A testament to the power of storytelling


By Billy Eye

“Wow! I like being part of a magazine that changes people’s lives.” — O.Henry Contributing Editor David Bailey

This time Eye wasn’t out wandering, it was my precious sister Rives who, until recently, was unaware she’s a television spokesperson for Peters Auto Mall. No, really!

You see, one Saturday afternoon Rives and her boyfriend Mark Burgess, mandolin player for Flint Hill, drove down a long gravel roadway alongside a small body of water off Pinecroft Road to take a gander at a dilapidated bridge at the end of that road.

My sister became familiar with the area after I moved from Los Angeles into a magnificent home on the other side of the lake in 1994 following a career in the motion picture business. Unknowingly, I found myself living next door to where I spent my first year of life, with my newlywed parents on Twin Lakes Drive, in a small cabin behind the expansive log house my grandparents were residing in, one they’d christened “Tall Timbers.”

Quoting from my May 2016 O.Henry article about that experience:

After . . . I described the crazy place I’d just rented my mother stood right up, “Take me out there now!” Incredulous as we rolled up the gravel drive, she stared peculiarly at that monumental log chalet across the lake, as if unsure of something. As we came to a halt in front of our new home she remarked, “This is the place! Those books of North Carolina ghost stories I read to you when you were a young child were written by the man who lived in this house. John Harden.”

Before I was born my father built the bridge over the reservoir separating the drives Hardens and the Ingrams, made precarious over the ensuing decades by missing and splintered beams. Stepping gingerly across on October 1, 1994, I chanced to look down. Scrawled into one of the supports in Dad’s handwriting was the date the concrete was poured — 10-1-54 — forty years ago to the day. John Harden’s book Tarheel Ghosts was published on October 1, 1954.

While my sister and Mark were snapping photos, Tall Timber’s current residents, the Jenkins family, walked down to greet them. After Rives mentioned that our grandparents lived here in the 1950s, and they had added a second floor to the home because the ceiling had been high enough to accommodate it, Betsy Jenkins told my sister how they came to be there. All due to O.Henry magazine, as it turned out.

Back in 2016, Mrs. Jenkins described to me in an email the unusual circumstances that resulted in their residing on Twin Lakes. “Last October, my husband, Justin, and I began dreaming of relocating our large family to Greensboro. We are natives of Southern California and, like yourself, have grown disenchanted with the rat race. This is not where we want to raise our children. We dream of an outdoor life for them, with more woodcraft and kindling and less Minecraft and Kindles. My family have all moved to Greensboro and we fell in love with the area. Justin began looking at job postings and I began looking at real estate listings.

“I saw Tall Timbers on a real estate website and it was love at first scroll. It was everything we’d ever dreamed of. It was also way out of our price range. Still, I showed it to everyone who would look at it, with glittering eyes and breathless words.

“Then the house was suddenly taken off the market. We sighed but resigned ourselves to the fact that it wasn’t something we could have afforded anyhow. We looked at other homes but nothing ever measured up to Tall Timbers.

“In April, my mother brought back a copy of O.Henry magazine from a trip to Greensboro . . . and immediately lost it, never even cracking it open. This was actually her second copy of the magazine. She had picked one up and then accidentally left it in a restaurant. She couldn’t really say why she had been so determined to have a copy of the magazine. On August 19th, I was helping her pack up her house here in SoCal for their move to Greensboro when she finally located her copy. She opened it at random to your article and cried out ‘Betsy! It’s your house!’ My mother will now carry the title of prophetess in our family.

“I grabbed the magazine, scanned the article and then quickly picked up my iPad to see if I could locate the Realtor who had represented Tall Timbers when it had been listed. Justin and I had discussed the possibility of approaching the owners and offering to purchase their home for much less than what they had been asking. Seeing the home in your article had rekindled that first love again and I wanted to pursue it.

“To my astonishment, I discovered that Tall Timbers had been relisted less than an hour earlier, now within our price range. I quickly called my husband. He said, ‘Let’s go for it.’

“After we had talked to our agent, I had time to actually read your article. What a wonderful history my family is joining! How excited we were to learn that the Hardens raised five boys on the lake. We also have five sons. What a legacy Tall Timbers will be for them. My mind is already churning out ideas for a series of children’s books about the Boys of Tall Timbers.

“I am an artist, like yourself, and am delighted at the idea of working in such an idyllic setting. Most of my work is currently designs printed on tableware, dishes, linens, etc, but my dream is to produce children’s books in the line of Beatrix Potter, Edward Ardizzone and A.A.Milne. How serendipitous that this lovely lake will once again play muse to an artist with aspirations to follow a new dream.

“I am indebted to your grandparents for their beautiful and clever additions to Tall Timbers! The storage spaces and knotty pine totally have my heart. We homeschool the younger boys (I have one high schooler enrolled at the Math and Science Academy) and the home is laid out so well for our needs. My husband works from home and will use the guest cabin, your first home, as his office.”

Wouldn’t you know there’s an O.Henry twist ending? The Jenkins moved into Tall Timbers on October 1, 2016.  OH

Billy Eye got off easy on this one.

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