. You may think you know all there is to know about Watergate but you don’t.

Graff is a proficient storyteller and an able prose stylist, and he excels at breathing new life into characters who have dimmed with time — E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, Chuck Colson, Donald Segretti, John Ehrlichman, H.R. Haldeman, John Mitchell, John Dean, Jeb Magruder, et al. — and the journalists, senators, congressmen, wives and government employees whose lives were altered by the scandal that sent 25 of Nixon’s cronies to prison. To do this, Graff plowed through the published accounts, oral histories, the Oval Office tape transcripts, as well as FBI, court and congressional records. His objective was to “re-investigate.”

“I believed from the start,” he writes, “that the full story of this scandal didn’t lie in the umpteenth interview, fifty years after the fact, with a key player who had already spent decades telling, refining, and positioning his story.”

Graff is particularly adept at reintroducing readers to lesser-known Watergaters. L. Patrick Gray, acting director of the FBI from May 3, 1972 to April 27, 1973, is a case in point. For most Americans, he remains an insignificant figure in the scandal, but Graff fully explores Gray’s character — especially his overriding desire to become director of the FBI — and his failings, including his admission that he’d destroyed documents taken from Hunt’s safe. “Under questioning, Gray admitted he had regularly sent investigative reports to the White House via Dean,” Graff writes, “allowing the president’s staff access to files that (J. Edgar) Hoover had previously guarded.”

Likewise, Margaret Mitchell, the brash, outspoken, way-too-Southern wife of Attorney General John Mitchell, provided comic relief during the scandal, but Graff details her political insights and how she was ruthlessly attacked by members of the administration and her former husband. He recasts her as a perceptive and outspoken critic who was harassed and demeaned by Nixon’s henchmen.

Al Haig, famous for having blurted “I’m in control here” after the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, became Nixon’s chief of staff when Haldeman was fired. He had, in fact, taken control of the White House prior to the attempt on Reagan’s life: “. . . as Nixon retreated deeper mentally and physically while Watergate consumed his presidency, some would joke that Haig became the nation’s ‘37 1/2th’ president.”

Another minor player was Alexander Butterfield, the soft-spoken former Navy pilot who was the House committee’s first witness in its impeachment hearings. He testified for 10 hours, revealing the secret Oval Office taping system and reinforcing the notion that Nixon was too much of a control freak not to have known what was going on with his subordinates. Even Nixon’s secretary Rose Mary Woods (remember the “the Rose Mary stretch”?) doesn’t escape scrutiny. She was certainly a player in the coverup, and there was speculation that she was a CIA informant.

Mark Felt, the FBI’s No. 2 official at the beginning of the scandal, is the frequent subject of Graff’s reporting. When writing their investigative stories in the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein identified their primary source as “Deep Throat,” but Felt wasn’t publicly outed until 2005, at age 91, when he revealed to Vanity Fair that he was Woodward and Bernstein’s informant. Ironically, Felt’s identity as an FBI mole was known to the Nixon administration as soon as Woodward and Bernstein began to write about the white-collar criminals who facilitated Nixon’s cover-up operation.

The questions that don’t get answered are the most obvious: Why did a serving president who was a shoo-in for a second term employ widespread illegality to secure an election he was certain to win? Did the Democrats have dirt on Nixon? Was any advantage to be gained by eavesdropping on Democratic headquarters? Were the Watergate burglars — “the Plumbers,” as they were known in the administration — set up for failure? Since the break-in at Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office yielded no useful information and the confusing circumstances of the ITT merger certainly went unnoticed by the electorate, why had Nixon and his minions continued their illegal activity? And there remains this overriding question: Why had Nixon insisted on recording Oval Office conversations when he knew he was speaking words that would eventually incriminate him?

Richard Nixon remains a shadowy figure in American history, and “gate” has become a convenient suffix for other scandals — most of them overblown or imaginary — but there’s no denying that Nixon’s political shenanigans changed us forever. Unfortunately, the lesson to be drawn from Watergate continues to elude most politicians. Any neighborhood gossip could tell them that in political life there are no secrets, finally or ever. OH

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of seven books of poetry and prose. He’s the recipient of the Poetry Northwest Young Poet’s Prize, the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for poetry and four North Carolina Press Awards.


Sage gardener:

Well-rooted advice

For gardeners, pumpkins are a lot like zucchini — you inevitably have so many the neighbors close the blinds and hide when they see you coming. Pumpkins are so easy to grow that they come up on their own if you planted them the year before. And it’s so rewarding to see them getting bigger and bigger and bigger. For non-gardeners, their charm falls off precipitously after Halloween. And why not, after we’ve all been assailed for months with pumpkin spice in everything from Twinkies to beer, from dog shampoo to spam? Let’s face it, by November most of us are ready to let pumpkins rot, leaving that sad hulk of yellow pulp and seeds behind.

But I’m here to defend the humble pumpkin (hold the spice) and I cite the French as my ally. In her Paris Cookbook, European restaurant critic Patricia Wells recounts how in recent years the French have gone bonkers over pumpkins, though the gourd times have been rolling in France for centuries with traditional dishes aplenty: soaked in milk and deep-fat fried, pumpkin au gratin, of course, and, my favorite, French pumpkin soup. Wells recommends the simplest preparation, cooked in chicken stock, with a little sugar, cream and white pepper, avec naturellement, dollops of cheese added at the table (Can you say triple crème brie and maybe a little truffle oil?) I don’t recommend using your tired and scorched jack-o’-lantern for cooking, though it’s still technically edible once you scrape out the candle wax. Get yourself to the farmers market and look for a “green” pumpkin, basically a cultivar of the Curcubita winter squash — fresher and tastier. What to do with your jack-o’-lantern? From roasting the seeds into a savory snack to using the shells as planters, the internet will doubtless have more ideas than you have time for. But at least they’ll have you looking forward to doing it all over again next year.    David Bailey

Unsolicited Advice

’Tis the season to be thankful. And everyone knows how much pressure there is to say just the right thing sitting with the fam ’round a turkey you’re praying you didn’t overcook. (On the plus side, the wishbone will be dry and ready to snap, just like you.) We’ve got ya covered with some suggestions to show off your attitude of gratitude.

Repeat after us: I am grateful for . . .

The fact that Cavalier King Charles Spaniels can trot around like true royalty now.

Coffee. Oh, and also iced coffee.

Keeping those carpenter jeans from high school.

TikTok, for introducing us to cloud bread — cotton candy’s much older brother who can no longer handle gluten.

Taylor Swift, for dropping Midnights upon us from the heavens.

Any food that comes on a stick.

Cancelling plans. Like the one you had to host Thanksgiving dinner. 

Pop Quiz

In 2018, I paid my respects to the former Miss Anne’s Tic Toc Lounge in Macon, Georgia. It was here, in his birthplace, where Richard Wayne Penniman, singular sensation and “Architect of Rock,” won the talent contest that rocketed him to fame. 

As Little Richard, he embraced the color purple — before it was a book title or belonged to Prince, as he proudly once told interviewer Joan Rivers in 1986. 

Merging rock with Bible Belt gospel lent his electrifying stage presence a certain thing. Initially, he admitted, “I didn’t know what to do with the thing I had.”   

Soon enough, Little Richard figured it out, becoming a performer whose “pounding” of the ivories inspired Elton John, the Beatles, the Stones and David Bowie.

In 2001, the Little Richard Band had a gig at Greensboro’s Carolina Theatre, appearing before a sellout audience. Then 68, Little Richard had slowed a tad, and needed a little help with his physical theatrics, before he rocked the house. 

He also proselytized, giving away autographed pics and Bibles afterward.

Little Richard died May 9, 2020, his death eclipsed by an avalanche of pandemic losses.

But Good Golly, Miss Molly! Imagine the raucous ruckus as he strutted through the Pearly Gates.    Cynthia Adams

Bob’s Closet

“Right now, we especially need winter coats,” says Ashley West,
supervisor of
Bob’s Closet, a nonprofit organized by Replacements, Ltd., chairman and CEO Bob Page back in 2016.

The concept is simple. Replacements provides space in its warehouse where “guests” can shop for clothing free of charge. Items are provided by individuals and companies working through a network of some 30 area nonprofit groups.

Sometimes guests are families who are war refugee families. Sometimes they’re individuals who just need a little help.

Whatever their situation, they shop for about two hours, looking for items that suit their personal style, trying garments on for fit and leaving with five work or casual outfits, plus underclothing, socks and outerwear — enough to dress them for a week.

“In some instances, it’s a one-time thing,” Ashley says. “But some people may need to come four times a year. And they’re always welcome.”

While manufacturers provide many garments, most of the clothing comes from individuals. To donate new or gently used items or to have a question answered, call Ashley at 336-697-3000, ext. 2497, or email    — Ross Howell

The Black Belt Soap Company

Growing into brick-and-mortar


As you enter The Black Belt Soap Company at 416 East Market Street, you may be greeted by one of the two owners – Temeka Carter and Jeff Petrishen. Your gaze may go upward toward the two chandeliers that signal the formality of the shop. Jeff will tell you that they ordered the chandeliers from Amazon and then spent hours putting all the glass pieces together.  Or you may find yourself looking at the orderly shelves displaying soaps, body oils, scrubs and skin-care products, handmade with herbs such as mint or rosemary, or vegetables such as sweet potatoes or okra.

The store’s name is derived from the area of Alabama that Carter called home as a child. This strip of rich black topsoil across the center of the state called The Black Belt originally grew cotton – the logo of the shop bearing the region’s name. 

Carter originally sold her soaps online (www., at craft fairs and at specialty shops in Greensboro. But as the business grew, and Carter’s and Petrishen’s house overflowed with boxes upon boxes of soaps and the ingredients for making them, they decided it was time for an actual brick-and-mortar. “We were grateful for the business growth, but initially did not want to manage a physical store,” says Carter. “We either needed to purchase a larger home or get a store, as the business was starting to take over the house. Local customers wanted to stop by and pick up orders or arrange a meet up. Scheduling became another job!” Overall, they are pleased with their decision, as their house is now a home again and customers can visit the store to shop at their leisure. 

Diving into the creative endeavor of soap-making was part of Carter’s grieving process over the loss of her only child, Chloe, who passed in 2014 just before her seventh birthday from an undetectable blood clot that caused an embolic stroke. Working with her hands helped her process her feelings and put her energy into something that helps others. Each year Temeka celebrates Chloe’s birthday and has a license plate that bears her name. She freely talks about her, saying “Chloe is very much part of my life.”

Carter and Petrishen have been married for three years after a long-distance courtship between Greensboro and Boston. Petrishen has a background as an entrepreneur in the arts as both a painter and photographer, and is responsible for the business’s branding, such as product label design. For Petrishen, the transition from living and working in New York City and Boston has required some adjustment. “The pace is certainly different,” he says, “but I’ve met some really nice people since being here.”

In addition to running The Black Belt Soap Company with Petrishen, Carter is as multifaceted as the crystals that hang from the shop’s chandeliers. She holds a doctorate in rhetoric and composition from UNCG and teaches courses in African American studies, women’s studies and holistic wellness at N.C. A&T.  She recently returned to veganism and is currently studying to become an integrative health coach. Should you think Carter and Petrishen are a couple of workaholics, they know what travel and pleasure are all about. Each year they close the store for a winter break between Christmas and February 1st to enjoy a vacation. This year they are headed back to Bali for the second time, seeking product inspiration while indulging in an entire month of happiness for themselves.   

Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater is an Professor Emeritus of English at UNCG. Her specialties include rhetoric and composition as well as literacy and ethnography. Temeka Carter is one of her former students.

Shop the Look

Where to score vintage duds around the Gate City


While vintage fashions were popular at the height of their own times, just like Britney, they love being the star of a good comeback. If you dig the garments of yore and want to give them a second chance at life, these Greensboro establishments might have just what you need to take your wardrobe from drab to vintage fab.

Vintage 2 Vogue: This downtown boutique offers an array of styles, from as early as the 1920s to the groovy designs of the 1970s and later. And even if you’re not a bride-to-be, check out the dizzying wedding-dress selection. Just because the dress has been loved-and-left doesn’t mean you will be. The thought of wearing someone else’s clothes leaves ya feeling itchy? Check out the collection of vintage-inspired looks. Info:

Design Archives: Located on South Elm Street, this veteran emporium outfits your body — and your home — with relics of the past. Find everything from baubles to bangles, from blazers to big and comfy hoodies that look like your Uncle John’s and remind you of his backyard barbecues. Nothing like wrapping yourself in nostalgia. Info:

Standout Vintage: No one needs to know that your mom didn’t actually let you go to the 1990 Nirvana concert at The Millstone in Charlotte. Proudly sport the shirt you would have scored — and other vintage concert, sports and pop-culture tees — at this South Elm Street shop and pretend you were there. Pairs well with flannel and ripped jeans. Info:

Revision Vintage: Whether you’re having visions of frolicking in a golden field in a vintage cottagecore frock or wheeling around Skateland USA in prime OG roller derby wear, this East Market Street shop has you covered, head to feet. Shop in-person or via Instagram for the grandest of grandmillennial fashions and decor. Info:

Bargain Box: One of our O.Henry associates, who always looks snazzy and coordinated, claims this Junior League shop as her go-to “for classic, high-quality, designer suits and dresses that look brand new!” Value added if your grandma wore them to her own Junior League meetings in 1965. Info:

Boxwood Antiques: Find 300 square feet dedicated to vintage, recycled and even new fashions at Eleanor Gray, situated inside this ginormous antique emporium in High Point. Winter is coming — prepare by donning a vintage fur to keep you warmer than a belly full of Mom’s pecan pie. And don’t forget to add some flair, aka vintage brooches. Maybe 37 or so. Info:

Our Village Goods: This social media shop, owned by Lora Leininger, lists vintage clothing on its Instagram page. Browse sweaters, blouses and dresses with pants and skirts sprinkled in. Schedule a try-on sesh in her guest cottage and sit down to a cuppa tea and quiet. It’s like a lovely staycation, but with rad togs. Info:

Thrift Shops: There’s a reason an entire Macklemore & Ryan Lewis song is dedicated to the glory of thrift shops. While you may have to dig a little to weed out the vintage gems, with a little patience and persistence, you’ll be poppin’ tags. Hit up Triad Goodwill, Salvation Army and Hannah’s Bridge.

Estate and Garage Sales: Scope out those Saturday roadside signs because estate and yard sales alike are often stuffed with bargain vintage clothing. You know what they say. One man’s trash is another man’s treasured trappings.  Cassie Bustamante

The Pleasures of Life

Turtleneck Kind of Gal

Sticking my neck out in praise of a fashion staple

By Lynne Brandon

Harry: I have just one question: What’s with all the turtlenecks? I mean it’s the middle of summer.

Erica: Well, I guess I’m just a turtleneck kind of gal.

Harry: You never get hot?

Erica: No.

Harry: Never?

Erica: Not lately.

This bit of thinly veiled flirty banter is from one of my favorite movies of all time — Something’s Gotta Give. The scene stealing dialogue is a game of mental ping-pong between playboy entrepreneur, Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson), and Erica Barry (Diane Keaton), famous and uptight playwright.

The conversation strikes a nerve and begs the question: Why do some women like wearing turtlenecks? Does it mean the wearer is uptight and neurotic? Is the look one of modesty or subtle sexiness?

And, really, why does anyone care? There seems to be no middle ground — people seem to love or hate turtlenecks.

Turtlenecks look good on almost every woman (especially those with long necks), and the garment looks equally dashing on men. The reasons for loving turtlenecks are as basic as the piece itself. It is both practical and fashionable: The neck-hugging sweater has been a classic style since entering the fashion scene in the 19th century.

To break down its merits further is easy. The staple item is a study of contrasts. Here is a garment that is simple yet alluring in an under-the-radar kind of way. It is a symbol of strength and style and, for some, rebellion.

One of the few reasons I can tolerate winter is because I get to wear my favorite black cashmere turtleneck. In the coolest months, I think there is no item that is more essential in anyone’s wardrobe, other than a coat.

Fashion history tells us that the origins of the turtleneck arose among the working class, who valued it for warmth and protection. Over time, they became a favorite with the Hollywood set. The turtleneck gradually became viewed as almost iconic for beautiful, active and independent women. Feminists — and even those who aspired to a hippie-boho lifestyle — got on board. Truly, the sweater makes a statement that is undeniable: The wearer has something to say to the world.

While many don the turtleneck, no one wears it better than the famously independent Diane Keaton, who gave it a starring role in Something’s Gotta Give. I met the trailblazing actress in 2019, and, true to form, Keaton had on her trademark black turtleneck. I also wore black for a dash of solidarity. She is as nice as she seems on the big screen, but I did not have the nerve to ask her the burning question on many fans’ minds: Why do you love turtlenecks?

But, if a turtleneck is good enough for the woman known for walking her own path, it is good enough for me. While I will not credit a piece of clothing with super powers, I definitely feel more confident and ready to face the day the moment my head pokes through a turtleneck.

And, as Keaton said, “I guess I’m just a turtleneck kind of gal.”  OH

Lynne Brandon is a Greensboro-based journalist who hopes to inspire others with stories about interesting people, places and things.


On Disappearing

Yesterday, I found an empty turtle shell

On a leaf-littered trail by the ancient river.

Light flooded the inside

Like a tunnel through a yellow-painted mountain.

My eyes said, “No one is home”

And yet, a part of me was unconvinced.

Holding my breath, I bent down to pick it up

Hand and body ready to retract.


How often do I live this way —

Frightened to see what’s really here?

Scared to reach toward what I do not know?

Eager to hide from the truth?


Smooth and heavy in my cupped hand

The carapace was picked-clean

Vertebrae resembling some mystical symbol;

A rune, a spell, a skeleton key.

All I know is this:

There was movement within that vacant shell.

A gentle lifeforce.

A flowing river.

The bones of an unknown song.


Today, the shell sits on my bookshelf

And I shiver each time I walk by

Half-wondering when invisible legs

will carry it along. 


This subtle haunting will continue for weeks

Until, one day, the song becomes clear:

Death is not real.

We’re all just learning how

To lay down our armor

Embody the current

Disappear into the light.

— Ashley Walshe


Early Signs of Winter

Sighting the white-throated sparrow

By Susan Campbell

Here in the central part of North Carolina, the winged harbinger of winter is the white-throated sparrow. Summering in the forests of the far North, this bold little bird breeds across Canada and at elevation in northern New England. A medium-sized sparrow, it is brown above and white below with bold markings on the head. Pale stripes on the crown and a white throat patch are set off by gray feathers on the face. White-throateds also sport a yellow spot at the base of their stout bill.

Interestingly, there are two color forms of this species: those with heads that are white-striped as well as those that are tan-striped. Both forms persist because, as much as white-striped individuals are more aggressive during the breeding season, each almost always pair with the other type. Nests are made by the female in a depression on the ground under a low-growing tree or shrub. However, should it be depredated, the second nest may be placed on low branches.

If you have not spotted one of these birds, you almost certainly have heard their distinctive loud “seet” call emanating from thick vegetation. Their song, which can be heard even during cold weather, is a recognizable, liquid “oh sweet Canada” or to some, more of an “old Sam Peabody.” Since they tend to flock together, you are likely to encounter small groups along forest edges, farm fields, parks and suburban areas that have thick shrubbery.

White-throateds are commonly found at feeding stations, often in association with dark-eyed juncos, another bird of high country. These squatty sparrows actually have a broad diet. Although they primarily feed on a range of seeds during the winter months, their preference shifts during the year. In spring, they are more likely to seek out buds and flowers of fresh vegetation.

White-throated sparrows do not walk or run but hop when on the ground. As they forage, they will forcefully scratch backward in leaf litter using both feet and pouncing on food items that they uncover. These birds will also flick aside dead leaves using their bills. In the winter months, pecking orders form within flocks with the more aggressive males dominating.

If you want to attract white-throated sparrows this winter, it is easy and inexpensive. Since they tend to stay low, scattering a seed mix in a cleared spot near shrubs or other thick vegetation is all it may take. White-throateds will hop up onto a stump or low platform feeder as well. Easier yet, simply leave a portion of your yard unmown until spring, and these predictable visitors may well turn up to take advantage of the resulting seeds that remain as the growing season winds down.  OH

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at

Wandering Billy

Saved by the Belles

The women who saved Blandwood from becoming history

By Billy [Eye] Ingram

“Home wasn’t built in a day.”
— Jane Sherwood Ace

On a morning in 1966, bulldozers were poised to raze a bloated antediluvian structure on a prime block of downtown Greensboro real estate. The building, leaking and collapsing, sat perched on a hill in one of the last residential neighborhoods in the shadow of the Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Building. For almost 70 years, this compound served as a lonely outpost for the Keeley Institute, a live-in rehabilitation center where drunks and drug addicts were promised “That New Freedom” after weeks of four-times-daily injections of bichloride of gold, laced with alcohol, strychnine, apomorphine and willow bark.

With downtown bursting at the seams, an expansion of businesses to the west was only natural. Kroger had its eye on the lot under the Keeley Institute, so a crew was dispatched to clear the land. And they would have, had socialites Anita Schenck and her mother, Mary Lyon Leak Caine, not stood between the heavy machinery and that sacred place steeped in ceremony, where the Civil War came to an end in North Carolina, a once stately manor they knew as Blandwood.

Fellow Garden Club member Virginia Zenke, who with her husband, Henry, was inducted into the International Interior Design Association’s Hall of Fame in 2002, had a nagging suspicion Blandwood Mansion’s architect had to have been someone of prominence. As a trend-setting decorator of the ’60s, she had an acute eye for style. Perhaps if a pedigree could be proven, there might be more of an interest in saving the estate. Peering from black-framed round glasses, pencil protruding from her thick dark hair, she pored through books and reference materials attempting to solve the mystery of who designed Blandwood.

That moment of Zen(ke) came in 1966, when Virginia discovered the architect was none other than Alexander Jackson Davis, America’s leading designer of country houses, known locally for our gentrified State Capitol. He also left his mark on UNC Chapel Hill, where the playfully austere facades of Old East and Old West dormitories and the four-columned roman splendor of the Playmakers Theatre are nothing less than iconic. All of his creations were lavished in the Italianate and Greek Revival genres he was famous for. His designs for Blandwood are preserved in no less than the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This was a home like no other in America. Reminiscent of a Tuscan villa, it featured two large parlors with garden-view bay windows on either side of an imposing three-story tower made inviting by three enormous archways that circumambulate the front porch. Completed in 1846, it’s the oldest building on an original foundation in the city, one of the first towered Italianate villas in the nation and the earliest surviving example.

With Blandwood’s important historical lineage confirmed, the ladies who lunched became the ladies who launched. Bulldozer stoppin’ grandma Mary Lyon Leak Caine called to order the first meeting of the Greensboro Preservation Society on October 31, 1966, to foster, “a respect and reverence for the past by preserving landmarks in Greensboro including streets, public buildings, churches, houses, parks, trees or any existing examples of culturally, historical and architectural value to the city, state and nation.” No budget, only a zeal to identify cultural touchstones that needed safeguarding, they quickly came to the realization, however, that if Blandwood was to be saved, they’d have to do it themselves.

First efforts were strictly DIY. Green Thumb Garden Club members came wielding pruning shears. Along with Greensboro Jaycees and Thomas Tree Service, they tidied up the one block area, unearthing varieties of gingko, Japanese lacquer, linden, box elder, white pines, oak, maple and mulberry trees. On March 13, 1967, the state’s First Lady, Mrs. Dan K. Moore, was given a tour of the dilapidated Blandwood before heading to a luncheon a block away at the home of Otto Zenke, who partnered with his brother Henry to found an interior-decorating firm that gained an international reputation.

Modern architect Edward Lowenstein, known for the Greensboro Public Library (1964) and YMCA (1971) buildings as well as homes in Irving Park and Starmount, was enlisted to oversee one of the first modern-age adapted reuses of an American historic property.

Seemingly forgotten on the part of the public was any knowledge of the historical significance attached to this former residence of Governor John Motley Morehead. The only governor of the state to hail from Greensboro proper, Morehead was an early champion of the railroad at a crucial time in its development. He also championed a public education system that included the disabled, women and slaves, a concept many considered heretical.

“The Father of Modern North Carolina” had one eye focused firmly on the future. In 1854, as first president of the North Carolina Railroad, he undertook an aggressive expansion of what he called “the tree of life,” connecting every corner of the state to the wider world. As a result, a delicate “City of Flowers” morphed into the “Gate City,” defined by a robust rail system that, not coincidentally, utilized Greensboro as its hub.

As talk of secession grew louder in 1861, Morehead was a Peace Convention delegate, hoping to avoid war with the north. After hostilities broke out, though, he did serve in the Confederate Congress and entertained officers as they marched headstrong to Richmond, then again when they returned in retreat. At war’s end, Greensboro served as a decommissioning depot with Union officials occupying all of the nicest homes. Morehead’s daughter, Letitia Morehead Walker, referred to Blandwood’s 1865 houseguest, Major General Jacob Dolson Cox, as, “a most courteous and elegant man” who, nonetheless, forced her to witness what for her was a macabre sight, a triumphant parade of occupying forces.

After John Motley Morehead passed away in 1866, his daughter, Emma Victoria, and her husband, General Julius A. Gray, became lord and lady of the manor. He had been the commander-in-chief of North Carolina’s repelling forces during the War of 1812. When the British invaders heard his regiment was in their path, they decided to come to terms rather than face this fearsome foe. Gray initiated the successful effort to preserve the site of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, saved Greensboro College and founded the Greater Greensboro Chamber of Commerce. Gray died in 1891, his service held at West Market Methodist Church. Five years later Blandwood was deeded to the Keeley Institute.

Guilford College bought the property in 1965 along with Arnold Schiffman, who took over Schiffman’s Jewelers from his father, Simon. They put forth a proposal to save the estate. Former mayor Robert Frazier had appealed to legislators for years, but this shady lady was not an obvious candidate for a long term relationship, her very uniqueness a turn-off. No white column décolletage or proper Southern brickwork? Besides, wasn’t that the joint shooting up addicts with weird serums?

On April 17, 1968, HUD allocated over $100,000 to put the ladies in white gloves and pearls within sight of their financial goal, and the rest followed quickly. A week later, after Boy Scouts cleaned and pruned the grounds, the Greensboro Woman’s Club hosted a public open house at Blandwood.

Joyous sounds of celebration have been ringing from the south lawn since 1970, when Blandwood Carriage House became a location of distinction for weddings and receptions, a state-of-the-art facility that has as its backdrop an ancient beauty where past and present coexist harmoniously. Live music, dancing, children’s laughter, business leaders congregating, a bride and groom’s exhilarating first hours as a married couple? They are all a living testament to those preservation pioneers who drew a line in the sands of time, to battles won against prevailing winds on a field of devastating losses.  OH

An excerpt from a story in his first book of (mostly) Greensboro history, Hamburger², Billy Ingram’s new book about the Gate City is entitled EYE on GSO available where books are sold or burned.

O.Henry Ending

Call me when you get there

A mother’s mantra leaves tire tracks on the heart

By Cynthia Adams

I confess to missing it — something that once made my eyes roll into my head. Mama’s constant comment upon parting: “Call me when you get there.”

Mama first started when I was a new driver at 16, chugging to high school in a periwinkle blue Corvair — named Perry, of course. Perry was aging badly; he had a leak in the oil pan. 

The Corvair was the infamous unsafe-at-any-speed car that made Ralph Nader a household name. Perry expired too soon, after consuming lethal quantities of oil that puddled in the high school parking lot. 

Actually, Mama’s request seemed very reasonable in retrospect, given Nader’s view that the car was prone to spinning around in the middle of the road with a steering wheel shaft likely to impale drivers in a crash.

Two years later, heading off to college in a second-hand British racing-green Austin Healy Sprite, it was questionable if Perry’s replacement was any safer. The tiny convertible was darling and nimble, but so lightweight that passing semis blew me like a leaf. 

Mama’s view that my driving was unsafe at any speed didn’t help things.

Time trudged onward, yet there was no aging out of Mama’s cautious farewells. She repeated the “call me when you get there” just as urgently when I was 24 and drove a caution-flag-yellow Honda Civic — which no one with working eyes could possibly miss.

Mama repeated the same thing when I reached 30 and was driving a fast BMW 3 Series, newly single and facing the open road. 

She knew there were plenty of potholes that could potentially swallow up my naive self.

When I headed into a new marriage, Mama still repeated the old saw upon each parting, even though I had graduated to a safe, staid Volvo.

Her admonition remained a given, even when I reached age 40. Pulling away from her in a third-hand diesel Mercedes, her hand flapped at me as I watched her mouthing the words. That car alone was definitely too heavy for the semis to whipsaw around on I-85.

The safety of the car, the situation, nor my age, mattered not at all to her. I was to call. When. There.

Easing my Honda Accord out of Presbyterian Hospital’s parking deck four years later, I left Mama scared and freshly scarred, recovering from heart surgery. Her standard words, raspingly delivered, rang in my head as I ached for her; call me when you get there.

A newlywed at 75, Mama stood with a bouquet, waving us off, comically urging us to call when we got there. We were flying home. She was hitting the high seas to honeymoon.

The cruise ship bearing her and her sweet-faced groom, Jim, age 81, pulled up anchor and departed Miami. 

Eleven years later with Jim’s passing, we moved her to an adult community in Cornelius. Here she stood at the door, leaning on a walker, ever watchful each time I pulled away in my Honda hybrid. 

Dark eyes burned brightly in Mama’s pale, thin face. 

Once, I noticed her lips moving, so I circled back. She repeated hoarsely, “Call me when you get there,” wanly waving and blowing a kiss.

On another evening, the walker stood at her bedside. 

Mama’s lids were heavy. The effort of speech and wakefulness too much. For the first — and only — time, I left to silence.

Making my way due north on I-77, I heard the echoes of the worn phrase, one she used with all five of her charges, plus her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren and, now, too, her caregivers.

Silence tugged at me, weighing heavily, as I navigated the darkness.

This time, it was she who was leaving.

My tires slapped the tarmac in a lulling rhythm: Call me/ when you/ get there.  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine.

Address: Morris Whitfield

A veteran pays homage to those who went before

By Colonel Charles A. Jones, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (Retired)

Some people, such as Morris Whitfield, have an address known only by their first and last names. 

But, in fact, his address has additional information: Section One, Number 88. 

Morris Whitfield resides — really, rests — at that address, which is a grave in the Veteran’s Circle of Greensboro’s Forest Lawn Cemetery. 

I first learned about Morris Whitfield after my 1995 visit to Iwo Jima, the Pacific Island that was the site of perhaps the most famous battle in Marine Corps history. Marines became famous for twice raising American flags atop Iwo’s Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945, during World War II. The second flag raising was the subject of the photograph that won Joe Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize for Photography. His iconic photograph is one of the most famous in the history of warfare. 

But unlike many Marines and their Navy corpsman who saw the flags atop the mountain, Morris Whitfield missed the event because, like so many of Iwo Jima’s casualties, he was already dead.

After my return from Iwo Jima, which the United States returned to Japan in 1968, my parents and I visited the Veteran’s Circle of Forest Lawn Cemetery for no particular reason. By chance I spotted the Whitfield tombstone and, being a Marine myself, gravitated to it when I read part of its inscription: “PVT US MARINE CORPS,” with “PVT” representing Private, the lowest grade in the Marine Corps. Having been to Iwo Jima, I knew immediately the importance of his date of death: “FEBRUARY 19 1945,” D-Day for Iwo Jima, the date the Marines and their Navy corpsmen landed on the island to capture it from the Japanese. 

The sadness is twofold: first, his death itself, and second, his death so soon — the very day he came ashore.

When I worked at the United States Marine Corps History Division, I obtained the casualty report for Morris Whitfield (“casrep” in typical military expression). From the casrep I learned that he was a member of the 31st Replacement Draft, an organization comprising Marines in a rear area where they remained until one or more of them were sent forward when needed in frontline units, engaged in combat, to replace Marines who had been killed or who were wounded and evacuated.

The casrep reported the cause of death as “GSW mult lower extremities.” Translation: multiple gunshot wounds hit his lower extremities.

Morris Whitfield was buried on Iwo Jima with the remainder of his fallen Marine Corps and Navy comrades, but authorities decided after the war that none of our war dead would be left in what was former enemy territory. Thus began grueling, ghastly mass exhumations, and returns of the remains of our dead buried on Iwo Jima, and their transfer to the United States for burial in a national or private cemetery of the family’s choice. Since his widow had remarried, Morris Whitfield’s father requested in 1948 that his son be buried in Forest Lawn. 

But Morris Whitfield is more than a burial for me — he and his tombstone are a reminder of what may have happened to my own father, a Glenwood “boy” who was the radar operator on a B-29 Superfortress bomber with 28 combat missions over Japan: 13 bombing missions and 15 photoreconnaissance missions. The crew named the B-29 “Double Trouble” and “City of Maywood.”

After he died in 2014, I found among his effects a handout titled “Memorial Day Program.” Obviously, his mother (my grandmother) sent it to my father during the war or gave it to him after he returned from the Pacific War. 

The program was for a Memorial Day ceremony on Sunday, May 27, 1945, at Forest Lawn to honor war dead who were listed under the title, “Roll of Honor.” Under that title was “Names Added Since Last Memorial Day,” a testament to the nonstop killing occurring during World War II and the need to honor the dead, from both Greensboro and rural Guilford county, lost during each year of the war.

The program reflected our then-segregated society, so under the heading “World War II” was a section with the names of Greensboro “White” men. Below that list was a section with the names of Greensboro “Colored” men. The rural section followed suit: Below the list for Guilford County “White” men was a list of Guilford County “Colored” men.

The name of Greensboro’s most famous airman, “Preddy, George Earle, Jr.,” was on the list of dead since he was killed by “friendly fire” on Christmas Day 1944. To this day, he remains the pilot with the most kills while flying a P-51 Mustang fighter and is the number six ace among all United States Air Forces aces (although he was, like my father, a member of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II since the Air Force was not separate from the Army until 1947). 

The sadness is in my grandmother’s markings on the program. She placed 11 “X” marks beside the names of “boys” she knew who were lost during World War II. And on the front she wrote a note to my father: “You may know some of these boys on here — I do.”

Under the heading “Rural Guilford County — White” was a familiar name: “Whitfield, M. E.”


Left: Lt. Elmer Jones, 1994.
Middle: Lt. Elmer Jones below the the left nose of the B-29 Superfortress.
Right: Crew of the B-29 kneeling with six enlisted men standing behind them. Lt. Elmer Jones is kneeling second to the left.

My father has three connections to Morris Whitfield. 

First, his B-29 had to land on Iwo Jima twice during the war, once for fuel and once for repair. Had the Marines and their Navy Corpsmen not captured the island, my father may have had to parachute into the Pacific Ocean, an irony since he flew so many times over the Pacific but could not swim. Or his B-29 may have ditched in the ocean, an unpleasant and dangerous action at best. 

Second, my father is buried near Morris Whitfield. Each December, the Wreaths Across America program places wreaths on veteran graves in veteran sections of cemeteries. I attended in 2019 and 2021, and each time I “appropriated” two wreaths before the speaker stopped speaking so I could be the person placing a wreath against Morris Whitfield’s tombstone and one on my own father’s footstone — since he is outside the veterans section, he would not have received a wreath but for my determination that he have one.   

Third, and most importantly, my father survived the war for four reasons. His aircraft commander was a superb pilot. My father was adamant that the number of photoreconnaissance missions saved his crew since they were “single ship” missions, meaning the plane flew the mission alone; the Japanese would not shoot at a solo B-29 to keep from disclosing their antiaircraft gun locations. Another reason was luck. And the final reason was Iwo Jima: Had Marines and Navy Corpsmen not captured Iwo Jima so it could be a place for bombers to make emergency landings, my father may have perished in the ocean.

So what was most important was that my father’s name was not on the list of the dead for deaths up to Memorial Day 1945. But it could have been: From April 1945 to Memorial Day 1945, he was flying combat missions over Japan in his B-29. 

If my father were killed or missing after Memorial Day 1945, his mother may have found herself at Forest Lawn in 1946 on Memorial Day with a sad updated program — one with the name of her son under “World War II — Greensboro White.” And this story would never have been written. 

Combat death is callous, stripping almost all personal attributes from what had once been a living, breathing combatant who had an address, friends and family. Remaining is a casrep with the typed ominous acronym, “KIA” (killed in action) — a notation I thank God was not typed besides my father’s name. Also remaining is the title, “hero,” reserved for men like Morris Whitfield who did not return and were — and still are — left with only a few brief etchings on a tombstone.

Thus the address remains the same and always will — simply “MORRIS E WHITFIELD.” And that address is timeless: Morris Whitfield will never move. He will not be departing Forest Lawn Cemetery temporarily or permanently. I had to travel thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean to reach and to visit Iwo Jima to learn the importance of the date that placed and keeps him in Section 1, Number 88.  OH

Colonel Charles A. Jones, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, served as a judge advocate (military lawyer) in the Regular and Reserve Marine Corps for a combination of 30 years (1981 to 2011). He enjoys his major passion: researching and writing military history. He wrote a biography of his father focusing on his World War Two experiences:  B-29 “Double Trouble” is “Mister Bee” (available on Amazon). His email is

Home Grown

Chalk and Cheese

A tale of Dutch — and Southern — hospitality

By Cynthia Adams

There I was, in the Netherlands, shivering in the attic room that a university contact (who called it an “apartment”) had found for me. Hardly an apartment, its highlights were a sink and a tiny window. And it was winter . . . so cold I looked up the meaning of chilblains.

My refuge from the cold room was either the university or the living room, which was also the refuge of my landlady, a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, cat-loving chain smoker who was rather thick in the middle, and favored sensible low heels and navy skirts. I’ll call her Anke. The uniform was a throwback to Anke’s KLM air hostess days, which were the highlight of her life. Laid off long ago, most of Anke’s forays were daily shopping for ciggies, cat food, wine and cheese. 

As time wore on, we began to forge a tenuous relationship. She had resisted at first, given I was, in Anke’s words, “a stupid tourist” renting an overpriced, unheated attic. I needed proximity to Leiden and she needed cash.  Yet the very idea of my presence galled her.

The Dutch are blunt. 

She was astonished I had been hired to teach writing at a local university. How could I possibly take a job away from a good Dutch instructor, she wondered aloud?

Then there were the strict household rules: when to use the kitchen and fridge; when to bathe, and in which bathroom; daily airing of the duvet because a detested prior tenant had “sweat feets.” No matter how cold, the garret window was to be left opened in daytime. Ditto for the bathroom window.

As winter progressed, I shivered in bed with a couple of hot water bottles and the duvet tucked under me. It was impossible to get warm. She alone controlled the thermostat.

Yet I learned that Anke loved and knew good wines. Eventually, she agreed to join me for a nightcap of delicious wine after work. Slowly, we came to a rapport — of necessity. Briefly warm, I pretended I didn’t mind endless episodes of Neighbors, the Australian sitcom, or the wreaths of smoke encircling her cropped hair. 

“Chalk and Cheese,” she called us, as in the Dutch expression “as different as chalk and cheese.” I presumed I was the chalk . . . and she was her favorite, Gouda.

Ultimately, Anke would invite me to share dinners. I learned to bring good chocolates, flowers, or wine home.

Anke thawed, and introduced me to her Jewish family. Few males had survived the Holocaust.

This explained the ubiquitous picture windows, pointedly left uncovered after years in hiding. And the ever-present bicycles, which the Nazis had confiscated.

She took me on shopping forays for “more premium” toilet paper in Belgium. I went with Anke to source white asparagus, pannekoek — a pancake smothered in thick syrup — and mussels.

When my semester ended, we parted as friends, although inscrutable to one another. 

Months later, Anke called to say she was coming to the states. On arrival, she wanted use of my car. This wasn’t possible, I explained. Upset, she settled on my driving her wherever asked. I took her to IHOP for pancakes, which she bluntly and loudly declared “shit!” Our many churches troubled her. “There’s one on every corner!”

Anke hated every meal and found Greensboro was a total washout until I took her to a big box store.

Delighted, Anke found a staggering bag of cheese puffs — at least 2 feet high — to lug home. She visited McDonald’s and adored the Big Mac.

Anke, seafood and wine connoisseur, approved of American fast food and snacks.

This time when we parted, she hinted at a future visit. I smiled, unnerved, yet confident I could find enough snacks and bad food to please her. Certain that America would deliver, I gave “Cheese” a thumbs up as she ambled down the concourse in her squatty heels. 

Still baffled yet grinning, “Chalk and Cheese” had reached an international accord.  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry.