O.Henry Ending

Home is Where the Hen Is

How a chicken named Squeakers stole dinners — and then our hearts


By Cassie Bustamante

Tap, tap, tap!

The sound of someone rapping on our storm door echoed through our modest Cape Cod. I got up to answer, but no one was there.

“Must be the wind,” I thought. After all, our cozy home sat atop an endlessly gusty hill.

I turned back to my steaming mug of coffee.

Tap, tap, tap!

Nope, not the wind. Too rhythmic and persistent. Someone — or something — was definitely there. Alone in the house, I felt a slight chill run up my back. I peered through the front door’s glass panes. Once again, no one. Nothing. But when the tap, tap, tap rattled a third time, I took a deep breath, swallowed and opened our door. On the other side of the glass storm door, just a step down, was Squeakers. She peered up at me with an expression that said, “Finally! Do you know how cold it is out here?!”

Squeakers was not, as you might have guessed, a beloved family pet or some neighbor’s wayward child. She was a hen — a Rhode Island Red — and I wasn’t about to invite her in for a late morning cuddle by the fire. There was a perfectly good coop awaiting her outside. I should know: my husband and I constructed it. And while its roof may have been lopsided, it had thick, sturdy walls and a cobalt blue door accented by a wreath. Honestly, it was adorable. And it seemed to be good enough for the five other ladies.

But Squeakers was different.

On warm nights, when we sat on our wraparound porch for family meals, Squeakers would appear. Thinking she was one of us, the hen would hop up onto someone’s shoulder or plop onto the middle of our table to examine the spread. When she begged like a dog — sometimes worse — we’d place her, clucking and clueless, back on the floor with a firm, “No.” But that hardly discouraged her. On pesto chicken nights, we used to threaten her. “Jump up on this table one more time, Squeakers, and we’ll marinate you next!”

After supper, we’d toss her the scraps, which only encouraged future begging – I know. But we never fed her meat of her own kind. We aren’t monsters! You should have seen that bird gobble down vegetables and rice.

When we first brought our brood home, friends who were veteran chicken keepers warned us: Don’t treat them like pets.

While I tried to listen, bucolic fantasies whirled through my head. They would frolic through sun-drenched fields with me. Surely they would follow me everywhere — and joyfully. Think Anne of Green Gables meets Snow White.

But, as anyone who has raised chickens knows, their lives are often cut short and it’s best not to get attached. The circle of life and all that jazz. As new owners, we went through several hens, many lost to hawks and stealthy raccoons. Squeakers outlived them all.

One day, however, she disappeared. Poof. When she didn’t return after a couple of days, we figured she’d made it to the great hen house in the sky. The one with the pearly door and perfectly symmetrical roof.

Several weeks later, we were out on the porch when a flash of red caught my eye in the woods beyond our yard.

“Is that? Could it be? Squeakers?”

My husband and I exchanged befuddled glances.

Squeakers emerged from the grass and bounded onto the porch. She looked at us as if nothing had happened. As if to say, Hey guys, what’s for supper?  OH

Cassie Bustamante is O.Henry’s digital content creator. For some reason, she no longer eats chicken.

September Almanac 2021

By Ashley Wahl


September is deliciously subtle. Like a sly smile in a moment of silent recognition.

The last wave of swallowtails graces the garden. Dinner plate dahlias resemble colorful mandalas anad sun-dappled muscadines spill from the vine.

Life hums along. Hummingbirds drink from red spider lilies. The air, too, is like nectar — sweet as it’s been all summer — but something is different. Something not yet palpable.

The trees know, leaves whispering ancient incantations to merge with root and earth. The first to surrender glow with radiant splendor. They cling to nothing, unattached to their green summer glory or the luminous journey to come.

Weeks from now, tree swallows will gather by the hundreds at dusk, swirling across the sky like cryptic, flickering apparitions. But today, sunlight kisses goldenrod. Robins dip and shimmy in warm, shallow water. Plump bees float in endless circles.

By evening, the air is slightly cooler, or so it seems. And at twilight, when shadows dance in the periphery, a mourning dove cries out.


Beyond a wild tangle of late summer flowers and grasses, a red fox flashes past, here and gone with the last whisper of golden light.

As darkness falls, all at once it’s clear: Elusive autumn has returned, creeping into consciousness like an impish melody — a dark, playful secret on the tip of your tongue.


The goldenrod is yellow;

The corn is turning brown;

The trees in apple orchards

With fruit are bending down.

— Helen Hunt Jackson, “September”



Harvest Season

The Autumnal Equinox occurs on Wednesday, September 22. The days are growing shorter. As for the glorious bounty of summer? It’s harvest time.

Praise for the apples, pears and figs. Cucumbers, peppers and eggplant.

As the garden gives and gives, offer thanks for the tender young salad greens; the last plump tomatoes; the earliest pumpkins and winter squashes.

And don’t forget the edible flowers.

Like lavender (sweet and minty), marigold (transform your stir fries) and snapdragons (bitter, perhaps, but they sure are gorgeous).


The Meadow Queen

If you’re wondering where that faint yet lingering vanilla fragrance is coming from, stop and smell the purple joe-pye weed — unless you’re allergic.

As the story goes, Eupatorium purpureum received its common name — joe-pye — after a gentleman of the same name presumably used the wild plant to cure typhoid fever. An herbaceous perennial of the sunflower family, joe-pye is a native species that blooms in later summer and attracts a host of bees, butterflies and moths.

Also known as kidney-root, feverweed and Queen of the Meadow, when this towering beauty begins to bloom — clusters of pinkish-purple flowers exploding from 7-foot stalks — watch and listen closely: Summer’s swan song is nigh.

Living in Service

Lisa Hawley is grateful for her elegant new home. But her soul mission — feeding the hungry — is what continues to bring her deep and lasting fulfillment

By Cynthia Adams     Photographs by Amy Freeman


Her sea-blue eyes crinkling into a smile, Lisa Hawley opens the door of her new town home and tells me that only recently did she get around to painting the front door charcoal-gray. She concedes that settling into a newly built home in March of 2020 — the midst of a pandemic — “was a little unusual.” But so was having her much-loved Jamestown restaurant, Southern Roots, forced into a COVID hiatus.

With clear, if sometimes teary eyes, Lisa keeps perspective on what is merely inconvenient and what truly matters. The finishing touches do not worry the hard-working philanthropist. 

Hunger, however, does.

Having watched children wrap portions of their school lunch in napkins to take home is what drove her to establish a volunteer organization called Feeding Lisa’s Kids in 2015. (At that time, she points out, High Point ranked second in the nation for food insecurity. Now it ranks seventh.)

“I’m kind of loud and like to dance — all that stuff.  But when my children were in school, it led me to feel the pain from other children.” 

Those children were often hungry. She had to feed them. 

“I have way too much energy for most people to be around me for long,” she jokes, padding through her serene home wearing a blue linen shirt she never irons. Her short blonde hair is unstudied and tousled.

For someone who is obsessed with tackling hunger — whether in her restaurant, with charitable works or entertaining in her new home — it makes perfect sense for her to start the tour in the kitchen.

Sunny, uncluttered and fastidious, the space contains a professional series Frigidaire and commercial Blue Star range. 

“I didn’t put any upper cabinets in the kitchen,” she says with a smile. “It’s not normal. But I’m not normal.” An island, custom-built by Jamestown craftsmen with repurposed barn wood, is one of her favorite features. 

“You can see all the imperfections,” Lisa says, running her hand over the whitewashed wood. It is topped with clipped topiaries and a basket filled with neatly folded linen napkins. 

The cooking areas are dominated by art rather than lots of showy cooking paraphernalia. A well-used gas grill is outside, ready to be fired up for company. Lisa maintains a strictly organic and vegan diet. As she ticks off the list of things she avoids: gluten, chocolate, coffee, sugar, she adds, “I cook every meal.”

Outside in the drive is Lisa’s white van with a vanity plate reading “Let’s Eat.”

Yes, she has a brand new, elegant home, but she knows where her true values lie: “I am Southern Roots. I am Feeding Lisa’s Kids.” Then, eyes welling — perhaps a mix of gratitude with struggle — “I am not about this house.”

Now, Lisa has weathered the storms of change, pandemic-driven upheavals that temporarily shuttered the restaurant industry where she has worked for over 40 years.

“I’m this crazy, ADD girl who loves cooking and loves to help others,” she explains. “I come from hard-working people.”

She adds how grateful she is for sanctuary.

Lisa sinks into a generous white sofa in the sunroom. Sofas and chairs are slip-covered in white, inviting deep relaxation and calm. “I just like how peaceful it feels,” she says.

Serenity reigns.

“That piece of coral over there? It just makes me happy to look at it.”

The home’s overriding design scheme is pared-down, elegant simplicity, which looks easy, but requires studied mastery.

A fragrant elixir of seagrass, orange, clove and eucalyptus infuses the rooms. Lisa discovered that aromatherapy helps when the world beyond jangles the nerves. 

Here, Lisa and husband, Faison, a former fabrics salesman, battened down. “Faison helps at the restaurant,” she adds.

Their town home, light and calm, provides an inland harbor. Set in a new community tucked outside High Point’s metro area, it is far away enough to be accessible, yet removed from the fray. 

She is making departures from the past. Friends say their former bungalow brimmed with antiques and color. She says it was layered with 32 years of meaning, rearing a family and giving birth to a restaurant and charity. This new home is different — she repeats again. 

She has shed her old skin, feels less attached here. 

The visual changes are radically simple in the Hawley’s new residence, which by every measure, is a spare beauty. The builder created archways, opening spaces and deviating from the standard plan. “We took down the walls; it’s not like any of the other ones.” Some of the art displayed is Lisa’s own watercolors — she paints things found in nature, like oyster shells, and pushes herself, painting over canvases, to get it right.

Sea grass rugs, baskets, whitewashed furniture, conch shells, plants, nubby textures and light wooden floors — everywhere she has curated the most peaceful colors of nature, layering tone upon tone.

She isn’t finished. But as she pads around, suddenly stops. “It’s a mess,” Lisa insists. There are stacks of books, some piled in chairs and atop furniture, which she is rearranging. Whereas their Triangle Park home was traditional and steeped in memory, here the mood is deliberately artsy and open.

For three years before the move, she cleared the attic and prepared. “I got rid of a lot.”

A purge was purposeful, a reinvention. What she wanted, first and foremost, was to ready a downstairs space for her mother. At nearly 900-square-feet larger than their 1928 Triangle Park house, the new home can accommodate her mom, whom she hopes will move in, and also provide room for their “newest” son, Ty, 20, whenever he visits from his job in Reidsville. “His family struggled with homelessness,” she explains. “He always has a place with us.” The Hawley family have known and loved Ty since he was 8.

In 2020, the family lost their three aging dogs, which only added angst and sorrow to a deeply trying year. Daughter Olivia, 32, came home from Charleston, S.C. (where she works in the film industry) during the lockdown for several months. “She saved me,” says Lisa. “She kept me busy.” Their oldest son, Sam, is 27 and works in sales in Wilmington. 

Yet last year also meant recalibrating Southern Roots, the Jamestown restaurant she first opened in 2000 in High Point’s J H Adams Inn. It closed for three months during the pandemic. 

Work beyond these walls, especially Feeding Lisa’s Kids, “is painful,” admits Lisa. The pandemic exacerbated food insecurities and created new homelessness. More than 190 area families receive boxes of donated food each week. This all rushes out of her.

People, not things, matter — which Lisa feels needs punctuating. 

And this: “I love to feed people.”

Lisa satisfied the most exacting of hard-working mentors while catering. She got to work with Martha Stewart at Market Square when Stewart was food editor for House Beautiful.

There were other mentors, too, especially Grace and A. B. Henley (former owners of the Adams Inn), who encouraged her when she feared her restaurant would fail. 

So many helping hands, she marvels.

Last March, the Rotary Club of High Point presented a check in the amount of $10,424 to Feeding Lisa’s Kids. The pandemic stretched the limits of those with the fewest resources.

A number of Rotary clubs, civic and community groups help raise money for FLK. One hundred percent of money donated to them goes directly towards the purchase of food.

Lisa received an award for her efforts from the City of High Point this spring. 

“It’s difficult,” she says, as tears reappear.

“I see so much that is painful. That is hard to look at. I just know God has given me a heart, to look at it.”

Lisa nonetheless struggles with the fact that she has had lucky breaks while many do not. 

Yet she was one who has always worked, always made her luck. Both of her parents thought nothing of working second, even third jobs, and she washed dishes at a rest home as a teen from 5 in the morning until midafternoon on the weekends and before school. “I liked it,” she insists. Since then, Lisa has logged countless hours inside kitchens, long before she became a restaurant owner. 

She has catered, opened Southern Roots market on Main Street, and a restaurant by the same name. Lisa had a formula. Work. Then work harder.   

“I showed up. And I never gave up. I would show up at 6 in the morning and I’d still be there at 10 o’clock at night. There were so many times in the last 20 years of owning Southern Roots that I thought I’d go out of business. But I kept showing up.” So did her chef, J.C., who remains with her 19 years later. “I found my tribe,” she says about Southern Roots. “I love the people who work for me.” 

She no longer worries about the restaurant, which is thriving with a staff so rock-solid she can take a sabbatical by the sea. A group of volunteers is committed to Feeding Lisa’s Kids.

“I love to help others,” she says. “But I know for sure that God put me on this Earth to do one thing, and that is to feed people, whether they can pay for it or not.”  OH

The Healing Gardeners

Thanks to a grand vision and several helping hands, Cone Health Cancer Center’s Healing Gardens offer space for transformation — within and without   

By Ross Howell Jr.



Thursday morning in July — another workday for the Healing Gardeners, a band of volunteers providing care for a 2-acre sanctuary next to the Cone Health Cancer Center at Wesley Long Hospital.

The Healing Gardeners start early, tending to their assigned tasks before the heat becomes oppressive.

It’s a race with the sun.

I squint at the glaring concrete sidewalk as I make my way toward the hospital from the multilevel parking deck down the hill.

Ahead I spot a woman in a sun hat seated on a bench. She waves at me and stands. I glance to my left. Young oak trees rise just on the other side of the sidewalk’s aluminum handrails, and beyond I see raised walkways curving into an expanse of shrubs and trees.

At the bench I’m greeted by K. Porter Aichele. A petite woman with sandy blonde hair, she’s a retired professor from UNCG, where she taught art history and museum studies.

Not only does Aichele help with the care of the gardens, she also volunteers at the cancer center’s front desk.

“For a lot of patients, I’m the face of recovery,” Aichele says.

Is she ever.

Meditation Terrace and Arbor, Daniel Ray Photography


Aichele’s about 10 years out from being treated at the center herself — first, for breast cancer and later, for skin cancer.

“It was so depressing during my chemo,” Aichele says. “There was nowhere you could walk, unless it was among the cars.”

She gestures toward the garden.

“This was all riprap and poison ivy then,” Aichele says. She has a pleasantly deep voice and measures her words when she speaks. She gazes into the garden and nods.

“You know, Mary and I are both former patients,” Aichele continues, “so we know what this garden can mean to people.”

As if on cue, Mary Magrinat, head of the Healing Gardens, rounds the walk. She’s fair, with dark hair and pale blue eyes. There’s a quality in her face that’s radiant.

Gateway Arches with trumpet vine in Bloom. Mary Bernard Magrinat, Photographer


Magrinat’s a driving force behind the creation of the Healing Gardens. She seems to have been destined for it.

Half a lifetime ago, at age 36, Magrinat was diagnosed with an aggressive stage one form of breast cancer. Treatment saved her, and she was able to continue her professional career.

But not long after selling her financial services business, Magrinat and her husband, Gus, an oncologist with the Cone Health Cancer Center, were introduced to landscape designer Sally Pagliai, who had recently lost her husband, Stefano, to stomach cancer.

“You’ll be meeting her in a bit,” Magrinat says.

The boardwalk we start along is wide enough for a wheelchair. Magrinat tells me that we’re entering the Wetland Garden.

“Cone Health wanted to put a parking lot here or expand the cancer center,” Magrinat says, “but they determined that it’s absolutely not buildable.”

Woodland Glade, Mary Bernard Magrinat, Photographer
Woodland Glade, Mary Bernard Magrinat, Photographer


Protecting such a “biocell” is required by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. In addition to providing food and shelter for wildlife, the wetland also filters impurities from drainage water before it flows into Buffalo Creek on the northern border of the garden.

That side of the garden is separated from Wendover Avenue by the creek and the north end of Lake Daniels Greenway.

Stone Fountain, Daniel Ray Photography


After Magrinat and others were successful raising private funds and lobbying for help from the City of Greensboro, a committee in 2013 had the space surveyed, cleaned up some debris and the Healing Gardeners undertook their first big project — planting 234 nondeciduous trees as a visual and sonic buffer between Buffalo Creek and Wendover Avenue.

Then Magrinat and others turned their attention to the wetland. With the construction of a nearby parking garage, drainage runoff into the area had become even more dramatic.

“In 2014–2015, we did a lot of planning and fundraising,” Magrinat says. Then the Healing Gardeners set to work in earnest.

Magrinat explains that everything I’m seeing — steps, walkways, benches, stonework, birdhouses, flowering plants, trees and shrubs — was paid for with private contributions.

“There was nothing here,” Margrinat says. Her smile brightens. “It’s completely transformed isn’t it?”

Yes, it is.

Magrinat describes the loop path we’re on. It goes all the way around the garden. If someone prefers a shortcut, there’s a boardwalk across the center. All the walks are wheelchair-accessible and enter the garden on the side that backs up to the hospital.

Vegetation abounds.

“Mostly we’ve tried to plant things that will thrive and take over,” Magrinat says, “but as you see, some cattails just showed up on their own.”

Trees planted by the Healing Gardeners include native river birch (Betula nigra), bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), red maple (Acer rubrum) and a variety of wax myrtles and cedars.

“We’ve done a lot of tree planting,” Magrinat continues. “We planted 353 trees within this garden in addition to the 234 along Wendover.”

Butterfly on Tartarian Aster, Daniel Ray Photography.


Among the native shrubs planted by the Healing Gardeners are yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) important food sources for wildlife. Wetland flowering plants include buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), marsh hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) and swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius).

With her usual command of numbers, Magrinat notes, “And we’ve planted more than one thousand ferns,” not to mention the scores of hellebores and hostas I’ve seen during our walk.

“The hostas are from Porter’s garden,” Magrinat says.

“I wish my Solomon’s seal looked a little better,” says Aichele. “And I have to tell the story behind the hellebores.”

Aichele tells me that they were a gift from the original garden of the late Dr. Jean Brooks.

“It’s a wonderful story,” Magrinat adds, “because she was the first female gynecologist in Greensboro.”

“It couldn’t have been a colder day in February when we moved the plants,” Aichele continues. “Every single one of these hellebores we brought over and planted here that day.”

Along the boardwalks, wooden benches invite quiet meditation, as do smooth boulders. When I comment on one of the stones, Magrinat and Aichele decide to show me the source of much of the Wetland Garden’s moisture.

We walk to the towering parking deck. Just visible behind boulders skillfully placed to obscure them are the enormous concrete culverts that drain the foundations of the deck. More stones are placed along the stream flowing from the culverts into the garden, naturalizing its appearance.

“This was one of the ugliest places in the garden,” Magrinat says. “Sally Pagliai and I had 65 tons of boulders brought in.

“Sally laid them out here and throughout the garden,” she continues.

“There were guys with forklifts setting the boulders,” Aichele adds. “Now they look like they’ve always been here.”

We approach a grassy spot with chairs alongside Buffalo Creek. Brightly colored ceramic butterflies are mounted on black metal posts at the edge of the grass.

“This is the one place where we added a little bit of color,” Magrinat says. “For the most part, nature is the star here and provides all the color, texture and sound.”

“Oh, there’s one of our gardeners,” Aichele says, pointing out a man on his knees in what looks to be a soupy patch of wetland. He waves happily and continues with his weeding.

We pass lovely white hydrangea bushes and a patch of joe-pye weed.

“We love those kaleidoscope abelias,” Aichele says, pointing them out. “They have such wonderful color.”

We pass a curved arbor. Though its springtime blooms are gone, Mary tells me the arbor is planted with trumpet vine on one side and Carolina jasmine on the other. There’s more sunlight in this part of the garden.

“I want you to meet Richard Mansell,” Magrinat says.

At age 84, Mansell is the senior Healing Gardener. He lived in Florida for 50 years and is a retired botany professor. A lanky, genial man, Mansell takes care of the succulent garden, the newest addition to the Healing Gardens.

Pagliai designed the rock garden that’s home to 75 succulent varieties, each one provided from Mansell’s home garden.

He tells me that after he moved to Greensboro, he first tried to grow flowers.

“My hose never was long enough to water them,” he chuckles, “so I said this is crazy, I’m going to grow something that doesn’t need water and is cold hardy.”

His favorites are sedums — blooming succulents often used as ground covers — along with sempervivums — low-growing succulents with rosette shapes, popularly known as hen and chicks.

Mansell points out sedums with interesting modulations of color and sempervivums of varying rosette shapes and pigments.

When I ask him about some prickly pear cactus volunteers in my yard, he tells me all about how he saw some mules eating cactus in a Florida pasture. We have a good laugh.

Aichele intervenes, teasing Mansell about weeds she’d noticed among his sedums.

“Get back to work, Richard,” she says, and we move along.

Next, Aichele introduces me to Healing Gardener Gerry Alfano.

“Here’s our coordinator,” Aichele says. “She calls us to arms every Thursday.”

Alfano laughs.

“Mary’s very convincing,” Alfano says. After Magrinat spoke at her garden club, Alfano ran into her at a neighbor’s Christmas party.

“When Mary found out I loved gardens,” Alfano continues, “and had worked with volunteers, she got me corralled.”

She explains that Healing Gardeners have a wide range of experience. Some are self-taught but have been gardening for years. Some are Master Gardeners. And some volunteers are complete novices.

“Those who don’t have any experience get paired with a Master Gardener,” Magrinat interjects.

“It’s a great way to learn,” Alfano concludes. “We all share a great love of the garden.”

Now we’re standing near a grove of Japanese maples in the shade of the cancer center. I look up at a balcony that juts out from the second floor, where patients receive treatment and therapy. New earth lies in mounds by the building.

Nearby, in the Meditation Garden, a woman carefully weeds a bed of herbs by a stone fountain. Closer, a woman guides a wheelbarrow loaded with shrubs by a stone labyrinth. The labyrinth is an original feature the Healing Gardeners have embellished with new plantings.

I hear the rattling of garden tools and the murmur of voices from a shed not far away. Birdsong and the drone of cicadas fill the air.

Even in the shade, I can tell the sun is getting hotter.

A tall, fit woman with shoulder-length brunette hair tucked under a hat is digging with a long-handle shovel.

“Sally?” Magrinat calls.

Healing Gardener Pagliai, a native Californian, is the owner of Studio Pagliai Landscape and Garden Design. She’s built gardens as far away as Florence, Italy and Singapore. She noses her shovel in the earth.

We greet each other, and Pagliai introduces the young woman working alongside her.

“This is Ali Brown,” Pagliai says. “She started with us a long time ago and she’s our little hardworkin’ Healing Gardens angel.” Brown smiles shyly and falls back to her task.

Magrinat, Aichele and Pagliai begin to apologize for the appearance of this section of the garden. They explain a construction company’s equipment tore up the landscape during the balcony renovation.

“Much to my chagrin we had to dig up all these trees,” Pagliai says, indicating a group of Japanese maples. “First I said no, but Mary said, yes, we will.”

A Quiet Place to commune with nature, Daniel Ray Photography

Magrinat takes up the story.

“The construction people said we’re going to cut these trees down and I said excuse me, you’re not cutting them down.”

“So we moved them under that tree and filled in with dirt,” Magrinat continues. “They were there for four months.”

“And they made it,” Pagliai smiles. “They made it.”

“We’re trying to start things back, but it’s messy,” Magrinat says.

“In another couple weeks, they’ll be beautiful,” Aichele assures her.

By the time I’m leaving, the sun is high in the sky as the Healing Gardeners continue with their tasks.

Some are people from the neighborhood. Others simply enjoy being outside, digging in the dirt. Some, like Magrinat and Aichele, are cancer survivors. Others, like Pagliai, have lost a loved one. Some just want to help.

In the end, aren’t we all in a race with the sun?

Sometimes I think about my own life. I wonder if I’ll leave anything beautiful or useful behind.

What a magnificent legacy will remain for every Healing Gardener working here today.  OH

The Healing Gardens of the Cone Health Cancer Center at Wesley Long Hospital are open to the public year-round. The hours are dawn to dusk. And the Healing Gardeners can always use more hands, regardless of your garden knowledge or experience. To learn more about volunteering, email Gerry Alfano at mtisdel@att.net.

Ross Howell Jr. is a freelance writer. Contact him at

No Place Like Home

Photo essay by Amy Freeman

You’ve heard of the colorful doors of Dublin. But have you noticed the bold and vibrant doors sprinkled throughout the Triad?  We have. And, frankly, we’re inspired. 


Poem September 2021


Walking my heart (good boy!) after lunch,

suddenly my bored step hitches, stutters,

propels me firmly up and forward, and look,

I’m skipping, I’m skipping, I’m skipping

like I haven’t in over half a century, one foot

then the other bouncing lightly on its ball,

springing my dull earthbound body along

like a rock across water, lightly touching down,

like a cantering horse on the verge of a gallop,

a syncopated gait that swings my arms out

for balance like the girls’ when I was a kid

but so what, I let hands and hips sashay,

lost my partner, what’ll I do, skip to my Lou,

my darling heart leaping in my lifted chest

as I dance on down the sidewalk, double-time.

— Michael McFee

Wandering Billy

The Noise is Back in Town

As in glorious live musical performances


By Billy Eye

With so many ways to communicate at our disposal, we must not forget the transformative power of a live music experience and genuine human exchange.
— Jon Batiste

Now that live musical performances are returning to the Gate City in a big way, we could almost rename this town Gig City. Not only can you catch live music at the usual suspects — Flat Iron, Oden Brewing Company, White Oak Amphitheatre and The Blind Tiger — but also at Center City Park and LeBauer Park, both of which hosted amazing local performers all summer.

But are today’s audiences receptive to live events?

“Folks turned out for the Dance From Above parties in their new space by the airport,” YES! Weekly’s music scribe, Katei Cranford, tells me. “Strictly Social’s downtown block parties sold out at, like, $20 a ticket. At the end of the day, musicians wanna get back to melting faces, audiences wanna get back to getting down and bars wanna make money.”

And from the musicians’ perspective?

“We started back as soon as we could,” says Josh Watson, lead vocalist/composer of Grand Ole Uproar, a band whose kaleidoscopic, psychotomimetic musings have been captivating music-lovers up and down the east coast for over a decade.

Emily Stewart, Watson’s former bandmate in Our Horse Jethro, recently joined Grand Ole Uproar on banjo and vocals. “The band would get together once a week, outdoors, during the pandemic,” Watson says. “We were writing new tunes and Emily’s vocals really strengthened the songs while also giving the music more momentum with her banjo.”

As a solo artist, Stewart’s melodic intonations mesh brilliantly with her cornbread-and-collards lyrics, an easily traversed minefield of dreams, spotlighted recently on a mesmerizing “Tiny Stage Concert,” (check it out on YouTube).

Grand Ole Uproar is continually adding tunes to their live set, developed during “The Great Lull,” during which Watson occasionally performed online from Tom Troyer’s Black Rabbit Audio studio. “It’s strange playing to a camera,” Watson reflects.

On September 11, Grand Ole Uproar will rock the rafters at Bull City Ciderworks. Then, on October 10, they’ll redefine afternoon delight at Double Oaks Bed & Breakfast as part of the Charlie’s Angels for Rett Research fundraiser — a rollicking afternoon not to be missed.


In 2019, Viva la Muerte was voted “Triad’s Best Original Band” by readers of YES! Weekly. Eye would agree. “We call [our sound] psychedelic Americana,” singer/songwriter Matt Armstrong tells me. “That place where roots and instrumentation meet not just the electric, but blurs boundaries with all kinds of genres.” I forgot: Artists always serve up the most mouthwatering word-salads when you ask them about their work.

VLM was MIA for a year. “I think our first gig back was at Oden in March,” Armstrong says. “It’s a wonderful place. It’s like our home base.” Oden Brewing Company doesn’t have a built-in sound system, “So you do your own sound,” he tells me. “It’s kind of a crapshoot, but lately we’ve had Tom Troyer mixing our sound and he’s just nailing it.”

Produced by the aforementioned Troyer, Viva la Muerte’s third album, Storm Country, drops October 29 — Halloween weekend. Don’t miss the album release concert that night at Oden.

It was truly a journey, Armstrong tells me. But they needed to connect with the right producer to get the balance right.

“We asked Dan Morgan at Leveneleven Brewing if there was anybody local that he would recommend,” Armstrong recalls.

Enter Troyer of Black Rabbit Audio.

“The best guy in town,” Dan told him.

Word on the street is that Troyer’s not just an accomplished audio engineer, but a talented musician in his own right. “Tom is constantly composing as he’s listening,” Armstrong says. “On a good day, if you’re humble and you listen to his compositional ideas, you say, ‘Oh yeah, let’s go with that.’ He offers lots of input.”

Viva la Muerte’s locomotive musical muscularity will flex and perhaps enlighten the minds at Center City Park on Saturday, September 4, at 7 p.m. You can also catch the band at Oktoberfest at SouthEnd Brewing on Saturday, October 2.


Jeepers gee willikers . . . who is this Tom Troyer fellow that I keep hearing about? I wandered over to Black Rabbit Audio in the Woodlea Lakes neighborhood to find out.

Besides producing other artists, Troyer is the singer/songwriter of his own band, Farewell Friend, which just released a third album in August. Each of Farewell Friend’s mellifluous compositions are autobiographical excavations into Troyer’s past. According to their liner notes, the band’s 2019 release, Glenwood & Gomorrah, is “both a question and a prayer for the neighborhood he [Troyer] grew up in.” Farewell Friend’s latest release, Samson, “has a lot more to do with understanding what I was going through in my 20s, as the son of a pastor,” Troyer says. As for his audiences? “Facebook tells me they’re over 60. I do connect more with people over the age of 45.”

Farewell Friend will be giving a daytime acoustic show at Center City Park (sponsored by Well Springs) on September 17. “We’re actually going to set up as a complete brass band with bare instrumentation,” Troyer says. “Our bass player, Evan Campfield, and his friend Caleb Baer formed a [Punch Brothers cover] band called Balboa Park.” Caleb will join Farewell Friend on mandolin, violin and viola for the show. A scrumptious recipe if I ever heard one.

Troyer will also be handling sound for the not-to-be-missed, all-star benefit party for Matty Sheets on Saturday, September 25. The musical lineup features local sensations Modern Robot, Emily Stewart, Laura Jane Vincent, and Squatch and Soda, among others. That’s at The Green Bean downtown, where Matty is drawing the area’s most talented individuals for his decades-long running Tuesday night Open Mic Night.  OH

Billy Eye, who wrote a bi-monthly column covering the East L.A. music scene from 1980–83 (the source for his book, PUNK), is OG — Original Greensboro.


Swirling Birds

The return of the chimney swifts


By Susan Campbell

The approach of fall means many things to many people: cooler days, longer nights, the smell of pumpkin spice — all things that I love. But the much anticipated evening congregations of chimney swifts is also near the top of the list. Swirls of these long-distance migrants form at dusk for several weeks as the birds pass through North Carolina on their way south.

If during the warm weather you have seen small, twittering, fast-flying birds wheeling about high overhead, you are likely seeing chimney swifts. These “flying cigars” can be observed across the state, but given their affinity for human habitation, they are more abundant where people, buildings and, as their name implies, chimneys are found.

Chimney swifts are known to breed throughout North Carolina from the mountains to the coast. Historically, they were undoubtedly sparsely distributed, nesting in big hollow trees in old growth forests in the eastern two-thirds of the United States. But as settlers spread across our state and provided abundant nesting cavities in the form of chimneys, swifts became more common. Today they are virtually dependent on humans for their reproductive success. But, unfortunately, most modern chimneys with caps or extensive lining are unsuitable for the birds. If they can enter a newer chimney, the smooth substrate within the brick or stone prevents the birds from clinging and, furthermore, does not allow adhesion of the nest (built with small sticks and saliva) to the wall. As a result, recent declines in the chimney swift population have been documented across the species range.

Without a doubt, these small birds are incredible fliers, more so than swallows and martins. They spend the vast majority of their waking hours on the wing, except while nesting. Even courtship and copulation occur in mid-air. Only at night do they descend to rest in a protected spot — which is almost always a chimney of some sort.

By late July, flocks of swifts begin congregating, feeding on abundant aerial insects, and roosting together in larger chimneys. These aggregations begin to move southward in August on prevailing northerly air currents to wintering grounds in the tropics. You may find hundreds swirling around in the vicinity of older schools, churches and office buildings that still retain substantial brick chimneys. Such chimneys are more spacious and year after year provide critical staging grounds for generations of swifts. It is an awesome sight to see thousands of individuals pouring into a roost site at dark.

Unfortunately, these unique birds have been misunderstood at this time of year and are often thought to be disease-carrying bats. As a result, significant numbers of sites have been capped for fear of being a human health hazard. Big old chimneys are lost across our state each year to such misunderstandings.

Additionally, changes in modes of heating result in large chimneys being retired: usually covered and rendered unavailable to swifts. Quite simply, there is a general lack of awareness of the structures as an important biological resource. Furthermore, across most of our state, we are still in the process of identifying major roost sites.

During the winter months, chimney swifts are found in loose aggregations throughout the upper Amazon basin of South America. There they loaf and feed on an abundance of flying insects until lengthening days urge them northward again. The return trip brings individuals, swirling and darting, back to their summer homes by early April.  OH

Susan Campbell would love to hear from you. Feel free to send questions or wildlife observations to susan@ncaves.com.



Behold the flaming yellow glory of this native flowering plant

By Ross Howell Jr.


A native plant I love to see this time of year is Solidago, from the Latin solidare — “to make whole” — which suggests the medicinal powers sometimes attributed to the genus.

Commonly called “goldenrod,” it’s a perennial that bursts into magnificent yellow fireworks across the mountains, piedmont, sandhills and coastal plains of our Old North State. At least a dozen varieties are found regionally in the wild, according to the North Carolina Native Plant Society.

I’m not alone in my admiration for goldenrod. My neighbor, Steve Windham, native plant specialist and founder of Root & Branch Gardens, tells me why he enjoys hiking the Appalachian Trail as summer turns toward fall.

“If you’ve ever walked out into a mountain meadow under a blue autumn sky with goldenrod in bloom,” Windham says, “you’ll know how truly spectacular it is.”

I remember just such a sight on the farm where I grew up, a fallow field resplendent with goldenrod, joe-pye weed, milkweed and ironweed. On that brilliant palette danced flights of butterflies — monarch, red admiral and tiger swallowtail — plus a host of skippers, cobalts and other beetles, bumblebees and metallic green flies. It was a sight wonderful to behold.

So why not replicate it in your home landscape?

Enterprising growers and nurseries have expanded the number of goldenrod varieties available for your yard or garden to more than 200.

“I use goldenrod in my garden and in my landscape designs because it’s so tough, so easy to grow and attracts so many pollinators,” Windham says. He tells me that, in his own backyard, he has a perennial border featuring a goldenrod cultivar called “Skyrocket,” which stands about three feet tall. Lower-growing dwarf cultivars can also be planted.

Windham, who helped install the ornamental grasses and pollinator meadow at the Greensboro Arboretum, recommends adding to your goldenrod native grasses such as little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) or big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), joe-pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum), ironweed (Vernonia glauca), phlox (Phlox carolina), asters (Aster paten) and bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana). Even after the flowers’ colors have faded, you’ll have a garden or border featuring interesting foliage that lasts into the winter months.

Those of you who suffer from fall allergies may think that Steve and I have lost our minds when we recommend goldenrod for your home garden.

Well, the goldenrod is not likely responsible for your runny nose and itchy eyeballs.

The culprit is another N.C. native perennial in the genus Ambrosia, from the Latin “food of the gods.”

Maybe the botanist responsible for giving this plant a name had a wicked sense of humor, but poor Ambrosia artemisiifolia is commonly called “ragweed.” It also bursts into bloom across the mountains, piedmont, sandhills and coastal plain of our Old North State in about the same habitats and at the same time of year as goldenrod.

Ragweed produces green, unremarkable blooms that release vast numbers of small, lightweight granules of airborne pollen that can be spread for miles by the wind. By contrast, goldenrod draws pollinators to its brilliant yellow flowers with nectar, relying on the pollinators to spread the relatively heavy pollen granules that glom onto their bodies and legs.

So plant beautiful Solidago. And forgive pesky Ambrosia.

If you were a plant and somebody called you “ragweed,” you’d probably have a vengeful attitude, too.  OH

Ross Howell Jr. is a freelance writer in Greensboro.

The Curio Corner

Behind the Faces

A few moments with portrait artist Suellen McCrary


By Maria Johnson

They look like they’re fixing to talk, the 24 people whose spirits were gently snared and then brushed onto birch panels that will hang in the Central Gallery of Greensboro’s Revolution Mill until October 1.

Portrait artist Suellen McCrary is responsible for the catch-and-release operation, a project called The Faces of Revolution.

Everyone she painted is connected, one way or another, to Revolution Mill, which wove downy flannel for Cone Mills Corporation from 1898 to 1982. The reclaimed complex, which blankets the hill where North Buffalo Creek slides under Yanceyville Street, now functions as a hip hub of live-work-play.

Funded by a grant from the property’s current owner, Self-Help Ventures Fund of Durham, McCrary mostly painted people who worked in the factory, folks who grew up in the mill village and their descendants. A few of her subjects currently labor — in light-flooded, ergonomically correct offices — in the latest incarnation of the brick, steel and maple behemoth.

McCrary herself leased a space there until last summer, when she moved back into her High Point home studio.

In mid-October, the oil portraits will move into the main building’s Textile Hall of Fame, where they will appear with biographical sketches.

McCrary, a Greensboro native and Appalachian grad who worked as a graphic artist before settling into portraiture, agreed to sit for a Q&A in the spirit of the word “portrait,” which is derived from the Latin verb “portrahere,” meaning to reveal or expose.

Was there anything that struck you in the stories of the people you painted?

Almost to a one, the running theme was friendship and community. It sounds corny, but it’s true. They were like family. They worked together. They lived together. They went to church together. They were on baseball teams. There was a real sense of community. There still is. There’s a Facebook page, Cone Mills Villages — My Family’s Heritage.

How many hours did you spend on each portrait?

You know everybody asks me that. It varies. Some just flowed and some took a lot longer. Many, many hours, we’ll just put it that way.

Aside from the commercial viability, why do you paint portraits, as opposed to, say, landscapes or still lifes?

Gosh, I don’t know if I can describe why. I’ve just always been drawn to drawing people. It’s just what interests me. I love landscapes. I appreciate other people’s landscapes, and I keep thinking I’ll try my hand at it, but I keep painting people.

Do you remember the first portrait you painted?

Probably my kids — and those weren’t very good.

Did they tell you that?
No. I look back on them, and I can tell that they weren’t very good. It’s like anything else, practice makes better, not perfect.

What are you after when you’re painting someone’s portrait?

Their likeness, obviously. I want to put them in their best light because that’s how I’d want someone to do me. I always find something that I love about every person that I’m painting. I try to play that up. It could be a look in their eye, a slight expression of their mouth.

Would you glean that from a conversation?

It helps. I love to talk to them while I’m painting, and then I’ll take lots of photos, 50 to 100 maybe. I’ll flip through them and come to one, and it’s “That’s the one.”

Who’s your favorite portrait painter?

John Singer Sargent is the first one that comes to mind. With just a few brushstrokes, he’s able to capture the essence of a person. You know he labored, but he makes it look easy. If I’m in a museum, and they have a Sargent, I’m bee-lining.

Have you ever done a self-portrait?

Yeah. I was in college. It was OK. The guy I was dating at the time said he didn’t think it looked like me.

What did he mean by that?

I’m hoping he meant I didn’t do myself justice!  OH

For more information about artist Suellen McCrary, visit

Contact O.Henry’s contributing editor Maria Johnson at ohenrymaria@gmail.com.


Photograph (right) courtesy of Suellen McCrary
photograph (left) by Joey Seawell