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Whispers of Sharon

Through her worldly possessions, a sister spills her secrets from beyond the veil


By Cynthia Adams

My nieces had set to work after Christmas, mulling over what to keep, what to press into siblings’ hands and what to donate. My sister Sharon, six years my senior, died suddenly after Thanksgiving. Someone had to empty the wallet, the purse, the closets and drawers — each corner of her life.

A month earlier, I stood before mourners at a funeral home with a frozen smile on my face.

Writers are often asked to write obituaries and eulogies for the loved ones of friends. I should have been better at this when it came to my sister. 

When a beloved boss died, I attempted a funny story about my first week on the job, but I was too anxious and the humor too strained. Mourners tittered politely. A wiser person would have learned from that experience.

My nieces had stressed that they wanted an upbeat service

Happy, they said. 

So there I was, trying to wring humor from sorrow as my elderly mother listened, riven with grief. Her black eyes shone with tears.

She, too, would be dead within the year.

I talked about my sister’s courage when we were farm kids. She had been a fierce cowgirl, I said, with red boots and dark pigtails that swished as we played Crack the Whip with neighborhood kids. The genuinely laughable thing was how little courage I possessed by comparison.

When Bessie, our milk cow, stood grinding on Sharon’s foot, did she scream? No, she just ordered me to pull the old cow away. If her horse Mable bucked her, Sharon dusted dirt off her bottom and threw a booted foot back over the saddle. 

Me? I was prone to dismount in histrionics when my pony twitched at a fly.

Not how the Lone Ranger would act, Sharon frowned.

Get back on.

I was the scrawny one, an instigator of neighborhood kerfuffles. Sharon broke her collar bone defending me in a fight I foolishly started with the neighborhood bully. She lay on a pallet in our room for weeks until the bones knitted back.

In the darkness, while I sniffled at ghosts if the winds howled, she would snigger. 

Now I reluctantly followed my nieces through my sister’s house, so empty our steps echoed. 

Buck up, I told myself.

Gingerly, I touched Sharon’s worldly possessions. I spied our grandmother’s beloved cookie jar and her porcelain tea set, crackled with webs. 

My cowgirl sister, it turned out, was a hoarder of finery: pale pink crystal, so delicate a tooth could crack the rim. Ornate silver — trays, coffee sets and serving pieces from an era when people entertained in a way Sharon never had. 

Upstairs, I tiptoed into her inner sanctum. Sharon’s closet was echo empty apart from our great aunt’s monogrammed mink. I gaped. Where had she worn that?

Then a mass of jewelry. And purses — an astonishing number.

My niece opened a drawer. “And this,” she said in a flat voice. “I don’t know what to do about this.”

Inside lay a snub-nosed revolver.

Sharon, the fearless, kept a revolver?

Atop her nightstand: The Happiness Project, the book she was reading before a heart attack sent her to the ER. I peeked at thumbed down pages.

On top of a stack of greeting cards was a sympathy card she’d written to someone, unaddressed. “She had a special way that warmed the hearts of everyone who knew her,” Sharon had written in consolation.

I took in her words, desperately wanting to know who this last message was intended for, and noting the irony of how they could be applied to my warm-hearted sister. Suddenly, I felt awkward. Intrusive. And very alone after my nieces went their separate ways.

My own bedside reading and trove of valuables might yield a few surprises. But no minks. No red cowgirl boots. No pistols. All at once, I was overcome with an aching sense of loss. Rain began to fall and the house seemed to close in on me. Locking the door behind me, emotions I could not name swelled to the surface. Outside, I avoided looking toward the forlorn garbage can, brimming with objects reluctantly discarded. Droplets shimmered in the fading light, almost electric on the leafless trees.

I placed two boxes in the trunk of my car — totems of my sister’s life. My grandfather’s broken Philco radio, books, the empty cookie jar (once filled with Dixie cookies from the A&P) and two wigs (one of which I bought Sharon during her fight with cancer). 

I set off into the cold, accompanied by a Sunday-night dolorous concerto on the radio, pondering unbearable mysteries.

Rolling over a neighborhood speed bump, the cookie jar rattled ominously. The sound made me curse and cry at the same time. 

Get back on, I whispered.  OH

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

Scuppernong Bookshelf

Spine Tinglers

Our favorite Halloween candy? Books, of course


Compiled by Shannon Purdy Jones

October is finally here, and we’re ready for jack-o-lanterns, jeans and maybe even a little pumpkin spice. Halloween will bring all things ghoulish and ghastly. Accordingly, we’ve compiled a collection of spine-tingling, gut-clenching, shadows-under-the-stairs-creepy new releases. And we’ve got something for everyone: From chainsaw-wielding horror vets to those who just want to watch Practical Magic on repeat for the entire month. No tricks here, just deliciously readable treats that go perfectly with spiced cider.

My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones (Gallery/Saga Press, $26.99) Seventeen-year-old outcast Jade Daniels lives in her own world. Half Blackfoot Indian, she was born to an abusive father and an absent mother, and yet she finds solace from an unlikely source: slasher flicks. Jade amuses herself by narrating the quirky history of her town, Proofrock, as if it, too, were a horror movie. But when blood actually begins to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, predicting exactly how the plot will unfold. Think Shirley Jackson meets Friday the 13th but with a triumphant twist.

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix (Berkley, $26) In horror movies, the “final girls” are the ones left standing when the credits roll. They made it through the worst night of their lives . . . but what happens after? Like his bestselling novel The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Hendrix’s latest is a fast-paced, frightening and wickedly humorous thriller about six girls in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, working to put their lives back together. From chain-saw massacres to summer camp slayers, this novel pays tribute to some of our favorite horror films — and cleverly subverts them.

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay (William Morrow & Co, $9.99) In a matter of weeks, Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus spread by saliva. But unlike rabies, the disease has an incubation period of an hour or less. Hospitals are inundated with the sick and dying while quarantines are put in place. Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, a soft-spoken pediatrician in her mid-30s, receives a frantic phone call from Natalie, a friend who is eight months pregnant. Having been bitten by the same infected neighbor who bit and killed her husband, the clock is ticking for her and her unborn child. Natalie’s fight for life becomes a desperate odyssey as she and Rams make their way through a hostile and chaotic landscape filled with dangers beyond their worst nightmares.

Dream Girl by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, $28.99) Injured after a freak fall, novelist Gerry Andersen is confined to a hospital bed in his glamorous high-rise apartment, dependent on two women he barely knows: his indifferent young assistant, and a dull, slow-witted night nurse. Late one night, the phone rings. The caller claims to be the “real” Aubrey, the alluring but absolutely fictitious title character from his most successful novel, Dream Girl. Could the cryptic caller be one of his three ex-wives playing a vindictive trick after all these years? Or is she Margot, an ex-girlfriend who keeps trying to insinuate her way back into Gerry’s life? And why does no one believe that the call even happened? Isolated from the world and drowsy from medication, Gerry slips between reality and a dreamlike state in which he is haunted by his own past. Chilling and compulsively readable, Dream Girl touches on timely issues including power, agency, appropriation and creation. The result is a superb blend of psychological suspense and horror that reveals the mind and soul of a writer.

Witch Please by Ann Aguirre (Sourcebooks Casablanca, $15.99) One bisexual virgin baker with a curse? Check. A witch who avoids romantic entanglements at all costs? Check. Enough chemistry between them to cause literal sparks? Check, check. Danica Waterhouse, co-owner of Fix-It Witches, is a fully modern witch. After a messy breakup that involved way too much family feedback, Danica and her cousin make a pact to keep their romantic affairs hidden from the overly opinionated Waterhouse matriarchs. Three blocks down from Fix-It Witches lives Titus Winnaker, owner of Sugar Daddy’s bakery. Sure, business is sweet, but he can’t seem to shake the romantic curse that’s left him past 30 and still a virgin. He’s decided he’s doomed to be forever alone. That is, until he meets Danica Waterhouse. The sparks are instant, their attraction irresistible. For him, she’s the one. For her, he’s a firebomb thrown into the middle of a family war. Can a modern witch find love with an old-fashioned mundane who refuses to settle for anything less than forever? This adorably witchy rom com is like Practical Magic meets Gilmore Girls.

Other notable Halloween reads: Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar (Gallery Books $28); A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers (Unnamed Press, $17); The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward (Tor Nightfire, $27.99).  OH

Shannon Purdy Jones is store manager and children’s book buyer at Scuppernong Books.

Omnivorous Reader

Weddings and Wit

Learning about love on a deadline

By Anne Blythe

If you’re someone who likes to soak in every detail from The New York Times Vows section — and even if you’re not — Cate Doty just might have a book for you to tuck into your beach bag or snuggle up with beside a late fall or early winter fire. Her first book, Mergers and Acquisitions: Or, Everything I Know About Love I Learned on the Wedding Pages, published in May, builds on her experiences as a wedding announcement reporter for the Times. She likes that her memoir has been described as a breezy beach read, but it’s much more.

It’s a sprightly written coming-of-age story that gives readers a peek into how the Vows columns and marriage announcements get onto the newspaper’s pages while also revealing a young reporter questioning those traditions and institutions. Don’t expect a tell-all about those couples whose carefully crafted wedding resumes include first dates after a Harvard debate club meeting, or mentions of grandparents or parents with penthouse apartments overlooking Central Park.

This is a love story, an account from a witty, self-deprecating author who readily acknowledges the irony of poking fun at people who go to great lengths to get their wedding announcements into the Times, then having the news of her own marriage published there, too.

On a hot August morning on the stone steps of Wilson Library at UNC-Chapel Hill, Cate Doty — born in Raleigh and raised in Fayetteville — was sitting with her husband, Michael, watching students rush along the campus sidewalks between classes. Nearly two decades ago, Doty was one of those students herself, unsure of the path she would chart from those brick walkways. During freshman orientation, she wandered into the offices of The Daily Tar Heel, a feisty student newspaper that has launched many a storied journalism career.

An eventual North Carolina writer began to take shape.

Now, she’s back on campus, a published author, teaching in the journalism school and reminiscing about what compelled her to share her own wedding story after getting her feet wet writing for The New York Times wedding section. Doty takes her readers on a journey from her student days and a steamy romance on the cusp of adulthood in Chapel Hill to the nation’s capital and then New York, a city that woos its young arrivals while also putting them through their paces.

Along the way, she gives glimpses of Fayetteville, the Cumberland County city where she got a taste of the country club life, cotillions and what it was like to live on the edge of privilege in a complicated South while also questioning whether she was one of the advantaged or someone on the outside looking in. There are snippets from Swansboro, where her mother lives now, and peeks inside one of the largest newspapers in the world, where she worked as a researcher, news assistant and eventually editor.

Through the trials and tribulations of falling in and out of love while writing wedding announcements, Doty falls head over heels for a city, a profession and a fellow journalist — the same guy sitting with her below the marble columns of Wilson Library. It’s a book that makes you think about the nature of weddings, the institution of marriage, the stories behind the unions, and why anybody needs to read about the floral arrangements, dress designs and guests at the ceremony.

“What’s in a wedding announcement? After all, weddings will (and do) happen without one,” Doty writes. “In fact, most American nuptials, successful or not, go unnoticed by news organizations and unannounced, except on social media, and the occasional church bulletin. But the weddings we wrote about for the Times — they were different. They were, generally speaking, wildly expensive — far beyond the average American expenditure of $44,000. But they were more than the sum of their gilded parts. They were mergers of families and bank accounts, of aspirations and hubris. And these announcements were battle plans, and business plans, of class and warfare. They were incredibly difficult to obtain, which meant that they were worth far more than the soy ink they were made of.”

Doty transports readers through the Times offices to the desk of the wedding section editor, who quickly opens her eyes even wider to a world of haves and have-nots, and an exclusive club of brides and grooms who can be demanding, difficult, defiant and on occasion downright devoid of decency. The New York Social Register played a part in which of the 200, or more, wedding announcements submitted each week would land in the 40 to 45 available slots that readers of the Times print pages lingered over on Sundays. Lineage back to the Mayflower mattered, as did social and financial connections to Newport, Palm Beach, the Hamptons and the Upper East Side.

There’s a revealing story about one senator, “a craven, attention-hungry man,” who slammed down the phone on Doty in outrage as she asked him the same kind of fact-checking questions put to all who expect their nuptial announcements to appear in the Times.

Doty, who’s now 42, started writing for the wedding desk in 2004 and did so off and on for six years. The first three seasons she chronicles in her memoir are so descriptive that you can almost hear the phone messages blaring on Monday mornings after an aggrieved newlywed calls to complain about something put in — or left out of — their special announcement. Following the counsel of her legal team, Doty changed the names of editors, colleagues, brides and grooms she worked with and reported on in her book.

One name was unchanged, however, that of her husband, Michael. He worked at the Times, too, starting there as a news clerk and ending on the politics desk in 2016 after the primaries and general election. They both took buyouts that year when facing new demands of parenthood and changes at the newspaper.

In Doty’s memoir, readers see the confusion she wrestles with after Michael, her friend and lunch partner, invites her to a play in which he’s a character running wild in the bayou on a New York stage, completely naked and covered with mud.

“The lighting was artfully done so that you couldn’t see everything, but I saw nearly everything,” Doty wrote. “My face burned like lava. It trickled down my neck and my body, and I thought, Well then.”

She delivered her blunt critique of the play at lunch, blurting out a question they still playfully debate today, just as they do in the pages of the book. “‘You didn’t tell me you were going to be completely naked,’ I said over my turkey cheeseburger at the Westway. He looked startled, and then angry. ‘Yes, I did,’ he said prickly. ‘I wouldn’t have not told you that.’” They eventually had their first kiss on the steps of the New York Public Library between Patience and Fortitude, the marble lions that flank them.

Though it’s a city they’ve left behind for their home in Raleigh where they’re raising their first-grader and their dog, New York still occupies a huge space in their hearts.

“We were learning how to be ourselves,” Michael says about the book and the city he describes as a prominent character in it. “We were learning how to be together. We were learning how to live in the city. We were learning how to navigate a career path at the Times together.”

They were both Southerners in their City of Dreams, he the child of divorce with a nomadic sense of place, and she from a line of North Carolina women who, among other things, insisted that you don’t put family silver in the dishwasher for fear of damaging the patina. They challenged each other on their traditions and roots. 

North Carolinians may recognize a bit of themselves in the family and characters that come alive through Doty’s funny, warm and introspective words. They might question why a woman seemingly so critical of wedding announcements and the carefully crafted displays of stations in life that go along with them ends up writing a book about her own wedding story.

“I’m not above the fray,” Doty added. “But I also think it’s important, as someone who comes from this background, to talk about it. To poke holes in it.”   OH

Anne Blythe has been a reporter in North Carolina for more than three decades. She has covered city halls, higher education, the courts, crime, hurricanes, ice storms, droughts, floods, college sports, health care and the wonderful characters who make this state such an interesting place.

The Creators of N.C.

Time Capsule in Jazz

Whether you know him as Dr. Martinez or Marty Most, you know The Big Easy is alive in his heart and his photos


By Wiley Cash    Photographs by Mallory Cash

Nestled in a patch of pine woods just south of Wilmington, Dr. Maurice Martinez, New Orleans’ first beat poet, is sitting in a favorite chair in his sunlight-flooded living room. At his feet are several crates of black-and-white photographs, carefully encased in plastic sleeves. He bends down to pick up an image, staring at it for a moment before gesturing toward the subject — a Black man in a suit playing a soprano saxophone. The man’s eyes are closed in concentration.

“John Coltrane was the most serious musician I’ve ever met,” says Martinez. He looks back down at the photograph with such intensity it’s as if he’s traveling back in time, peeling back the years and the stories that led him from a childhood in New Orleans to the halls of American academia by way of a barnstorming concert tour across Brazil. Photograph in hand, Martinez’s mind and memory are focused on the string of shows Coltrane played when he came to New Orleans in 1963. Martinez and his camera were there to capture it. He presented a composite of several of the photos he took to the jazz musician. “When he saw it, he got warm and opened up,” Martinez says. “He could see that I was serious about music, too.”

Maurice Martinez has been serious about many things over the course of his life — music, education, social justice, documentary filmmaking, plus Creole heritage and history — but jazz and photography have been lifelong staples. His two passions have recently come together in A Time Capsule in Jazz, an exhibit on display at the Genesis Block Gallery in downtown Wilmington until October 20.

Martinez was a college student at Xavier University in Louisiana when he first began to take photography seriously. His early steps were tentative, but experimental.

“It was a little black box, and it only had one speed on the shutter,” he says. “But it also had a way that you could do a time exposure by disengaging the automatic shutter.”

And so he did just that, then put the camera on the desk.

“It came out like a Rembrandt.”

He soon moved on to Instamatics and 35mm cameras, experimenting with various lenses before graduating to better and more advanced equipment. After starting a wedding photography business with a buddy, he soon learned that the best photographs came at what he calls “the peak moment of joy,” such as when the newlyweds are seated in the limousine and the wedding and all its fuss is behind them. Only then do you see the couple relax, he says.

Martinez saw that those moments of joy were also evident in the jazz musicians who brought their soulful music to New Orleans in the 1960s. Music had always been a passion for Martinez, and his parents recognized his talent when he was young. A local university offered a junior school of music, so Martinez began piano classes there when he was 9 years old with his buddy Ellis Marsalis. Martinez would eventually step away from the piano and pick up the bass, purchasing what was reportedly the first electric bass played in New Orleans. Along with his photography business, he founded a jazz quartet that played gigs for fraternities at Tulane.

When he finished college at Xavier, one of his professors encouraged him to apply to graduate school at the University of Michigan. While segregation ensured that state universities in Louisiana were closed to people of color, $750 grants were available to Black students who sought degrees outside the state. But by the time Martinez had been granted admission to Michigan, the December deadline to apply for the Louisiana grant had passed. His father, who had made a career as a master bricklayer and stonemason, reached out to one of his wealthy patrons, and the $750 needed to enroll at Michigan was secured. Martinez packed up his camera and headed north, bringing his love for jazz with him.

At Michigan, he found himself as the music curator for a creative arts festival, and while many of the students wanted to invite The Who and other rock’n’roll bands, Martinez invited Miles Davis.

After finishing his M.A. in education at Michigan, Martinez returned to New Orleans and followed in the footsteps of his mother by teaching math in the local public schools for six years. His mother taught in the local schools before opening a private school that first catered to Creole children and educated some of the city’s most exceptional Black citizens, including Wynton Marsalis, a former mayor and a former chief of police.

But Martinez felt himself floundering after returning home. People encouraged him to leave the city and make a name for himself, so he returned to the University of Michigan for a doctorate in education. It was there, while studying Portuguese, that he discovered a Ford Foundation grant that was sending students on internships in Latin America. After landing a grant, he lived in Brazil for two years, studying the ways in which tradition and modernity affect life in urban and rural cities. He was also taking photographs and playing jazz. Along with another American and three Brazilians, he formed a quintet called Grupo Calmalma de Jazz Livre, and they went on to play a 14-city tour sponsored by the U.S. Embassy.

It was after returning to Michigan to complete his Ph. D. that Martinez met Marjorie, the woman who would become his wife of 48 years. After graduating, the couple moved to New York City, where Martinez spent 24 years teaching in the education department at Hunter College, taking students and professors into some of the city’s most challenging schools in order to gain a clear perspective on the profession that he was preparing students to pursue.

The experience was fraught with issues of race, class and caste, but coming-of-age in New Orleans assured that he was familiar navigating that terrain.

By the early ’90s, Martinez had grown weary of life in New York, and when he was invited to join the faculty in the UNC-Wilmington’s Watson College of Education as a visiting professor, he jumped at the chance. He joined the full-time faculty the following year, spending 20 years as a professor in the Department of Instructional Technology, Foundations and Secondary Education.

But no matter where he has lived, New Orleans has always been alive in his heart. After all, he is known as Marty Most, Jazz Poet and credited as the first person to put the words “The Big Easy” in print:

Have you ever been to an old time jazz man’s funeral in my hometown?

Put on your imagination, baby, and come on down

To an old time jazz man’s funeral in my hometown.

It’s called the Big Easy, way, way down.

What’s the biggest difference he sees between Wilmington and the Big Easy?

“Wilmington was settled by the British,” he says. “So we have the Azalea Festival. But things would be different if it had been settled by the French.” He leans forward, a smile playing across his face, a light twinkling in his eye. “Because then we’d have Mardi Gras.”  OH

Wiley Cash is the Alumni Author-in-Residence at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. His new novel, When Ghosts Come Home, was released last month.   

Life’s Funny

A Fear of Flying (Monkeys)

But that was the old story


By Maria Johnson

Of all the stories I knew as a kid, one stands out as being the most terrifying to me: the movie version of The Wizard of Oz.

Specifically, the scenes with the flying monkeys.

The Wicked Witch of the West was bad enough, always spying on Dorothy and Toto with her crystal ball, a sort of early security camera.

But the flying monkeys sent me over the edge, especially when the WWOW dispatched them to capture Dorothy and Toto.

“Now fly, fly,” she commands, and the sky outside her window fills with a squadron of her flapping minions in their little bellhop jackets.

So one minute, little Dorothy is kicking it with her newfound friends and her very cool pup, and the next minute the monkeys literary drop out of the sky, scoop up her and Toto and tear the stuffing out of her best pal, the Scarecrow. (And yes, I sort of had a thing for him. Love is love, OK?)

Anyway, I bolted straight into the lap of my dad — who always sat in “his chair” to watch this classic movie when it came on TV once a year — and buried my face in his chest while he held me and assured me that everything would turn out OK for Dorothy, Toto and the Scarecrow, though in hindsight I wonder if my dad was troubled by the fact that I was drawn to a straw man without a brain.

I found him comforting. My dad, I mean.

But even now, the thought of those freakin’ monkeys is enough to raise my blood pressure.

So, when I heard a traveling production of Wicked — the Broadway-born backstory of the witches in The Wizard of Oz — was coming to town this month, I decide it was high time to confront what made me uncomfortable — or, as my editor and I have taken to calling it, “face the monkey.”

And that’s how I ended up calling Travante Baker, who plays Chistery, the main flying monkey in Wicked.

I was hoping that Travante could help me get over my childhood fear of airborne apes who work for a witch and dress like bellhops. Call it a niche phobia.

Anyway, I asked him if he’d ever seen the movie — he’s 28, so you never know — and he said yes.

And I asked him if he was unhinged by the flying monkeys, and he said no, but in a nice way.

“They weren’t at the forefront of my Wizard of Oz experience,” is how he put it. How sweet is that?

But he confided that the movie’s music upset him, specifically the menacing music that plays when the crabby schoolteacher (who turns into The WWOW in Dorothy’s dream), rides her bike to Dorothy’s house to stir up trouble.

“You mean the music that goes, “Da-da-da-da-DAH-DAH, da-da-da-da-DAH-DAH?” I asked.

And Travante said, “Yes!”

And we bonded in laughter and terror.

Travante shared a little about himself: how he grew up in Miami Gardens, Florida; how his mom dragged him to an audition for a performing arts magnet program in middle school; how he got in, and was like, “Wait a minute. This is . . . fun.”

His first role, aptly enough, was in a production of The Wiz, a Harlem-set Broadway musical based on the wizard story.

“It’s sort of come full circle,” he says.

After two years at Syracuse University, Travante joined an international touring production of West Side Story and spent three summers at Flat Rock Playhouse, the official state theater of North Carolina.

“I love the Flat Rock Playhouse,” Travante says.

There he worked with choreographer Chase Brock, a Flat Rock native. Back in New York, he was helping Brock choreograph another show when he landed the physically demanding role of Chistery in Wicked.

Chistery, who works for the dastardly Wizard of Oz, appears in the first act, wheeling, lunging and climbing all over the stage.

He sprouts wings — Travante pulls on a cord sewn into his costume — when Elphaba, a magically-gifted green girl who becomes the WWOW later in life, unknowingly casts a spell that benefits the wizard.

Later, Elphaba bargains with the wizard to win the monkeys, who’ve lost their voices, and she sets them free.

Fancy that: the future WWOW as an animal rights activist.

Obviously, the flying monkeys in Wicked are very different from the flying monkeys in the movie. The don’t do the dirty work of a wicked witch. They look more bat-like, less bell-hoppy.

They’re also more sympathetic creatures, themselves the victims of oppression, just as they are in the original 1900 book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The movie left that part out.

Wicked restores that thread, as well as the voice of Chistery, who eventually makes gestures of good will toward humans.

Some audiences clap when that happens.

“There’s this relationship between humans and animals being repaired,” says Travante. “There’s a trust being mended.”

Travante and I wish each other well, and I tell him I hope to see him and the other flying monkeys on stage in Greensboro. Somehow, when the story is told this way, the idea doesn’t faze me at all.  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. Email her at

Tea Leaf Astrologer

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

When a Libra hangs the moon, they don’t care if you notice. They just want you to take note of how perfectly it’s situated in the night sky — how it’s never looked bigger or brighter — and don’t the stars look dreamier than usual, too? Ruled by Venus, Libras are sometimes accused of living in a bit of a fantasy world. But here’s what this quixotic air sign needs to remember: Mood lighting will only get you so far. 


Tea leaf “fortunes” for the rest of you:

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

Remember the children’s game, Telephone? How “Go fly a kite” could become “Let’s leave tonight” in an instant? Don’t let this happen in real life.    

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

You’re feeling red hot this month. In other words: It’s time to ditch the sweatpants.   

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Someone wants to be your friend. Try letting your guard down.   

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

What does a flower need to grow? I bet you know. Now, pretend you’re the flower.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

Before you dip your toes into the tempting waters of someone else’s drama, ask yourself if it’s worth swimming upstream.

Aries (March 21 – April 19)

Your sensitive side is showing. See what happens when you don’t cover it up.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

Expanding your horizons doesn’t always mean leaving the couch. But it’s probably a good idea.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

There are two sides to every story. But for you, it’s more like a prism.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

In a world of this-isms and that-isms, choose peace.   

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

Three words: pancakes for breakfast. You know what I’m talking about.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

Let’s just say Venus is on your side this month.  OH

Zora Stellanova has been divining with tea leaves since Game of Thrones’ Starbucks cup mishap of 2019. She lives in the N.C. foothills with her Sphynx cat, Lyla. 

Short Stories

I Am Woman

This month at WAM, don’t miss the October 9 opening of Splinters of a Secret Sky by Falk Visiting Artist Angela Fraleigh which is, in a word, empowering. Once portrayed as “docile objects for the male gaze only,” Fraleigh’s female subjects have been awakened from the canvases of Victorian paintings and lovingly invited into “dreamlike scenes where they exist for one another instead.” For this exhibit, the visiting artist also draws inspiration from the legacy of sisters Claribel and Etta Cone, whose trove of bold and vibrant artworks (including many by their friends Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso) helped establish WAM’s collection. Fraleigh is an associate professor of art at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Catch her Artist Talk on Thursday, October 21, at 7 p.m. Get ready for a fresh perspective. Exhibit on display until December 11. Weatherspoon Art Museum, 500 Tate Street, Greensboro.
Info: weatherspoonart.org.



Follow the Red Balloons

No, they won’t lead you to the Emerald City, per se. But they will guide you around the Greater Greensboro area for the 23rd annual Artstock Artists Studio Tour. This year, over 20 participating artists (eight of them new to the tour) will open their studio doors to the public on Saturday, October 9 (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.) and Sunday, October 10 (1–5 p.m.). Within, you’ll find pottery, oil on canvas and linen, sculpture (like iron man Jim Gallucci’s sculptures and gates), photography, wood and lino art prints, epoxy-resin art, high-fired stoneware (Bill Johnston’s clay foxes might be the cutest things you’ve ever seen) and Oz only knows what else. While you’re following the red balloons, check out acrylic/mixed-media artist Crystal Eadie Miller’s artwork at The Studio House in Summerfield, a 1929 cottage that now functions as an Airbnb and mini art gallery. Tour is free and open to the public. For a complete list of artists and gallery/studio locations (including 205 Collaborative and Sternberger Artists Center), visit artstocktour.com.


As Seen in O.Hey . . .

Do you read O.Hey, the (let’s call it shameless) weekly newsletter created by some of the self-proclaimed “genius young minds” on the staff of this magazine? Recently, a couple of said genii had the opportunity to join food-obsessed YouTuber Loon K. Do on his Greensboro food tour, featuring a total of eight local eateries. Move over, Stanley Tucci and Guy Fieri: you’ve been chopped. Search for Loon’s “Greensboro N.C. Food Tour 2021 Vlog #2” to catch the vid with some of your new favorite locals. And to have the best of GSO food, news and events dropped into your inbox every week, subscribe at oheygreensboro.com.


Photograph courtesy of the School of Dance University of North Carolina Greensboro

Dance on Screen

If the phrase “screen dance” evokes images of Tom Cruise sliding round in skivvies and tube socks, go ahead and try to shake that. On October 30, the Greensboro Dance Film Festival will demonstrate how screen dance (which is kind of what it sounds like, although you’ve really got to experience it to understand) has pushed the boundaries of choreography and movement beyond what’s possible onstage. “Dance has been at the center of cinema since its inception,” says festival founder Robin Gee. And yet, using the moving body to tell a story on screen somehow feels revolutionary. “It’s a new, old way of communicating,” says Gee. Now in its seventh year, this boutique festival features dance films from around the globe by students and established filmmakers alike. “It’s bringing the world to Greensboro,” says event coordinator B.J. Sullivan (memorialized as O.Henry’s Muse of Dance in the June 2021 issue). Organized like a progressive party, free screenings will be held at downtown venues, including GPS (aka Greensboro Project Space, located at 111 E. February One Place). Festival goers are encouraged to float about casually, mingle with others, engage in conversation, explore downtown and experience what Gee describes as “something unlike performance or film.” For more information and complete schedule, including an opening performance and party, visit www.greensborodancefilms.org.


Photograph courtesy of the North Carolina Zoo

Animal House

Boo at the Zoo — yep, daytime Halloween fun among creatures great and small — invites the kiddos outdoors to celebrate punkin season October 16–24. Trick-or-treat along the pathways of Africa, embark upon the Spooky Treehouse trek, wiggle to live music and discover which animals like to play with (aka smash and devour) their pumpkins. Experience “Boo at the Zoo” on weekends from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wristbands may be purchased at the admission gates and at Junction Plaza. Face paint optional. Face masks required indoors. NC Zoo, 4401 Zoo Parkway, Asheboro. Info: nczoo.org




Ah, October, not only my favorite month of the year but also the most colorful. The reds and yellows of the leaves, the orange of the pumpkins, the multihued majesty of the sunsets, the black cloaks of the Halloween witches and the white blur of goblins, not to mention the every-color-under-the-sun of college football Saturdays. Indeed, it’s a beautiful time of year. And adding to the grandeur, the stages are once again lit as touring acts are gratefully crisscrossing the country. Here are a few that will be stopping in the green of the ’boro.

• October 1, Cone Denim Entertainment Center: Here’s hoping you picked up your copy of O.Henry early, because Blues Traveler wastes not a day kicking off the month. For three decades now, John Popper has been acclaimed by many as the finest blues harp player on the planet. They released their 14th album July 30 and are touring behind it. Travel on, my brother.

• October 2, Tanger Center: As I recall, Josh Groban was slated to christen the new Tanger Center last March, but . . . well, you know. I’m betting it was well worth the wait. That perfect combination of power, tone, control and dynamics make him arguably the finest male vocalist of his generation.

• October 15, Carolina Theatre: I’ve seen at least five Beatles tribute bands, and it is fitting that 1964 now uses “The Tribute” as part of their moniker. They are the best among many good ones. Suspend disbelief and let your eyes and ears take you back. They’ve got the ticket to ride.

• October 23, Ramkat: Yes, I know the Ramkat is not in Greensboro, but when Buddy Guy is in the vicinity, you make an exception. Ask any blues guitarist to list their heroes, and Buddy Guy makes the list every time. He played the White House in 2012 and persuaded President Obama to join him on “Sweet Home Chicago.” Now that’s some serious influence.

• October 29, Blind Tiger: Speaking of blues guitar legends, Greensboro’s favorite son, Eric Gales, is well on his way to becoming one. Except for one thing — he’s also becoming a rock, jazz, funk and metal legend. His virtuosity in so many genres is amplified by the fact that he is naturally right-handed, yet plays left-handed without reversing the strings. Come down to the BT, wish him a happy birthday and prepare to be dazzled.

Simple Life

The Last Ride

A legendary car, two old dogs and the end of the road in sight 


By Jim Dodson

I knew this day would eventually come.

In recent years, I’ve pushed the thought to the back of my mind that it might be time to say goodbye and hand her off to someone who can restore her to her glory.

But every time I take her for a spin, by Jove, The Pearl works her automotive magic on me, riding like a dream, cruising the world on eight cylinders and a Corvette engine. With her roomy leather seats and patented “Dynaride” suspension system, she’s still like driving in your living room. We’ve been together a dozen years, almost half The Pearl’s life and almost one-sixth of mine. We survived the Great Recession, the end of cassette players and four teenagers. My dog Mulligan has spent most of her long life riding shotgun in The Pearl. Oh, the places we’ve been together up and down the highway!

The Pearl is a 1996 Buick Roadmaster estate station wagon, reportedly the last true production wagon that General Motors made before switching to prissy little SUVs.

The mighty Roadmaster is an American automotive icon, introduced in 1936 as the nation began to crawl out from under the Great Depression. Its creators had this nutty idea that Americans getting back on their feet might want to take the family on a road trip to see the land of the free and the home of the brave. With its oversized windows, sleek lines, wide chassis, faux wooden siding, “vista roof” and proverbial third seat facing backwards, the versatile Roadmaster wagon was just the ticket for seeing America from ground level.

The end of the Roadmaster line came in 1996 when 22,989 models rolled off the assembly line for the last time.

Mine entered the life of a nice gentleman from New Jersey who loved the car so much he kept the dashboard covered with protective felt and put only 60,000 miles on its odometer over 12 years.

Fate and quiet desperation brought us together when my children began stealing the Volvos and Subarus to go off to college. I wrote a newspaper column joking that I was shopping for a car like the one my old man drove when I was a kid — a gas-guzzling monster of the American highway that no enlightened, environmentally-minded Millennial would be caught dead riding in around town. It turns out, that car was a Buick Roadmaster wagon.

Not two days after the column appeared, a woman phoned to say, “Mr. Dodson, I am here to make you a happy man.”

Her father and mother were residents of a local senior living community. They owned a 1996 Buick Roadmaster station wagon that the daughter had fooled her father into giving up, lest he injure himself or someone else due to his declining driving habits.

“My father bought the car new and absolutely adores it,” she explained. “We all loved it. It took me off to college and helped me move several times. She has a few dings but still runs like a dream. But it has to go.”

She explained that a vintage car buff out West was interested in buying it — Roadmasters were apparently big with car collectors — but if I wanted to check it out at a local garage, she would consider selling it to me.

“If you don’t buy this car,” said the mechanic, handing me the keys for a test drive, “I probably will. They don’t make cars like this anymore.”

I purchased it an hour later. My wife laughed when she saw it pull into the driveway. “Oh my,” she said. “That really is your father’s Buick.”

No. 1 son — the Subaru thief — asked if he could take the car off to college. Not a chance, I told him.

No. 2 son pointed out that my Roadmaster model was ranked No. 7 on the “official list of Best Cars to Own in the Event of a Zombie Apocalypse.” He wondered if he could take it for a spin.

“Maybe after the zombie apocalypse,” I said.

I had, after all, my own big plans for this oversized jewel of the 20th Century American highway.

For many years — decades, actually — I’d dreamed of finding and traveling the Great Wagon Road of Colonial America, the famous backcountry highway that brought thousands of Scots-Irish, German and other European immigrants to the American South during the 18th century, including my own English and Scottish forebears.

Historians and old road experts had recently determined the Great Road’s original path from Philadelphia to Augusta, Georgia — an 850-mile land route that passed through some of the most historic battlefields, towns and sacred landscapes of early America.

Dan’l Boone and his family traveled it from Pennsylvania to the banks of the Yadkin River. The most pivotal battles of the Revolutionary War were fought along the highway, including engagements at Cowpens, Kings Mountain and Guilford Courthouse, leading to the British surrender at Yorktown. 

America’s first immigrant highway also bisected the killing fields of the American Civil War at Antietam and Gettysburg, where Abraham Lincoln — whose grandfather lived on the Great Road in Virginia — gave the Gettysburg Address on a hill just above the highway. By my count, in fact, no less than seven U.S. presidents were either born directly on or traveled the Great Wagon Road most of their lives. The Scots-Irish brought their balladry, fiddle music and God-given talent for fighting (and making corn whiskey) down the road, giving birth to Bluegrass in the hollers of Appalachia.

Four summers ago, after years of research and planning, my dog Mulligan and I set off along the road in our own Great Wagon, which a colleague at work nicknamed The Pearl, hoping to travel the entire route in two or three weeks.

Silly me. It took a month just to get out of Pennsylvania. The abundance of great stories and memorable people we met along the road turned an 800-mile road trip into a three-year, 3,000-mile odyssey of discovery that recently drew to a close, including a year of travel lost due to COVID.

Though she is showing her age and is more dinged up than ever, The Pearl managed to make the entire journey and then some. She brought us home with an engine that still runs like a dream.

Along the way, she provided absolute strangers with fond memories of their own childhood. “My father had a car just like that,” they would say with a note of pure wonder. “It was my favorite family car.” A man in the parking lot at Gettysburg actually offered to buy The Pearl. “How much do you want for her?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I replied. “But I might someday give her to the right person.”

He handed me a card, which I promptly lost.

Since finishing the road last autumn, The Pearl has mostly been my gardening car, hauling shrubs and mulch, though Miss Mulligan and I go out for a spin every now and then.

Mully is now 16, The Pearl is pushing 25. The last ride can’t be far away.

But what a time we’ve had, what a sweet journey it’s been. OH

Jim Dodson is O.Henry’s founding editor and ambassador-at-large.

The Nature of Things

The Moth

An unexpected wink from the cosmos


By Ashley Wahl

Has nature ever stopped you in your tracks? I mean, in such a way that you’re sure you’re receiving a direct message?

The other day, Alan surprised me after work by suggesting that we take an evening hike. Although we typically save woodland treks for spacious weekends, I couldn’t say no to spontaneous adventure. We leashed up the dog and took off for one of our favorite local nature trails.

Beneath a canopy of hardwoods, cool and growing darker with each step, the final thrum of summer enveloped us. Chorus frogs shrieked beyond the nearby marsh and cicadas clicked in unison, their deafening trills like the steady, mechanical breath of the forest.

With our wedding just a few weeks away, we were sharing our excitement, our hopes and our curiosity about where life might guide us next. We also shared our fears — mostly imagined scenarios we had no way of controlling anyhow.

What kind of future would we like to create? And given our divided world and the deep uncertainty of our collective future, is the life we envision even possible?

We were getting ahead of ourselves — a very human thing to do — until we remembered to slow down and return to the present moment. Our breath. Our footsteps on the earth. The golden leaves scattered across the forest floor.

It started to feel pretty good — and better and better with each step.

Basking in blissful silence, we came upon our favorite stretch of the trail, a fern carpeted clearing that looks like a page from a fairy tale. I happened to gaze out across the glade and, despite the fading light, noticed what resembled two large, green leaves arranged like wings on a distant tree trunk. 

How, I wondered, could those leaves be positioned so perfectly that they looked — from over 30 yards away — like some kind of giant, mystical butterfly?

“Hold Durga,” I said, passing the leash to Alan.

Making my way toward the tree, I realized that I was, in fact, approaching a luna moth, which might have fit in my palms if I held them side by side. Slowing down for fear of spooking it, I stopped a few feet away to admire the luna’s ghostly white body and bewitching sea-foam wings from afar. I’d never actually seen a real one.

Those of you who have never been in the presence of one of these nocturnal beauties may think I’m overreacting. It’s just a moth, after all. But if you, too, have been close enough to study the intricate eyespots on this giant silk moth’s pixie-like wings, then you likely understand how this sighting felt like a wink from the Universe.

Because they only live for one week in their winged form, the luna moth is considered a symbol of transformation and transience — a silent reminder to fully embrace the present moment.

How perfect, I thought, turning back toward the trail. 

“If we were looking for some kind of sign,” I said to Alan, “I’d say we found one.”

As if part of a cosmic script, a downy white feather appeared on the earth between us. We picked it up, studying its soft fringe in the last blush of muted light.

Suddenly, laughter swelled from the darkening forest. Owls, we realized. The dog furrowed her brow, and as we walked — a bit faster now — we, too, started laughing.   OH

Contact editor Ashley Wahl at awahl@ohenrymag.com.