Sazerac September 2023

Sazerac September 2023

Unsolicited Advice

Every fall since the inception of Pinterest, it happens. Free, pretty printable, “Fall Bucket Lists” in pastels, oranges and sage greens take over the internet. And we think to ourselves, “Yes! This season, I will learn to knit, pick a bushel of apples, make a pie from said apples, preserve colorful leaves and do all the autumnal sort of things!” And then the winter arrives and all you have to show for it is one sad, empty PSL cup with your name spelled wrong. Forget that! We’ve made some updates that’ll have you knocking out this list faster than you can say apple spice cake.

  1. Bake pumpkin bread. OH: Who has time for that? Buy it at the grocery store and burn that pumpkin spice candle you got last fall. All the vibes with none of the stress.
  2. Make and sip warm apple cider. OH: Pass us a refreshing hard apple cider, please and thank you.
  3. Build a scarecrow. OH: Why? What did those crows ever do to you? Instead, make a — really scary — scarehuman and keep those nosy neighbors at bay.
  4. Go leaf-peeping. OH: Is there a tree outside your window? Look at it. Congratulations, you’ve peeped leaves. Check one off!
  5. Have a bonfire. OH: Got kindling? May we suggest that fall bucket list printout? Or past issue of OH? Consider it adaptive reuse.

Just One Thing

Coinciding with the N.C. Folk Festival, local artist Greg Hausler, owner of Wonky Star Studios, hosts a solo show at Greensboro’s Project Space, right next to Cincy’s Downtown, on September 5–9. “Color, Cloth & Chaos” features over 30 of Hausler’s works, which are far from traditional. In fact, Hauser suggests his style is a mashup of Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock and Claude Monet with a little street art sprinkled in. “My paintings incorporate repurposed clothing that adds texture, depth and history to the canvas,” says Hausler. Look for everything from undergarments to socks and jeans. Push Play, which traveled to Belgrade, Serbia, for the 2022 Biannele Art Salon, features “a frozen heart that’s being reset.” To create it, Hausler used one of his old flannel shirts — peer closely and you will see the buttons — and a work glove, which has become the hand that’s about to press play. Of this piece, Hausler says that the heart represents “the place where all the inspiration has to go for it to come to fruition.” For more information, visit

Sage Gardener

Okra is the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables. Whenever I post about it on Facebook, some of my “friends” seem to think I’m urging them to partake of sizzling serpents au gratin. But no less an authority than Jessica Harris, author of High on the Hog, says it is “perhaps the best known and least understood” of Southern vegetables. I encourage you to read Harris’ account of how okra made its journey from Africa on slave ships to Southern “Big House” kitchens, where Black cooks introduced it into dishes such as turkey-neck soup. Since then, it’s become a chic addition in some of America’s hottest boîtes. Whether stewed in fiery New Orleans Creole gumbo or simply dredged in corn meal and fried, Southerners have been wolfing down okra for centuries. And why not? It is among the most heat- and drought-tolerant vegetables on the planet, even thriving in our Tar Heel red clay. Cultivated in the Middle East and India for millennia, the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians knew all about okra. The first mention of it in the New World was in 1619. Thomas Jefferson suggested snapping it from the plant rather than snipping it. My wife, Anne, cooks it to perfection, butter-frying the tiniest, just-picked pods in an a blistering-hot cast-iron pan.

So what’s not to like? “Okra is often spurned because of the gluey, even slimy texture it can present,” one food writer opines. C’mon. Let’s get it out there: Okra can be gooey, gloppy, gloopy, gummy and my favorite description, mucilaginous. But that’s only if you don’t have a clue about what you’re doing. Pick it small. And one British writer advises to treat it like the Mogwai in Gremlins films: “If you want it to stay cute, don’t get it wet.” Pat or brush it to remove dirt, just as you do with mushrooms. Cook it whole; frying it helps. “One way to de-slime okra is to cook it with an acidic food, such as tomatoes,” suggests one cook. And it’s good for you, lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels, boosting your immune response and improving your gut health. Unless it doesn’t: “Okra contains fructans,” cautions another online source, saying okra can cause diarrhea, gas, cramping, bloating and a lingering onset of death — or maybe that was something else. Maybe my Northern friends are right; after all, okra is in the same family as cotton, hibiscus, musk mallow and even the notorious durian. But as you’re reading this, I very well might be whipping flour into a pan of smoking oil to make a roux à la Paul Prudhomme for some shrimp gumbo Ya-Ya.

And running through my mind will be a jingle from humorist Roy Blount: “You can have your strip pokra/ Give me a nice girl and a dish of okra.”    David Claude Bailey

Happy Trails

Just completed and opened by the Piedmont Land Conservancy in May, the main Caraway Forks Trail at Caraway Creek Preserve wanders through massive oaks and towering hickories to a historical artifact, a massive stone “check” dam dating back to the 19th century. Rather than forming an impoundment, check dams were built by farmers to slow down the flow of creeks and rivers during floods for silt retention and to protect their crops. Caraway Creek actually runs right under the dam to snake its way through shady bluffs and beetling ravines. Visit

Calling All O.Henry Essayists

Several years ago, readers responded enthusiastically to a contest challenging them to write an essay entitled “My Life in a Thousand Words.” Last year, we revived our challenge with a theme of “The Year That Changed Everything.” And this year, in honor of our namesake, who was known as one of America’s most popular  — and highest-paid during his time — short story writers, we’re thrilled to announce that the 2023 O.Henry Essay Contest is all about “The Kindness of Strangers.”

We’ve all had a moment in our lives when someone we didn’t know stopped without hesitation to lend a hand.

When our family was new to a small, rural Maryland town, my daughter, Emmy, 4 at the time, took a dance class in a home basement studio up a bit on South Mountain, where we rarely saw human life, but did see bears. Unbeknownst to me, I’d accidentally left the overhead interior light on in my car when I parked, which became all too obvious when we left class at 8 p.m. on a cold, starlit October night. My husband, Chris, was out of town and there was no one I knew to call. I didn’t have any friends yet. A father of a fellow dancer saw my distress and drove us home. That was 12 years ago.

And now, we want to hear your story — whether you were on the receiving or giving end of that helping hand.

Of course, there are some rules:

  • Submit no more than 1,000 words in conventional printed form. Essays over 1,000 will be shredded and used in our office hamster’s cage.
  • Deadline to enter is December 24, 2023.
  • Top three winners will be contacted via email and will be printed in a spring 2024 issue.
  • Email entries to

We can’t wait to hear the clickety-clack of keyboards across the Triad as you write your stories — stories that are sure to remind us of all the goodness that exists in the world.

— By Cassie Bustamante, editor

Growing Goodwill

Survey four of the Triad’s youngest residents and one of them will tell you they face food insecurity. Share the Harvest board president Linda Anderson, a retired educator, does her best to improve that grim statistic. Sometimes, she says, it’s as simple as grabbing a hoe or driving a truck.

“There are times during the growing season when our gardens are overflowing with vegetables and we don’t know what to do with the excess. This is when Share the Harvest can help both the gardener and the individuals in need,” says Anderson.

Anderson says donations have grown since 2012 from a few community and church gardens donating food to local nonprofits into an expanding program benefitting organizations, collecting and distributing food to the needy via various programs offering meals and food pantries. For its 10 core volunteers, the need has motivated them to collect, coordinate and distribute donations from groceries, restaurants, gardens, farmers markets and even N.C. State A&T University’s farm.

From May through October, the growing season, they collect, aggregate, then store fresh products at a central collection site for distribution.

“In the beginning, the first year, we had 1,200 pounds of veggies. Last year it was 15,241 pounds received.” See for more information.      By Cynthia Adams


Simple Life

Simple Life

Squirrelly Business

A seedy family of rodents drives an old dude nuts

By Jim Dodson

Another summer is ending.

And once again, the squirrels have won.

Last year about this time, you see, I made a promise to myself — not to mention the many wild birds that regularly visit our four hanging feeders — to find a way to outfox the large crime family of gray squirrels that inhabits Old George, the handsome maple tree that anchors our front yard.

The problem began rather innocently six years ago when we moved back to the heavily forested neighborhood where I grew up and rescued George from death by English ivy. The old tree flourished and, one afternoon, I noticed a couple gray squirrels had taken up residence in a hollow nook halfway up the tree. They seemed to be a respectable couple, perhaps elderly pensioners looking for a nice place to tuck in for their quiet retirement years. Our property is also home to several towering oaks, so come autumn there would be a plentiful acorn supply.

I hung a couple bird feeders by wires from George’s upper branches. Soon the wild birds were all over them. What a peaceable kingdom it seemed.

The next spring, however, there were four squirrels residing on Old George. Clearly, they were no elderly pensioners, for within months, two baby squirrels appeared and I found a juvenile delinquent regularly helping himself to premium birdseed, scattering it on the ground below the feeder, having somehow slid down the 10-foot wire like a paid assassin from a Bond flick.

He soon returned with two bushy-tailed pals from across the street. Word was out. Party at the Dodson house, all-you-can eat birdseed buffet, pay no attention to the old dude waving his arms and shouting obscenities.

By the next year there were at least seven or eight tree squirrels residing on Old George, a budding Corleone family of furry rodents regularly raiding the feeders, costing me a bundle just to keep them filled up. I bought expensive “squirrel-free” feeders and fancy bird feeder poles equipped with “baffles” guaranteed to keep the gymnastic raiders on the ground. These sure-fire remedies, alas, only baffled me because they posed only a minor challenge to the squirrels. So I made a deal with the big fat squirrel that seemed to be the head of the family. Whatever they found on the ground at the feet of Old George was theirs to keep. Thanks to the jays, the sloppiest eaters in the bird kingdom, there was plenty of seed for them to gorge on. For a while, this protection racket seemed to work until one afternoon as I was filling up “their” feeder, I heard a pop and turned to find the big fat crime boss squirrel dead on the ground. He’d been pushed off a high limb where two younger squirrels were looking down with innocent beady-eyed stares. Just like in the movies, a younger more ambitious crime boss was in charge.

I considered giving up and moving to northern Scotland. Instead, I asked my neighbor, Miriam, a crack gardener and bird fancier, how she handled pesky squirrels. By “crack gardener,” I don’t mean to suggest that sweet elderly Miriam was growing crack cocaine, merely that if anyone could tell me how to stem the tide of ravenous tree squirrels it was Miriam. She’d lived in the neighborhood for 40 years. She is my turn-to garden and bird guru.

Miriam thought for a moment before coming out with a chilling laugh. “They’re impossible to stop.” She pointed to her Jack Russells. “That’s why I have Jake and Spencer. They do a pretty decent job on the squirrels and chipmunks.” She admitted that she always wondered whether squirrels are the smartest or dumbest of God’s creatures. “How can squirrels be so smart they can get into any kind of bird feeder — but always stop suicidally in the middle of the street whenever a car is coming?”

It was a good question I had no time to ponder.

Our other neighbors down the block, Miriam explained, had taken to humanely trapping their squirrels and releasing them in the countryside. “But I read somewhere that if you don’t take them more than 10 miles out of town, they’ll come straight back.”

That was all I needed — country cousins joining the feast.

Next, remembering my former neighbor, Max, I actually gave thought to arming myself with a Daisy BB gun. It’s right there in the second amendment, after all — the right to bear arms against unreasonable threats from hostile elements, both domestic and foreign. True, the Constitution doesn’t mention thieving gray tree squirrels per se, but one doesn’t have to be a strict constitutional originalist to interpret the broad meaning of those historic words.

Max was my neighbor down in Southern Pines, a fabulous gardener famous for his giant tomatoes, succulent sweet corn and luscious collards. To protect his bounty from the herds of deer that roam the Sandhills, Max essentially erected a Russian-style penal colony around his veggie garden, complete with electrical voltage and 24-hour monitoring system.

The first evening I dined with Max and his beautiful wife, Myrtis, as the salt and pepper came my way on the lazy Susan, I noticed a large jar of Taster’s Choice — circa 1976 — festooned with several sheets of notepaper attached by rubber bands. The sheets were covered with dozens of dates written in tiny, neat handwriting.

“What are these dates?” I asked. “The last time you tried really old instant coffee?”

Myrtis laughed. “Oh, no. Those are dates of Max’s squirrel kills. He shoots them.”

Max just smiled. “Haven’t had a squirrel problem in years. It’s either them or my vegetables.”

I was in the presence of evil genius, a terminator of problem squirrels.

Call me a tree-hugging man of peace — Rocky and Bullwinkle were my favorite childhood cartoon characters — but I decided to forgo the gun and simply rely on Miss Miriam’s way to put the fear into the furry crime family that inhabits Old George.

Nowadays I wait until I see them climbing up poles, dangling upside down to feed or diving insanely from tree limbs onto our feeders, whereupon I strategically release our 75-pound Staffordshire pit bull and fleet-footed border collie-spaniel puppy and watch the merry chase begin. There’s been more than one narrow escape and parts of furry tails have been brought back to master of the hounds.

True, it’s not a permanent solution to the problem. But for now, Gracie and Winnie enjoy the exercise and I am sending an unmistakable message to the squirrelly Corleones.

They’d best stay out of the middle of the road when this old dude is at the wheel.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

Wandering Billy

Wandering Billy

Poetry Is Life

And life is poetry for Greensboro’s first Poet Laureate

By Billy Ingram

“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”      – Leonard Cohen

For the first time ever, the City of Greensboro has appointed a Poet Laureate, Josephus Thompson III. Some people might envision a pointy-headed intellectual with a snowy beard spouting iambic pentameter while safely ensconced inside an ivy-covered garret. In contrast Josephus is a tall, lithe 46-year old who appears considerably younger in person.

It was a fourth grade classroom assignment that led Josephus into discovering his previously undiagnosed love for wordplay. “I won a fourth place ribbon for an essay about my father,” he tells me. “And I was ecstatic that I won fourth place.” Later, in high school, Josephus composed a poem for an English course that he performed in front of the entire student body. “I got a few accolades for it and I was like, people like my writing. I should do more of it.”

Although it’s a part of every school’s curriculum, “So often the poetry that we hear — the Mayas, the Frosts — it doesn’t sound like us, doesn’t look like us,” Josephus remarks about society’s overall failure to connect students to creative expression. “It’s all about education through correlation, something they can actually relate to.” This dichotomy led to the creation of The Poetry Project in 2005 for, “using poetry to teach, inspire and build the communities that we call home.”

What began inside individual classrooms turned into packed school assemblies. “When I go into a space, maybe 70 percent of the kids probably don’t like poetry,” Josephus says. “They think it’s whack, it’s boring. But when I’m able to relate it to hip-hop, to music, to empowering their voice, all of a sudden the light switch goes on. They’re like, ‘Wait a minute. You wanna hear what I have to say?’”

Over time, Josephus developed a scintillating Monday through Thursday curriculum rooted, but not mired, in traditional English Language Arts. “Then on Friday,” he says, “I’ll bring in a poet, a singer, a rapper, a guitar player, so they are able to see what we’ve talked about all week in real life.” Wildly popular, this avant-garde bard poetically pied piper-ed impressionable audiences, winning over a multitude of restless, attention deficient pupils, a paroxysm attributable not only to Josephus’ charismatic delivery, but also his impressive lexiconical athleticism.

Funded primarily by fees for service plus occasional grants, The Poetry Project has provided literacy-based programming not only in Guilford and Forsyth Counties, but also in Harrisburg, VA, and as far afield as Malaysia and the Phillippines. “I had the pleasure of performing with the Greensboro Symphony in 2019,” says Josephus. “It was phenomenal.” For that event, every third and fourth grader in the county school system was transported to Grimsley High School’s auditorium for five daily jam sessions, experiencing for themselves Josephus’ participatory prestidigitation. The result? It’s poetry emotion: “A thousand kids singing along and chanting.”

“I’m able to talk about the fact that the money is in songwriting,” Josephus remarks, explaining that most youngsters don’t realize musical artists generally don’t compose their hit songs. “The people that write the music are sitting at home collecting a check, a lot more than the singer. By the end of the class everyone wants to be a writer.”

Having piqued students’ interest, Josephus realized budding authors had nowhere to hone their craft. “There’s a place for Frisbee, and basketball and soccer, but, if you’re going to be a writer, where do you go?” To fill that void, Josephus partnered with the McGirt-Horton branch of the Greensboro Public Library to establish an after-school outlet for aspiring scribes. “Every person has a voice,” Josephus says of his motivation. “Everyone wants to be heard, period.”

As a side gig that has since expanded exponentially, Josephus launched The Poetry Café at Triad Stage in 2009 to serve as a launching pad and showcase for emerging regional wordsmiths. It was then that one of his mentors, D. Cherie’ Lofton, at that time operations manager and content manager for N.C. A&T State University’s radio station, began urging him to adapt his concept for the airwaves. “I didn’t want to be on the radio, but I had no idea the number of people I could reach.” It took Lofton more than a year to talk him into it, but in 2012 Josephus began broadcasting The Poetry Café over 90.1 FM, WNAA.

Earlier this year, The Poetry Café became a weekly syndicated radio show, airing Sundays at 6–7 p.m. on WUNC radio, recorded in his studio on the second floor of Triad Stage. “We already have artists that are coming now to Greensboro to be featured on the show because it’s statewide.”

Last year, Josephus created a monthly retreat called Poetry Field Trip in conjunction with the Van Dyke Performance Space located in downtown’s Cultural Center. “We were able to bring in 300 kids for 90 minutes to experience poetry up close and personal with a full band,” Josephus says, somewhat amazed. “Before they leave, I’m giving autographs to fourth graders — as a poet in Greensboro.”

Josephus is on track to host a combined 3,000 kids for October’s Poetry Field Trip at the Van Dyke Performance Space ( “Beginning at 9 a.m., there’s ‘Poetry is Life’ breaking down what poetry is, how it connects,” our Poet Laureate explains. “In the afternoon, we do a second part called ‘The Cypher: From the Page to the Stage.’ The same kids can come back and write their own poetry, then get up on stage to perform it. Three hundred kids coming in the morning and the afternoon for a full day field trip.”

It’s not just about poetic license, but poetic licensing. The Poetry Café is headed to the National Public Radio convention this month. “The goal is to pick up another 10 to 12 stations,” Josephus says, “so the show will be national by the end of the year.” He’s already submitted a proposal to PBS North Carolina. “We’d love to get on their network with The Poetry Café, featuring North Carolina artists, which means advertising dollars.”

In April of 2024, The Poetry Project returns to Tanger Center. “We’re talking about video, audio, all of that being accessible, sellable and licensable,” Josephus notes. In 2025, he’s looking to export The Poetry Café to London, Dubai and Durban, South Africa. Having grown up a military brat with frequent upendings, he says, “I’ve been to those places, so I know it’s possible.”

Set the clock for inevitability. “As Poet Laureate of Greensboro, it’s my due diligence to make it happen,” Josephus contends. “We’re setting the mold, breaking barriers, proving every single day that poetry is life and life is indeed poetry.”  OH

Billy Ingram is O.G. — Original Greensboro.

Almanac September 2023

Almanac September 2023

September is the last stand of sunflowers — thick with bumbles and honeys — wistfully facing east.

Sown in the softest days of summer, when early berries fairly tumbled from their vines, the seeds of these yellow giants held more than plumule and root. They held the glory of summer, a timeless cure-all, the warmth and likeness of the sun.

Weeks after their shoots burst through fertile earth, the sunflowers whispered patience. Ever reaching toward the light, their stalks grew tall and sturdy; their rough leaves wide as open palms. Soon, the buds emerged — tidy cinch purses as splendid as stars — holding their treasures tight.

Summer burst in all directions. Cicadas emerged screaming. Queen Anne laced meadows and roadsides. Thistle and clover reigned supreme.

Butterflies teetered on purple coneflowers, feasted on milkweed, drifted among sage, sedum and hibiscus.

At last, when early giants withered on their fibrous stalks, the luminous beauties unfurled.

Summer fades. And yet, the last wave of sunflowers beams.

Here now, they sing.

The bees know, sharing communion at their golden centers. Whirling in ecstasy. Humming an ancient prayer for grace.

We know, too. We hold tight to summer — let it transform us — then wistfully look toward the autumn sun.


New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.   — Lao Tzu


The Thick of It

Muscadine season is here at last.

Hypnotically sweet, this native grape thrives in the sticky heat of our Southeastern states, ripening from late August through early October. Ranging in color from greenish bronze (we call them scuppernongs) to deep purple, this thick-skinned whopper (Vitis rotundifolia) is the official fruit of North Carolina.

Muscadine wine. Muscadine jelly. Muscadine grape hull pie.

For some, muscadines by the handful take the cake.

According to the State Library of North Carolina’s online encyclopedia, early English explorers of the Outer Banks reported that this fruiting vine “covered every shrub and climbed the tops of high cedars.” This was 1584. Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano wrote about the curious “white” grape some 60 years prior.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the half-acre “Mother Vine” in Manteo, now over 400 years old? Planted by Croatan Native Americans or, perhaps, settlers of the Lost Colony, this legendary scuppernong is the oldest known cultivated grape vine in the country. It’s aging, no doubt, like a fine, sweet wine. 


Crisscross Equinox

Apples blush. Whippoorwill sings his final song. Things end and things begin.

The autumnal equinox occurs on Saturday, September 23. As the turn of the season graces us with equal amounts of day and night, we prepare for the final harvest. We celebrate the abundance here now, soak up the remnants of summer, and ready ourselves for the darkening days.  OH

Call It Kismet

Call It Kismet

Joey Marlowe’s Most Excellent Turn of Fate

By Cynthia Adams

Photographs by Amy Freeman


During one of the most competitive real estate markets in modern times, two lucky High Pointers snapped up a radiant Emerywood property when opportunity literally came calling.

A keen intuition paid off for Joey Marlowe, who says Lady Luck pointed the way to a historic High Point home that seemed fated to be his. (In this case, Lady Luck was in the guise of a personal friend, who paid him a call at Boxwood, the antiques emporium he co-owns with Jana Vaughan.)

As his friend described a picture-perfect property set on a shady boulevard, he instantaneously thought, “It’s mine,” sight unseen.

Marlowe’s friend, who had a key, suggested a private showing on behalf of the owner, who actually wanted her to buy it. The seller, having recently remarried, was living in Virginia. Better yet, she had completed a skillful renovation, updating the kitchen and baths, replacing sunroom windows, and completely rebuilding the garage. 

Marlowe’s friend explained that while it simply wouldn’t work for her, she knew this house was perfect for him.

He knew, too.

But there was a complicating factor. His spouse, Chad Collins, who works in real estate himself as managing broker with Marlowe Collins Realty, had zero interest in a change of address.

Collins confirms he was determined not to move. 

“He would have never moved,” Marlowe adds flatly, but he was ready. 

In fact, an indifferent Collins didn’t even go along for the initial look-see. 

“I told him to look at the house first,” he says, nodding to Marlowe. “If you like it, then I’ll come look at it.” 

Turns out, fate wasn’t merely kind — fate was generous. From the curb, Marlowe saw that the Emerywood house possessed undeniable charm, the sort that homeowners and real estate agents mythologize.

With a pleasing symmetry and hip roof, plus fresh upgrades, the seller had retained the most charming aspects — right down to the original phone niche. Details that made Marlowe’s heart sing from his first walkthrough. (What is a home, after all, if not the sum of its parts?) 

“I was in amazement,” Marlowe says as he parks his SUV before the new white garage, which features a separate apartment. Eugenia topiaries, statuary and a vintage wrought-iron bench lend an English feel, setting the stage.

“Everything was as I envisioned it. The color was right. It was perfect . . . even if I [later] changed it.” He laughs, given his work as a designer includes an inclination to make cosmetic changes.

At first blush, however, he saw the manifestation of his dream house fulfilled. The two-story painted brick home, accented with black window boxes, featured a distinctive covered entry with a metal awning. Officially the Shelton House, according to Benjamin Briggs’s inventory of historic High Point architecture, it was the namesake of contractor Roy E. Shelton, who built the home in 1935. Shelton lived there with his wife, Mildred, as Emerywood was being developed. 

It is also believed to be among a few model showcase homes built for the upscale community. The concept home was a “stylish example of Depression-era design,” which just so happens to be one of Marlowe’s favorites. Not only that, according to the inventory, the house is “one of the city’s best examples” of that very style.

“Did I mention it’s English? In the Regency Revival style?” Marlowe asks. 

As the inventory states, it was “an interpretation of late 18th-century residential architecture,” with exterior features that include “delicate” dentil molding, quoins and transom over the front door. Deep wooden panels beneath the front windows give them the illusion of being larger.

A born collector and fervent Anglophile by both hobby and trade, Marlowe admits to falling hard for beautiful things — show him an English antique, collectible or painting and his mind and heart race.

But Collins, who had previously pumped the brakes on relocating, had presented three firm conditions. 

“It has to be the perfect house, it has to fall in our lap and has to be off market, as I wasn’t getting into a bidding war.” He pauses. “And the universe delivered it.” 

Collins says, “I’ve always said to clients, especially couples: You should walk in a home and, within 30 seconds to a minute, you should go, ‘It’s perfect,’ almost in unison.”

Marlowe knew before his feet hit the driveway; Collins later confirmed the inevitable. The house was, in a word, perfect. “So, I was like, ‘OK, we’re moving!’” he recalls.

Given the couple’s 17 years together — long enough to complete one another’s sentences — they agreed that this property checked every box. 

Collins shakes his head, still amazed by their good fortune.


Wanting to ramp up the sense of an English landscape, they planned to add coral roses, hydrangeas, ferns and trellises. 

They envisioned next steps: installing an arbor, window boxes, and updating exterior and interior lighting. Renaming the house Fern Manor, the couple took possession on September 1, 2022, after allowing the seller ample time to transition and empty the garage of stored belongings.

The house was very nearly dubbed Boxwood after the couple set to work within weeks, landscaping and planting 150 boxwoods — if not for the fact that Marlowe had already used the name for his antique business.

“At Boxwood,” Marlowe says “it’s about how you make people feel. People want to stay.”

“As a Realtor, I’m selling not just a structure, but dreams,” explains Collins. “At Boxwood, Joey is selling ideals. A concept.” 

In their home of just a year, they agree on having found both — a dream and an ideal. 

“Home is where it all starts,” Marlowe says, entering the house on a summer’s day. Fountains burble near the side and rear entrances. The delicious smell of Dragon’s Blood incense — “I keep a few sticks of it in my car” — follows him into the house.

He discusses aesthetics, saying how he strives to create that same inviting sense at Boxwood.

Inside, Collins waits in the kitchen, where Dolly Purton, their cat, wraps herself around his legs as he points out something he loves: a coffee nook. The seller converted the small laundry area, creating a counter and installing a hardwired instant hot water unit.

Marlowe, not a coffee lover, winces.   

“Joey could care less,” Collins says, before Marlowe shoots back, “I want the washer/drier back upstairs.” 

The eat-in kitchen, which they describe as Country French in style, wears a neutral coat of Benjamin Moore’s Simply White. There’s a farmhouse sink and generous counterspace. As is the case throughout the house, they only changed cosmetics — paint and wallpaper.

The eat-in island, where they take most of their meals, has a working fireplace, adding actual and visual warmth.

Off the kitchen, the dining room — where they seldom actually dine, Collins confides — is “a gilded chinoiserie fantasy,” with Thibaut wallpaper, faux painting on the ceiling and a white Madcap Cottage chandelier. It goes without saying that Marlowe designed the dining room and, in fact, all the interiors.

Against type, they’ve placed antique leather books in the built-in corner cabinets rather than china. Idiosyncratic and personal is the motif that repeats.

Collins jokes, “When we first met, he said ‘Don’t get used to anything being in the same spot, because it will be constantly moving.’ . . . He’s lived up to that.”

A midcentury painting of an espaliered pear, a gilded mirror and an antique barometer hang on the wall, while white orchids in a cachepot decorate an antique dining table. (Collins gives Marlowe an orchid each Valentine’s Day and anniversary.)

The striped wallpaper in the foyer/front hall is by Cole and Sons. Marlowe already had the paper, purchased for a future home. They’ve used it to create a gallery hall, installing 18th-century small landscape paintings and a silhouette collection Marlowe has been amassing for years.


“As a designer, I say people should design to their personality.” Together, they’ve created a collected look, saying they really like the Georgian period of furnishings.

“I started collecting in the 1990s . . . silhouettes, clocks.” A perfectly scaled tall Scottish clock dating to 1836, slender antique console and gilded mirror surrounded by a selection of their miniature paintings and portraits complete the suitably English-styled foyer.

Marlowe also reused drapes he had made some years ago for a previous home.   

At some point, a downstairs powder room was created from a hall closet. Even it has a collecting theme. “Every room does,” says Marlowe.

The living room has been painted several times in their short tenure, after initially experimenting with a shade of coral. 

“It turned out a very yucky berry ice cream color,” Marlowe frowns. After repeatedly changing and tweaking it, he has finally settled on a neutral Simply White again, adding punch with silk grosgrain edging in coral (his perennially favorite color) at the ceiling. The added detail lends the formal room “a more modern, youthful look.” 

The ribbon also ties into the floral fabric used on the overstuffed arm chairs, upholstered in Lee Joffa’s beloved Hollyhock pattern. 

The room features a favorite find, a green chinoiserie secretary. The room is comfortably furnished with overstuffed armchairs. Family items and collectibles, such as porcelain dogs, add a personal touch. Horses, too. They’re “a thing for Joey,” says Collins, dating to time spent at his grandmother’s farm. 

Their combined style, Collins interjects jokingly, “Is a Kentucky Derby party with pomp and circumstance.”

And, yes, everything is subject to being moved, repeats Collins. At this Marlowe rolls his eyes. Pointing to a striking portrait in a massive frame he shoots a warning look. “That painting,” he insists, “is too darned heavy to ever move again.”

What would they run out with first in case of a fire? 

“The paintings are too big,” the pair quips in sync. (Many are gifts to Marlowe from Collins.) Then Collins turns serious. Thanks to meditation and Buddhism, he is learning non-attachment to possessions. 

“Home is where the heart is; and my home is with him,” he says, indicating Marlowe.

Marlowe, pondering, answers that if there was a fire, he’d “leave with my grandma’s photo. She was very crucial for my development as a child and encouraging me.”

“I’d want you to go with me, too, but — ” and he glances towards Collins, pauses before erupting into laughter, riffing off the moment.

“I think it’d be the family photos. But everything here has a meaning. Everything. There’s a painting of a boy in a little green jacket and his dog,” he says, indicating where it hangs. “He’s my favorite. Chad found it and gave it to me.” 

Thanks to Boxwood, the couple can upcycle and cull their many collections.

“Joey took his hobby and turned it into a successful business,” says Collins, who proudly compares it to the way in which Replacements, Ltd. in Greensboro first evolved.

Marlowe quickly replies: “Let’s just tell the truth; I have a shopping problem.” 

Collins’ favorite room is the sunroom, a television and game room, featuring the home’s only television set. “This is where I love to sit and read; I start and end my day in this room. A true nesting place.” On the sunroom wall is a moody nighttime Victorian scene, the first painting that he ever gave Marlowe. 

It opens to a patio, a shaded fair-weather retreat with a scalloped awning and twinkling lights, where another fountain bubbles and blue porcelains, including Chinese stools for seating. Tables, statuary and potted plants create another space for entertaining, complete with “rooms” designed to move the eye through the landscape.

Back inside, pausing at the bottom of the stairs which are covered in a chevron-patterned runner, Marlowe explains the only practical concern for aging in place at Fernwood Manor. As is typical of older homes, the bedrooms are on the second floor. They’re both still youthful and in their 50s, but he worries. Perhaps, he says, they can eventually create a main suite in the newly rebuilt garage, connecting it to the main house to solve the problem.

He points out a chandelier hanging at the top of the landing, “The first that Chad ever gave me, the first Christmas we were together.”


The primary bedroom has a fireplace flanked by comfortable chairs. The room features recently installed hand-colored chinoiserie paper with twining vines and birds against a soft rose-toned background. They furnished the room with gilded mirrors, chinoiserie lamps, urns and porcelains, and a prized 19th-century signed Italianate painting, among other artworks. 

A canopy bed by Frontgate faces the fireplace, with a tall screen in the corner where an exterior door leading outside was closed and converted into a closet by the seller. It once accessed a deck with a patio roof above the sunporch, which the new owners hope to one day return to its original state.

On display is a collection of personal photos of their younger selves when they met nearly 20 years ago. Collins, who has experimented with short and long hair, has the ability to change his look like a chameleon. 

“And I’m the same preppie I was before,” quips Marlowe. 

The upstairs bathrooms, though refreshed, retain many original details.

The bath that opens to the hall is tailored, crisply accented with black and white and features a striking, original coral-colored wall tile. Marlowe is amazed that his favorite color was already used in the house from its very beginning. The vintage pedestal sink retains original telescoping legs. 


Two guest rooms, decorated in period style right down to the vintage toys, are dedicated to their two grandchildren, Evangeline, 3, and Gabriel, 9. Here, Marlowe used Schumacher paint in his granddaughter’s room, picking up soft rose accents from the Aubusson rug, coverlet and window treatments, and chose a romantic canopy bed.

“This will be Evangeline’s spend-the-night place,” says Marlowe. “She comes over to play, but hasn’t yet spent the night.”

Then there’s the “gentleman’s room” for Gabriel, who comes for sleepovers every other weekend. He sleeps in style in an equestrian themed room with English hunting style wallpaper.

The interiors are complete, but there are ongoing plans for the exterior. They are working on the English garden effect in the front yard, and a more casual garden in the back. There will be an all-white garden created on the driveway side, as they share an additional half lot with their neighbor. 

They’ve ordered a custom-designed shed that will echo the house with French doors and a metal roof from a company in Sanford. It’s being installed in the rear garden and will become a yoga studio for Collins, an avid practitioner.

This house — “a collection of life,” according to Marlowe — is where the couple’s work and personal lives form an aesthetic intersection.   

Both value what they have created here together, a sensibility that only a collected look can give.

“Everything has a story,” he says.

Now he and Collins are writing the next chapter in this, the latest installment in the life of a storied, much-loved house.  OH



Straying Inland

The great egret pays a visit

By Susan Campbell

’Tis the season of odd sightings: Birds are wandering in all directions. After breeding and ahead of fall migration, it is not uncommon to spot out-of-place individuals here in central North Carolina. One that gets reported annually is the great egret, or mistakenly referred to as a “white crane.” This is a large wading bird with all-white plumage, a long, pointed, bright yellow bill and black legs.

Although far more likely to be found along the coast, individuals or small groups turn up on inland ponds from late July through September. Egrets stalk small fish, frogs, crayfish and other small prey in the shallows. Occasionally they will snatch a snake, small bird or large insect as well. They will roost in thick, older pines over water, where ground predators are not likely to reach them. In coastal areas, they may join dozens or even hundreds of other individuals, finding safety in numbers.

During the breeding season, from March through June, great egrets sport long plumes along their backs. At the turn of the century, the species was nearly wiped out as a result of the millinery trade. Plume hunters decimated rookeries throughout the coastal United States. But, as with most of our wading species, great egrets have made a good recovery. On the verge of extinction, they became the symbol of the National Audubon Society, the oldest and largest bird conservation organization in the United States, originally founded to protect birds from being killed for their feathers.

Great egrets are found in heronries, most often alongside great blue herons, throughout the Coastal Plain. Nesting habitat consists of sturdy trees usually on islands, free of mammalian predators. Simple stick platforms are constructed by the males and placed high in the canopy. Nests can be quite large, being up to a few feet across and a foot or so deep. One to six eggs are laid and incubated for almost four weeks by the female. The young are then fed by both parents for about a month before they are capable of flight. If there is a shortage of food, aggressive larger siblings are known to kill smaller ones. Fledglings may follow their parents for a few weeks or may become independent quickly, if food resources are scarce.

Both great egret adults and young of the year will disperse from their breeding areas to find new feeding areas. They are often seen in late summer on inland lakes, even in our mountain counties. In our area, they may use lakes, beaver ponds, creek or river floodplains, even water hazards on golf courses. They do not tend to stay in one place for very long so, should you come upon an egret this season, enjoy it because it likely will not be around more than a few hours — a day or two at most.   OH

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at

Life Imitates Art

Life Imitates Art

And vice versa

By Cassie Bustamante

Photography by Bert VanderVeen

Costuming by Mary McKeithen of Showboat in Southern Pines

Makeup and Hairstyling by Local Honey Salon


“The reason some portraits don’t look true to life,” says Spanish Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, “is that some people make no effort to resemble their pictures.” Touché, sir.

We scoured the city and found local lookalikes to subjects in famous paintings, and, with a little “effort to resemble,” plus makeup and hair artistry from Local Honey Salon, we’ve recreated those portraits. From Frida to Vincent, six Gate City doppelgängers are walking works of art. Who knows? Next time you’re sipping your cold brew at a local corner café, you may find yourself in a booth next to someone who could be Mona Lisa’s twin — but a whole lot younger — if only she made the effort.

Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat

by Vincent Van Gogh, 1887


Dutch post-impressionistic painter Vincent Van Gogh painted roughly 2,100 works of art in just a decade’s time, but he’s regrettably better known by some for cutting off his ear. In 1890, Van Gogh took his own life after struggling with mental illness. He once said, “If I am worth anything later, I am worth something now. For wheat is wheat, even if people think it is a grass in the beginning.” Today, he’s one of the most celebrated and imitated artists in the world, and his work is worth more than he ever could have dreamed. We’ve recruited the Weatherspoon Art Museum’s two-eared head of communications, Loring Mortenson, to fill Van Gogh’s shoes — and hat — with a little impressionistic artistry from both costumer Mary McEithen and the team at Local Honey.


Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

by Gustav Klimt, 1907


The only subject that Klimt painted twice was Adele Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish Viennese socialite and patron of the arts whose husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish banker and sugar producer, commissioned the artist to create the painting as a gift for Adele’s parents. It’s rumored that Adele became Klimt’s mistress. With a little Midas touch and what Local Honey owner Jay Bulluck calls an “ice cream cone” updo, sustainable fashion lead and GreenHill board member Swati Argade steps into the role of our Adele.

Two Fridas

by Frida Kahlo, 1939


Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was always interested in art from an early age, but it wasn’t until a bus accident derailed her med school path that she decided to pursue it as a career. Kahlo, who was known for her introspective self-portraits and feminism, once said, “Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are a bourbon biscuit.” Regrettably, her husband, renowned Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, often served his craving for biscuits elsewhere. Their tumultuous marriage ended in 1939 and this painting, she later admitted, reflects the loneliness she felt in her separation from him. You’re not seeing double. Isabella Bueno, a mother of three little ones who is studying to be a Realtor, is seen here twice — quintessential unibrow added, of course — once in a more traditional Mexican costume on the left, and in more contemporary dress on the right.

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw

by John Singer Sargent, 1892


Born into an old Scottish family, Gertrude Agnew was wife to British Sir Andrew Noel Agnew, Ninth Baronet. A socialite who often entertained by throwing lavish garden parties at Lochnaw Castle, just months into her marriage, Lady Agnew contracted influenza and spent much of their first matrimonial year — the same year this portrait was commissioned and completed — in periods of convalesce. So, while it looks as though American expatriate Singer Sargent captured her in slightly amused repose, there’s a good chance she was just taking a much needed breather. Greensboro textile artist, instructor and clothing designer Ann Tilley lounges in luxury as Lady Agnew. We don’t know about you, but we’re seeing double.

Self Portrait

by Henri Matisse, 1918


Nearing the age of 50, French visual artist Henri Matisse created this self portrait during what is commonly referred to as his “return to order,” a pulling back that was also seen in other artists of the post-World-War-I era, including Picasso and Stravinsky. A Matisse sculpture, Madeleine I (1901), can be found at the Weatherspoon Art Museum in a collection donated by Claribel and Etta Cone, sisters to Moses and Ceasar Cone. Matisse, who was a friend to the Cone sisters, once said, “It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else.” We say, thank goodness he didn’t. Our own contributing editor, David Claude Bailey, already possessing the glasses and beard — which Bullock treated to “the best beard cut I’ve ever had” — dons the garb and becomes our Henri.

Birth of Venus

by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1485


Early-Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli spent his entire life in Italy, mostly in the same neighborhood in Florence. However, he did spend time in Pisa and Rome, where he frescoed a wall of the Sistine Chapel. The subjects of his art were often mythological or religious figures, but Roman goddess Venus shows up most frequently in his work — here, and in Primavera and Venus and Mars. Botticelli never married, but there is some speculation that he was at least platonically in love with Simonetta Vespucci, who sat as model for many of his paintings, including this one. Upon his death in 1510, his remains were placed next to hers, per his request. Our Venus is photographer Lauren Quinn, who often studies the female figure in her own work.

Omnivorous Reader

Omnivorous Reader

Portrait of a Rock Icon

The good, the bad and the ugly

By Stephen E. Smith

When organizing the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, the promoter phoned Chuck Berry to invite him to perform, explaining that the acts were donating their fees to charity. Berry replied, “Chuck Berry has only one charity and that’s Chuck Berry.” End of discussion.

That was Chuck Berry at his most generous, and readers of RJ Smith’s Chuck Berry: An American Life will likely be taken aback by the unsavory details of the life of the man who gave us “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Back in the U.S.A.,” “Reelin’ and Rockin’,” “School Days,” “You Never Can Tell” and “Johnny B. Goode,” rock ’n’ roll classics that pop culture will not willingly let die.

Smith’s biography has been widely lauded in print, online and over the airways, and his study of Berry’s life is as close to a complete examination available to the public. Court records offer even more objectionable details. This much is certain: The more you read about Chuck Berry’s lifestyle, the less likely you are to ever listen to “Maybellene” with a sense of nostalgia.

Berry grew up in a solid middle-class St. Louis family. He wasn’t a blues guy who spent his youth picking cotton and banging on a catalog guitar. He did, however, suffer discrimination early in his life, and Smith devotes the opening chapters of the biography detailing the effects of Jim Crow on Berry’s formative years.

Berry’s trouble began when he was convicted of armed robbery as a teenager and spent almost three years in juvenile detention. When he was released, he drifted into music, became an early master of the new electric guitar, and created an original sound by combining country music with boogie-woogie.

We can argue about who invented the concept of “rock star,” but certainly Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis could lay claim to the term. Berry’s shtick was to sing with impeccable diction while blasting glib rapid-fire lyrics that teenagers could instantly comprehend and dance to. This straightforward blueprint for early rock ’n’ roll attracted Black audiences in the early ’50s. By the mid-’50s Berry’s fanbase was integrated. In the 1960s, he was playing to almost entirely white crowds, at which point his performance was simply called “rock.”

The bulk of Smith’s biography is taken up with the upsetting stories that accompany Berry’s hundreds of performances. His business plan was straightforward. Berry would sign a contract with a promoter who was responsible for supplying the backup band and amplification equipment. He’d arrive in a Cadillac, also supplied by the promoter, minutes before he was to take the stage. There’d be no rehearsal, no interaction with the band, and he’d demand payment in cash before performing. Berry would count the moola, play for the designated amount of time, duckwalk for the audience’s edification, and bang out the hits for which he was best known. Then he’d exit the stage. If there was an encore, he’d demand additional cash. When the concert was over, he’d pack up his guitar and make a clean getaway.

Generally, the audience loved it, dancing, cheering and having a fine time. Berry made money, the promoter usually made money, and the audience left satisfied. The late Rick Nelson summed it up best in his hit “Garden Party”: “Someone opened the closet door and out stepped Johnny B. Good,/playing guitar like ringing a bell, and looking like he should.” Ray Kroc would have been proud — Berry cooked up musical cheeseburgers, each one a tasty clone of its predecessor. Consistency was the key.

All of which was fine and dandy with American audiences. But there was one overawing problem: Chuck Berry. He was irascible, mercurial, essentially unknowable, and had an affinity for trouble. After serving his time in juvie and achieving fame as a rock ’n’ roller, he began traveling the county with a 14-year-old Native American girl he claimed was his assistant. The cops weren’t buying it and nailed Berry for violating the Mann Act — transporting an underage female across state lines for immoral purposes. He spent two more years in prison. Then the IRS began tracking the cash Berry received for his performances and nailed him for income tax evasion, and late in his career he was busted for installing covert cameras in the restrooms of a restaurant he owned, an act of voyeurism that gave rise to an investigation that uncovered a trove of pornographic material in which Chuck Berry was the star. 

As Berry’s antisocial behavior was becoming common knowledge, he was being roundly honored by the American public. On Whittier Street in St. Louis, the National Register of Historic Places listed his home as a monument, and after his release from prison for violating the Mann Act, NASA blasted gold-plated recordings of Berry’s “Johnny B. Good” into interstellar space aboard Voyagers 1 and 2. (Voyager 1 is now 14.1 billion miles from Earth, a far distance from the prison cells Berry occupied in the ’60s and ’70s.) His IRS indictment was greeted with a universal shrug, and his voyeurism conviction was likewise ignored by the press. Chuck Berry went right on performing and raking in the big bucks, playing out the string until the bitter end.

Smith has included all the facts: the good, of which there’s little enough; the bad; and the ugly, of which there’s plenty. Two questions remain. First, who was Chuck Berry? Did anyone truly know the man? Berry explained his sense of self in an interview: “This is a materialistic, physical world. And you can’t really KNOW anybody else, man, because you can’t even really know yourself. And if you can’t know yourself then sure as hell no one else can. Nobody’s been with you as long as you and you still don’t know yourself real well.”

The second question is more complex, encompassing the American penchant for revering individuals, whether rich, talented or charismatic, who are given to violating legal and social norms. Are we willing to accept outrageous behavior from unrepentant religious leaders, corrupt politicians and wayward rock ’n’ roll stars because they’ve somehow made themselves infamous? Apparently so. After all, nothing is quite as American as hypocrisy. OH

Stephen E. Smith’s latest book, Beguiled by the Frailties of Those Who Precede Us, is available from Kelsay Books, Amazon and Local bookstores.

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

The Eras Experience

(Cassie’s Version) 

By Cassie Bustamante


I pause on the pedestrian bridge to Nashville’s Nissan stadium, taking a moment to soak it all in. Together, we are a shimmering rainbow of colors and costumes, arching toward a privileged pot-of-gold: The Taylor Swift Eras Tour. Everywhere I turn, glitter make-up, sequined garments, T-shirts emblazoned with “Not a Lot Going on at the Moment.” I spy two floral-sheeted “ghosts” sporting hats and sunglasses. Even my daughter, Emmy, who lives in leggings and hoodies, is wearing a dress — the first in years. The outfits are almost as over-the-top as Comicon and I’m feeling a little underdressed in my long aqua dress.

What is it that draws a record-breaking crowd of over 210,000 people to one stadium for a weekend of concerts? While I can’t speak for the rest of ’em, this 45-year-old has been a card-carrying Swiftie since the 2008 release of her second album, Fearless. The track that caught my ear? “You Belong with Me,” which speaks to anyone who’s ever been an awkward teen — my hand is up! — sidelined in the friendzone:She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers/dreaming about the day when you wake up and find/that what you’re looking for has been here the whole time.” Dressed in marching band attire, Swift played that as the opening song on the Fearless Tour. I know because I was there.

For those of you who are Swift-deprived, Taylor is somehow able to turn her joy and anguish into a mix of catchy tunes that are totally relatable, everything from her mother’s battle with cancer to being taken advantage of by an older man. (I’m looking at you, John Mayer.) She’s not afraid to admit to a carnal desire for revenge that most of us pretend doesn’t exist. After listening to an entire album, we’re left feeling like she’s one of us. And that someone out there understands our pain and knows how to celebrate life’s joy with us.

Emmy’s entire childhood has been set to a soundtrack of Taylor Swift, and, as she’s grown into a teen, the songs have become more than just snappy singalongs. During the great stay-at-home of 2020, while my two teens were hiding from their parents and toddler brother behind closed doors, Swift was busy writing two albums worth of songs. Every day felt like the same challenge on repeat, but the releases of Folklore and Evermore drew Emmy out of her room and gave us something to share. Our kitchen Alexa was mighty tired of Taylor that year.

In fact, Emmy’s love for Swift has — dare I say? — outgrown my own, her bedroom a twinkling shrine. So, when a 2023 tour is announced, my husband, Chris, and I decide that an Eras experience will be Emmy’s Christmas and birthday gift. After chatting with friends — Chandra, Erienne, Jessika and her daughter, Vivienne — we all set our sights on Nashville for Swift’s first tour since 2018.

Almost six months later, after lucking out during Ticketmaster’s Swiftgate, the moment is finally near. We enter the stadium and add our LED concert wristband to our arms, already stacked with friendship bracelets we’d made that morning. (Most Eras concertgoers — inspired by the lyrics, “So make the friendship bracelets, take this moment and taste it — craft beaded bracelets to exchange.)

Everywhere we turn, we see strangers exchanging smiles and bracelets. I take note of boyfriends wearing “Karma” shirts (“Karma is my boyfriend”), fathers sporting pink button-downs that match their daughters’ dresses and friends in matching sequined ensembles. On this night, one thing is clear: We are all unified, in this together. And that’s no easy feat after a few tumultuous years in America. I look at my own little crew, each of us representing different eras, and tears spring to my eyes. I choke them back before Emmy — who rarely cries and teases me for my constant waterworks — notices.

We continue our search for our second tier seats. After struggling to figure out how to reach our level, we decide to ask a stadium attendant for help, a fortuitous encounter that changes everything.

Erienne approaches a young, Black attendant with warm brown eyes. The attendant, let’s just call her Janie, notices the friendship bracelets piled on Erienne’s arm. She smiles shyly and says, “Those are some nice bracelets you have.”

Erienne kindly removes a green beaded strand that reads “Ivy” and hands it to Janie, asking if she’s a fan.

Janie lights up at the gesture. “Well, I wasn’t before last night [the first of the Nashville shows]. But now, I think I am becoming a Swiftie — that’s what it’s called, right?” she asks. “I listened to her music for two hours last night on my way home and, man, she’s talented.”

After a few minutes of us filling Janie in on all the must-know Swiftie info, she directs us to the escalator that will take us to the second level. But then she glances at us sheepishly, walks a few steps down the hall, away from her coworker, nodding for us to follow. “You know, the front few rows of this section are usually empty,” she says. “If y’all come back here around the time the show starts, I can probably get you into those seats.” (We can only assume they’re typically reserved for potential celebrities or special guests.)

Our mouths drop. Front row stadium seats? As in, just behind the floor seats? Quick-thinking Chandra pulls out her phone and exchanges numbers with Janie. We thank her and I give her one more bracelet: a sunny yellow beaded loop with “Happiness” spelled out.

We make our way to our ticketed seats to catch the opening acts, Gayle and Phoebe Bridgers. Just after their sets conclude, Chandra texts Janie, who gives us the thumbs up emoji, signaling that we are good to go. Back in Janie’s section, she breaks our crew of six into two, placing half of us in row A, the other half in row B.

I sit in the front row, Emmy between me and Chandra. Erienne, Jessika and Vivienne pile in just behind us. We all exchange glances of disbelief. Emmy’s face is happier than I’ve ever seen, her blue eyes, one of which is outlined in a pink glitter Lover heart, wide with excitement. Already sweating from the sunshine and body heat of thousands of fans, my palms begin to perspire. I wonder if I am the only one fearing a tap-tap-tap on the shoulder followed by “This isn’t your seat!”

But then a montage of melodies from each era, intermingled with “It’s been a long time coming,” envelopes us. Showtime! Seven background dancers, each trailing a lavender-and-pink parachute, slowly saunter down the length of the catwalk. They come together, parachutes collapsing on top of one another. And when the chutes open back up, there she stands in a gold-and-silver sparkling bodysuit, the first chords of “Miss Americana” barely audible as 70,000 Swifties rejoice.

Once again, I look to my right at Emmy, wanting to capture this moment of her pure joy in my mind, and I am shocked by what I see. Tears — real tears — stream down her cheeks. At that, my own eyes water once again.

The next three-and-a-half hours rush by, all five senses swimming in an experiential tide. Around the stadium, as Swift performs a total of 44 songs — a number that’s almost unheard of in a single-artist concert — our LED bracelets light up in sync, flashing blue, pink, red, purple, yellow or green, depending on the song playing. It’s like a stadium wave as colors seem to magically flow from one section to another in the dark. At one point, during “Bad Blood,” blazing streams of fire shoot forth to the beat around the stage floor, the faces of Swifties around me glowing reddish-orange. Tissue-paper pieces of confetti fall not once, but twice, a kaleidoscope of color swirling in the air as Emmy reaches her hand out, collecting bits to take home as souvenirs. Of course, Swift also pares it down for her mellow Folklore and Evermore eras, a moss-covered piano and raw wood cabin lending a woodsy and mystical vibe.

Just before her surprise songs — she plays two, never repeated, at each concert — Swift emerges in a long, ruffled, emerald-green gown. As she speaks, she notices that her dress sleeve is not on properly, a green ruffle dangling under her armpit rather than gracing her shoulder. She awkwardly maneuvers, trying to get her arm into the hole, but gives up. Shrugging, she laughs it off, saying, “Just pretend you didn’t see that. It’s fine.” And just a few moments later, when she messes up the lyrics on surprise song No. 2, “Out of the Woods,” she giggles and asks the audience to join her in a repeat of the bridge. On stage, in front of all those fans, she’s still that awkward teen she once was and we all fall in love with her a little bit more.

After the show, we make a very slow trek back over the footbridge into downtown Nashville. As tired as everyone is, someone in front of us starts singing “Love Story” and soon the tune travels through the chorus of strangers — strangers who came together for one night, swapping bracelets, stories and costume compliments.

The contagious joy of the concert crowd lingers in my mind as Emmy and I drive home from the Raleigh-Durham Airport. “You know, Emmy, every single person I talked to in that stadium was kind,” I say, my tired eyes focused on the highway in front of me. “That really says a lot about the person Taylor Swift is to have cultivated such a friendly, caring community.”

Emmy nods in agreement. I may have — OK, I have had — many failures as a mother, but I did something right in introducing her to Taylor Swift’s music all those years ago. Not only has it brought the two of us together during some of the hardest times, but it’s helped us find common ground with friends and virtual strangers alike. We continue along, headlights shining in the dark, as I hear Swift’s voice in the back of my mind: Long live all the magic we made.  OH

O.Henry Ending

O.Henry Ending

La Mona Lisa Gioconda

Value is in the eye of the beholder

By:  Cynthia Adams

I have a not-so-secret fascination with Mona. Mona and I go way back.

The Italians call the Florentine beauty La Mona Lisa Gioconda — Madam Lisa Giocondo. She is La Joconde to the French.

As Nat King Cole crooned, she is Mona Lisa to the rest of us. 

My first reproduction of Mona was set in a chippy frame beneath wavy glass. This prized possession cost $1 at the former Sedgefield Flea Market. 

More recently, I’ve acquired others: two oversized giclées by Randy Slack titled Mona Ghost and Mona Citrus. I own books on the infamous Louvre thefts and tussles over the world’s most famous portrait, replete with accounts of when she went missing or was subjected to unwarranted attack. Five times and counting, Mona has been either outright stolen (the first time in 1911) or vandalized. Rocks, tea cups and paint have been hurled at the impassive face

Why all this drama? Salvador Dali said Mona with the mystic smile had “a power, unique in all art history, to provoke the most violent and different kinds of aggressions.”

Recently, a film critic reviewing Glass Onion suggested that Mona symbolizes legacy. The villain in the film “wants to be remembered in the same breath as the Mona Lisa . . . standing the test of time.”

Her legacy was burnished with every assault, Mona’s fame escalating after the 1911 heist.

She epitomized Da Vinci’s greatness. No visible brush strokes. The lifelike countenance. Mona’s ambiguous physicality. And . . . that smile. We experience Mona as faintly masculine, lacking eyebrows or lashes (overzealous restoration removed them).

Da Vinci began the commission of Mona, the wife of a wealthy Italian merchant Francesco del Giocondo, in 1503. He worked on it until 1507.

When he left Italy on horseback for France in 1516 at the invitation of an admiring King Francis I, he took Mona’s portrait with him.

Installed by Francis at the Château du Clos Lucé in Amboise, he hung Mona on his bedroom wall. 

He himself regarded her as his opus. (Or not; an art dealer earlier this year argued this: what if the artist wanted to hide her?) Mona held his attention because he never considered her quite finished.

Working in splendid style befitting a genius, he died at age 67 in 1519 in the arms of the weeping King, who called Da Vinci “Father.”

It is entirely possible that Mona’s was the last face he saw at his death.

Afterward, Da Vinci’s painting was claimed by the French King much to the consternation of the Italians. The Chateau was preserved by the French as a Da Vinci Museum.

The embittered Italians want her returned. When first stolen from the Louvre by an ordinary workman in 1911, she was whisked off to Italy.

Mona became an international celebrity. You get the picture: Cabbages and kings alike obsessed over Mona.

I placed Dollar Mona, the chippy, cheap one, over the kitchen stove. There was and is something inspiring about Mona’s presence.

House-poor as we were, Mona somehow sustained our determination to revive and make worthy the tatty kitchen. 

We scraped, painted, plastered and sweated over the monstrous job we faced. We fashioned new cabinet doors and tiled the counters. Too poor to replace the ancient stove, we polished till it gleamed. 

My brother showed up one weekend to reinforce the sagging dining room floor. Slowly, the careworn, early-1900s house responded.

Feeling celebratory, we opened it up for a party. A niece’s ex, famously befuddled, disappeared into the kitchen for an inordinate amount of time. 

What the heck was he doing?

Walking through the butler’s pantry to the kitchen, I overheard as he ground out the words, “That’s the Mona Lisa,” stopping me in my tracks.

“Yeah, I know,” replied my niece.

“Well, they’ve got to have money if they own that,” he said sourly.

Wearing an enigmatic smile of my own, I reversed course and rejoined the party. True enough, even Dollar Mona had grown beyond price.  OH