True South

Closet Conundrums

When it’s time for the big switch

By Susan S. Kelly

Now approacheth the dreaded biannual chore, at least for the females of the species: The Closet Changeover.

The way I understand it, and if the pictures in People magazine can be believed, people in LA never have to do this. Los Angeles is seasonless. Celebrities: They’re not just like us, actually, as People would have you believe.

And for Wisconsinites, Vermonters, Floridians and even some Texans, whatever seasonal change they have is so short that barely a hanger or a shelf needs disturbing. Ten-month winters, two-month summers, and vice-versa. But for those of us who live with real seasons, it’s time to get to it.

Now, normal people, sane people, probably schedule this task; take a Saturday and tackle it all at once, chop-chop. Then there are the folks who wake up one chilly morning and say, “Where is that sweater?” And tackle it all at once. And then there’s me — and I suspect a lot of others — who begin with good intentions and get sidetracked not by the internet, but by decisions, so that the task takes six weeks, on and off. You can’t tell, but I do have a system.

Throw everything on the floor and bed. (Hope it’s a king-size.) First, separate into categories of Too Tight, Too Short, Too Bare, and Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should. Likely, there will be a tall pile of Not Sures. And, like that old saw that warns if you have to ask the price of something, you can’t afford it, it follows that if you have to take a selfie wearing the garment in question and send it to your sisters and ask if you should keep it, the answer is probably no.

(Speaking of not affording, now’s a good time to get out the Goof Off and scrub away the tell-tale Marshalls and TJ Maxx stickers on your shoes.)

During this process, you’ll experience acute apparel anxiety. One of my sisters has said, “I’m living in separates hell.” (Remember that term, “separates”?) To escape, she’s decided to convert nearly her entire “’drobe,” as she calls her wardrobe, to dresses, and tech clothes. The other sister is such a shopper that she began putting clothes on layaway when she was in seventh grade. (Remember that term, “layaway”?) I ask you, what kind of 12-year-old knows what layaway is? A born consummate clotheshorse, that’s who, and that sister hangs tags on her clothes to remind herself what event she last wore it to — a dinner, a cookout, a meeting. I kid you not. She’s the sister who coined two of my favorite ’drobe terms: The Punishment Dress (or shirt, or whatever) that you’re sorry you bought but you have to wear to punish yourself for buying it. And The Whistle Dress, for the dress that’s so easy, and is ideal for so many situations, that you just whistle and it jumps out of the closet. Often, it must be admitted, Whistle Dresses don’t touch your body anywhere but the shoulders.

“Is this out?” I text the clotheshorse sibling, attaching a picture. “Houndstooth is never out. Neither is leopard print,” she messages back. OK, that’s settled. Onward.

Here are the clothes you’ve simply turned against, have developed an inexplicable and unreasonable hatred toward. Pitch. Here are the ones to downgrade, meaning that you “saved” it for in-law dinners, a charity speaking event, etc., but this year, it gets demoted to church. In-laws judge in-style. God does not.

I know it looks great on you, but if it itched last year, it’s going to itch this year. Pitch.

It’s also OK to toss something just because you’re tired of it. But, a warning: When photographs of you wearing it come up later in some post, or in the photo drawer that’s never been properly organized, you might find yourself saying, “Dang, that looked good. Why did I get rid of it?” Too late for regrets.

Now, here comes the poundage pile, the five-fewer-pounds-and-this-will-fit-fine-again layer, I mean pile. The clothes that my mother calls “tailored,” I call “tight,” and my daughter calls “body con” (for “conscious”). Here’s how you’re gonna deal with that. If you’ll still need Spanx with it even after the five pounds magically evaporate, pitch.

A moment, now, of self-congratulation for all the stuff I don’t have to pitch, the trends I managed to live through and do without: poufs; shrugs; tracksuits; Crocs; boiled wool jackets. The trend I wish I’d bowed to: jean jackets. The trend I fell victim to, but only once: Ultrasuede. What I will never, ever give up: clogs and cardigans. What I am, thank you Jesus, too old for: bralettes.

My final advice, born of experience, is to always buy something at the end of a season, when it’s on sale, and then, facing that shelf or rack of been-there-worn-that duds the next closet changeover (April), you’ll spot something fresh, unworn, and new-to-you, which makes the chore the faintest bit more bearable.

In Los Angeles, everybody from bums to billionaires just wears T-shirts. In New York City, everybody but Hoda and Kathie Lee just wears black. But you’re Southern. What’s in your closet?  OH

Susan Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and proud grandmother.

The Omnivorous Reader

Linking Different Worlds

Orr and Sparks connect North Carolina and Africa

By D.G. Martin

Two important new novels are set in North Carolina and in Africa. It is an amazing coincidence because the books’ authors live in two different literary worlds.

The first new, Africa-connected book is N.C. State professor Elaine Neil Orr’s Swimming Between Worlds. She is a highly praised author of literary fiction.

The second is New Bern — based Nicholas Sparks’ latest, Every Breath, which is being released this month. Sparks’ 20 novels have been regulars on The New York Times best-seller lists, often at No. 1, making him one of the world’s most successful writers of what some call commercial fiction.

What is the difference between literary and commercial fiction? According to Writer’s Digest, “There aren’t any hard and fast definitions for one or the other, but there are some basic differences, and those differences affect how the book is read, packaged, and marketed. Literary fiction is usually more concerned with style and characterization than commercial fiction. Literary fiction is also usually paced more slowly than commercial fiction. Literary fiction usually centers around a timeless, complex theme, and rarely has a pat (or happy) ending. Commercial fiction, on the other hand, is faster paced, with a stronger plot line (more events, higher stakes, more dangerous situations).”

Although both Orr and Sparks would argue that their work cannot be neatly packaged in either genre, the literary/commercial distinction helps prepare readers for the authors’ different styles.

In these two books, both authors tell compelling stories and feature interesting and complex characters.

Orr’s Swimming Between Worlds raises the question of whether there is a connection between the 1950s Nigerian movement for independence and the civil rights movement in Winston-Salem.

Orr grew up as the child of American missionaries in Nigeria. Her experiences gave a beautiful and true spirit to her first novel, A Different Sun, about pre-Civil War Southern missionaries going to black Africa to save souls.

Instead of slaveholding Southerners preaching to Nigerian blacks, the new book contrasts the cultural segregation of 1950s Winston-Salem with the situation in Nigeria. Although Nigerians at that time were coming to a successful end of their struggle for independence from Great Britain, they were still mired in the vestiges of colonial oppression.

Set in these circumstances is a coming-of-age story and a love story. These themes are complicated, and enriched, by the overlay of Nigerian struggles and the civil rights protests in Winston-Salem.

The main male character, Tacker Hart, had been a star high school football player who earned an architectural degree at N.C. State. He was selected for a plum assignment to work in Nigeria on prototype designs for new schools.

Working in Nigeria, this typical Southern white male becomes so captivated by Nigerian culture, religion and ambience that his white supervisors fire him for being “too native” and send him home. Back in Winston-Salem the discouraged and depressed Tacker takes a job in his father’s grocery.

The female lead character, Kate Monroe, is the daughter of a Salem College history professor. Her parents are dead, and after graduating from Agnes Scott College, she leaves Atlanta and her longtime boyfriend, James, to return to Winston-Salem and live in the family home where she grew up. She still, however, has feelings for James, an ambitious young doctor.

How Tacker wins Kate from James is the love story that forms the core of this book. But there are complications created by a young African-American college student who is taking time off to help with family in Winston-Salem. Tacker and Kate first meet Gaines on the same day. After Gaines buys a bottle of milk at the Hart grocery store, white thugs attack him for being in the wrong place (a white neighborhood) at the wrong time. Later on the same day, Kate spots an African-American man holding a bottle of milk, walking by her home in an upper-class white neighborhood. She thinks he probably stole the milk. She is terrified, and immediately locks her doors and windows. She shakes with worry about the danger of this young black man walking through her neighborhood. The young man is, of course, Gaines.

It turns out that Gaines is the nephew of Tacker’s beloved family maid. Tacker and his father hire Gaines to work in the grocery store, and he becomes a model employee.

But Gaines has a secret agenda. He is working with the group of outsiders to organize protest movements at lunch counters in downtown retail stores.

Gaines sets out to entice Tacker to help with the protests, first, only to allow the store to be used at night for a meeting place. Then, over time, Tacker is led to participate in the sit-ins.

In Nigeria, Tacker had found his black colleagues and friends to be just as smart, interesting, and as talented as he was. He found them to be his equals.

Back in Winston-Salem, he has at first slipped back into a comfort level with the segregated and oppressive culture in which he grew up. His protest activities with Gaines put his relationships with his family, Kate and possible employment at an architectural firm at risk.

Tacker’s effort to accommodate his growing participation in the civil rights movement with his heritage of segregation leads to the book’s dramatic, tragic and totally surprising ending.

The African connection in Nicholas Sparks’ new book is Tru Walls, a white safari guide from Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia. In 1990, the 42-year-old Tru comes to Sunset Beach to meet his biological father. It is his first visit to the United States. On the beach he meets Hope Anderson, a 36-year-old nurse from Raleigh. She is in a long-term relationship with Josh, a self-centered orthopedic surgeon. Nevertheless, she and Tru immediately fall into a deeply passionate love affair.

How Hope resolves her competing feelings for Tru and Josh is the thread that guides the book to a poignant conclusion 24 years later at another North Carolina beach.

In the meantime readers learn from Tru’s experiences about the lives of white farm families and the competing claims of the overwhelming black majority in Zimbabwe. Sparks’ descriptions of wildlife and the safari experience evoke memories of Ernest Hemingway’s African short stories.

Sparks’ publishers say that Every Breath is in the spirit of The Notebook. In both books, the lovers’ early encounters involve fiery and youthful passion. Sparks brings them together again years later as older, even infirm, people still deeply in love.

PBS’s Great American Read has named The Notebook one of America’s 100 best-loved novels. It’s the only book set in North Carolina to make the list. On Oct. 23, PBS will announce the one book selected as America’s best-loved novel.

Voting will be open until Oct. 18. You may register your votes for The Notebook and for other books on the list. Go to For a list of all 100 books, go to

As part of its participation in The Great American Read during the first two weeks in October, UNC-TV will air special “North Carolina Bookwatch” interviews with Sparks about The Notebook and Every Breath. OH

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Scuppernong Bookshelf

In the House

October sees the release of several design books, in time for High Point Market

Compiled by Brian Lampkin

When I first landed in the Triad, I had no idea what a furniture market was, let alone what constituted a High Point. Now, I understand what a vital economic engine the High Point Market is — and not only for downtown HP. Small businesses across the Triad bask in the overflowing excess of the furniture world coming to our backyard. Not surprisingly, we sell our share of furniture and design books during the madness. Listed below are some of the designers with new books who will be coming to High Point this October.

Ray Booth, Ray Booth: Evocative Interiors. Presented here are Booth’s most celebrated Nashville residences and never-before-seen projects in Palm Beach, Louisiana, New York, Texas and the Hamptons. Each illustrates his innovative use of furniture as architecture to define rooms, draperies in place of walls, captivating displays of art and mirrors, and an eclectic mix of antiques and contemporary pieces. Among the house profiles is Booth’s Nashville home, which shows the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School, revealing his appreciation for traditional materials, particularly large expanses of glass, masonry and wood. Ray Booth will appear at the Antique & Design Center on Saturday, October 13 at 4 p.m.

Kathryn Scott, Creating Beauty: Interiors. The first book from acclaimed Brooklyn-based interior designer Kathryn Scott, whose handcrafted interiors evoke a sense of serenity, harmony and simplicity. Kathryn Scott is a designer whose disciplined eye results in interiors praised for their beauty and minimalism, as well as their artisanal details. Through 10 residences, bookended by Scott’s own acclaimed five-story, 19th-century Italianate brownstone in Brooklyn Heights and her ravishing country house, the book explores the idea of home as sanctuary, a place to rest, replenish and refocus. Kathryn Scott will appear at the Antique & Design Center on Saturday, October 13 at 4 p.m.

Richard Keith Langham, About Decorating: The Remarkable Rooms of Richard Keith Langham & Paloma Contreras, Dream Design Live. This first book on the esteemed decorator and tastemaker — known for beautiful interiors that are replete with tradition, saturated color, elegance and Southern flair — will delight design aficionados. Paloma Contreras is the blogger behind the popular interior design site La Dolce Vita. She has been featured in many major publications, including Domino, House Beautiful, The New York Times, AD online, Vogue, Elle Decor and the Wall Street Journal. Richard & Paloma will appear at the Universal Furniture Showroom at 11 a.m. on Sunday, October 14.

Jeff Dungan, The Nature of Home: Creating Timeless Houses. Following in the tradition of populist architects Gil Schafer and Bobby McAlpine, Dungan designs new traditional houses for today — houses with clean lines, made with stone and wood, that carry an air of lasting beauty and that are made to be handed on to future generations. In his first book, Dungan shares his advice and insight for creating these “forever” houses, exploring eight of them in full, from a beach house on the Gulf Coast to a farmhouse in the Southern countryside, as well as a family home in the Blue Ridge Mountain. Jeff Dungan will appear at Curry & Co. at 2 p.m. on Sunday, October 14.

John Loecke, Jason Oliver Nixon, Prints Charming: Create Absolutely Beautiful Interiors with Prints & Patterns. This bright, lively interior design book is like no other: It shows readers how to choose and use pattern (whether on upholstered furniture, walls and floors, or in curtains, rugs and accessories) to create gorgeous room designs. It also teaches readers how to layer pattern[s?] for fresh, exciting, personalized spaces. The book is delightfully illustrated with inspiring images of design elements and finished rooms with each chapter packed with lively DIY projects, plus Dos and Don’ts, Try This, and more. Jason Oliver Nixon will appear at the Port 68 Lighting Showroom on Monday, October 15 at 10 a.m.

Thomas O’Brien, Thomas O’Brien: Library House & Charlotte Moss, Charlotte Moss Entertains: Celebrations and Everyday Occasions. Charlotte Moss is a designer, author and philanthropist. She has designed numerous private residences in the United States and abroad, collections of carpets, furniture, fabrics, china and enameled jewelry. She has authored nine books. Thomas O’Brien is an interior and home furnishings designer based in New York City. He is the founder and president of Aero Studios, one of America’s most respected design firms, and is the author of American Modern and Aero. Charlotte and Thomas will appear at Century Furniture on Monday, October 15 at 4 p.m.

Paloma Contreras, Dream Design Live, Donna Garlough, Your Home, Your Style: How to Find Your Look & Create Rooms You Love, and Nora Murphy, Country House Style: Making Your Home a Country House. Enjoy lunch with Paloma, Nora and Donna at their book signing at The Point (near the Transportation Terminal) at 11:15 a.m. on Tuesday, October 16.  OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.

Where the Ghouls Are

Where the Ghouls Are

By Maria Johnson     Photographs by John Gessner

You never know who you might be rubbing rags with these days. You could be sitting at a lunch counter, minding your grilled cheese, and the person next to you could be a murderous clown in a prison jumpsuit. It happened one Saturday morning when our friends from Spookywoods, the haunted attraction at Kersey Valley amusement park in Archdale, mixed and mingled with folks at popular Greensboro locations. Reactions ranged from giggles to gasps to gawks as the actors, dressed in their Saturday-night best, visited a bookstore, a farmers’ market, a jewelry store, a brewery and a drugstore soda fountain. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” remarked 6-year-old Tommy Johnson, who was waiting on an order of Tater Tots at the Brown-Gardiner Drug Co. lunch counter when the aforementioned clown claimed a stool next to him. Tommy, who was with his aunt Lynn Doolittle, seemed nonchalant about the fact that, only a few inches away, a guy named Slash, with tufts of red-streaked yellow hair and a face that only a . . . nothing, really . . . could love, was sitting down to a lunch of orangeade, crinkle fries and a hot dog all-the-way. “I saw them putting on his makeup in the parking lot,” Tommy said, before returning his attention to his electronic tablet, which offered a much more intriguing drama, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on YouTube TV. Scary.

What Tommy saw, of course, is something we forget — something we pay to forget at haunted houses and the like — namely that the seasonal beasties are just folks who put on their blood-splattered pants one leg at a time like the rest of us. Kind of.

Take Slash the Clown.

In real life, he’s 34-year-old Clint Briggs, a Thomasville resident who does home repairs and fixes leather furniture. He started working at Kersey Valley four autumns ago when his girlfriend, Deanna Jones, who’d worked there for two years, talked him into applying for an actor’s job.

Clint didn’t consider himself an actor, but he’d played in bands when he was younger, and he missed the thrill of being onstage. He found it again as a character in Spookywoods, where 120 actors kit out as nightmare fuel to entertain tens of thousands of customers every fall.

“It gives you that performance taste,” Clint says. “They’re not coming to see me, but they love the interaction with me.”

And he loves the interaction with them, especially on the midway, where he jumps out at people waiting in line for the main attraction.

The character of Slash — which requires him to wear bright blue contact lenses and enough makeup to blend with his mottled mask — is among Clint’s favorite roles.

“Some people really love clowns and want to hang out with me all night, and then there are people who absolutely cannot look at me,” he says. “You can see they’re truly terrified.”

Two people have swung at him reflexively — and missed. They apologized for their haymakers after Clint ducked. As a trained haint, Clint abides by the no-touch rule of the industry. He’s also supposed to stay in character, but he has broken the illusion twice, once for a petrified child and once for a woman whose eyes filled with tears.

“Hey, I’m just a regular guy behind a mask,” he told them.

This time of year, Clint spends 60 hours a week working at Spookywoods.

The payoff: pocket jingle and emotional tingle.

“I love doing it, seeing people have fun,” he says. “There’s nothing like it, especially when you’re the one helping them to have a good time. Even the ones that do get scared, 95 percent of the time they’ll be smiling when they leave, and they’ll want a picture with me. All night, I’m taking pictures.”

Good thing his evil grin is painted on.


Writerly Chops

“When I’m not eating flesh, I’m interested in economics and world politics.” So says the leather-bound Kersey Valley Killer — think of him as a not-so-friendly neighborhood butcher — who gravitated to a table of new releases at Scuppernong Books in downtown Greensboro. He might have been projecting when he picked up Shari Lapena’s novel, An Unwanted Guest. His self-assessment was confirmed when he opened the front door for a startled customer. “We had a very in-depth conversation,” he said later. “I said, ‘Books! READ!’ and she scurried away as fast as possible.” Underneath the grisly facade you’ll find easy-going Lee Troutman, 39, of Greensboro. His day job is reading meters all over the Piedmont as a contractor for Duke Energy Co., a monster of a job. Outside of work, Lee enjoys listening to heavy metal music and watching horror movies. Surprise. A five-year veteran of Kersey Valley, he keeps coming back because eek is his thing. “I love Halloween and horror. Spookywoods sort of speaks to the things I love the most, and most of my closest friends are people from there.’


There’s nothing more tempting to bite than fresh peaches, especially these blushing beauties that were trucked into the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market from Kalawi Farm in the Sandhills community of Eagle Springs. But for some reason — and we watched the stand for a while — no one wanted to buy the fruit that was fondled by this ancient vampire. Go figure. This character was conceived and built by the man behind the hoary mask, freelance makeup artist Joh Harp, 35, a Raleigh native who started as an apprentice at Spookywoods 11 years ago. Now, the Archdale resident is hooked on the scare biz. A haunted house is nothing more than an intimate theater, he says, with the safety nets of screen and stage removed. When done well by actors who know how to read their audiences, scaring the daylights out of people is a service to those who can withstand the anticipation. “It’s like taking the big hill on a roller coaster,” Joh says. “When you get to the bottom of the hill, it’s all laughs, but it’s going up the hill that’s the hard part.”

The Ice Lady Cometh

What a coincidence. Schiffman’s Jewelers, a Greensboro institution, is 125 years old, roughly the same age as the Victorian wraith who glided into the Friendly Center store and asked manager Karolyn Fulp for help in trying on a vintage necklace dripping with 16 carats of aquamarine. Too bad m’lady wasn’t toting a carpetbag of old money, too. The necklace (price: $26,950) would have provided a much-needed sparkle for her hollow countenance, accentuated by prominent cheekbones, deep eye sockets and gaping nasal cavity. Believe it or not, underneath the hatpins and black taffeta is the lively Deanna Jones of Thomasville, an interior painter and stay-at-home mom. Now in her sixth season of haunting, Jones, 29, says she loved playing dress up as a little girl, a pleasure she continues at Kersey Valley. “It’s like being a little kid again.” Her 9-year-old son Payton digs the theatrics, too. Last year, he played a character resembling Chucky, the possessed doll from “Child’s Play.” Mom kept a close eye on him, and so did her coworkers. “It’s like a family at Kersey Valley,” she says. “It’s different from the way you might think it is.”

The Addams Family gets it.

A Head For Horror

How ironic that a fellow whose mutilated noggin is held together by rows of staples would be propping up the bar at a brewery called Joymongers, but that’s exactly what’s going on here, as our friend Ruckus, better known to his friends as Puke, sips a glass of fine French Saison. He can’t blame a morning-after headache on the alcohol. A mosh-pit mishap — and a penchant for self-piercing with safety pins — explain the aches endured by our punk rock pal, a creation of Kersey Valley lab manager Matt Patterson, who also minted the Kersey Valley Killer character. Do you see a leathery pattern here? For six years, Matt has run the workshop that makes Spookywoods writhe with original characters, custom-made props and one-of-a-kind costumes, including masks that are sculpted on site, cast in silicone or rubber, and painted by hand. Once a Navy cook and later a professional chef, Matt, 36, found his calling by returning to his teenage job of working in a haunted house to overcome fears that were implanted by watching horror movies as a young child. “I forced myself to face my fears,” he says. Now a full-time employee at Kersey Valley, he doesn’t worry about his greatest fear, having to work a normal job. “You want to hear me scream? Make me go punch a time card for a 9-to-5 job,” he says. “That’s horrifying to me.”  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine. Spookywoods, created by Kersey Valley owner Tony Wohlgemuth, celebrates 33 years this season. The 2018 show runs through the first weekend of November. See for times and ticket prices.

O.Henry Ending

Dustin’ The Bunnies

An ode to the power of leaving well enough alone

By Grant Britt

People who come to my house for the first, and usually, the last time, seem somewhat taken aback by my housekeeping methods, or lack thereof. It’s not so much that I’m bad at it as it is that I just don’t see what the problem is. When I put something down, it’s usually because I want it to stay where it is for the duration. And that would be either for the duration of my life or that of the object. Therefore, I see no need to disturb it, or me, for the mere purpose of brushing it off. I find that over the years, my objests d’art — the various Elvii reincarnations including a bust of the King topped with a luchador mask, a plaster statue of Martin Luther King sporting Bullwinkle horns and wearing an orange sash of police tape with “Do Not Enter” emblazoned on it, and a revolving Santa  figurine sporting a “I’d Rather Be Riding My Tractor” bumper sticker across his ample belly, all surrounded by  life-size standup  posters  featuring the full cast from the  movie The Big Lebowski, — acquire a fine patina, composed of dust, finger smudges, and various and sundry airborne pathogens.

Movement, regarding among people or objects, makes me nervous. When something gets where it’s supposed to go, it’s time to leave it be. It’s like this: If I wanted to use the damned thing in daily life, I’d have it either in my hand, my pocket, or a-hangin’ off my belt. If it’s just sittin’ there, then by Gawd it’s at rest and you’d best leave it there if you know what’s good for you. But obviously you don’t, or else I wouldn’t have to be writing about your meddling with my stuff.

Most people know and abide by the rules, but every once in a great while I’ve had an out-of-towner or a trial girlfriend who turns out to be an under-the-bed peeper. It’s OK to look; just don’t make the mistake of mentioning it to me. I don’t give a damn if the dust bunnies are the size of Bigfoot — they don’t eat much and they don’t keep me up at night, so let them, and me, alone.

If you look at it in the right way, which is my way, it’ll make life a whole lot easier — for both of us. I don’t consider it dust so much as decoration, a natural enhancement not to be fiddled with by grubby  human paws. A few Elvii appear to have dandruff issues, and the Jesus action figure seems to be performing another miracle by causing it to snow atop the desert background in his display case, but other than that, nobody seems concerned abut it, least of all me.

Not to mention the fact that dust doubles as a protective coating. All that shiny paint they put on stuff can hurt your eyes if it doesn’t have a nice layer of funk on top. Dust is our friend. In addition to dulling the glare from bright and shiny surfaces, if you leave it alone long enough, it gets all gummed up around the sharp edges of things so you won’t cut yourself if you violate house rules and pick something up, (but that doesn’t mean that I won’t cut you, so behave yourself!)

Well, you get the idea. Maybe it’s time for you to run along. You won’t keep still, you’re stirrin’ up the dust and disturbin’ the critters, and more important, me. So for everybody’s sake, why don’t you just scoot on along back to your spotless little house and squeaky-clean life and leave me to do the dirty work? Somebody’s got to feed those bunnies.  OH

Readers are encouraged to enable Grant Britt’s pursuit of collectibles to hoard by leaving possible treasures on his porch on trash day or any other joyous discarding occasion.

Life of Jane

Not-So-Polite Company

A comedy of manners

By Jane Borden

Everyone is someone else’s intruder. I certainly felt like one when I first met Nathan’s family. They did nothing to make me feel that way, I should clarify. But I still did. Gaining in-laws is like joining the Witness Protection Program: You get a second life, but it’s full of strangers. Nevertheless, they were now part of my closest circle, as if the word “insider” were a contronym. Nathan had once been completely unknown too, of course, but the time span comprising his transition to life partner was longer than one weekend. 

For the record, my in-laws are great. We loved and accepted one another immediately. But even those circumstances can’t mitigate the strangeness of the scenario. Hey, people I hardly know, let’s do Christmas biannually until we die! Yes, technically, it is a choice based on DNA, but it’s not my DNA.

In at least one way, in-laws are even further from family, on the relationship spectrum, than strangers are. I am way more polite to my in-laws than I am to almost anyone else. As a child, when I protested the practicality of the regimented system of traditional manners I was taught, my parents’ response was, “You might meet the Queen of England one day.” This is a ridiculous statement. When would I meet the Queen? When she visited North Carolina because of her interest in tobacco farming and Michael Jordan? Or would it be when I was knighted for my contribution to the junior-dance arts? Further, if I did meet her, how would she know that the reason I wasn’t discussing money was simply because it hadn’t come up yet?

Nevertheless, the specter of this future royal meeting endured, precisely because it is an unfalsifiable argument. But now I also understand it to be a metaphor: The Queen of England is my mother-in-law. Somewhere a needlepointed novelty pillow is smiling. And so, I reserve my most respectful comportment for her.

As examples, I’ve put together this list of behaviors, categorized by whether or not I will exhibit each behavior in front of in-laws, strangers, or family.   


In-laws: Never.

Strangers: Occasionally, by accident, and always followed by apology.

Family: Often. Then my sisters shout, “Good one!” — and my mother dies inside.

Talking about religion or politics:

In-laws: Never.

Strangers: Sometimes. This is why Twitter exists.

Family: My parents’ frequent suggestion that I “grow up to be a lawyer” was really just their exit strategy from arguments.


In-laws: Rarely.

Strangers: It’s how I make friends.

Family: I hardly see them when I visit because my eyes are rolled so far back into my head.

Criticizing them:

In-laws: Never.

Strangers: When I am in my car and can safely drive away.

Family: I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t made this list.

Taking advantage of hospitality:

In-laws: Never.

Strangers: I tidy after myself in hotels.

Family: I walk in the door and I’m 16 again.

Walking around in pajamas:

In-laws: Almost never.

Strangers: It’s how I bank.

Family: I hardly packed anything else.


In-laws: Never.

Strangers: This is what Facebook is for.

Family: I definitely shouldn’t have made this list.

Drinking too much:

In-laws: Never.

Strangers: This is what strangers are for.

Family: Only in the summer, at the beach, every summer, for an entire week.

Arguing over who’s paying the check:

In-laws: Never.

Strangers: Never.

Family: Never.

I need to apologize to my family. I don’t know why they still claim me, but I’m assuming it’s because I have their granddaughter. Since she is also Nathan’s, my in-laws have less incentive to keep me around, and this is precisely why I behave around them. I still live in fear of them calling him to say, “Think about your daughter, Honey — what if sarcasm is genetic?”

It’s a silly fear, I admit. It’s not like washing dishes and avoiding politics obscure my other faults. So, clearly they have already accepted me, including never called to warn him that I’m a bigot. 

I should explain. Before Nathan and I were engaged, he invited me to Indiana to meet his family. Part of the trip included a drive north to his grandmother’s lake cottage. For about 30 minutes of that afternoon, while Nathan ran an errand, she and I were alone together, sitting on lawn chairs facing a small waterway that connects two sections of the lake. While we chatted politely, a pontoon boat rumbled down the waterway, propelled by an outboard motor and carrying close to a dozen Amish teenagers.

“Interesting,” I said. “They’re using a motor.”

“Yes,” she replied. “Interesting.”

Then I remembered that Amish communities encourage adolescents to spend a period of time away from their culture and its rules, in order to strengthen their faith upon returning. This rite of passage is called Rumspringa. So I said, “Maybe they’re on their Rumspringa.”

Then there was a period of silence, after which Nathan’s grandmother replied, sternly, “Well, I think the Amish are very nice people.”

Wait, what?

“I do too,” I protested. “What did you think I said?”

After a brief silence, she asked, “Well what did you say?”

“That maybe they’re on their Rumspringa.”

More silence, until, finally: “Hmm. Yes. Well.”

Then she changed the subject. What could I do? Argue with a nonagenarian hosting me in her home, a tactic that would surely make whatever happened even worse? Instead, I let it go. I let her think I hate the Amish.

What an unlikely group to disparage! That’s exactly how bigoted she must think I am — if you hate a group of hardworking, simple-living Christians, whose entire belief system is rooted in pacifism, then you have cast a wide net of hatred. No wonder she changed the subject: She was probably afraid I’d start in on the Quakers.

Further, she believes I was confident enough in said bigotry to casually drop it in front of a woman I’d never met, who also happens to be my boyfriend’s grandmother. One question remains: What did she hear when I spoke? “Rum slinger?” “Gun singer?” ”Their lack of alcoholism and generally quiet nature are ruining this country?”

I’ll never know. But here are some things I do know, after doing some reading about the Amish way of life. Not all communities abstain from the use of all electronic or motorized devices. Rather, each group’s church leaders approach powered appliances on a case-by-case basis. So it’s possible these teenagers use outboard motors often, regardless of whether they were on any kind of culturally sanctioned break from the religion’s rules. Further, that time period is not always referred to as a Rumspringa. And whatever you call it, it isn’t really a time of partying. Most Amish adolescents don’t live outside the home during this period, or booze it up, or blare rock music. The period is mostly marked by a higher degree of socializing and courting, in advance of making the decision to be baptized and join the church.

In other words, during my lakeside conversation with Nathan’s grandmother, I unfairly defined an entire group by the behaviors of only a handful of its most visible members, which is literally part of the definition of racism. Grandma was technically right.

On the car ride home, I told Nathan what happened. But there was something he didn’t tell me until much later: Earlier that afternoon, after she and I had been alone together, he shared with her that he planned to propose to me. And she said nothing to him about the Amish incident. I may be a bigot, but you know what they say: The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who stayed silent..  OH

Greensboro native Jane Borden continues her own Rumspringa in Los Angeles.

Drinking with Writers

Well-Behaved Women

Zelda with a twist

By Wiley Cash     Photographs by Mallory Cash

For anyone who knows Therese Anne Fowler, it is no surprise that she writes about women like Zelda Fitzgerald and Alva Vanderbilt, women who were artistic, brilliant, and outspoken. Therese’s friends would describe her much the same way. I first met Therese at the South Carolina Book Festival, where we spoke on the same panel in the spring of 2012. We made fast friends, telling stories about book tours and life in North Carolina, where she and her husband, novelist John Kessel, live in Raleigh. I saw Therese several times over the next few months at various conferences and festivals. I knew she had a new book coming out, but she never said much about it. And then Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald was published in March 2013. It blew the doors off every preconceived notion readers had about the woman who had always been known simply as Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald. A few months after the novel came out, I saw Therese again at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. By that time both Z and Therese had experienced incredible success: The novel had appeared on The New York Times best-seller list, and a television show based on the novel and starring Christina Ricci as Zelda Fitzgerald was in production at Amazon. I told Therese how thrilled I was for her, and I asked her how it felt. She smiled, turned her head, and revealed the tiny “Z” she had tattooed behind her left ear. She planned to keep Zelda with her forever, and people who have read the novel and have seen the series understand why.

With her new novel, A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts — which tells the story of Alva Vanderbilt, a woman who went from being a member of the fallen Southern aristocracy to a Gilded Age socialite and, eventually, a leader in the women’s suffrage movement — Therese has once again given life to a heroine that readers will not soon forget. It seems that critics feel the same way. Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews both gave the novel starred reviews, and People magazine named it a Best Book of the Fall. Sony Pictures believed in Therese’s take on Vanderbilt’s life so much that they optioned the novel for a television series before she had even finished writing it.

Over Labor Day weekend I met Therese at The Haymaker in downtown Raleigh to talk about writing about historical women, the thrill of seeing her work on the screen, and how she is feeling about her new book, which is scheduled for release on Oct. 16.

“I’m excited,” she says. “But I’m cautious. You can’t predict the book business.”

We are sitting at a small table by the huge windows where the late-day light barely reaches the high ceiling. On my right, a gorgeous flower mural spans an entire wall. The bar behind Therese features leather-covered stools and industrial lighting. To my left is a sitting area where a comfortable Victorian-styled sofa and leather armchairs invite patrons to sip cocktails and chat. The interior of The Haymaker is the perfect combination of clean lines and lush decadence. When our drinks are delivered, I offer a toast to well-behaved women. Therese laughs and lifts her cocktail, the cachaca/Campari-based Agua-Benta, which is infused with jalapeno and features hints of lime and pineapple, and clinks it against my pint of Peacemaker Pale Ale. She takes a sip and looks around.

“Alva would have been very comfortable in a place like this,” she says. “Zelda would have been, too.”

“What was it like to see Zelda come to life on the screen?” I ask.

“Wonderful,” Therese says. “I loved it, and I think Christina Ricci was perfect. My only regret is that Amazon didn’t renew it for a second season. Viewers learned all about the beginning of Zelda’s life and her relationship with Scott Fitzgerald, but we never saw them get to Paris, where the writers of the Lost Generation all come together. It would have been fascinating to see that.”

“Were you surprised when Hollywood came calling a second time when Sony optioned A Well-Behaved Woman?

“Very surprised,” she says. “I was in New York with my agent, pitching the novel to editors and sending the book to auction. We were standing on the subway platform when my agent got a call that Sony wanted to option it. The book was still at auction and hadn’t even been purchased yet.”

I have a feeling that many people will be hearing about Alva Vanderbilt when A Well-Behaved Woman is published, some perhaps for the first time. After a life that spanned the Civil War, World War I, the Gilded Age and the Great Depression, Alva Vanderbilt would die in Paris in 1933. Perhaps, if Therese and Sony have their way, both readers and viewers will make it to Paris even though Amazon did not get us there with Zelda. And who knows? The next time I see Therese she might show me a fresh “A” that has been tattooed behind her other ear. You never know what a well-behaved woman is going to do next.  OH

Wiley Cash lives in Wilmington with his wife and their two daughters. His latest novel, The Last Ballad, is available wherever books are sold.

A Second Act

A Second Act

The Carolina Theatre’s stunning renovation is unveiled this month

By Billy Ingram     Photographs by Lynn Donovan

couple of months ago I toured the Carolina Theatre with Executive Director Brian Gray while construction was fully underway for their $2.5 million renovation and restoration project, slated for completion this month. It’s a floor-to-ceiling facelift of this former vaudeville theater. When I was there, all the seating had been removed and more than a dozen workers were pouring cement and installing new floor lighting.

“What we did to prioritize the work was we did surveys of our audiences, our guests,” Gray notes. “‘What do you like? What can we do better?’ And we heard back from hundreds of people.” The number one thing folks requested was additional ladies’ restrooms. “Number two were the seats and number three was the wait at the concession stand. So these are the things we addressed.”

The bathrooms were few, the ones on the second floor, small, so an addition was made to the north side of the building to accommodate an expansive ladies’ room on the first floor.

Seating in the auditorium was left over from 1969 when the Terrace Theatre converted from one screen to two. That’s when their famous rocking-chair seats were installed at the Carolina. “They were old and uncomfortable,” Gray says. “The new chairs are wider and they don’t rock. With a little creative ingenuity we actually added a row and there’s still the same amount of walking space between the rows.”

The concession stand in the lobby? “We reconfigured it, took out a wall for more space so we can have product waiting for our folks.” To lessen wait times Gray points out, “We’re going to have digital display boards that will fit in with the décor so we can move the lines much more quickly.”

Everything in sight will be polished and upgraded, including new state-of-the-art loudspeakers, “We’re going to be installing a LINA Line Array system by Meyer. It can handle all of our shows.” Now when touring acts arrive, they can plug into a system that’s tuned to the building, with speakers hidden from view.

If you’ve noticed more big-name entertainers playing the Carolina lately, there’s a reason. For the last few years management has been partnering with outside promoters who can book up to 20 acts for a season. “They’ve brought in higher recognition acts and it’s been a financial boon for the theater,” Gray explains. One of those marquee performers in 2018 was soul singer Gladys Knight, “She was wonderful. She’s 70-something years old, she never sat down.” That show sold out, “It was a really wonderful night for the theater.”

In the months while work on the theater’s interior progressed, movies and concerts were staged upstairs in The Crown, originally a sign shop that now serves as an event space. This kept the staff busy — and intact. While the original 35mm projectors are still in place adjacent to The Crown, Gray notes, “We don’t use them. We can’t get the prints.” The Crown is scheduled to undergo its own facelift next summer. That’s when the projection booth will be repurposed for prop and dressing rooms. “We’re going to see if someone has a use for the [projectors]. I don’t want to landfill them but at the same time, it’s taking up space.”

For that effort, “We’re still raising funds,” Gray reminds us. “We haven’t met our goal yet.” Of course, there have been hiccups for their construction team, “There’s just unknown conditions when you’re doing work on a building this old. We didn’t have the original blueprints, so when they went in to cut the concrete [for new seating] they cut some power lines.”

Still, Brian Gray assures me everything is on track for the Carolina Theatre’s early October relaunch, “We have to be finished by then. One of our first events is a member of our staff’s wedding!”

POEM: October 2018

Hickory Nut Falls

The wind says, Breathe into the sting,

but the mind anticipates the hive.

Each day bears a lesson.

In my room, where the dry leaves know the secret to eternal life

and the acorn shows me how to stand tall, I search for the gorge,

cool patches of earth like open mouth kisses.

There is no separation.

Papa used prayer, sat in his threadbare chair,

each labored breath a short infinity; each day a gift.

At the water’s edge, I see him as a young man,

feet bare, toes crooked like mine,

working a smooth stone between his fingers

like a talisman to a timeless space.

Ankles numb in the flowing river that connects us,

I stand there as he sends the stone dancing across the water’s surface,

feel the ripples expand within me, remember the calm of his voice:

I am always with you. We are always home.

—Ashley Wahl