Restoring the Glory

Bill Allred restores timeless treasures for the simple joy of it


When furniture retailers mask up for the High Point Market later this month, Bill Allred will be mixing up stains in the workshop behind his house.

While they’re rubbing in hand sanitizer, he’ll be patching cracks in wood grain — painting them so expertly you’ll never know where the split was.

As new furnishings roll out, Allred will continue what he’s been doing for most of his 75 years: reviving the old pieces.

“Bill is a treasure for North Carolina and for Greensboro,” says Benjamin Briggs, executive director of Preservation Greensboro. “He has spent most of his life learning the old ways of furniture restoration and incorporating new techniques.”

Recently, Allred rejuvenated a 200-year-old whiskey table for Blandwood Mansion, Preservation Greensboro’s headquarters and the former home of antebellum Gov. John Motley Morehead Jr., a.k.a. The Father of Modern North Carolina.

The marble-topped table, done in the Late Empire style, was probably made in Philadelphia or New York in the 1820s or ’30s. Morehead likely bought the piece for Blandwood’s expansion in 1846, a year after he finished his second two-year term.

The handsome table, adorned with scrollwork and cove molding, was meant to be ogled. “People would have been impressed,” Briggs says.

A progressive Whig, Morehead entertained those sympathetic to his causes: education, transportation and manufacturing. He offered visitors corn squeezins from his own distillery, locked in the table’s base.

The piece was passed down through the family to Dr. William Elliott White Jr. and his wife, Shirley, of Charlotte. Their estate donated the table to Preservation Greensboro in 2018. Benefactor Terry G. Seaks paid for the restoration; much of the mahogany veneer had peeled away from the white pine substrate.

Allred returned the piece to its former glory by replacing after-market corbels, a missing mirror on the cabinet door and the lustrous veneers.

“They just glow,” says Briggs. “They remind me of dark chocolate.”

Allred learned his craft at the knee of his father, who owned a Greensboro refinishing and repair shop called Style-Craft. Allred retired from the family business, sort of, in 2009.

“I played golf, but after a while even that gets old,” says Allred, who wears a cap from the public course at Gillespie Park.

These days he’s picky about his jobs, restoring only exceptional pieces for individuals, dealers and museums. He completely overhauled a slant-top desk for the Ford Museum in Michigan.

“I’m not in it for the money anymore,” says Allred. “I do it because it gives me something to do, and I enjoy doing it. I can’t get over the looks on people’s faces when they see the difference between what they had before and what they’ve got when it goes home.”  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. For information on Blandwood tours, go to



Photographs courtesy of Bert Vanderveen

Weekend Away

Mountain Men

The Madcap gents head for the hills

By Jason Oliver Nixon


There’s a handful of rarefied American resorts that are spoken about in hushed terms. Among those are The Point in upstate New York, Vermont’s Twin Farms, and San Ysidro Ranch on the California coast south of Santa Barbara. Blackberry Farm, tucked into the rolling hills and mountains of eastern Tennessee, also appears on that coveted, in-the-know list with breathy nods to the estate’s culinary prowess, superlative spa treatments, impressive wine list, and themed escapes built around literary and fashion “activations.”

I have been lucky enough to visit “the Farm” and was impressed by the estate’s gastronomic glories and bucolic landscape, so I was excited to hear that the Blackberry team would be opening a new outpost up the road from the Farm and atop a nearby mountain named, predictably, Blackberry Mountain.

In a word, Blackberry Mountain is camp. High-end camp. Rooms start at about $1,500 per night. Just for the room. Envision a certain luxe rusticity paired with stunning vistas of the Great Smoky Mountains, interesting menus, endless activities, charismatic sommeliers, and private fire pits complete with dial-up s’mores. And lots of construction still taking place.

But let’s dive deep: As you follow the directions from the main highway through Walland, Tennessee — about a 4 1/2-hour drive from the Triad — you might ask, as I did, “Er, did we miss something?”

“Deliverance,” my partner, John, said. But then you turn onto a newly asphalted road, and that seems encouraging. We drove past the vaguely Druidic gatepost emblazoned with an artistic “M” twice before realizing that we had gone too far. Back on track, we rounded aselves via intercom and were buzzed in.

And then we got lost again at a junction as we traveled up and up the mountain. “Just like camp,” John observed. “We need a map.” A few turns past the many homes being constructed (the Mountain is mixed use in its focus — resort meets second, third and fourth residences), and we arrived at the 5,200-acre property’s lobby-cum-bar/dining room, aka The Lodge. The views out toward the endless pine-shaded Great Smoky Mountains and the heated pool and spa lawn were breathtaking, and we lapped up the very calm interiors of the public spaces with the fire crackling merrily away in the bar.

We were ferried by Lexus up from The Lodge to our stone-clad cottage complete with sprawling bedroom, spa-like bathroom, and private terrace with fireplace. A golf cart sat charging beside the villa’s entrance that would allow us to travel up the mountain to locations such as the fitness center, aka The Hub, and Firetower — and, yes, it’s a hike uphill, so the golf cart certainly came in handy.

Settled into our neutral-hued (aka, beige) pitched-roof guest room, John and I set out to explore. A stay at the Mountain — unlike the Farm, which gears itself more to relaxation — revolves around things to do. Or as the resort refers to the post-reveille run sheet, “active adventure.”

“We want the Mountain to inspire curiosity in our guests,” notes Blackberry Mountain proprietor Mary Celeste Beall.

“Have fun with that, I plan on sleeping,” commented John. “If I have to be curious, is there room service and a sauna and Turner Classics on the TV?”

And so I was left on my own to channel an inner “curiosity.” I skipped the Japanese pottery class — something called “raku” — but did try the Sound Bathing treatment, and that left me a bit perplexed. There were lots of musical instruments and singing, I think. Maybe a gong and a zither. I felt like I had attended a Sarah McLachlan concert, albeit supine. But then I didn’t like the bizarre “equine therapy” I tried at another retreat either, so maybe it’s me.

Would I care to do a spin class? Or any of the myriad exercise classes, yoga, spa treatments, workshops, painting classes, and hiking trails and so much more?

Er, no.

I do too much of too much in my daily life. Well, maybe not the gong playing. Or the raku.

Instead, I created my own version of “active adventure.” I luxuriated with a perfect martini in The Lodge surrounded by a heap of magazines beside the fire before enjoying the hot tub in a natty Orlebar Brown bathing costume depicting James Bond.

But maybe I wasn’t being a good sport.

I recalibrated and tried to fit in. I donned head-to-ankle organic Lululemon and generic Allbirds.

“You look like a trustafarian from Venice Beach,” John commented, whilst dialing up for bubble bath and ice. “Very Abbot Kinney.”

Still, I tried. In my own way.

“Where’s the spa?” I trilled. “A farm-to-table pedicure, perhaps?”

“And is there a mixology class at the bar? With complimentary nibbles . . . ”

“Is there archery?”

We lapped up two inspired dinners at the Three Sisters restaurant and hiked a bit and took the golf cart to lunch at the Firetower, where John and I savored the eye-popping views. I took part in a cooking demonstration and felt like Ina Garten for about an hour.

John slept in, and we ran amok with the golf cart and Instagram TV-ed the whole thing. Frankly, the golf cart was our favorite active adventure. Brilliant.

I considered a yoga class.

And thought about Pilates.

And I have no idea what happens in a “movement studio” and don’t want to know.

Happily, there were s’mores that evening by our fire.

What I realized was that my interest in camp-like activities ended at about age 14 in tandem with the demise of The Go-Go’s and my plaid Swatch. If I have to be active, I want to bike through Provence or hike Sicily. And if I am curious, it’s about art-house films, museums, and famous gardens. Although I do like a good lanyard.

Sigh. I guess I am the wrong demographic.

Get me to the Farm.

So this bad camper ordered another martini and sat back to enjoy the postcard-perfect vista and wait for the internal dinner bell.  OH

In their debut travel column, the Madcap Cottage gents, John Loecke and Jason Oliver Nixon, embrace the new reality of COVID-friendly travel — heaps of road trips. To kick off the festivities, the gents pile into their Subaru and set off for the recently opened Blackberry Mountain (see, the adventure-geared sister to Tennessee’s fabled Blackberry Farm.


Yes, Another Crisis

— in Publishing

By Brian Lampkin


Perhaps by now word has filtered out to the general reading public, but book lovers (and bookstores) may have trouble getting the books they want this holiday season — at least not in a timely fashion that makes for a joyous Christmas morning. The arrival of the pandemic last spring caused most publishers to push back the publication dates of many books and most publishers determined at that time that the fall would be a safe time to get those delayed books out into the world. So now we’re seeing a huge volume of new books landing at the printers at the same time, which is overwhelming the industry. In short, they can’t keep up, and many books will fall temporarily out-of-print while printers try to catch up.

Much like the toilet paper industry, book printers were pretty much operating at capacity before the pandemic, so there’s not much room for the sudden growth. What strategies can book buyers use to increase their chances of getting the novel they need? Some suggest doing your holiday shopping now, in October, to guarantee a December delivery. That should work, but it’s hard to think about anything joyous in the anxious times before this election. Some bookstores are stocking up on extra copies now in an effort to anticipate demand, but it’s not always easy to know what the public will demand.

For now, let’s look at some of the major releases set for this month to get you thinking about Christmas in October, which has been the dream of retailers for decades.

OCTOBER 6: Magic Lessons: The Prequel to Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman (Simon & Schuster, $27.99).  In an unforgettable novel that traces a centuries-old curse to its source, beloved author Alice Hoffman unveils the story of Maria Owens, accused of witchcraft in Salem — matriarch of a line of the amazing Owens women and men featured in Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic.

OCTOBER 13: Ottolenghi Flavor: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage (Ten Speed Press, $35). This is another large and colorful book that breaks down the fundamentals of cooking into three key elements: process, pairing, and produce. For process, Yotam and Ixta show how easy techniques such as charring and infusing can change the way you think about cooking. Discover how to unlock new depths of flavor by pairing vegetables with elements of sweetness, fat, acidity or chile heat, and learn to identify the produce that has the innate ability to make dishes shine.

OCTOBER 13: Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel, by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum, $19.99). Jason Reynolds is always held close to Scuppernong’s heart (we were one of two bookstores in the country to earn a visit from him last year), and this graphic adaption will be a middle-school staple for years to come. Reynolds is a former Newbery Honor, Printz Award and Coretta Scott King Award-winning author.

OCTOBER 13: How to Write One Song: Loving the Things We Create and How They Love Us Back, by Jeff Tweedy (Dutton, $23). There are few creative acts more mysterious and magical than writing a song. But what if the goal was actually achievable for anyone who wants to experience more magic and creativity in their life? That’s something that anyone will be inspired to do after reading Jeff Tweedy’s How to Write One Song. Why one song? Because the difference between one song and many songs isn’t a cute semantic trick — it’s an important distinction that can simplify a notoriously confusing art form.

OCTOBER 20: This Will Make It Taste Good: A New Path to Simple Cooking, by Vivian Howard (Voracious, $35). Another Scuppernong favorite (Howard’s food truck tour stop for “Deep Run Roots” is legendary), This Will Make It Taste Good provides simple but powerful recipes like her briny green sauce, spiced nuts, fruit preserves, deeply caramelized onions and spicy pickled tomatoes. Many of these recipes are kitchen crutches, dead-easy, super-quick meals to lean on when you’re limping toward dinner. Vivian’s mission is not to protect you from time in your kitchen, but to help you make the most of the time you’ve got. The Greensboro Bound Literary Festival Virtual Series brings an exclusive Zoom event with Vivian and chef Asha Gomez on October 22 at 7 p.m. Go to for details.

OCTOBER 27: The Cold Millions, by Jess Walter (Harper, $28). This long-awaited novel from the author of Beautiful Ruins is an intimate story of brotherhood, love, sacrifice and betrayal set against the panoramic backdrop of an early 20th-century America that eerily echoes our own time. The Cold Millions offers a portrait of a nation grappling with the chasm between rich and poor, between harsh realities and simple dreams. Featuring an unforgettable cast of cops and tramps, suffragists and socialists, madams and murderers, it is a tour de force.  OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books

Omnivorous Reader

A McCorkle Couplet

Connecting tissue of two novels

By D.G. Martin


In 1984, a young North Carolina writer, Jill McCorkle, shocked the literary world by making her debut with two simultaneously released novels, The Cheer Leader and July 7th. The New York Times called her a born novelist. She went on to write three more novels, Tending to Virginia (1987), Ferris Beach (1990), and Carolina Moon (1996).

Then she paused to concentrate on short stories that won high praise. But in 2013 she was back with another novel, Life After Life, and then again in July 2020 with Hieroglyphics. Both books deal with the complications in older people as they face life’s end.

Life After Life focuses on residents of a retirement home and the people who work for and with them. Hieroglyphics deals with one couple’s efforts to adjust to retirement and aging. Into these settings McCorkle injects rich and disturbing stories that hold her readers’ attention throughout.

Life After Life is set in the fictional town of Fulton, North Carolina, a place not unlike Lumberton, where McCorkle grew up. In the Pine Haven Retirement Center, her characters come together as residents, staff, visitors and family.

One important character, Joanna, provides hospice-like counseling and comfort to dying residents and their loved ones. Her activities give the novel a gentle storyline and provide a persistent reminder that illness and death are an inescapable part of the experience at Pine Haven.

A mentor tells Joanna, “Make their exits as gentle and loving as possible. Tell them how good it will be, even if you don’t believe it yourself. You’re Southern, you know how to do that.”

McCorkle describes how family members embrace Joanna “like she is one of them. Lung. Brain. Breast. Uterus. Pancreas. Bone. The families discuss and explain their loved one’s symptoms and diagnoses for her as if they have never been heard of before, have never happened to anyone else, and she listens.”

Each of McCorkle’s characters has a different set of challenges, but the onset of fatal illness and death is a constant.

For instance, there is Stanley, a lawyer and widower. After Stanley’s wife died, his son moved into the family home, would not leave Stanley alone, slept beside him in his dead wife’s place in their bed, and began driving the grieving father crazy.

To get away from his son, Stanley decided to act as if he really was crazy and therefore needed to be in a retirement center. He constructed a new image for himself, a kind of senility combined with a loss of judgment that led to inappropriate remarks to women.  His crude descriptions of his desires and how he wants to fulfill them prove that his mental condition requires institutionalization. Stanley’s crazy conduct is an act to get him away from his son and into the retirement center. It worked.

Stanley is only one of the several characters whose situations evoke sympathy, pain and laughter.

Dealing with the presence of death is part of life’s experience. Reading Life After Life deepens a reader’s realization of its oncoming approach. It makes one wonder again why we are here, why we are still here, and whether there really is some life after life.

At the end of Life After Life, one of Pine Haven’s most popular service people, C. J. (for Carolina Jasmine), is found dead in her apartment. It looks like suicide, but there are hints that something is amiss. A single parent with a young son, C.J. had been secretly seeing a surgeon who had a wife and other love interests. The surgeon is an obvious suspect, but there is no closure to his fate.

Near the book’s ending another character remembers “a train wreck in this very county in 1943 where over 70 people died, most of them soldiers trying to get home for Christmas.” McCorkle says she recalls her dad talking about visiting the crash site near Lumberton and seeing all the scattered debris.

C. J.’s death and the train wreck provide connective links from Life After Life to Hieroglyphics. The father of a central character in Hieroglyphics died in the train wreck.

McCorkle also lived in Boston for a number of years, where she heard about a 1942 nightclub fire that took more than 492 lives, including the mother of another key character in Hieroglyphics.

When Lil, whose mother died in the fire, and Frank, whose father died in the train wreck, first met, they discovered their common bond, one that held them through 60 years of marriage.

The story begins with Frank and Lil, now in their 80s, retiring to Southern Pines. They live within driving distance of the train wreck’s site, which is near the modest home where Frank lived for several years after his dad’s death.

Frank and Lil have driven to the old house, now occupied by Shelley, a single mother, and her young son, Harvey. Shelley has seen Frank driving by before and is nervous. “It doesn’t help that that old man rides by so often now, his green Toyota slowing in front of the house and then circling the block.”

When Shelley meets Frank at the door, he explains, “I grew up here. I would love to see inside if convenient. My wife, too.”

Shelley resists, but at the end of the book Frank is in the backyard of the old house finding some closure.

In the 300 pages between its opening and closing at the old house, McCorkle takes us deep into the lives of the characters we meet on the first pages: Frank, Lil, Shelley and Harvey.

Frank carries the consequences of the train wreck throughout his life. Both his father and mother were on the train, coming from Florida to their home in Massachusetts, where Frank and his grandmother waited for them. Frank’s seriously injured mother remained in North Carolina to recuperate. She was sure she heard Frank’s father calling, “Don’t leave me.” So she stayed and ultimately married a local man.

Frank joined her and they lived in her new husband’s house. Ultimately, Frank went to college and graduate school, married Lil, and became a college professor specializing in ancient history and archeological relics. Along the railroad tracks he collected relics from the wreck, including a toy decoder that he imagined his parents were bringing him for Christmas.

Lil cannot get over the loss of her mother, a ballroom dance instructor, who had not told her husband or Lil that she was going to the nightclub. The questions of who her mother was with and why still haunt Lil. She is also a collector. McCorkle uses Lil’s collected newspaper clippings and copious notes to help tell a story that include her agonizing experience of Frank’s misadventures with a younger academic.

Shelley’s son, Harvey, collects horror stories about the Beast of Bladenboro, the Glencoe Munchkins, and other scary tales that keep him awake at night and that he uses to frighten his schoolmates and add complication to his mother’s life.

Shelley is a court reporter in a Robeson County courtroom during a high profile trial of the doctor accused of murdering one of his many girlfriends. The doctor’s victim was C.J., a major character in Life After Life.

Shelley’s troubles with Harvey and Frank intersect with her life’s other challenges to put her court reporter’s job at risk.

McCorkle brings these different characters together into a complex, layered and gripping novel, making Hieroglyphics, along with Life After Life, more proof of her storytelling genius.  OH

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.


A Nimble Deer


A doe that was, only a minute

before, quietly munching, leaps over

a wooden fence, nimble

as a goat. She rears up, after reaching

the other side, like a trick dog —

her front hooves dangling from her

useless forelegs, her hind legs

absorbing all the weight. She cranes

her soft, brown neck just far

enough to reach the succulent leaves

of a dogwood tree. But the younger 

deer — smaller, less sure —

stick to low-hanging branches,

their tails flicking like little propellers

that fail to lift them from the earth.

– Terri Kirby Erickson

The Pleasures of Life Dept.


All that glitters in Uwharrie National Forest


By David Claude Bailey

Gold! I had you from the git go, didn’t I? What word, other than “sex,” is so monosyllabically mesmerizing? So when our intrepid MeetUp leader, Hiker Steve, promised to show us dormant gold mines in Eldorado, less than 52 miles from the front door of O.Henry’s office, how could I resist?

I’d hiked the Uwharrie National Forest near Asheboro for years. Smack dab in the center of the state, it’s made up of 51,000 acres of public land amid some of the oldest mountains in North America. (Millions of years ago, peaks higher than the Alps towering over 20,000 feet, but they’ve since been worn down to glorified hills that top out at no more than 1,020 feet high today.) Hikers can choose from any number of evocatively named treks — the N.C. Zoo’s Purgatory Mountain with its Moonshine Run Trail, Jumping Off Rock trailhead, or the Tot Hill and Coolers Knob trail in the Birkhead Mountain Wilderness.

But gold? Who knew? Only a few. The trailhead that leads to the gold mines isn’t marked and you have to drive through the largest mud puddle in Montgomery County to get to the parking space. (We actually got out of the car and measured the depth before venturing through it.) But less than a mile down the trail on the right hand side of Big Creek stands a dynamited shaft that pierces the hillside and opens up into a shadowy caved-in area. Guarded by a humongous hoppy frog, stands a stagnant pool and an invitingly deep shaft that goes far back into the mountain to end abruptly in total darkness.

A word about access is needed here. While our national and state parks admonish hikers to stay on the trails and emphasize strict preservation of pristine areas, national forests are designated for “multiple use.” This includes horseback riding, off-the-leash dog-walking, off-road ATV recreation, plus hunting and fishing. Also allowed under permit from the U.S. Forest Service: cattle grazing, lumbering and mining.

Gold panning is also allowed without a permit, “provided only small quantities are removed for personal, noncommercial purposes.” Down the Internet’s rabbit hole I went, where I learned that there is, in fact, gold in them thar hills and creeks, and what’s more, people are taking it home with them.

Need I mention that gold was selling for record high prices of just shy of $2,000 an ounce in early August? No, I didn’t have gold fever, I told my wife, but wouldn’t it be fun to “find a little color?”

And so it was that my friend Randall and I, on a blistering hot summer day recently, found ourselves in the air-conditioned aisles of one of the neatest country stores in North Carolina — The Eldorado Outpost. Beyond the squatting Sasquatch statue and cases of survival knives, past Beanie Weenies and Vienna sausages flanked by bottles of Pepto-Bismol, not far from the Carhartt dungarees, a vast array of gold prospecting ware beckoned — miner’s moss, folding sluice boxes, sifting screens, shovels of all shapes and, of course, prospecting pans.

After exercising my credit card to equip us with a $15 gold pan, biscuits because they were out of hardtack that day, and sufficient hydrating supplies, we motored down Highway 109 toward Midway and took a right onto Methodist Church Road until it met Coggins Mine Road. There, we went left and, just before the bridge, took a right through that gargantuan mud puddle. From a previous scouting expedition, we knew we needed to follow Big Creek (which empties into the Uwharrie River near what’s called the Low Water Bridge) for about 750 feet to where an old dirt road forded the creek. We crossed the creek, went past an environmental monitoring well and followed the trail until we came to a loop, the inside of which was fenced off by a substantial railing. Posted along its length were signs that said “Danger Beyond This Point.” One of them read “unsafe mine shafts & high walls, deadly gas & lack of oxygen, unsafe ladders, unstable explosives, deep pools of water . . . Stay Out, Stay Alive.” The 8-year-old in me reared his head and said “C’mon! Let’s go.”

But there’s no doubt that the Russell Mine, as I later discovered was what we had stumbled upon, is a treacherous site. At least two open pits are off-limits, with ravines so deep you can look down upon the tops of 60-foot high trees growing at the bottom of the trench, which varies from 10 to 100 feet wide. This open pit snakes back hundreds of yards into the hillside with iron grates covering mine shafts here and there. On the top of one of the hills is a vertical shaft that pierces the ground. It is surrounded by not one, but two fences. At the bottom of the hill was a lateral shaft fenced off by bars big enough to keep a rhinoceros in, or maybe out. From the shaft’s 4-foot-high orifice — on a 90-plus-degree day — a constant blast of air no more than 65 degrees provided an ideal place for us to eat lunch.

As any N.C. schoolchild knows, in 1799 the 12-year-old son of a farmer near Charlotte hauled from a creek a 17-pound nugget of gold, which his family used as a doorstop until his father sold it for $3.50. Word spread and other farmers began combing creeks and riverbeds for gold, which likely found its way into waterways from nearby veins of gold-bearing quartz. Quartz and other volcanic surface rocks are associated with the presence of gold, which is formed, as they were, deep in the bowels of the earth before being squirted and thrust to the surface.

By the 1830s, prospectors were scouring the Uwharries for gold, digging up and blasting to bits quartz formations, sluicing the Uwharrie River and its creeks, and digging shafts down into the earth. With mines in Guilford, Moore, Montgomery, Orange, Randolph, Stanly and two dozen other counties, North Carolina produced more gold than any other state in the union until the California gold rush of 1849. At one time, an estimated 250–600 mines were in operation in the nine counties surrounding Montgomery County. According to an 1888 story in the Salisbury paper, the Russell Mine was “in full blast running their 40 stamps and working the largest output in Montgomery County.” Another account has men bringing rocks up from 60-foot-deep pits to gold stamps, huge weights that crushed the gold-bearing rock into sand-sized particles from which the gold could be separated.


Surely, Randall and I surmised, some of that gold got away and washed into Big Creek. From the piles of rocks heaped up all along the creek, it was evident we weren’t the first people to think that. In fact, we met a prospector who hoped to strike it rich there. Camping out and working all day in the creek, he looked the part with a 5 o’clock shadow, ragged cut-offs, bare chest and nut-brown skin. Holding a handmade spear, his eyes glittered as he explained how and where and why he did what he did. He didn’t have gold fever, he assured us. He had that once and it had cost him his marriage. He was just taking advantage of being jobless during the pandemic to see if he couldn’t strike it rich. And, no, he hadn’t found anything yet, but the day was young and he had several more days before someone was coming to pick him up.

So on that hot day when Randall and I came back equipped to dig in, so to speak, we’d done our homework. Drawing from a pamphlet published decades ago by the N.C. Geological Survey (“It is still possible to find small amounts of gold in the stream sediment [and] in exposed quartz veins”), we panned “where streams begin to widen or change in velocity.” We panned “along the insides of bends or in slow-water areas below rapids.” We panned where “gold tends to work its way to the bedrock and often accumulates in crevices, depressions and potholes in rock underlying the stream.” We dug way down into the bed of the stream since gold is 19 times heavier than water and eight times heavier than sand, which is why, the brochure said, it would end up in the grooves in our gold pans — if only it would.

We went back into the woods a third time to pan in Betty McGee’s creek, another area favored by prospectors. But my fever by then had diminished and I brought my fishing rod and caught a few golden-tinted war-mouths while Randall and a friend labored away.

I thought back to our second trip to Russell about two weeks after our first exploratory trek. We’d stumbled across our prospector’s campsite, where he sat dodging mosquitos, flies and the smoke from his fire. His hands and legs were laced with cuts and gashes. His face was smudged with ashes. His hammock hung under a tarp still sloshing from the previous night’s torrential rains. Tin cans, rusted and burnt in the fire to discourage coons and possums, lay about the ground. But our friend was pumped. The day before, he had, in fact, struck a vein way down the creek from where everybody else panned. Would we like to see his pay dirt? Of course. He dug into a pack and pulled out a tiny vile the size of a hypodermic syringe. When the sun caught its contents, it glittered and shone like nothing else on the planet, as if it were reactive or somehow effervescent. His eyes gleamed. “I’m going back today to see if I can’t find some more,” he said feverishly.

As we made our way back to the car in the punishing heat, Randall asked me how much I thought our friend had found after two weeks of back-breaking work.

“If it were salt instead of gold,” I said, “that’s about how much my dad would put on his T-bone steak.”

Eureka!  OH

Contributing Editor David Claude Bailey prefers digging beds for Sun Gold tomatoes in his Alamance County garden to prospecting for gold in the Uwharries.

The Uwharrie National Forest is billed as a “Land of Many Uses.” That includes hiking, fishing, mountain biking, dirt biking and some of the best trails in the state:

The North Carolina Zoo doesn’t allow gold panning but you can spot Panamanian golden frogs and golden-crested mynas under a timed-entry plan. Or you can hit the Purgatory Mountain Trail that’s on the zoo’s perimeter:

The Eldorado Outpost is a combination gathering place/ general store/ outdoor goods and camping equipment emporium, with a grill area that serves up hearty fare like tater wedges, biscuits and corn dogs:

Downtown Asheboro’s restaurants, shopping and antique scene attracts visitors from miles around, but it’s Four Saints Brewing Company that really hops to the rescue of thirsty hikers, bikers and anyone else:

Simple Life

“A Story For These Times”


By Jim Dodson

On a lovely evening beneath the trees not long ago, as summer green gave way to autumn gold, my wife, Wendy, shared a charming little story a friend had recently passed along to her via email. She wondered if I’d ever heard it before.

In fact, I had. But it had been many years since I thought of it and the wise soul who first shared it with me decades ago.

Here’s the story.

The Bohemian novelist and short-story writer Franz Kafka was walking home through a park in Prague one afternoon when he passed a little girl who was crying because she’d lost her favorite doll.

The writer, known for stories that fused realism and fantasy, suggested that the two of them search for the missing doll, but the doll was nowhere to be found. Hoping to console her, he suggested that they meet the next day and continue the search.

Upon his return, he presented the girl with a letter he insisted was written by her missing doll. “Please do not mourn for me,” the doll wrote. “I have gone on a trip to see the world. I will write to you about my adventures.”

Over the days and weeks that followed, he presented a stream of “letters” that recounted the doll’s amazing encounters with interesting people she’d met on her journey through the world. The letters provided deep comfort to the little girl.

When their meetings finally came to an end, Kafka presented the girl with a new doll that didn’t look anything like the original. To ease her confusion, he read the girl a final letter from her doll explaining why she seemed so different. “I have been out in the world,” the doll wrote. “My travels have changed me.” The little girl hugged the new doll and carried her home.

Franz Kafka died a short time later from tuberculosis. He was just 40 years old. He never married.

His stories and novels, however, were destined to become some of the best-loved writings of the 20th century, exploring themes of loss, grief and existential anxiety in a rapidly changing world. His very name — Kafka — would become a synonym for a world turned upside down by surreal predicaments. The poet W.H. Auden called him the “Dante of the 20th Century” and novelist Vladimir Nabokov ranked him among the most influential voices of all time.

Many years after her meeting with Kafka in the Prague park, the little girl, now an old woman, found an unread letter secreted in her beloved childhood doll.

“Everything you love will probably be lost,” the letter said. “But in the end, love will return in a different form.”

Though at least one of his biographers later questioned whether the encounter in the park actually happened, it is reported that Kafka, a prodigious letter-writer, put as much time and care into the creation of the doll’s colorful adventures as he did crafting his own wildly imaginative tales.

Regardless, the story outlived its author and has provided comfort to untold numbers of people wrestling with grief and loss, a timeless “healing” story long used by grief therapists and spiritual advisors.

In a year that will be remembered for its incalculable losses of life and livelihood, its Kafkaesque politics and a historic pandemic that will change each of our lives, the doll’s message seems more relevant than ever.

Everything you love will probably be lost. But love will return in a different form.

Hearing the story again gave me a shot of much needed hope. It reminded me of the first person who told me the story over a bowl of soup, a dear old friend named Col. Bob.

During the last decade we lived in Maine, Col. Bob and I met every few weeks for lunch and conversation at a village cafe where the soup was homemade and the community chatter lively.

Bob Day was a decorated veteran of WWII who’d led one of the first Army units over the Rhine into Nazi Germany. After his service, he returned to West Point, where he taught logistics. He made his mark as the pioneering director of admissions who is credited with admitting women to America’s top military academy by convincing his superiors to adopt merit over patronage as a primary means of admission.

We first met one Christmas when Bob played the angel Gabriel in the annual Christmas play at our local Episcopal Church.

My two knee-high nippers had important roles in the pageant. One was playing a lamb, the other a baby cow in the climactic manger scene. As Col. Bob stood hovering over the blessed setting with his goofy, Gary Cooper smile, one of his plaster-of-Paris wings fell off and conked a baby cow on the head. The audience gasped with alarm but erupted with applause when the boy beneath the cow’s head turned out to be laughing. The boy was my son, Jack.

Col. Bob was a volunteer grief counselor with a local organization that worked with families suffering from the loss of a child. As he explained to me over soup one crisp autumn day, his main job was to listen and care and simply “be” with people wrestling with unimaginable grief and loss.

As I learned in time, Bob was uniquely qualified for such soulful service. One day during his early years at West Point, his wife phoned him at the office to report that their youngest son had run outside to play and been run over and killed. Not long after the funeral, Bob returned from work to discover that his grieving wife had packed up and moved out with their two other two boys. The weight of sorrow had become too much.

Bob understood. He set up his wife and kids in a nice house in a neighboring town. Though he and his wife were never fully reconciled, they remained best of friends for the balance of her life. A few years later, a second son set off to see the world before college, contracted a strange virus and died.

Once I learned of these tragedies and others in his life, I understood — and deeply admired — the source of Col. Bob’s easy grace in the midst of so much personal suffering, including his unsinkable sense of humor and belief in the healing power of love. Every year for almost a decade, he showed up at our annual winter solstice party. Guests were invited to perform for their supper — to sing a song or read a poem to lighten the darkest night of the year. Col. Bob read hilarious limericks he spent the year composing.

Bob’s thing was original limericks. Some were sweet, others were poignant. Some were devilishly blue. The solstice crowd loved them all.

Bob loved literature and life. As I said, it was he who first told me the story of Kafka and the little girl with the lost doll. This was not long after my own father died and I was going through a double dose of loss from his death and a divorce that seemed to come out of nowhere, leaving me more than a little discouraged about the future.

It was Bob — using this story — who reminded me that, given time and an open heart, love and laughter would come again in different form.

He was right. Both came in the form of an extraordinary woman who has been the joy of my life for more than two decades — the same woman, I might add, who reminded me of the story of Kafka and the doll as we sat beneath the autumn trees a few weeks back.

Hearing it again also reminded me of the last letter I received from Col. Bob a decade or so ago, inquiring about Wendy and our kids and our new life “back home in the South.” He informed us that he, too, had recently moved home to Connecticut to be close to his surviving son and grandchildren. He was volunteering as a docent at a history museum several days a week and still working with grieving families. The handwritten letter included several pages of his original limericks — the “greatest hits of an angel with a broken wing,” as I like to think of them.

Not long after the letter arrived, I learned that Bob had passed away and drove up to his memorial service at West Point. It was great to meet his son and several of Bob’s old friends, students and colleagues. We all had stories of his amazing grace and healing sense of humor to share.

Folks had a good laugh when I explained how a broken angel’s wing in a Christmas play introduced me to Col. Bob, a gift not unlike the one that Kafka gave the little girl in the Prague park.

It’s still the perfect message for a changing season and Kafkaesque days like these.

Everything you love will probably be lost. But love will return in a different form.  OH

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at


Give Justin Stabb a problem and watch him delve into his palette of materials to solve it

By Ross Howell Jr.     Photographs by Amy Freeman


Architect Peter Freeman had a problem. While he was pleased with his ambitious design for a light fixture for a medical facility, he wasn’t sure how to build it. He wasn’t even sure it could be built.

So Freeman did what many architects, designers, museums, corporations, nonprofits and private individuals are doing these days. He reached out to Stabb Designs in High Point.


Thirty-something Justin Stabb founded his business in 2016 following a remarkably challenging career path. He’d designed and built manufacturing machines. He’d installed robotic-arm work stations and brought them online for major corporations. He’d developed processing and manufacturing systems on-site for big industry.

Yet the mechanical engineering — what Stabb calls the “function” side — of his creativity had always been driven by a love for artistic creation.

Justin Stabb at his coffee house, ’83 Custom Coffee


I was determined to learn more. So here I am, opening the door to a low-slung building on West Green Drive. I’m greeted by a tall man with a shaved head, short-clipped beard and dark brown eyes. In this age of Covid, I’m wearing a surgical mask, and we keep our distance, nodding greetings. Though we don’t shake hands, I see his are big, the hands of a man who makes things.

Sophisticated computer equipment is mingled among work benches and tool cabinets.

Stabb introduces me to Brittany Rankin, the office manager, his first employee. He hired her as a barista for ’83 Custom Coffee, originated in 2018, another Stabb enterprise.

His “coffee house” is a black pickup painted with the ’83 Custom Coffee logo and modified truck bed — I walked by it on West Green Drive as I entered the building. It provides fresh-brewed gourmet coffee and a pleasant place to gather to share ideas. While the truck café left some High Pointers scratching their heads, it’s now a fixture in town.

“I come from an unconventional background,” Stabb says. “My grandmother was a professional oil painter. My grandfather was a patent attorney.” So from the time he was a boy, Stabb’s imagination was shaped by both creation and construction.

Stabb tells me his father was a contractor in Oakland, California, who built and set up a small work bench in the back yard, where his son could glue together model airplanes and car kits while he worked on building projects.

“I remember sitting in that golden California sunshine, watching my Dad,” Stabb says. “It was great, getting to see the things he made.”

Photograph courtesy of Michael Blevins


Later Stabb moved to Rochester, New York, and would study at the Rochester Institute of Technology, one of the leading universities in the nation for training in technology, the arts and design.

Along the way, Stabb started working at the age of 15 for Mahany Welding Supply, a company founded in Rochester in 1946. He continued for seven years, gaining more responsibility for larger projects as he proved his abilities and his experience grew.

There, Stabb learned welding and blacksmithing from Michael Krupnicki, the owner of the business. In 2001, Krupnicki had decided to start offering welder training classes not only for professional tradesmen, but also for the general public, through day clinics, night courses, collegiate and vocational classes, plus professional welder qualification programs.

His programs were so successful that in 2012 Krupnicki formed Rochester Arc + Flame Center, where experienced professionals and world-class artists now offer classes in welding, smithing, glasswork and jewelry.

“Mike’s a great teacher,” Stabb adds.

He walks me to the area of the shop where he finished the Freeman lighting piece.

“First we had to come up with the parts that would be assembled for the light,” Stabb says. “We needed to design something that would be strong, but relatively lightweight.”

Using his 3D printer, Stabb designed and made a prototype for the element, which could then be precisely reproduced in quantity.

Next was the colored glass for the light. Following Freeman’s design, an intricate shape had to be carved out of the centers of the small glass panes.

“One of our suppliers used water-jet technology to cut the holes,” Stabb says. “We didn’t know for sure that the water jet would work, but it did.” Stabb adds that he likes projects that test the limits of fabrication technology.

The problem with the etched-out panes was that the edges of cuts were sharp and brittle-looking.

“So we fired them again in the kiln,” he says, handing me one of the leftover panes to inspect. The edges are smooth to the touch, elegant-looking.

“Firing the glass again smoothed the edges, made them organic-looking,” Stabb says. “That’s what we were looking for.”

Stabb explains that pieces like Peter Freeman’s light fixture give him the opportunity to excel.

“I describe what I do as ‘dream-making,’” he says. “Give me a problem. Let me mix from a palette of materials to solve it.”

We move on to an element from a different lighting project. It’s bigger than a hollowed-out bass drum. Encircling its center is a ring of LEDs. Next Stabb shows me one of the fins that will be attached to the drum.

“Each one of these fixtures, when finished, will be about 12 feet in diameter,” he says.

“See the holes in the top?” he asks.

I nod.

“That’s way more than we need to suspend it,” Stabb continues. “But we’re using wire, and we wanted an industrial look.”

He opens a door and we move into a back area of the shop. Here the other drum light fixtures are stored, awaiting assembly, along with other projects.

He points to an impressive air-cleaning system that reaches from floor to ceiling. Calling on his machine design experience, Stabb reverse-engineered the system from diagrams and other systems he’d seen, making it himself and saving thousands of dollars from what he would’ve paid had he purchased one.

As we talk, another of Stabb’s employees walks in. He’s lanky, with blue eyes and sandy blond hair and looks to be college age. His name is Clayton Brewer. Stabb tells me his specialties are fabrication and installation of big displays.

“His grandmother wants him to go to college,” Stabb says. He explains that Brewer isn’t really interested, so they’re developing a special curriculum that will cover fabrication and design and art, along with management and accounting courses from different institutions so Brewer can one day run his own business.

Stabb tells me his other employee, craftsman Brad Grubb, is out of the office working on location.

Looking at the air cleaner, I ask Stabb if he’s ever considered going back to the industrial sector.

“Designing machines for manufacturing is something I used to do full-time,” he responds. “It’s lucrative, but it’s all function and no art.” He explains that the work he’s done for manufacturers will only be experienced by the employees who work in their facilities.

“I want to make things my kids will get to see,” Stabb adds. For that reason he’s keeping his focus on some artistic projects that can be viewed in commercial and public settings.

“But I like making big things,” he says. “That way I can leverage my industrial experience.”

Stabb Designs built a life-size wooden train locomotive that was installed at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. They’ve fabricated custom lighting fixtures made from wooden bats and made beer taps from old repurposed tools for a baseball stadium.

The magnificent light designed by Freeman? It’s ready for installation at Bethany Medical.

So what dreams does dream-maker Justin Stabb envision for himself?

Right now his company is designing a section of Plant 7 at Congdon Yards in High Point. The downtown facility will provide access for fabricators and designers to expensive, state-of-the-art equipment inaccessible to the budgets of small companies, especially start-ups.

“In November Stabb Designs will be moving into a 14,000-square-foot facility,” he says. That’s a big step up from the modest building I’m visiting now.

“And someday I want to have a product line,” Stabb continues. “Maybe I’ll downscale some of our big projects. I like repurposing. And I want to find ways to repurpose what I’ve learned.”

As I’m about to leave, I notice a little work bench made of wood near Stabb’s computer. The low bench has a vise, screwdrivers, child-size braces with auger bits and other tools scattered over its surface.

“For my kids,” Stabb says. He smiles.

As I leave, I think of that young boy sitting in the California sun, watching his father make something. I expect Stabb Designs will be making a world of dreams in the years ahead.  OH

Ross Howell Jr. is a novelist and freelance magazine writer in Greensboro.

Kitchen Confidential

When Daniel and Kathy Craft decided to update their kitchen, they found themselves looking more to the past than the future

By Billy Ingram


Has anyone ever been to a lively party where the most entertaining folks didn’t congregate in the kitchen? It’s the heart and hearth of a contemporary home, a place for relaxation and creative activity, the only room where the entire family daily congregates. That always presents a genuine challenge for interior designers, but even more so when they’re tackling one of the city’s most revered mid-century masterpieces.

“We knew we wanted a Loewenstein,” Kathy Craft says of her and husband Daniel’s search for the perfect home more than a decade ago. They had looked at almost a dozen houses in the Irving Park area designed by famed architect Edward Loewenstein before contacting Lee Carter about the status of the home he grew up and lived in. Was he willing to sell? “Lee contacted us six months later,” Kathy recounts. He told them he would consider an offer, but “wanted the house to remain as is — they wanted it taken care of,” she says. “I walked in, got six feet into the door and I’m like, ‘I don’t even need to see any more.’”

Katie Redhead of Tyler Redhead and McAlister Real Estate is not surprised by the Crafts’ experience. “It’s amazing how we are seeing more demand for the mid-century Loewenstein designed homes,” she says. Sadly, many of Loewenstein’s finest homes fell prey to the bulldozer over the last two decades as developers valued the acreage more than the heritage. “Right now we’ve got such high demand, if one did come on the market I think it would be very well received. And I probably wouldn’t have said that 10 years ago,” Redhead says.

Designed for Wilbur and Martha Carter, the Carter House, located on Country Club Drive, was the architect’s first fully realized Modernist design. Completed in 1951, Loewenstein’s signature can be seen in the integrated carport, slate floors in the common areas front and back on either side of a spacious dining room, the enormous fireplace serving as a load bearing wall, and an array of picture windows encircling the home to allow the majesty of the verdant outdoors into every room.

“We replaced all the windows,” Kathy Craft says. “We’ve been here 16 years and it took us that long to do all of that.” Organized around an L shape, exterior flourishes, repeated in the interior, include native bluestone, brick walls and wormy-chestnut siding. The yard is so large, extending all the way to Cornwallis, there was space for a horse stable.

Influenced by the Usonian houses of Frank Lloyd Wright, the Carter House is literally a work of art, recognized so by the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. “I would say the Carter House, for Loewenstein, put his signature on the map in terms of what he could accomplish,” says Patrick Lucas, director of the School of Interiors at the University of Kentucky and author of Modernism at Home: Edward Loewenstein’s Mid-Century Architectural Innovation in the Civil Rights Era.

According to Lucas, who was on faculty of UNCG from 2002 to 2013, there are probably 20 or 25 of Loewenstein’s houses still standing, “Sprinkled here and yon through the Greensboro area,” he says. “Some in Irving Park. There’s a great one in Pleasant Garden. There’s one in Sedgefield.” In his opinion, the Carter House is one of Loewenstein’s finest, “certainly in terms of the big ones that he was known for. It’s a really splendid home because it has an extra room on the front that is sort of a double living room. It’s a pretty brave space and, as a result, the house is quite open.”

“It had good bones,” Kathy Craft says of the home when they took possession. Because of the engineering bent of Loewenstein’s firm, his homes were almost overbuilt, so solid they don’t have a lot of issues that modern buildings develop over time. “It needed a lot of cosmetic work, ripping the shag carpeting out, stripping and painting, phone lines and curtains, while trying to keep everything as minimal as possible,” Kathy says.

Other than updated appliances, the kitchen hadn’t changed significantly in nearly 70 years. “We lived with the original kitchen the entire time,” Kathy Craft says. “And I was fine with it but Daniel said, ‘Let’s blow it up.’ I wasn’t the instigator there, for once.”

That’s when Emma Legg and Sydney Foley of Kindred Interior Studios were brought in to reimagine that space. “One of the reasons we named our company Kindred,” Legg says, “is that it’s really important to us that each and every project reflects our client’s style and taste, their wants and needs. When someone walks into a space we’ve designed, our goal is for that person to say, like in this instance, ‘Oh, this looks perfect for Daniel and Kathy Craft.’”

“We were just both so excited about the project,” Foley says. “When we pulled up we knew it was going to be really fun because we could get really deep into a project like this because there is such a specific look.” Not only were they going for a mid-century Modern look, “We’re also looking to do the whole house justice because it’s a historic home, it is going to be noted, and we want to make sure we’re doing old Ed [Loewenstein] justice, as well as the Crafts.”

“One challenge that we had is, Kathy and Daniel are both minimalists,” Legg says. “The wall that their range is on backs up to their dining room and it’s rather long. They were pretty adamant that they did not want to fill that wall with upper cabinets.”

That’s when they came up with the idea of adding a thin wedge of shelving above the range that rounds the corner into the housing for the oven and microwave. “This gave us an opportunity to bring the countertop up as a backsplash without going to the full wall,” Legg says. “This keeps the lines very clean but at the same time gives it just a little bit of interest, to keep from being boring. We also added wall sconces for additional cast lighting while they’re cooking and also if they wanted to display any objects, to highlight those as well.”

“We can make anything beautiful,” Foley says. “But for us the measure of a successful kitchen is about function, and how the work flows.” That’s why they worked in tandem with Pat Parr of Classic Construction. There’s a rule of thumb for interior designers called the “Work Triangle” that incorporates a room’s three main items — in this case the refrigerator, sink and range — and how that space functions within the floor plan. “Are you able to get from A to B without having to climb over your island, that kind of thing,” Foley notes. “We get very detailed with our clients about what’s going to be in each drawer, what kind of features do they require, do they need peg storage for dishes, layered storage for silverware?”

The original floors were concrete topped with vinyl-asbestos tiles, all the rage in the fifties. “The Crafts wanted a real terrazzo floor,” Legg says. “Based on the quality of the concrete and the amount of work that they were going to have to do, real terrazzo was not feasible. After a lot of research, we came up with a porcelain tile that looks like terrazzo and, once installed, we felt like it was really beautiful and it did mimic the real thing.”

The result is an oasis of luxurious simplicity with inviting lines reflected in flooring that shimmers in the light. “A lot of other kitchens we’ve seen had a kind of identity crisis,” Foley says. “People try to cram too many design features into a kitchen. Sometimes we just find that less is more in some situations.”

As for the Crafts, they love their sleek, state-of-the-art kitchen. “Oh my gosh, I had no idea it would change my life so much,” Kathy says. “I always liked the old kitchen but now that it’s all new, it’s like, wow, this is really nice. We spend a lot of time there and I haven’t gotten at all tired of cooking over these last few months. It makes day-to-day life much easier.”  OH

Billy Ingram is a former Hollywood movie poster artist and the author of five books.



When the Carter House won the American Institute of Architects’ N.C.  design award in 1951,  Edward Loewenstein explained his design process to a colleague:

“We started working with the Carters on an extremely contemporary house . . . A local contractor estimated the house and they decided they would rather have a traditional Georgian house. We completed drawings on this, through the working drawing stage and obtained an even more outrageous estimate . . . [Ultimately,] the Carters decided to let us carry the project through as a contemporary project. As it progressed, their parents, who were very conservative, had become very enthusiastic about it and we have received violent comments in both directions from neighbors and friends.”

Loewenstein wasn’t just a mid-century master but a civil rights pioneer in Greensboro. In the early 1950s, he became the first white architect in North Carolina to employ African-American designers to work alongside him. In addition, he also offered opportunities for women to enter the field.


Photographs courtesy of David and Lauren Clark.