O.Henry Ending

The Lawn Goodbye

One writer’s yard work is never done

By Jeff Paschal

Two deer drinking down at the creek sealed the deal for us. And I suppose many decisions that shape our lives rest on just such thin, unlikely coincidences.

My wife, Beth, and I had moved to Greensboro in 2011, rented awhile, and then began house-hunting around the area. We wanted the following: an affordable place with several bedrooms on the first floor to entice mobility-challenged family to visit, a front porch big enough for multiple rocking chairs, an attached garage because that’s what my Northerner wife expected and a yard expansive enough to entertain our overgrown, brown-and-white shelter mutt, Zoe. 

We toured homes in Greensboro, Summerfield and Browns Summit. All nice places, but in each case there was something that made us keep looking. Then on our first visit to a house out in the country near Oak Ridge, we spied two deer drinking from the creek at the bottom of the property, and that did it. Sold! Not exactly a rational decision, right? We got part of what we wanted in the deal — several first floor bedrooms, a small front porch with a decent-sized back deck, a detached garage and a yard big enough to amuse a pack of hounds.

And like me, the yard itself could be described as ornery and rough around the edges. Actually, it’s also rough in the front, middle and back. Wander around and you’re liable to trip over the occasional half-buried boulder, slip on red-clay bare patches, tromp through weeds (some that bear a disturbing resemblance to red-leafed lettuce), a wealth of wildflowers, a sprinkle of rebellious kudzu, and you may even encounter a little real grass I “planted” by throwing grass seed on the dirt spots before rain storms.

Our country-fried North Carolina yard is a far cry from the lot we left in northeast Ohio. There we were situated in a tidily packaged neighborhood with houses just a few feet apart and tennis court–size yards. Practically all the neighbors had lawns they fussed over with fertilizer, weed-killer, electric driveway edgers and even leaf blowers to neaten up the cut grass after they had mowed. Meanwhile, I was happy just to mow our yard and let the grass go au naturel. Whatever grew, grew. On the other hand, our next-door neighbors actually entered their yard in a beautiful yard contest and got second place. When Beth congratulated them on their award they noted that they would have gotten first place, but somehow a stray dandelion (an apparent escapee from an untnamed neighbor’s unkempt grass) had been found growing in their yard.


On another occasion, I was mowing our yard, but the grass kept clogging the mower. A neighbor walked over to assist. He adjusted the angle of the grass chute. That helped a tiny bit, but the problem persisted. Another neighbor joined us. We set the cutting blades a little higher. A wee bit more improvement. Yet another neighbor joined us and we turned the mower upside down for a closer look, the four of us hovering over it like concerned physicians examining a patient afflicted with some exotic disease. But the cure eluded us. A few days later, Beth took the mower to the shop. The repairman took a quick look and asked, “Has your husband recently tried to sharpen the cutting blades himself?” “Yes,” she said. “Well, he’s put the blades back on upside down.”

Ensconced in pastoral Guilford County, I’ve definitely figured out the right way to sharpen and replace mower blades — nowadays for our small lawn tractor. In fact, I’ve even learned how to operate a chainsaw and a 1976 Gravely Commercial 8 Bush Hog. Using the bush hog, I’ve managed to clear away the undergrowth along the creek so you can actually walk along the water. Now frogs, turtles, snakes, fish, beavers, raccoons, all manner of critters, creatures great and small, make appearance and send me straight back to childhood days playing in the woods and by the dairy pond behind my South Carolina boyhood home. And there’s something primal, something calming and healing about walking near water that gurgles and flows in a stream, isn’t there?

Of course, life has its seasons, and there will come a time when the computer keys don’t click in front of me and the lawn equipment has long been silent. I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear the Keeper of the Garden say, “Oh, you’re here. Still rough around the edges, I see. Ah well, I suppose you can come in. What’s one more dandelion?”  OH

When he isn’t doing second rate yard work, Jeff Paschal enjoys feeding spoiled rotten hummingbirds.

The Accidental Astrologer

Laid-back Libra

Don’t let October become “Rocktober” under the sign of the scales

By Astrid Stellanova

There just ainít no pigeon-holing a Libran.
Bridgette Bardot is a Libran. So is Simon Caowell, Julie Andrews. Sting. And Jesse Jackson. The Libran likes the better things in life, likes taking to a public stage, likes being given lots of room to develop their fine talents, but doesn’t much care for grunt work. The Librans I know also don’t like for people around them to kick up a lot of dust and make a fuss.  Ad Astra — Astrid

Libra (September 23–October 22)

You got a hand stuck out, being friendly, wanting to make nice with someone who has tested your last nerve — and they think you stuck your hand out for a gimme. They don’t have the class you do, my well-balanced friend, so the first order of business is to keep your hand to yourself and enjoy the jingling of all that silver that is filling your pocket. You have got a lot of prosperity in the stars waiting for you this year.  And you also have more friends than a body could ever need, so square your shoulders and go enjoy a big ole slice of birthday cake.

Scorpio (October 23–November 21)

There was a time when keeping secrets worked for you. This, however, is not that time. You need a strong shoulder to cry on, and given your natural magnetism, plenty will offer one. The pleasure of a kind word can go further than the deep pleasure you take from maintaining personal mystery—so purge, Honey, and let somebody be a good pal to you.

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

A big idea you incubated some time ago is ripe and ready. Don’t hesitate to share it and find the support and dollars you need.  Also, this is a good time to look at all your investments (I call this rooting and hunting under the sofa cushions) and see how much you have on hand to back yourself. Your idea is a good one; you weren’t crazy when you claimed you are this close to Making Good, as Grandpa Hornblower says.

Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

Summer was discombobulating for you, wasn’t it Sugar?  And the fall is looking a little dicey.  But cheer up; you are just going to love the year end. But first, there are two matters that need to be addressed before you have the personal freedom to move on from something that keeps tripping you up. Darling, they are not going away without you putting down the Fritos bag (and getting up off the sofa) in order to show these two matters the door.

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

Whaa-whaa-whaa . . . That, whaa-whaa sound, Honey Child, is your disillusionment when the happy went right out of your red balloon. You have been killing yourself trying to make someone you care for care for you in the same way. There is nothing more you can do. This person is not as giving, generous, nor nearly as much fun as you are.  And they are never going to be as demonstrative. You got invested, for sure, but do you love them?

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

There, there, there. Feel better?  Did you take to your bed after Sugar Booger left your heart busted into two big pieces?  Well, nobody would have blamed you one bit if you had. They seem to have a contractual obligation to darken your world while you are playing Mary Poppins and trying for sweetness and light. Sweet Thing, shake it off and look for a different type.

Aries (March 21–April 19)

You are about two Alka-Seltzers away from driving your friends and families crazy as a bat in the basement. It is true that you can be entertaining and the life of the party, but right now everybody who knows you wishes you could spend at least one day a week boring the crap out of them. Quiet is not a four-letter word. It’s five, Darling.

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

Someone close to you is convinced you are having a breakthrough just at the very time you feel you are having a breakdown. The other person is right. You have developed a creative genius for seeing a new way to approach a very old problem. It could bring you closer to a dream if you don’t back away. See it through.

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

A mysterious person — somebody you’ve known for some time but never well — has a connection to you that will soon become clear.  This will require you to be open, gentle, pliant and honest in order to enjoy the full benefit of a special revelation. Honey, I know that’s a tall order, but for your own sake, try.

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

Thankfully, you took old Astrid’s advice about last month and stopped borrowing money and began making your own. Now, Sugar, I want you to stop thinking you can borrow time. This ain’t a dress rehearsal — it’s your life you have been blowing like you were on the easy credit life extension plan. Do. Not. Waste. One. More. Second. You aren’t about to die but you also won’t get endless chances to take care of business.

Leo (July 23–August 22)

You’ve had a funny feeling about a loved one that actually is your deepest intuition talking to you.  Trust it. Rely upon it. You have considerable intuitive abilities that have been building since early adulthood. This is not lottery winning-type information, and doesn’t require a Ouija board, but it sure is about expanding your world, happiness and friendships with others. That, Dearie, is the real jackpot.

Virgo (August 23–September 22)

Something started for you last month that you might not secretly trust but that you should.  It was an unusual gift — and you were deeply puzzled at first. This gift is going to change you, change your life and even change your mind about who you are. Honey, it is going to be a crazy ride for you but there is no question it is your destiny to follow the Yellow Brick Road. Get hopping.  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.



The Feast of Trumpets

a shrunken apple head is sitting next to a ripe red apple on a wooden table.

Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on October 2. Also called the Feast of the Trumpets, this two-day Jewish New Year celebration includes the ritualistic sounding of the ancient shofar (ram’s horn) and foods to evoke shana tova u’metukaha good and sweet year. Since now is the time of the apple harvest, what sweeter way to celebrate than with a Red or Golden delicious, fresh from the tree? By dipping said fruit in honey, of course. Consider this tasty Jewish custom when your neighbor presents you with a basketful of local apples, but don’t let it stop you from experimenting with cobblers and crisps, cinnamon-laced ciders, and in the spirit of Halloween, perhaps even shrunken apple heads. Granny Smiths work well for this — best if cored and peeled.

Using the tip of a pen, make indentions to guide your carvings. Cut hollows for the mouth and eyes, and carve away the apple flesh around the nose. Exaggerate the features. Your second apple will be better than the first, et cetera, but failed carvings spell homemade pie, so you might flub a few just for fun. Next, soak the carved apple heads in a mixture of lemon juice (1 cup) and salt (1 tablespoon) for a few minutes to help keep the fruit from molding. Pat dry. Now all that’s left to do is wait. A food dehydrator is the fastest and easiest way to dry out — aka shrink — your apple head, but a warm, well-ventilated area should also work. Since the drying process can take over a week, you’ll want to entertain yourself with other projects. In the spirit of carnival season, how about apple juggling?

Speaking of carving, did you know that the first jack-o’-lanterns weren’t made out of pumpkins? Named for the Irish folktale of Stingy Jack — a man who twice fooled the devil yet unknowingly doomed his soul to roam the Earth until the end of time — the tradition of carving grotesque faces into turnips and potatoes to scare off evil spirits is centuries-old. According to legend, Jack’s ghost carries a hollowed turnip aglow with an ember from the fires of Hell. Bet you can guess what happened when Irish immigrants came across their first pumpkin patch.

“Corn and grain, corn and grain,

All that falls shall rise again.”

–Harvest Chant

National Runner-up

Marigolds are the birth flower of October. Known as the ‘herb of the sun’, these vibrant yellow, red and orange flowers were carried as love charms in the Middle Ages. Although Victorian flower language experts believe them to be symbols of grief, many associate marigolds with optimism. Burpee president David Burpee must have been among them. In the late 1960s, the seed salesman launched a spirited campaign for marigolds to be named the national flower. We chose the rose.

“Autumn is the hardest season. The leaves are all falling, and they’re falling like they’re falling in love with the ground.”

― Andrea Gibson, poet

Herbs to Plant this Month:

Dill – Aids with digestion and insomnia.

Oregano – Used to treat skin conditions.

Sage – Increases recall ability.

Fennel — Improves kidneys, spleen,
liver and lungs.

The Best Planting Time

Tulip and daffodil bulbs will color your spring garden brilliant if you plant them before the ground freezes. Allow yourself to dream. Imagine your home nestled in a grove of golden flowers, fringed blooms spilling out of planters, window boxes, busted rain boots. The more bulbs you plant the better — and plant them at random. Save pumpkin seeds to plant in spring. 

Two vibrant  spring  fancy yellow and orange tulips arranged against a white background.

The Queen of Wild Ginger

The life and times and gardens of Professor Peyton Hudson

By Ross Howell Jr.     Photographs By Lynn Donovan


If you enjoy adventurous spirits, then you need to meet Peyton Hudson.

Hailing from Maryland, she began her college studies at the University of Delaware. Though her father, a physician, wanted her to study medicine, she found her passion in textiles and fashion.

After a divorce in 1968, Hudson moved cross-country with two young daughters, Adrienne and Peyton, to Nevada, where she taught, worked as an extension agent and began working on a doctorate in textiles.

“I don’t know how I did it,” she said in a News & Record interview years ago. “I’m working on a degree, I’m teaching all the time, I’m putting a hot meal on the table every night, and it’s not out of a box.”

Hudson came to UNCG in 1971 to complete her Ph.D. A popular professor at the university, she later accepted a position at the N.C. State School of Textiles, now the College of Textiles.

She was something of a pioneer, one of just three women in that program. She wrote a textbook on manufacturing apparel and cowrote a textbook on the science of textiles. In 1995, she left academics to launch a successful consulting business.


Perhaps her most adventurous decision was made in 1975 when Hudson decided to purchase the main house and a 6-acre tract of land in Guilford College that was part of the old Guy M. Turner estate. Built in 1939, the big house had been added onto when Turner’s wife, Ida, was still living.

“Ida was from Virginia and she was a real gardener with true imagination,” Hudson says. “We’ve been able to reclaim most of her beds. You can still feel her spirit here, even though she passed away long before I bought this property. She must have seen herself as an FFV [First Family of Virginia], since she always had a cook and a maid to keep house — not to mention a full-time gardener.”

Hudson would have no such help. Worse, the property had been left vacant for three years. The house had mold problems and the gardens were choked with vines and weeds.

But Hudson was undaunted.

“I wanted to have a place where my daughters could ride their horses,” she says. “I could only get together enough financing for half the purchase price. So my parents signed a note for the other half.”

And then came a job offer in Raleigh: “I still had one daughter in high school in Greensboro,” she recalls. “It just didn’t seem right to try to go back and forth to work with a teenage daughter at home.” But she says her daughter, Peyton, insisted that she take the job. “Lo and behold,” Hudson says, “she was one of the students selected for the first group to study at the North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham.”

Enter Howard Coble. The basement of the house was empty but had a huge fireplace and Hudson often used it for entertaining. “Well, one evening Howard Coble was over,” she says, referring to late U.S. Congressman (a UNCG scholarship was recently established in his memory.) “He was an officer in the Coast Guard then, still living at home with his parents,” Hudson continues. “He said he thought the basement would be a great place for him to live. So I said, ‘Well, I’ll fix up an apartment for you, Howard, but it will take a while, because I don’t have much money.’” Over time she added a bathroom, refrigerator, cook stove . . . “everything anybody would need to live there, and in 1978, Howard started renting it from me for $225 a month.”

After a number of years, Coble decided to run for Congress and was elected. “I decided since his situation and finances had improved, I’d raise his rent,” Hudson says. “Howard was very frugal, you know, and when I told him I was going to raise his rent to $250, he said he thought that was an absolutely outrageous amount to pay. So he bought a nice condominium in Guilford College.

“I think, too, he felt he’d reached a stage in his career where he believed some people would think it unseemly for him to be living in a basement apartment in somebody else’s house.”

Later, an assistant district attorney for Guilford County, Susan Bray, rented the apartment, which had come to be known as the “Congressional Suite.” Bray later bought a house nearby and is now the Resident Judge, North Carolina Superior Court, Eighteenth Judicial District.

“When Susan was living in the basement apartment,” Hudson says, “she used to joke that we should call it the ‘Congressional and Judicial Suite.’”

Hudson is telling me all this over the phone, as she prepares for yet another adventure, this time in the Midwest.

“I have so many things to take care of today, I think it would be just too rushed for us to get together now,” she says.

If Hudson is feeling rushed, you’d never know it. Her speech is measured, enthusiastic, confident. She’s booked tickets for a nine-day excursion on the Mississippi River aboard a paddle-wheeler sailing from Minneapolis (Red Wing), Minnesota, to St. Louis (Alton), Missouri — to celebrate her 81st birthday.

“Mark Twain has always been one of my favorite authors,” she says. “My daughter Peyton and I are sailing on a part of the river he used to navigate as a steamboat captain.” She pauses. “But you must have a look at the gardens. Just get in touch with Jim while I’m away. I’ll give you his number.”

And that brings us to the current basement apartment occupant, retired Greensboro police officer James Crabtree.

“When Jim moved in the apartment, Susan Bray said we should just call it ‘Law and Order,’” Hudson says. “She’s so clever! Anyway, Jim’s a great help with the gardens. But you know men. They won’t weed. And they never seem to think they’re accomplishing anything unless they’re making a lot of noise with something with a motor attached.”

That she’s sharing this view on the phone with a male gardener gives her no pause.

I express her sentiment to Crabtree after I park my car in the drive of Hudson’s home. The day is humid. He’s been working outside and his brow is sweaty. He listens, pursing his lips, so his moustache rises on one side.

“Seems like ladies always sing from the same hymnal,” he says. “I’d say I’m pretty good about the weeding. As for the motors, I always tell Peyton if she doesn’t keep her equipment in working order, then it won’t be there for her when she needs it.”

In Crabtree’s defense, there’s a lot to maintain.

Hudson’s beds start with plantings at the entrance, continuing down a long brick circular drive. There’s a profusion of Japanese maples, elephant ears, hydrangeas, coreopsis, cone flowers, wisteria, and many other plants and shrubs under a canopy of oaks, maples, magnolias, tulip poplars and mimosa.

In front of the house is a massive bed of old azaleas. In our conversation Hudson had told me to look for a post in the bed. I see it. Facing me, nearly covered with clematis, is a black metal plate in the shape of a steam locomotive with a number and the name, “Guy M. Turner.” A Chesapeake & Ohio locomotive bell, removed by a previous owner, had been mounted atop the post. Before Turner, the original owner of the property, started his own business, he had worked for the C&O Railway.

Near the post is a big owl statue, carved from cypress by an artist in Colfax. There are smaller forest creatures carved in the wood, including a terrapin and a frog. Near the owl statue is a garden where water spills over stone steps into a pool with water hyacinths boasting spectacular purple blossoms.

Next to the house is a bed of Queen Anne’s lace and dill, and at the foundations, a bed of ferns. Chocolate vine, trumpet vine, and wisteria festoon a bower beside the house and railings along the deck at the side all the way to the back of the house.

There are plants growing everywhere, not all of them invited. Bamboo grass and ragweed peek from some of the beds, and here and there, a poplar or oak sprouts. The sheer volume of vegetative life is comforting, and nearly overwhelming.

Oak sprouts sparked considerable consternation a few years back.

“Peyton just hates acorns,” Crabtree says, “because they’ll sprout in her beds. Well, one of her business clients wove these wide swaths of fabric on special machines — imported from Italy, I think.” Crabtree explains how the fabric was stretched on cables from tree to tree. “It was real shimmery, used mostly to make women’s underclothes and nightgowns, that kind of thing. ‘Nylon tricot’ is what Peyton calls it.

“Well, the canopies kept the acorns out of the beds like a charm,” Crabtree explains, “but the neighbors wondered what the heck was going on, with all this pink and blue stuff hanging in the trees. Some got pretty worked up about it.”

Crabtree grins, looking at me over the rims of his glasses.

“And Peyton hadn’t thought about Google,” he says. “You go to Google Maps and search the neighborhood, you’ll see a picture with big patches of pink and blue in the woods!”

I grin too, thinking about unintended consequences, and look across the brick drive to a vegetable garden with an electric fence to dissuade deer. Beyond is a garage with a small greenhouse attached. From there the land falls toward a lake, with a variety of plants under a continuing canopy of hardwoods.

We walk along the deck to the back of the house. There’s a door, the entrance to the basement apartment. By it is a plaque that reads, “J. Howard Coble U.S. House of Representatives Longest Serving N.C. Republican 2010 Slept Here 1978–1983.”


“I’d show you inside,” Crabtree says, “but I’m not much of a housekeeper.” He’s carefully weaving chocolate vine runners into the mass of foliage along the deck railing. I peer over the side, looking toward the lake. Directly below us is a gleaming white terrace, mulched with oyster shells.

“Before she decided on the brick,” Crabtree says, “Peyton was going to put in a tabby drive. I hauled those shells in a trailer from the old Green’s Supper Club. I was grinding them for the tabby, but then the grinder gave out, so Peyton decided to use them on the terrace.”

Crabtree explains that bamboo had invaded the area. “We were able to get rid of it using a formula of vinegar and salt. But a few stalks still volunteer. Peyton paints them with weed killer by hand.”

I notice little pink flags scattered on the bank near the lake.

“Oh, Peyton’s very careful to mark the wild ginger,” Crabtree says. “She says it’s common in the mountains, but here in the piedmont, it’s rare.”

The wild ginger hugs the earth, its heart-shaped, dark green variegated leaves glistening in the sunlight. A hummingbird whirs toward a flower bed beside the house, where yellow swallowtail butterflies are sampling blooms. Cicadas drone in the trees.

“People don’t realize all this is here,” Crabtree says. “Right here in Guilford College.”

The cicadas fall silent for a moment, as if breathless for the return of the lady of the house.

And in a few days, return she does. With a tale of adventure greater than a mere excursion on the mighty Mississippi. On her flights back from Missouri, a computer system failure left her stranded in the Atlanta airport for nearly twenty hours.

“They didn’t even offer us a cup of coffee,” Hudson says. “Just a cheap red polyester blanket! I haven’t slept in twenty-four hours. Did Jim show you the wild ginger?”

She’s chatty, articulate, funny, as we speak on the phone. If she’s tired, you’d never know it.

Peyton Hudson — professor, businesswoman, passionate gardener.  OH

Ross Howell Jr. is at work on the project he wrote about in “So Delightful an Occupation,” an essay about Jefferson’s gardens in last month’s O. Henry, and, with a lone leaf clinging to a single stem of the Carolina allspice given him by a friend, hoping for a miracle.

The Nutty Professor

Meet the man responsible for saving and spreading chestnut trees

By Maria Johnson


This harvest season, if you find yourself sipping wine or enjoying dishes made with chestnuts, you might toast Robert Dunstan, a wiry little man whose brilliant backyard tinkering revived chestnut trees in the United States and helped to save thousands of acres of French wine grapes.

Dunstan was a professor of Romance languages at Greensboro College from the late 1920s to the early 1960s.

When he wasn’t teaching or grading papers, Professor Dunstan, who lived on two acres near present-day Interstate 40 and Four Seasons Town Centre mall, played in his yard.

An amateur plant breeder, his passion was creating hybrids. He dabbled mostly in trees and grapes.

He made his first mark with grapes.

In the late 1930s, Dunstan plant-sat for a friend, a Duke University professor who left his roses in Dunstan’s care while he was on sabbatical in France. As a gift for tending the roses, the friend brought Dunstan some French grape plants.

Dunstan tucked the plants into Piedmont soil. The grapes struggled and withered.

“Grandpa became interested in why the grapes died,” says his grandson, Robert Wallace of Alachua, Florida.

Dunstan had grown up in Windsor, North Carolina, on the lip of Albemarle Sound, where native muscadine grapes flourished.


Dunstan, too, had come from hardy stock. His father, H.V. Dunstan, a Civil War surgeon, walked 500 miles from a Confederate hospital in Georgia to his home in Windsor, when the war ended.

Family lore holds that U.S. General William Sherman, whose campaigns ravaged the South, had spared H.V. Dunstan’s home while he was away because of the Masonic symbol over the fireplace; Sherman was a Freemason, too.

When H.V.’s wife died after the war, he remarried and fathered a second round of children. Born in 1901, Robert Dunstan was among them.

“Grandpa was the runt pig of the last litter,” says Wallace.

Dunstan almost died of whooping cough in infancy.

“Great-grandfather gave up on him,” says Wallace. “His black nanny painted his chest with tar and he survived.”

Small but sparky, Dunstan spent his childhood navigating the swamps and sounds around his home in a dugout cypress canoe. He trapped and hunted. He sold thousands of pelts to pay his way through Trinity College (now Duke University), where he discovered a knack for language.

“He had the gift of his ear,” says Wallace. “He could hear and learn language very easily.”

Dunstan earned a doctorate in Romance languages at the University of Wisconsin, where he met and married his wife.

“In 1927, at age 26, he became the youngest department head, the baldest and the most popular teacher at Greensboro College, a liberal arts Methodist girls’ college, where he stayed, still the baldest and most popular teacher for thity-six years. At home, for fun, he spoke French with his wife Katherine, an artist, and two little girls,” according to a family history written by Dustan’s daughter Aurelia Wallace, who died in 2011.

Former Greensboro College students remember Dunstan as a spritely, mustachioed man who dressed the part of a college professor.

“He always wore a bow tie and a beret. He was a short little fellow. He just scooted along campus. We all thought he was kind of cute,” says 80-year-old alumna Gene Jones, from the class of 1958.

“He didn’t let any grass grow under his feet,” she says.

At home, though, Dunstan was all about cultivating green.

In 1929, he bought a house and two acres on Pinecroft Road, off of what was then High Point Road. During the Great Depression, when his professor’s salary was cut in half, he grew a bountiful garden. His family feasted on tomatoes, greens, potatoes, peaches, apples and a novelty in the Piedmont, white cherries.

“Nobody in this neck of Carolina had even seen such things!” his daughter Aurelia wrote in the family history.

In the late summers, neighbors gathered around Dunstan’s arbors, heavy with muscadine grapes.

When Dunstan’s professor friend from Duke went on sabbatical, Dunstan had the perfect place for his former teacher’s roses. Dunstan went to Durham, dug up the plants, and transplanted them to his yard, where he tended them for a year. 

His friend returned with a present: thirty French grape plants, which were rare in this country.

To Dunstan’s disappointment, the French grapes began to die of Pierce’s Disease, a bacterial infection. The hardy native muscadines in his garden were not affected. The professor-horticulturalist tried to cross the French grapes with the muscadines to get a resistant variety. 

Dusting pollen among his plants, Dunstan, who often had a twinkle in his eye and dirt under his nails, joked that he was “pimping grapes.”

Dunstan’s first attempts at hybridizing failed because the two grape species had different numbers of chromosomes.

So he used a mutagenic chemical called colchicine to double the number of chromosomes in each species. This enabled successful crossbreeding with fertile seed. 

On a trip to a national grape conference at Cornell University, Dunstan met U.S. Department of Agriculture cytologist Dr. Haig Dermen.

They hit it off because as a linguist Dunstan knew how to pronounce his name — DARE-men instead of DER-min, as most people said, rhyming his name with vermin.

Dunstan sent his new friend the European-American mixes, and Dermen confirmed the hybridization. Dunstan published his findings in the Journal of Heredity and in its French equivalent.

French grape growers guzzled the news. Dunstan’s hybrid was also resistant to a root fungus that was crippling French vineyards.

The French grafted their wine grapes onto rootstock of Dunstan’s hybrids.

“It saved thousands of acres,” says Dunstan’s grandson, Wallace.

Back home, vineyard owners in the Southeast started using Dunstan’s hybridization techniques to make their wine and table grapes resistant to fungus.

Dunstan’s friends took to calling him “grape-nut,” probably a play on the Grape- Nuts breakfast cereal, which goes back to 1897.

But Dunstan didn’t confine his curiosity to vines.

For years, he’d been tinkering with trees, crossing pecan trees with native hickory trees to produce “he-can” trees.

At times, his matchmaking resulted in a sideshow.

“On one tree, with a hammock slung under it, he grafted thirty-seven varieties of nuts, a neighborhood’s “seventh wonder of the world,” according to his daughter.

In the 1940s, one of Dunstan’s nut-growing friends was on a pheasant-hunting trip in Ohio when he stumbled across a lone healthy chestnut tree in a grove of dead trees.

Since slipping into a New York harbor in 1904, the chestnut blight, a fungus transmitted by airborne spores, had ravaged chestnuts in the Eastern United States, erasing the sprawling hardwood trees as a source of shade, lumber and food for both people and wildlife.

Unlike most nuts, chestnuts are high in carbohydrates.

“Nutritionally, they’re like brown rice that grows on trees,” says Dunstan’s grandson, Wallace.

By 1940, the chestnut blight had killed nearly every native tree in the United States, one of the biggest botanical catastrophes in the country’s history.

The surviving tree that Dunstan’s friend found in Ohio probably contained a natural a genetic mutation that enabled it to survive.

The friend tried to infect the tree by inoculating it with blight, but the tree shrugged it off.

Then he shipped some of the magical budwood to Dunstan, who got to work. He grafted the cuttings to Chinese chestnut rootstock. He groomed those to flowering, harvested the seed, grew those seeds to maturity and then, once again playing pollinator, back-crossed those trees to the Chinese-American parents.

The result, which Dunstan created in Greensboro, was the blight-proof Dunstan Chestnut.

In 1963, Dunstan retired and moved with his wife to Florida to be near their daughter Aurelia and her husband, Alvin Wallace, who’d received the first doctorate in statistical plant genetics from N.C. State. He later became the head of agricultural research at the University of Florida at Gainesville.

When Dunstan left Greensboro, he took some of his hybrid grape vines, along with the second generation of his hybrid chestnut seedlings. He planted again in Florida.

He left behind the trees and vineyards that he’d tended near High Point Road.

Dunstan sold the land to Joe Koury, who developed Four Seasons Town Centre and the nearby Sheraton hotel.

Wallace said his father-in-law squeezed a little more money out of Koury by selling his house separately, a fact that delighted Dunstan.

A city directory from 1963 lists Dunstan’s address as 2129 Pinecroft Road. Aerial maps show the address is now covered by parking lots and buildings around Four Seasons Town Centre.

Robert Wallace said his grandfather’s home was on a hillside. He believes the site is occupied by a hotel. He doubts that any of Dunstan’s trees and vines survive.

Florida is another story.

When Wallace graduated from college, his grandfather took him aside and shared a business idea: Sell the hardy chestnut trees.

“He said, ‘This was the most important tree in the Eastern U.S. Here’s something you can sell to orchardists to create an industry and replace the American chestnut in the forests.’”

“My grandfather was very influential in my thinking at that time. I had coffee with him every morning until he died in 1987. He was a really engaging conversationalist. He had a great sense of humor,” says Wallace, who in the 1980s patented the Dunstan Chestnut, the only chestnut to receive a U.S. plant patent.

Wallace now lives in his grandfather’s old house and runs Chestnut Hill Nursery & Farms, a 300-acre fruit, nut and flowering tree business in the north central part of Florida, near Gainesville.

“Eighty to ninety percent of chestnut trees in North America right now have come from our trees. No one has ever had one to die of blight — unless you count tractor blight,” says Wallace, who inherited his grandfather’s wit.

Wallace sells most of his chestnut trees to hunters, who plant them to attract deer. There are very few commercial chestnut farms in United States, but one of them is in Rockingham County, just north of Guilford County.

Richard Teague owns High Rock Farm, which is home to 500 Dunstan Chestnut trees.

Teague planted his first Dunstan trees in 1991, a year after buying the farm, which included a home built by U.S. Senator John McCain’s fourth great-grandfather, Joseph McCain, in 1807.

The agricultural extension agent in Rockingham County recommended chestnuts trees as a way for Teague to diversify a nut crop.

Teague was shopping for trees from Wallace’s tree farm in Florida when he learned of Dunstan’s connection to the area.

“I thought the most interesting thing was that he was a professor of Romance languages,” says Teague. “That’s quite a step from horticulture.”

Dunstan kept his two passions separate. He rarely talked about plant breeding with his education colleagues. But in a 1984 letter to his friend Fred Jones, a former administrator at Greensboro College, a retired Dunstan wrote about finishing radiation treatment for cancer and getting back to his second hobby of plant breeding.

“I say second hobby because teaching languages, altho [sic] it was our bread and butter, gave me (except for quizzes and exams) a lot of pleasure,” Dunstan said.

In his final years, he focused on finding the correct answers to botanical questions.

“There is still so much to be done in that field, especially for our Southeast,” Dunstan wrote.

His legacy grows strong

Teague says the Dunstan trees have flourished on his land.

“They’re well suited for both the climate and the soil. They’ve been the most successful nut trees we’ve tried here,” he observes.

After the chestnut harvest, which is going on now, Teague sells whole chestnuts — he says the nutmeat has a mild flavor — as well as chestnut flour, a low-gluten alternative to wheat flour.

His favorite recipes include Italian desserts made with chestnuts, chestnut soups and chestnut ice cream.

Teague says chestnut ice cream is very popular in France, despite the nut’s historical association with peasants.

“There was a famous saying after the French Revolution: ‘The aristocrats are so poor, they’re eating chestnuts,’” he says.

If you want to see what a Dunstan Chestnut tree looks like, check out High Rock Farm’s annual Chestnut Roasting Festival on Sunday, November 6, from noon to 5 p.m. (www.high-rock-farm.org).

There, you can buy whole chestnuts and chestnut flour, get a tour of the historic home, and nibble on Dunstan Chestnuts that have been roasted on an open fire — just 30 miles from where Dunstan created the hardy nut on a knoll sixty years ago.

If there’s wine in heaven, Dunstan is no doubt raising a glass to Teague.

Wallace, Dunstan’s grandson, recalls a conversation that he had with his grandfather right before he died.

Dunstan, who had been in a coma, awoke, sat upright in bed and talked to Wallace about what a great future he would have with the chestnuts.

“Those were the last words he spoke,” says Wallace. “I think that he would be incredibly pleased today to see all that has come to pass, not just with the High Rock chestnut orchard, but with all of the Dunstan Chestnuts planted all over the nation, literally hundreds of thousands of trees. His vision has become reality: bringing chestnuts back to America.”  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry.

Long Live the Kings

Gale Byers’ mission to save the monarch butterfly

Photographs and Story by Lynn Donovan


From March to October, you’re likely to catch sight of Gale Byers in the fields of southeast Guilford County as she searches the roadsides, hoping to find milkweed to feed her brood of monarch caterpillars. She also rescues any eggs and caterpillars already feeding on its leaves. Byers brings the plants back home, puts the larger caterpillars in her butterfly cages built for her by her husband Bob, and carefully arranges the leaves with eggs and smaller larvae on a table in her sunroom. It’s just one of many forays to gather milkweed, given that one caterpillar consumes an entire leaf in less than five minutes. Because of weed-resistant chemicals, herbicides and development of grasslands, the once abundant supply of native milkweed is dwindling, and along with it, 90 percent of the monarch population. Milkweed is the only food caterpillars eat and without it monarchs will disappear. So Byers not only searches the fields for milkweed but also plants it and nectar flowers in her certified Monarch Waystation to assure that hundreds of her released monarchs will survive the amazing 2,000-plus mile migration to Mexico, where they will winter until their return next spring.

There are four stages in the monarch life cycle. The eggs are laid on the milkweed leaves and hatch in three to four days. The caterpillars (larvae) eat milkweed for 10 to 14 days, molting their skin five times before transforming into pupae, then chrysalises. The chrysalis stage also lasts ten to fourteen days as the larva inside goes through metamorphosis emerging as an adult butterfly. 

It takes four generations of butterflies to complete a life cycle. From February through March, the first generation comes out of hibernation and migrates from Mexico to the East coast of the United States to mate and begin laying eggs. In March and April, caterpillars become butterflies of the second generation; they feed for two to six weeks, lay eggs and then die. These eggs become the third generation from May to June and complete the life cycle, living just fifteen to fifty days before dying. The fourth and final generation emerges in September and October, filling the autumn air with wings, before migrating to Mexico to hibernate until the cycle begins again in February.  OH

monarchs1 monarchs2

Lynn Donovan is a contributing photographer to O.Henry

The Garden Guys


A few revealing — and hilarious — moments with 

the South’s most beloved garden designers

By Jim Dodson     Photograph by Amy Freeman

Greensboro residents Chip Callaway and Randy McManus aren’t just two of America’s most beloved garden designers but close friends for more than two decades, not to mention pals of O.Henry magazine.

Having designed more than 1,000 gardens ranging from classical estates to backyard patios, landscape architect Chip Callaway — based in a pair of Fisher Park, Mission Style bungalows — has been called “The Garden Artist” by Garden & Gun Magazine.

Greensboro native Randy McManus’ innovative floral designs have made him one of the South’s leading special event designers with encomiums from the likes of Southern Accents, This Old House and many other  leading home and garden publications.

On a recent balmy Indian summer evening, we invited Greensboro’s Garden Guys for a little wine and garden talk in Chip’s garden. A lot of laughter ensued — and no small amount of  green wisdom was shared.

OH: So, how exctly did you guys meet?

CC: How else? In somebody’s garden. Mary Hart Orr had a fantastic garden here in town, and I was helping her with some of my ideas. Randy showed up with some flower arrangements for a party she was giving and we just hit it off, a great friendship right off the bat. Not long afterwards I invited him up to my house in the mountains, and soon he had to have his own mountain house — with a sodded roof, no less, absolutely amazing. We’ve been good friends ever since.

OH: Speaking of mountain houses, Randy, how is your amazing  house [near Floyd, Virginia] with its gorgeous roof garden?

RM:  As a matter of fact, I sold it to another friend not long ago. I found that when I was up there I was always working on the gardens and playing maintenance-man, never quite relaxing. When Chip was there, on the other hand, he was always relaxing.

CC:  Now he comes to my house. Randy’s the best houseguest you could ever have. He’ll come to visit and wind up working on your yard for free.

RM: Actually, Chip hates to invite me over to his house, because he says I drink up all his mixers.

CC: It’s true. He does. I have all the liquor you can imagine, but when Randy leaves, there’s not a lick of club soda or mixers in the house.

RM: Plain tap water isn’t good enough for Chip. He says fish do a lot of things in water you just don’t want to know about.

CC: Oh, indeed they do. It’s horrible. I strictly advise using tap water only on your garden.

OH: They say you never forget your first love. What about first gardens?

CC:  I sure remember mine. I was 8 years old and ordered a dozen roses for a dollar from the Sunday rotogravure magazine. This was up in Mount Airy.
My daddy had hunting dogs in a run that was full of  waste. I planted those roses in that area and you can’t believe how they grew. I sold the blooms for a nickel apiece to my mama’s friends and got amazingly rich. One day I came home to find that some lunatic had cut them all down for a wedding party and I nearly had a breakdown and had to be carried off. There went my Popsicle money!

RM:  My story’s not quite as dramatic. I made a little area at the back of my family’s farm south of Greensboro. I relocated some maples and cedars, and mowed the grass, creating a little park. I was about 9. Mowing grass was how I started my business by the 12th grade. Both sets of my grandparents were people who grew their own food, very self-sustained. They put up vegetables for the winter. I always liked that. I started rooting everything in sight and built my own green houses and started selling plants to people. That’s how I got started.

CC: [Laughing] On the contrary, your story is so totally inspiring. Sex and the single plant!

OH: So what is it about gardening that grabs us so deeply — whether young or old?

RM: Gardening is great therapy — whether you’re making a garden or just enjoying one someone else built. [Gardens] take you somewhere calmer and settle the mind. If working with plants pleases you, you’re probably a gardener.

CC: Randy’s right. Most of my clients are high-energy folks with demanding jobs who, when they get home in the evening, just want to chill in the garden, like disappearing into Eden, away from their working lives. That’s an ancient instinct in everyone. A garden brings it alive.

OH: I read somewhere that all gardeners are show-offs at heart — and very generous. True?

CC: Absolutely true. Gardeners are some of the most generous people on Earth. They love sharing their knowledge and plants. I think it’s a genetic thing, something in our DNA. We hail from an earlier time when we had to share wisdom about growing plants and food or else the tribe would fail.

RM:  If you grow it and give it away, it’s almost like knitting someone a sweater, an act of simple kindness. Kindness and humor are strong personal traits of gardeners. For a lot of us, gathering and sharing seeds from our plants is even more fun. Gardeners love to share their favorite plants with you.

CC: Especially if they’re invasive!

RM: I love invasive plants. You can always contain an invasive plant. I can’t stand plants you have to pray over — like roses of any kind.

CC: Amen! I told a client who asked me what she should do with all her roses, as I was finishing up her garden: Dig them up and put them on the curb for the trash man on Thursday. Wouldn’t you know, I drove by her house the next week, and she had this man digging up those sorry tea roses and planting them along the border of her driveway. Some people just don’t listen.

RM: The clay and humidity here make roses such a challenge. All the spraying, mold, bugs. We shouldn’t even grow roses in North Carolina. So much work for so little reward.

OH: Wow. So you guys don’t like roses, eh? Where should one grow them?

CC: In someone else’s garden! Preferably in a galaxy far, far away or at least some place where there are sandy soils and not so much heat and humidity. Maine? Michigan? England? Take your pick.

OH: So what garden plants in the Piedmont are you keen on? What’s hot for late summer or even early fall?

CC: I don’t really like clematis that much but I have a hardy clematis called Starlight that I just let go around Fourth of July and it goes wild with gorgeous blooms. I’m also keen on Confederate Jasmine, which people now politely call Madison Jasmine. Incredible smell and beautiful green foliage.  I’m also a believer in using companion vines like moon vine and morning glories, too.

RM: I love moon vine. When I was restoring the Ayers estate in Sedgefield [the project that launched Randy’s career] I needed something to cover up a chain link fence around a swimming pool. I soaked the seed of moon vines and planted a seed every foot. In almost no time, those vines completely covered that fence, putting out a wall of green and putting out the loveliest perfume when they opened at dusk. They had a wedding there in the fall that year. People loved it.

CC: Moon vines attract an amazing moth too — these huge, gorgeous hummingbird moths that look like Walt Disney created them. They put on a show.

OH: How about favorite trees for this area? Fall being a great time to real plant them . . .

RM: Magnolias. I know some people realy despise them. But I love magnolias. Their waxy green leaves and creamy blooms make such a beautiful background to a garden. Also, they stay green through winter which gives you color in a garden through the year.

CC: I like magnolias, too — as long as they’re in my neighbor’s yard. I’m terribly high on Autumnalis cherries. They bloom twice a year — spring and sometimes into mild winter in these parts — and are more heat-tolerant and hardy and long-lived than other varieties of cherry trees. Wonderful trees.

OH: What about bluebells? I have a friend in Fisher Prk who gave me a bunch of English bluebells. Where should I plant them?

RM: They like to have damp feet and some sun and shade. Like a union worker, you have to give ‘em a break in the middle of the day.

OH: Speaking of trees, Randy, how are your banana trees doing?

RM:  [Laughing] Just great.  I love my banana trees. I  once took a chain saw and cut them off and they came back bigger and better than ever the next summer. I even stopped mulching them. They’re so excotic and growing in popularity around here. They make my house [a restored Mid-Century bungalow in Browntown] look like the home of an elderly Miami Jewish lady.

CC:  I dislike their big leaves. They hide the entire garden. Besides, I’m a great believer in growing what is natural to your zone. I’m big into historic garden plants, too.

RM: That’s what I like about banana trees. Mine give me great privacy.

CC: Maybe you just need to have great privacy. Banana trees wouldn’t work in my home garden because I change things constantly. I had some elephant ears that were very pretty this year, but they won’t be back next summer. On the other hand, some things just get better with time I love summer phlox. They’re beautiful and smell delightful. Also, obedient plant, which is really not obedient at all and will run like crazy everywhere if you don’t keep an eye on it like an unruly child.

RM: You have great moss in your garden, too. My garden went from being a sun garden with grass to a shade garden with moss. If you keep the leaves off it and slightly watered, moss  will do beautifully over the winter and come back like crazy when the winter sun hits it.

OH: So how about some basic tips for local gardeners as we transition from fall into winter?

RM: To be a gardener you really have to be prepared for change. A garden doesn’t stand still. It grows and changes with time. Planning ahead for a garden that will change, for instance,  from sun to shade is very important. So is irrigation. Knowing when and how to water is something even many experienced gardeners fail to understand. Some automatic sprinkling systems just waste water and never do the job properly. Everyone should read their irrigation manual and watch how it waters their gardens.

CC: I totally agree. That brings us back where we started — talking about water. If you water your plants long and deep at least once a week, especially as autumn shifts to winter, they will put down deeper, better roots. That results in much healthier plants.

OH: So what do you guys do over winter?

CC: Besides going some place insanely warm and sunny? 

RM: I love gathering seeds from my plants. That’s going on now. I’ll gather seeds all fall and winter. I’d rather have seeds from a seed swap than from a catalogue, because you know exactly where they came from and can talk to the people who grew the parent plants. I just wish there were more seed swaps like there used to be.

CC: Randy is brilliant at gathering and rooting seeds. My seeds tend to come up in the parking lot of my business, unfortunately. But this is the time to divide and conquer your perennials and mulch your garden and start thinking about what you want to do next year. I’m already doing that for my customers now.

OH: So 2017 will be the year of moss yards and banna trees?

RM: Moss is very primal. And you don’t have to mow it!

OH: Is it true you can you can make moss by blending pieces of it with buttermilk in a blender and spreading it on a surface.

CC: Yes you can. But you have to throw away the blender. There are better uses for a good blender, I must say.

OH: Have you guys ever thought of doing your own radio call-in show? You could be the plant world’s answer to Click and Clack.

RM: [With a coy smile] What a frightening thought.

CC: Don’t kid yourself. He’d love it.  OH

The Wright Stuff

Clinton E. Gravely’s odyssey in Modern architecture

By Ross Howell Jr.     Photographs by Bert VanderVeen


Architect Clinton E. Gravely is a lithe, erect man — even taller in the cowboy boots he’s wearing. He’s standing with his wife Etta, waiting to greet me at the entrance to their home.

Parked at the rear of the house is a tan Corvette. I walk along a curving stone pathway. The house before me is low-slung, built of stone and wood and glass. At the entry is a fountain, its feature an abstract metal sculpture of a horse. The water sparkles in the sunlight, and the sound is calming.

“Did you notice the chain downspouts?” Gravely asks. “The Japanese use them.” I’d missed that detail, but notice it now.gravely3

The Gravelys’ 7,000-square-foot house is situated well back from the road, near the center of an 11-acre parcel of land. Just beyond the house I see stables.

“Oh, I’ve been around horses ever since I was a kid,” Gravely says. “We don’t keep them anymore. But they used to have free range of the place. Except I told my three girls they couldn’t ride them up on the patios. Of course the girls are grown and on their own. We use the stables for picnics or family gatherings now.”

We shake hands and Gravely opens one of two massive oak doors, the prominent feature of the entrance. The doors are made of varying shades of wood, cut and carved in geometric shapes.

“Made by hand,” Gravely says, closing the door behind us. Inside the house the textures are stone and wood — cedar, pine, and redwood. Natural light floods the foyer.

“I’ll leave you two to talk,” Etta says. She makes her way down the hallway.

There are potted plants beside the door. Before us is a glass-walled atrium and beyond, a living area and dining area.

I comment on the chandelier in the foyer.

“Yes, that’s my design,” Gravely says. “I drew up that fixture and the ones in the living and dining areas.”


Gravely tells me he worked with his associates for a year to complete the drawings for the house. Construction began in 1974 and wasn’t completed until 1977. He coordinated the work of subcontractors and did much of the work himself.

“I grew up in the construction business,” Gravely says. “My father, William Jr., and my grandfather, William Sr., were contractors in Reidsville. They built modest family homes, gas stations. When I was in fifth grade, my father would drive me out to their job sites after school, and I’d help with clean-up or odd jobs.

“Sometimes customers would ask Dad for house designs,” he continues, “so when I was in high school, I’d do simple drawings for him to present. Then one summer he put me in charge of a building crew. These were guys I’d grown up with. We had to keep everything on schedule, get a structure framed up and roughed in, stay ahead of the subcontractors, who came in to do the finish work.”

Gravely and his crew roughed in seven houses that summer, an accomplishment that still fills him with pride. “When I graduated high school in 1955, I decided to go to Howard University to study architecture,” Gravely says. “I was just going to stay a year or two, learn a few things, so I could help my father with his business. But one day when I was back home, I saw my high school principal, and he said I ought to go ahead and get a degree.”

It was then that the budding architect realized one of the benefits of studying at Howard. “They had working architects come in and review students’ work, so it wasn’t just professors looking at what you’d done — I noticed that these architects who came, they were driving fancy sports cars, and they dressed sharp, and I thought this architect thing could be pretty interesting,” Gravely remembers.

“I saw the Corvette outside,” I say.

“Yes, they tease me over at North Carolina A&T. Sometimes I’ll sit in on a class, review student work, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s Gravely. He’s the one who always shows up driving the Corvette and wearing cowboy boots.’”

He shakes his head.

“Anyway, one of those visiting architects at Howard reviewed a project of mine and said he thought I had a future in the business. So I got more serious about my studies.

“Of course, I’d never seen any Modern design — what we called ‘contemporary design’ back then — working with my father and grandfather in Reidsville,” Gravely says, smiling to himself. “Then I took a class that included the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. His use of stone, wood, and glass to let the outside inside. His use of water. I don’t know — it just spoke to me. I thought, that is the way people should live. I knew then I wanted to do Modern design.”

When he graduated from Howard in 1959, Gravely, because he’d been in ROTC, was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, with the Army Corps of Engineers. “My job was to coordinate small construction jobs on the post. There were about thirty people on staff, some of them surveyors, some of them trained architects. It was good experience,” he says.

“But I wanted to come back to North Carolina. I got job offers in D.C., but none here, where I’d be able to work some with my Dad. I’d answer an ad in the paper, get invited in for an interview, and then there would be a problem. I remember one place in particular.”

Gravely pauses and picks up the thread.

“I showed up for my interview, and the secretary looked surprised when she saw I’m African American. She kept me waiting for hours. Then she went back to somebody’s office and came out and said the owner’s nephew had decided to take the job.”

I gaze out one of the big windows on the back of the house. It overlooks an expansive stone patio with another fountain — this one featuring a dancer sculpted in metal. Beyond are grass and trees, the canopy dappling the light on the stone.

“Then I talked to Ed Loewenstein,” Gravely says. A native of Chicago and graduate of MIT, Loewenstein moved to Greensboro in 1946. His wife’s stepfather, Julius Cone, provided business and personal contacts to assist Loewenstein in building his architectural firm, Loewenstein-Atkinson. He was the first white architect in North Carolina to employ black architects.

“Ed and I really hit it off because he was a big admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, too. And he was open to recruiting minorities to his firm. He had two black architects working with him then, and he told me one of them, William Gupple, had agreed to take a position with a firm in New York. So Ed said to come back in three months.

Returning to Greensboro in 1961, Gravely joined Lowenstein’s firm as “an ‘architect in training,’” he recalls. “I still had to pass the boards in order to be licensed. I worked with a black guy named Edward Jenkins. Ed and I worked in an office away from the other people, and we had a separate restroom. You know, restaurants, hotels . . . everything was segregated back then. Usually things went fairly well. Sometimes a contractor would object if he saw it was Ed or me making an inspection. But Ed Loewenstein would always back us up.

“The American Institute of Architects (AIA) was supportive of African Americans, but there was a white group called Greensboro Registered Architects and they did not want black members,” Gravely says. “Eventually they admitted me, but a few years later, the group disbanded.”

He passed his license exam and went to an AIA meeting in Wilmington to be inducted —  the only minority to do so at the time. “No one came up to talk to me, except for one man. He asked me, ‘Why do you want to be an architect? Only black people will be your clients, and they don’t have any money.’ It’s funny, we talked and talked that night, and he and I became friends. As it turned out, we both moved here to Greensboro to practice. We’ve been friends a long time.”

Gravely and I walk into the dining room. There’s a magnificent table he tells me is fashioned from African wood, and around it, eight chairs that any collector of Modern design would covet. Like the others, the room is full of light.

“When I started working for Ed Loewenstein, I figured I better come up with some kind of specialty that would help me bring in business for the firm,” Gravely says. “So I signed up for a course at A&T about designing and building fallout shelters. As it turned out, the guy teaching the course was working on a book, and Ed gave me a 6-month leave of absence to help him finish writing it. So afterwards, if we had a shopping center project, Ed would say, ‘Well, Gravely here knows how to build a fallout shelter for your center.’

“Then one day I was working with a client on a shelter, and the client says, ‘Why don’t you just help me with the shopping center, too?’ And I explained I was under contract with Ed; I couldn’t do something like that. But Ed said to go on and help him. I’d talked with him about launching out on my own someday, and Ed was all right with that. Here, let’s go in the living room.”

We walk from the dining room to a room with a massive stone fireplace reaching to the ceiling. There’s a large, semi-circular sofa that mimics the curve of the fountain outside.

“Have a seat,” Gravely says. As I sit, I kid him about the vintage television console in front of us.

“Doesn’t even work anymore,” he says. “We just haven’t hauled it off.”

“You should keep it,” I say. “A period piece.” He grins.

“When I set out on my own, I had some key people who signed on to join me,” Gravely says. “But it didn’t take long for me to realize there wouldn’t be enough work in Greensboro to support the business.” So on weekends, I’d drive over to Durham, or Raleigh or Charlotte, and look around the right neighborhoods. If I saw a sign where people were going to put up a church, or some other building, I’d write down the information and phone them the next week.”

He started getting callbacks and in time, Clinton E. Gravely and Associates grew to twenty-six people. “We were registered to do business in eight states and the District of Columbia. Now my partners and I aren’t so young, you know, so we’re down to nine people. We just take the jobs we really want,” Gravely says.

“But since we opened the doors for business in 1967,” he notes, “We’ve completed close to 900 projects. That includes a hundred churches, several multifamily housing units, some child care facilities, and the university library at A&T. That’s a pretty good run.”

Given circumstances, what could anyone do but agree with him? And admire.  OH

Ross Howell Jr.’s novel Forsaken, published in February by NewSouth Books, was recently nominated for the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for fiction.

Southern Revival

Story of a House

New life for the oldest house in Irving Park

By Cynthia Adams    photographs by Bert VanderVeenhouse4

Katie Bode, (pronounced BODE-ee), a blue-eyed blonde in an aqua sundress, is the laid-back mistress of one of Irving Park’s most historic homes and mother to a brood of four children. Born and raised in the South, she is also a self-described porch person, one who much prefers the living be easy — or as easy as it can be with teenagers at home.

Bode is a Southerner right down to her flip-flops. She likes iced tea, social pleasantries and going with the flow. (You won’t catch her angrily honking her horn at a driver.) She doesn’t care for ceremony or care much for pretentiousness. And while she’ll gladly give a running account of her massive dwelling, what she wants is to inspire others to care about history. As she expresses it, you don’t have to be stuffy in order to live with history.


She throws the doors wide to her celebrated house on Wentworth Drive, most recently for hundreds of visitors, when it was featured on Preservation Greensboro’s Irving Park home tour in the spring (Bode serves with the organization). Despite its status as a protected landmark, Bode knows how to make a slew of visitors feel at ease and right at home. 

A few weeks afterward, Bode walks through the wide center hall of her stately residence and points out all the many conversational spots she has intentionally created. Downstairs, there are sitting areas, a formal living room, den, study, breakfast nooks, powder room, a laundry room, a guest room with en suite bath, wet room — and more. She was determined to make it both relevant and livable — not a velvet ropes environment at all.

“I’m pretty happy here. I cannot imagine myself leaving,” Bode says. Her kids can walk to the Greensboro Country Club for a swim, as it is only blocks away. And then, for another kind of recreation, there is porch-sitting. She smiles, saying the porch is her favorite feature by far. 

“We use the porch so much more. If eating dinner we may eat inside, but the porch is the best place for drinks or coffee. It’s so peaceful; it slows you down.  My girlfriends come over and have wine there,” she explains. “We set up tables and chairs out there and my mom set up games there to play with the children. And the teens will go out there and find a place of their own.”

While the exact age of the house is up for debate, estimates suggest it was built as early as the late 1800s or as late as 1910.

In any case, either date would make Bodes’ residence the oldest home surviving in the Irving Park neighborhood. The house measures an impressive 7,043 square feet. It features ornate fireplaces with special woodworking and detail that preservation officials pointed out when the property was nominated as a historic landmark property in recent years. Yet in essence, the footprint is remarkably unchanged apart from tweaks to the rear and the new garage and guest apartment outside. Of all the things the homeowners value most, they appreciate that this house, known as the McAdoo-Sanders-Tatum house by historians, is comfy. 


According to the landmark nomination submitted in 2015, the house is associated with some of Greensboro’s business notables, such as real estate developer William D. McAdoo, likely the builder of the house. His father, hotelier Col. Walter McAdoo, was also a developer, but moved away from Greensboro when his hotel on South Elm Street burned.

The son, William, is on record as having acquired the land — confusion enters because both father and son had the same initials. 

The son built an unusual three-bay, with Craftsman and Prairie style details that are not commonly seen in Irving Park. (Another similar home is the Alfred M. Scales house nearby on Allendale Road, built in 1917. The Bodes’ residence is clearly older.)

The intriguing mystery as to this lady’s exact age remains to be solved. Some students of history propose that McAdoo built the house in the 1890s, perhaps as a more modest farmhouse, built as a rural retreat, which sat on lands later developed circa 1910 as the “Greensboro Country Club Development.” It also appears that the house was extensively remodeled in 1912. 

Technically, it is the McAdoo-Sanders-Tatum-Rucker-Hatfield-Mann-Bode house, (if one is to count each and every homeowner/occupant.)  But that is a mouthful, even for lovers of history.

The McAdoo-Sanders-Tatum house was a big draw on Preservation Greensboro’s tour, part of a historic homes and gardens fundraiser. “I have been dying to see this house,” confided a middle-aged woman, who stood quite still in the dining room. She oohed and aahed over the room’s green-tiled and coal-burning fireplace, the fine high wainscoting, the original paneling, the original leaded glass and beamed ceiling as she toured through on a sunny May morning.   

She also admired the hand-painted nature scene (done by a Greensboro artist during the Bodes’ recent renovations) at the top of the original wainscoting. The dining room’s chandelier, not original to the house but an addition acquired from the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, made a special impact. The chandelier is a smaller version of the larger one in the hotel’s lobby, sold when the hotel was being refreshed. Some visitors doubled-back just to see it again before exiting.  It enhances the dining room, one that is without a doubt a stunner, and which is arguably the most architecturally intact room in the house. 

According to Preservation Greensboro’s staffer Judi Kastner, the spring fundraising tour meant an estimated 625–650 ticket buyers toured Bodes’ home. 

“There were about 750 tickets ‘out’ (includes sold, sponsors, Patrons, comps, etc.) and we estimate about 625–650 attended the weekend. We made approximately $25,000 this year, which is the best year since we started in 2011,” Kastner related in an email. 

Visitors viewed the downstairs of the Bode house over a single weekend. Katie Bode, her mother and her teenage daughter, Ella, were on hand, answering questions and greeting guests.

The sheer size of the Bode house meant ample room for bedrooms (five) and baths (five), unusual in a house of such age, but likely attributable to two major interior remodelings. The most significant remodeling occurred before 2013 under the previous owners, the Mann family. The Manns made changes throughout the house, creating modern bathrooms and adding a house around the corner from the main house. Brian and Katie Bode acquired it only two years ago.

And then, there is the aforementioned, much-loved, wraparound porch, which is intact. Architecturally, it features a hipped roof and Tuscan columns that sit upon Craftsmen-style granite piers. The piers are made of Mount Airy granite, which feature grapevine mortar joints. The mortar joints are popular in Greensboro, and a sought-after detail, which local stonemason Andrew Leopold Schlosser used as a signature. 

Truth be told, despite its many points of architectural interest, including an original widow’s walk that can be accessed via the attic, it is the porch that Katie Bode so loves that is rapidly gaining its own dedicated group of fans.
(A woman appeared during the fundraising tour where I was a docent, asking if she could bring her architect just to see the Bodes’ porch. She wanted to build something exactly like it.) The porch not only wraps the front of the house in a friendly, sheltering embrace, it also expands the house’s livability. It has a classic bead board ceiling and generous eaves, with enough features to occupy another paragraph alone.

But for a young family, the actual square footage of the expansive porch means there are several sitting areas for entertaining. Most often, Bode claims dibs on the front porch for afternoon drinks or time with friends or neighbors. “I’m there most afternoons in the summer,” she says, smiling happily. Here she has rediscovered the oldest of Southern traditions — whiling away a little time on the porch, chatting to her neighbors and children. From her perch on the porch, Bode has time to sit and just be with her thoughts — something a mother with little quiet time of her own, treasures. And as she sits, Bode allows the place, situated among oaks and maples, punctuated with walls, gates and fountains, to speak to her.

The property has a lot of history to speak about to anyone with an ear inclined towards Greensboro’s past. It appeared in the 1924 publication, Art Work of the Piedmont Section of North Carolina

That picture reveals the house as it was when Calvin Coolidge was in the White House. The grounds were different, as the trees were smaller and the boxwood hedge was as well.  But the architecture of the house is much the same today.

The Wentworth property was included on the National Register in 1994 as a contributing structure within the Irving Park National Register Historic District. When the Bodes made additional refinements in 2014, the restoration was found worthy of a Preservation Award by Preservation Greensboro.

The young owner, still in her 40s, says with a shy smile that she has become protective of the house, which has fuelled her interest in historic preservation, not something most young mothers pursue, Bode readily admits. She counts herself lucky to live in a home that is renowned for its historic past but recognized it needed a nudge into the present. Bode’s first job, she explains, was to adapt the house to work for an active family.

When the Bodes first viewed the house in 2012, it was up for sale after the Manns remodeled it. Brian Bode was immediately drawn to it. As Katie confesses, she was a slower convert. “I warmed up to it. But, it felt dated . . . stuffy.  There was heavy wallpaper, heavy drapes, and mural paintings.”

She admits her heart sank just a little. “Brian liked it more than I did,” she says. It took a year for the idea to click for them both and the circumstances to work.

Earth tones, mustard color and a palette that felt passé would have to be righted. “The house fit, the size was great,” she adds.  “And what could we do?”

The family had already been through a couple of renovations to other homes, most recently a house on Carlisle. The seller wanted to sell the Wentworth house all of a piece, which was then a larger tract including the additional house that had been created as a mother-in-law residence. The deal required skillful negotiations, but the Bode family finalized the deal in 2013.

“I was somewhat reluctant to do another remodel,” Bode confesses. “The whole exterior of the house here had to be painted. But it was a solid house. I mainly wanted to change the aesthetics.”

Both husband and wife originally met while working in Atlanta for KPMG, the accounting firm. Both were part of a CPA review class. A subsequent job transfer took them to  Hartford, Connecticut, where they began their family and remodeled another home.   

“We owned a 1936 Dutch colonial in Connecticut,” Katie Bode says.  “We so fell in love with the charm of that house. Our dream was to have an older house that had been redone.” Their family had grown by the time they were exploring a job offer in Greensboro. They loved Irving Park, where they had family members.    

“Irving Park is a hard place,” Bode says. They initially rented a house before remodeling the house on Carlisle, yet soon found it was inadequate as their family expanded. “It’s challenging to find something with the space.”

Wentworth, with thousands of square footage, offered that. An engineer inspected the house and confirmed there were a few, though not really serious structural concerns that would have to be addressed. “It is never an easy thing,” Bode concedes.    

The Bodes determined to redo the front rooms of the house after learning that the Wentworth house qualified for state and historical tax credits. 

Benjamin Briggs (from Preservation Greensboro) guided the couple through the process, says Katie. “He was very instrumental in helping advise us on the landmark designation. He was very helpful, and I kept growing in my admiration for the historic preservation group. I wanted to give back.” The Bodes altered the already remodeled kitchen, opening it up further by removing a wall and two wood stoves that were not original.

  “We wanted the oddities in the kitchen resolved.”

The reconfiguration created an eating area off the kitchen. They redid the downstairs powder room, adding delicate wallpaper and employing lighter touches. “Becky Clodfelter did the painting in the dining room, as well as the unicorn/sky in [daughter] Ansley’s bedroom,” says Katie Bode.

All of these choices involved bringing a sense of lightness into the formerly weighty interiors.

They also created an 800-square-foot garage apartment for use by visiting family and friends. Much of the remaining work to the main house was cosmetic.

Bode says North Carolina’s generous tax credits for historic homes enabled them to afford the improvements: “All said and done, we probably spent $120,000 on the updates, and you get 33 percent back in tax credits, which allowed us to do it correctly.” 

This huge financial boon explains how Katie Bode became more involved in Preservation Greensboro, and ultimately, offered her house for the fundraising tour this spring. It was her desire, as she stated, to “give back.” 

“The only room we did from scratch was the front room; that was really fun to do. I try to protect the living room,” she says. “I tell the children there are plenty of other places to go hang out.” 

The Bode brood includes son Trevor, who is 15 years old and a high school sophomore at Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School. Ella, named for her grandmother, is 14 and a rising freshman at Weaver School. The younger Bode children include a son Haydon, who is 11, and Ansley, who is 7. “And, our beloved dog Bandit,” Katie adds. The neighborhood welcomed new life to Wentworth Drive. Once again, it was the house’s iconic porch that played a crucial role in the family’s making friends with neighbors.

“After we moved in, many of our neighbors came over, introduced themselves and said how excited they were to see a big, young family move in the house. It had been quiet for too long, they said, and they looked forward to it being filled with activity and laughter,” recalls the mother of four lively children.   

“A lot of our surrounding neighbors are retired, so that brought a smile to my face that they were so welcoming and were actually looking forward to the craziness our family brought to the street. To this day they still tell me how much they enjoy hearing and seeing the children running around.  We are blessed to have such great neighbors!”  OH

Cynthia Adams, a contributing editor to O. Henry Magazine, overheard many of the appreciative comments while the house was open for tour. She also cannot wait to return for a good, old-fashioned, porch sit with a cool drink.

Recurring Dream

Recurring Dream

I stumble from a ladder,

mis-stepping through a rung —

preoccupied, peering up

to some lofty destination,

a change of venue for star-gazing.

During the thrill of ascension,

I loosen my grip, testing

if some trinity might rescue me.

And I fall, dream after dream,

each time I reach the REM —

stratum by stratum, through ice crystals.

Snagged in the belly of combed clouds

I release all I am into wind

free-falling as a piano tinkles

a light-hearted etude.

— Sam Barbee