Terry Fritz’s stringed instruments are works of art

Sometimes the road not taken takes awhile to find. In Terry Fritz’s case, it took him until middle age to veer off the beaten path and chase his bliss. But once the decision was made, there was no turning back. And that has made all the difference.

Fritz, 61, was in the midst of a lucrative and successful career in Philadelphia as a pharmaceutical sales rep for Pfizer when he was offered a position as VP of sales and marketing for a startup pharmaceutical company in Greensboro. He moved here in 2000, was laid off in 2006, but stayed in the industry as a management consultant until about seven months ago. It was then that he transitioned from a hobbyist into a full-time second career as, of all things, a luthier. (For anyone who doesn’t know, luthiers make and repair string instruments that typically have necks and sound boxes like a guitar and violin.)

“I could not have done it without such a good 35-year career,” Fritz explains. “I’d gotten both my kids through college and didn’t owe anything, had most of the woodworking tools already, had played guitar all my life, so it seemed like a natural progression.”

At the behest of a craftsman friend, he took a class under a former machinist for the C.F. Martin & Co. and built his first guitar in 2006. He then enrolled in a luthier school in Atlanta and started doing repairs, eventually converting into building.

“I just fell in love with the process,” Fritz says with a smile. “I can work a 14-hour day and not feel like I’ve worked at all.”

Three years ago the Ohio State grad launched his own brand, Fritz Guitars, and in that relatively short span has made a name for himself as a premier builder of one-of-a-kind, boutique guitars. They are not, mind you, for the beginner, but rather the professional and/or collector with discretionary money. Prices range from $2,750 to $6,900.

“One of the finest compliments I ever got came from a guy I built an electric guitar for who said, ‘I don’t know whether to play it or hang it on the wall as a work of art,’” he said. “He recently called back and wants me to build him an acoustic.”

It is that perfect combination of sound and beauty that is the ultimate goal for Fritz. “I try to find something unique in look and feel in every guitar I build,” he noted. Toward that end, his acoustic instruments have four features almost never found on one instrument: a transitional arm bevel, a player-side soundboard, a radial grain rosette, and a torrified front wherein all the resin and sugar is cooked out of the cell walls of the wood.

“Not only does that look good, but it gives it a different resonance. It makes a brand new guitar sound like it’s a hundred years old,” he notes.

Currently Fritz builds on commission as well as selling at events such as the N.C. Folk Festival, International Bluegrass Music Award IBMA shows, Piedmont Blues Preservation Society PBPS Blues Festival and MerleFest. Two of the artists who play his creations are David Holt and Lakota John.

“I’ve got seven in my inventory right now,” he affirms. “I’m building between seven and nine a year, but I’m getting faster.”

Chances are, he’s going to have to. — Ogi Overman OH


Our Christmas Sing

Our Christmas Sing

A tradition that measures the years

By Margaret Maron     Illustrations by Laurel Holden

John thought it was probably the Christmas of 1978.

Scott said, “No, I think it was earlier.”

“Maybe 1976?” asked Celeste.

Carlette thought that sounded about right.

After hearing them puzzle over when it all began, I finally went through some of my old journals and found this entry: “First time all five Honeycutts here for dinner since the summer. By candlelight, firelight, and tree lights, we sang carols till midnight.”

It was December 23, 1977.

As farm girls growing up amid the tobacco fields of Johnston County, Sue Honeycutt and I had sung in our church choir. I can carry a tune as long as it is pitched no higher than B♭, but Sue’s voice soared like an angel’s. 

After school and marriage, we were separated first by an ocean and then hundreds of land miles, yet we kept in touch; and once my husband and I moved down to the family farm where I grew up, the friendship became even stronger.

There were eight of us that first Christmas: Sue and her husband, Carl, had two nearly-grown daughters and a teenage son; my husband and I had a 13-year-old boy. That evening together had been so much fun that we did it again the following December.

Do something twice in the South and it immediately becomes a tradition. The first three or four years, our ritual was to sing every seasonal song we could remember, from “Silent Night” to “Silver Bells” to “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” followed by a sit-down dinner, and ending in an exchange of gifts. We eventually scrapped the gift exchange — boring and too time-consuming. Instead, everyone is now encouraged to perform a party piece.

This might be a dramatic scene from a school play, an original comic skit with hand puppets, an operatic aria by a granddaughter who has inherited Sue’s voice, or a Christmas poem. (I have to be restrained from reading A.A. Milne’s “King John’s Christmas” every year.) Early on, our sons made us laugh with their take on the classic “Who’s On First?” routine. This past year, Sue’s 6-year-old great-granddaughter donned a blue shawl and shyly mimed “Mary, Did You Know?” When her father was that age, he came with a stash of Christmas riddles: “What do snowmen eat for breakfast? Frosted Flakes, of course.”

Getting measured soon became another part of the tradition. One end of our kitchen wall is thick with dated lines that mark the years. Off come the shoes and everyone who’s still growing stands up straight, heels against the baseboard. A granddaughter will proudly announce that she’s grown two full inches since last year, while her cousin is delighted to see that he’s almost as tall as his uncle was when that uncle was 10 years old. Sue and Carl’s newest great-grandchild went on the wall this past Christmas. She was only six weeks old and her daddy had to straighten out her little frog legs to get an approximate measure.

For several years, as people began to put on coats and hats and look for their car keys, the evening would wind down with a child’s whisper, “Is it time to get silly yet?” I would nod and slip her a handful of clothespins, which she quickly shared with equally mischievous cousins. Looking like innocent angels, they maneuvered among their elders, surreptitiously clipping a clothespin on the back of an uncle’s shirt, a grandparent’s sleeve, the hem of an aunt’s skirt. Soon everyone would be laughing and slapping their clothes to find the clothespin, which they immediately transferred to someone else’s scarf or hat. More than one clothespin went home on the coattail of an unsuspecting victim.

There are 26 of us now and our sit-down dinner has devolved into little plates of finger foods. The meal still ends with coffee and a Yule log elaborately decorated with meringue mushrooms, but I’ve passed the recipe on to our older granddaughter.

Some songs are dropped as new ones are added, but we’ll never drop “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Everyone joins in on all the words except for the “gift” itself, which becomes a solo or duet, depending on how many people are here. Early on, Carl croaked out “two turtledoves” in a distinctly tone-deaf baritone, which so cracked us up that he was awarded permanent possession of the second day. With her beautiful voice, Sue was a natural for “five golden rings.” The rest of us split up the remaining days in no particular order, although my husband is rather fond of “three French hens.”

Carl left us last year and his pitch-perfect son inherited those two turtledoves. It breaks our hearts to know that this year someone else will have to sing Sue’s five golden rings. It will be a bittersweet continuation and more than one pair of eyes will glisten in the candlelight.

But laughter has always been a huge part of our tradition, too. As the first generation of grandchildren matured, their slapstick silliness faded away, but two of Sue and Carl’s great-grandchildren are now 10 and 7.

I think it’s time to slip them some clothespins.  OH

A native Tar Heel, Margaret Maron has written more than 30 novels and dozens of short stories. She was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 2016.

Simple Life

Silent Nights

Holding infinity in the palms of our hands

By Jim Dodson

When I was a kid, Christmas Eve couldn’t get here fast enough, the night I eagerly awaited all year. Mine was a visceral excitement fueled in part by the happy torture of unopened gifts beneath a heavily tinseled fir tree, and the crazy notion that if and when I somehow dropped off to sleep, a jolly bearded housebreaker would enter our premises and leave behind fantastic things I’d coveted from the pages of America’s holiest book — the Sears Catalog.

My excitement was also fueled by the other mythic theme of that singular night — the enchantment of a candlelight church service that always ended with congregants passing a small flame hand-to-hand as everyone sang “Silent Night” before filing out into a cold and silent night.

The flickering candles, the mingling scents of burning wax and well-worn hymnals, the ancient readings from Isaiah and St. Luke of a savior babe born in a barnyard stable, the sight of whole families bundled into creaking pews with squirming kids and yawning grandpas, O Magnum Mysterium — somehow it blended together into a delicious stew of magic and wonder that I felt — nay, believed — in my very bones. To this day, it’s the only time I intentionally stay up past midnight, stepping outside with a wee nightcap of bourbon or aged port to savor what may be the truest of silent nights.

Biblical scholars have long debated (and most disputed) the commonly assigned date of the historical Jesus’ birth (neither Luke nor Matthew makes mention of it happening in winter), leaving believers to accept the early Roman Church’s artful grafting of the birth of Jesus Christ onto pagan Rome’s popular feast of Saturnalia, a major holiday that coincided with the winter solstice that was known for its feasting and gift-giving in celebration of the returning of the sun god, Sol Invictus. For what it’s worth, ancient Persians assigned that same day, December 25, to be the birthday of their own returning sun god, Mithra. While in the Hebrew Calendar, the celebration of Hanukkah — the “Festival of Lights” that memorializes the restoration of the Second Temple of Jerusalem following a revolt by the Maccabeans and the miracle of a menorah that burned for eight days — begins on the 25th day of Kislev, which happens to fall anywhere from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar. Just to make things more interesting, the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church accepts January 7 as the true birth date of Jesus Christ, the proper date of “Old Christmas.” Some leading Biblical scholars even maintain that the birthdate of Christ was in March, the start of spring.

Whatever else might be true, the Christmas-loving kid in me has never required a proof-of-authenticity label or even an official “start” date in order to believe in the transformative magic of the holiday season — whether it’s the lights of Hanukkah or lovely myth of Father Christmas or even lovelier myth of a virgin birth in a barn.

I embrace the true meaning of the word “myth,” by the way, an ancient word that has been stripped of its spiritual power by modern misuse, originally denoting a traditional story meant to convey an important message, often based on historical events, revealing an important belief, practice or phenomenon — all of which perfectly explains why we human seek the light in whatever form on the longest nights of the year.

Here’s my own favorite Christmas story.

During the years we lived on a wooded hill in Maine — deep in a forest of birch and hemlock that almost always had a dusting of snow by Christmas Eve — the Episcopal church we attended put special emphasis on its annual Christmas Eve pageant, an ambitious staging of the Nativity complete with angels, wise men and watchful shepherds guarding their flocks by night.

One year our prodigies, Maggie and Jack, snagged important roles as attending sheep, while my good friend and regular lunch pal, Colonel Robert Day, debuted as the archangel Gabriel. Colonel Bob was an ideal Gabriel, a lovely giant of a gent who’d lost two sons through tragedy and disease but somehow turned his unspeakable grief into counseling families grappling with their own personal tragedies.

In his former life, Bob had been one of the first to lead his unit of army engineers across the Rhine into Nazi Germany during the closing days of the Second World War and was on his way to lead a similar invasion into Japan when the Japanese capitulated. The rest of his military career was spent at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he served as admissions director for many years, laying the foundation for the admission of women to the Academy. 

Someone kitted out Colonel Bob with a massive pair of papier mâché wings for the pageant, which he sported with the dignity of Laurence Olivier until one wing detached and conked one of the baby cows on the head, bowling over the poor little creature. For a moment, the glory of Jesus’ birth was upstaged by anxious gasps as the little cow was righted and Bossie’s head removed. Beneath was a laughing kid. The audience broke into spontaneous applause. The kid-cow beamed. “Now that’s a small miracle,” one of the sheep-moms whispered to me with relief. And onward we went to the big finale of gifts from the Magi.

That particular year, the Christmas Eve family service that followed was held at the Settlemeyer family’s barn in the hills west of town. The Settlemeyers had real sheep and cows and a horse or two that were undoubtedly amused by the dozens of shivering families that crowded into their freezing barn to light candles and hear about a savior being born on a Midnight Clear. It was my job, as it happened, to provide the musical accompaniment on my guitar, fingers stiff with cold. Fortunately Colonel Bob showed up with a flask of good Irish whiskey. As a live chorus of sheep bleated, I plucked out a respectable “First Noel” followed by “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!” and “Silent Night” as candlelight passed from hand to hand, illuminating one face at a time.

Up to that moment, worth noting, it had been a snowless winter in Maine — always an anxious thing for the locals (and yours truly) who counted on decent snows to insulate their foundations and garden beds and provide a pristine landscape for their favorite wintertime activities.

But as we blew out candles and stepped out of the Settlemeyers’ barn, a second small miracle took place — or maybe just good theatrical timing by the universe.

“Look, everybody,” someone cried, “it’s snowing!”

Indeed it was — a curtain of beautiful silent snow falling like an answered prayer over the darkened landscape. During the short drive home, my ever-wise lamb of a daughter wondered if the sudden appearance of snow might really be a miracle.

“Absolutely,” I assured her with the faith of a mustard seed, recalling Albert Einstein’s quote that there are two ways to live your life — as if there’s no such thing as miracles, or that everything is a miracle.

For the record, a third miracle occurred that silent night, one involving her proud papa and brilliant Scottish grandmother, Kate, a professed agnostic who cried once when I took her to Evensong at King’s College in Cambridge. I nicknamed her our “Queen Mum.” Together, we managed to put together a German dollhouse that looked more like a Rhine river castle and came in 4,000 pieces with a dozen pages of instructions in medieval German. In truth, I abandoned the quest around 2 a.m. leaving Mum to her third pot of tea, the rest of the Drambuie and a dying fire. I was certain the task was beyond us both.

In the morning, however, Maggie’s dollhouse looked worthy of a Fifth Avenue toy shop window.

“How’d you do that?” I discreetly quizzed the Queen Mum.

“The power of faith, James,” she came back with a prim smile. “And good Scottish tea.”

Sadly, I think the town fire marshal may have put the kibosh on any more Christmas candlelight services in a livestock barn, that old spoilsport. But I carry the sweetest memories of many such Silent Nights in my heart, that one above the rest.

Like Einstein, you see, I’ve come to believe everything is a small miracle — the oil that lighted lamps for eight days, a prince of peace born in a freezing stable, an angel with a broken wing who mended broken hearts, an agnostic’s tears and people of every race and creed who gather on the darkest night to celebrate the return of the light.

Besides, as Mother Theresa reportedly pointed out, nothing is small to God — only infinite.  OH

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at

Scuppernong Bookshelf

Tomes and Tinsel

This Yuletide season sees a bevy of new books and events for children

Compiled by Brian Lampkin

Bring on the holidays! This year, yes, this year, you’ll be ready before the stores have emptied of anything resembling your loved one’s true desire. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of new children’s books and when they’ll be coming out this holiday season, along with a few events that will surely delight even the most difficult nieces and nephews on your list.

October 16: Construction Site on Christmas Night, by Sherri Duskey Rinker & A.G. Ford. The trucks are gearing up for Christmas by building a special gift! But there’s a surprise waiting for each of them, too! Presents await for Excavator, Bulldozer, Crane, Dump Truck and Cement Mixer as each finishes its part of this big, important job and rolls off to a sweet and sleepy goodnight.

November 13: Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote, by Kirsten Gillebrand and Maira Kalman. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is one of New York’s Senators and a passionate advocate for women’s rights — like her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother before her. Maira Kalman is the author and illustrator of numerous books for children, including Looking at Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything. She is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, and illustrated Strunk and White’s classic The Elements of Style.

December 4: Little Owl’s Snow, by Divya Srinivasan. Divya’s illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker magazine, and she has done work for This American Life, They Might Be Giants, Sundance Channel, Sufjan Stevens and “Weird Al” Yankovic, among others. Divya was also an animator on the film Waking Life. She has written and illustrated many picture books, including Little Owl’s Night, Little Owl’s Day, and Octopus Alone.

EVENT: December 5: Tony Diterlizzi, author of The Broken Ornament. Scuppernong Books, 304 S. Elm St. 6 p.m. Free. More! More lights, more presents, more cookies, more treats. More. More. More! So, when Jack breaks a dusty old ornament, he’s not sure why his mom is so upset. They can always get more ornaments, so what’s the big deal? Turns out the ornament was an heirloom, precious for more reasons than one. And Jack has a lot to learn about the true meaning of Christmas.

December 11: I Wish It Would Snow, by Sarah Dillard. Winter has just begun, and one little bunny wants it to snow, hopes it will snow, and wishes it would snow. And, finally, the fluffy flakes begin to fall from the sky. First one flake at a time, then more and more until little bunny finds himself up to his ears in a blizzard and then — whoops! — he rolls downhill in a gigantic snow ball, right through the front door of his treehouse. Home and cozy at last, he wakes up next morning and ready to play outside with his forest friends. Sledding down a snowy hill, his frolicking comes to an abrupt halt when he hits the grass! Oh, no! Now there’s not enough snow! A perfect book for Greensboro’s spotty snow events!

EVENT: December 22: Stacy McAnulty, author of SUN! One In a Billion, LOVE and Dear Santasaurus. Scuppernong Books, 304 S. Elm St. 11 a.m. Free. Stacy McAnulty is the Triad’s tireless gift to the children’s book world. A Kernersville resident, she’s now published 20 books, with more on the way. Perfectly timed for getting the kids out of the house as the holiday energy surges to overload!  OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.

Life of Jane

A Gift to Be Simple

When does Santa consciousness begin?

By Jane Borden

Santa Claus is like the measles vaccine: Even if you don’t want to expose it to your child, you must in order to protect all kids. Otherwise, children infected with Santa Claus doubt will spread it around in ever increasing numbers until no one can go to Disney World without a face mask.

For my daughter, the ruse began earlier than I expected or wanted it to. She was 6 months old for her first Christmas. At that age, her days consisted of being moved around by two giants, who fed her and occasionally strapped her in and out of a big machine that moves fast. She aimlessly wandered among colorful plush items, some of which blared and blinked. She occasionally found herself in a pool of splashy liquid. She didn’t understand the concept of gifts, much less that there can be a scarcity and then sudden surfeit of them, or that an elderly stranger would create said surfeit with elaborate design but without logical reason.

Seven years ago, when my niece was 18 months old, I asked what she’d like for Christmas, and my sister replied, “An empty water bottle. She loves how they crinkle.“ I purchased, drained and wrapped a single serving of Crystal Geyser. My niece was delighted. She squeezed the bottle, flopped it around and used it to bang a variety of furniture items. She loved it almost as much as the ribbon previously donning it. Pieces of literal trash for the win.

This anecdote framed my mindset during my daughter’s first Christmas. Babies just want to crinkle. Or, maybe it’s that they want to be indoctrinated into a consumer society with an over reliance on semisynthetic organic polymers and a lack of forethought of the ramifications of disposability. It’s one or the other. Either way, they don’t want gifts. I procured none.

After dinner, on Christmas Eve, my family fell into the routine we’d developed over the previous eight years. I waited for my sisters’ children to fall asleep, poured myself a glass of wine, and watched/heckled as they and their husbands set up Santa Claus presents on five different chairs in my parents’ living room. I’d barely a chance to capture on film my frustrated and tipsy brother-in-law struggling to assemble a medieval-looking tower guarded by a dragon who spews plastic stones, when my sister asked, “Aren’t you going to set up Louisa’s chair?”

Of course not: crinkle, consumerism, etc. I had a pass on Santa that year, and figured I also would the following year, and maybe even the one after that. “She doesn’t care about Santa,“ I said.

“No, but my boys do. Don’t you think they’ll wonder why Santa didn’t bring her anything?”

Of course. How could I not have anticipated this? How can I call myself a feminist while failing to recognize the basic structure underlying any kind of systemic lie? Patriarchy, Santa Claus: six of one, half a dozen the other. Now it was my brother-in-law’s turn to laugh at me: What a rookie.

Making matters worse, we are not a family who wraps Santa Claus presents. I mean, ultimately this habit is not “worse” — see earlier discussion regarding the ramifications of disposability — but on that night the lack of wrapping meant I couldn’t fool my nephews and nieces with empty boxes in bows. When they looked over, they would expect to see all of Louisa’s loot, each item in the full monty. 

And these wouldn’t be passing glances. With the precision and commitment of a card counter, each child would scan and catalog the collective take of every other child. Each pile must generally be the same size, containing about the same number of gifts, and, most important, totaling the same amount in worth. Kids claim to hate math, but when assessing their siblings’ Santa piles, they’re suddenly on full rides at M.I.T.

We can’t be satisfied with what we have until we’re certain no one else has more. Knowing this truism of human nature, it’s amazing we adopted capitalism. Major societal isms aside, my point is that I really should’ve seen this Santa problem coming.

Like something out of a family holiday film, I found myself at 10:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve with no presents for my daughter. First, I ransacked her suitcase for any clothing yet unpacked. I needed something to which no cousin could point and say, “Louisa wore that yesterday.“ In this way, a brightly colored hand-me-down outfit bearing mermaids became a Christmas miracle. Clothing can cover a lot of real estate on a chair. This would be my centerpiece.

I hadn’t traveled with toys. Mom has a full chest, which is usually a blessing but on that night a curse, as my nephews and niece were familiar with every game, stuffy and rattle in the house. But then, on a dresser high enough to have gone unnoticed, in my mother’s room, I found a small dog figurine. Everyone knows how much babies love china. That felt like a stroke of genius but afterward, my ingenuity fizzled. I leaned a stack of diapers on the chair back, and balanced a new bag of wipes against the arm. I filled her empty stocking with tissue paper — the one magic trick available — and draped it over the chair back. It was almost passable, save for a large gap on the back right of the chair seat. Something was still missing.

I searched the kitchen pantry. Bingo: a bottle of peach-flavored, artificially-sweetened Propel brand electrolyte water. My mother always has it in stock. The children love it. However, because it is full of fake sugar and large doses of vitamins and minerals, my sisters limit their children’s intake, imposing an artificial kink in the supply chain and thereby increasing demand. A bottle of Propel, for a baby, was at least equivalent to a 5-year-old’s medieval dragon castle. Santa has left the building.

I dislike the amount of lying required to prop up this St. Nick business. Children aren’t stupid. Each logical question forces us to invent new falsehoods, which only compromise the architecture of the original lie. Why is Santa at the mall? Why is the Santa at this party my uncle? Why, when I told Santa I wanted a Cabbage Patch doll, did I also get one from my great aunt Emily and another from my great aunt Janie? Further, of course, there is the question adults ask themselves, which none can answer: Why do I want my child to sit on a stranger’s lap in a shopping mall, so much so that I’ll wait 90 minutes to do it?

Still, no parent can avoid participating in this house of cards. On Christmas Day, I tossed off lie after lie. When my nephew asked, with justified incredulity, “Why would Santa give her diapers?! That’s not even a toy or anything!” I told the biggest fib of all.

“Babies don’t need much,“ I said. Yeah right, thought anyone who’s been to a baby shower ever. What will I tell him next — that there are never lines at the DMV?

This year, my daughter is 3 1/2. She’ll understand Santa for the first time. Why should I invest so much effort and money into convincing her of a lie — especially when it only leads to inevitable disappointment? The lesson seems to be that you can expect to receive without reason from a person who doesn’t know you. I want to teach her the opposite: to give without reason to people unknown. I want her to be Santa. Maybe I’ll have her pass around Propel.  OH

When Jane Borden approaches her second childhood, the O.Henry staff plans to give her a huge stack of adult diapers for Christmas.

Wandering Billy

Home for the Holidays

With the help of Piedmont Airlines

By Billy Eye

“The man who has no imagination has no wings.”
— Muhammad Ali

I think back on Christmastime 1987 with great fondness. I was working in Beverly Hills, banging out movie-poster and trailer graphics for motion picture blockbusters. That was the first year I began making any significant contributions to the dozens of high impact one-sheets that flowed from the Seiniger Advertising shop every year, considered Hollywood’s gold standard.

Just a smattering of the 1987 campaigns I was involved in included: Full Metal Jacket, The Princess Bride, Flatliners, Dirty Dancing, The Untouchables, Lethal Weapon, Overboard, Wall Street, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Moonstruck, 3 Men and a Baby, Beverly Hills Cop II, and Throw Momma From the Train. There are at least a couple dozen more you’d recognize, caught up as I was in an unending tornado of 18-hour days, each with multiple deadlines.

Hands, imagination and the formidable tools at our disposal served as our Photoshop in the pre-Digital Age. I entered the arena every morning that first year terrified I might be called on to render something I wasn’t capable of. Fortunately, that never happened.

I enjoyed staycationing in Los Angeles between Christmas and New Year’s. It was a paid time off since a majority of the entertainment-industry players vacated the premises. It was a great opportunity to decompress, and getting around town was a breeze. Despite that, in 1987, I chose to spend Christmas with the family in Greensboro for only the second time in a decade.

I was, in a word, exhausted, trudging down the jet bridge for Piedmont Flight No. 2 out of LAX aboard a 767 wide body jet, connecting with Flight No. 6 CLT to GSO. Headquartered in Winston-Salem, Piedmont Airlines took a personalized, folksy approach to flying, with most of the flight attendants graced with soft Southern accents. Employing people who genuinely cared, who mastered their craft, was how a spunky hometown startup expanded to become one of the major national carriers. As soon as I took a seat on their planes, I felt as if I’d already arrived home.

Hired as a flight attendant for Piedmont in the early 1980s at 23 years of age, Holley Greene Rogers recalls, “The crews all had a lot of fun on layovers. Most of us knew each other’s faces, and it was like going to a small university and running into so many folks we knew and had flown with before.” In 1986, the airline stepped up in a big way, “We were so excited when Piedmont flew their first international flight. It was Charlotte to London and we felt like we were hitting the big time.”

What I appreciated most were the touchdowns, landings smooth as Lou Rawls. I don’t think I’ve truly enjoyed flying since Piedmont was acquired by USAir 30 years ago. “We were all sick to see the Piedmont name go away,” Holley tells me. “We all thought it should have been Piedmont buying USAir. We were an airline with a great employee/management relationship, we all loved Mr. [Thomas Henry “Tom”] Davis who founded Piedmont.” Of that rocky transition, Holley notes, “USAir was the opposite of Piedmont, rusthead mentality, the employees hated management, but I did love my career at USAir. I flew for 22 years.”

As for Christmas Day 1987, what I remember most is that afternoon, meeting up with extended family at the Carolina Circle 6 (admission $2.99) to watch Fatal Attraction, a film our Seiniger crew had completed in the campaign for months earlier. I hadn’t yet been confronted with a lineup of posters we’d produced, framed in a row outside and inside a movie theater. It was kind of a rush.

All through that screening of Fatal Attraction, during the most frightening scenes, I screamed like a giddy little schoolgirl, a reaction my cousin Wheaton found hilarious.

I moved back to Greensboro in 1994, before Sunset Hills’ world famous Running of the Balls. Back then, every Christmas Eve, Mother and I would dine out with family and friends, then afterward drive around the Irving Park neighborhoods to see how folks decorated their homes. It was also a quest to locate the house everyone seemed to agree that year was the closest approximation to the tacky, over-the-top Griswold residence from Christmas Vacation. There was apparently a competition that went on for several years among the neighbors along an otherwise nondescript cul-de-sac off Willoughby, some houses lit up so intensely they had trouble keeping the power on.

You see, a few years earlier, one of the movies I was teamed on was, in fact, Christmas Vacation, my contribution being the typography. The artist who painted that unforgettable image of Chevy Chase being electrocuted on a snowy roof was Dave Christensen, who was also responsible for the poster illustrations for Driving Miss Daisy, The Gods Must Be Crazy and Major League with the mohawked baseball, among others. His desk was positioned right next to mine at Seiniger Advertising.

I asked Dave Christensen, residing in Salt Lake City today, if he had any memories of his Christmas Vacation poster. “I tend to remember the negative aspects of stuff from the past,” he said via email. Keep in mind Dave’s incredibly modest, “I was always stressed over projects for Tony Seiniger (as we all were, right?) so I painted it quite large. That was the first negative comment he made. It was about 6 feet high. The second comment was about too much detail in the toolbox that’s flying in the air.”

I still recall the morning Dave brought that amazing illustration in, artists gathering around as he pulled back the cover flap to reveal what we all instantly knew would become a classic. Dave’s first version had Chevy in civvies holding an electrified TV antenna, the jolt sending his toolbox and tools flying. ( To see the original version go to or After many revisions, Chevy was redressed as Santa, his toolbox replaced by an exploding bag of presents. Despite the many changes Dave Christensen enjoyed the process, “I kind of miss working with airbrush, colored pencils and brushwork. I still do a lot of pencil drawing but then I scan it into Photoshop and go from there. So much more versatile.”

* * *

Chris Runge, curator for the Piedmont Aviation Historical Society, supplied the photo at the top of this column featuring The Old Rebel and Pecos Pete from WFMY’s long running kiddie show. About that picture Chris tells us, “The Old Rebel is boarding an F-27 for a simulated flight in Winston-Salem.” Seems one of the 1965 episodes of The Old Rebel Show featured a “flight” on Piedmont. “The taping was done at Smith Reynolds in Winston-Salem,” Chris explains. “All of the shots were on and around an F-27. Audrey Black was their stewardess and introduced Old Rebel’s viewers to the wonders of flight.” The filming took place in the hangar lot. “After the ground shots, the crew boarded a company-owned Beech plane to get some aerial footage and the film was spliced together to create the ‘flight’ on Piedmont’s F-27.”  OH

Billy Eye wishes each and every one of you a very merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah.

O.Henry Ending

Mom’s Cure for Christmasitis

Real holiday page turners

By Nancy Oakley

When I was a child, Christmas always came late. Incredible as it seems in this age of ushering in the Yuletide season the day after Halloween, my parents didn’t put up a tree until the Solstice — and often waited as late as the 24th of December to finish shopping. “You’ll get tired of Christmas,” they’d say to my sisters and me. But their delay tactics only exacerbated our feverish excitement, a condition that Mom dubbed “Christmasitis.” To abate it, and to assure her own peace on Earth and goodwill toward us, she allowed a couple of seasonal concessions: Advent calendars, which we’d get in Sunday school and tape to the dining room window on December 1, and Christmas books.

The latter were stored in a large, flat, department-store gift box in the hall closet. Its annual appearance ramped up our collective case of Christmasitis — momentarily. For once we delved into the trove of tomes — storybooks, chapter books, picture books, coffee-table books — all was calm, all was bright. At least until Mom could get dinner on the table.

There were the classics, of course, Scrooge and his modern-day counterpart, the Grinch. We had two copies of The Night Before Christmas, one of which contained quaint and muted, turn-of-the-century illustrations that my eldest sister preferred. I, on the other hand, liked the edition with rosy, 1950s-style illos of Santa, and Ma-mah in her kerchief and the narrator of the poem in his cap and purple dressing gown. My boisterous middle sister had an inexplicable penchant for The Birds’ Christmas Carol, a maudlin Victorian tale about a saintly girl too ill to get out of bed who nonetheless arranges a festive Christmas for her poor neighbors — and then croaks. Talk about holly-jolly.

We didn’t much care for a paperback — another Sunday school handout —  about the three Wise Men chasing the Star of Bethlehem. It had ugly orange-and-green cartoonish illustrations. We, however, loved unfolding an accordion book with the lyrics of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” on one side and “The Friendly Beasts,” on the other. My eldest sister developed an obsession for the partridge and the symbolism of the 12 gifts, and my middle sis, for the “donkey all shaggy and brown” on the book’s flip side, prompting her to sing the carol — over and over.

We pored over an anthology with its glossy cover of a red candle dripping wax. It consisted of several poems and short works, such as Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” with our favorite sentence, “The dog was sick,” and O.Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” To our young minds the poor husband in the tale got a raw deal; after all, the girl’s hair would grow back and she could use those pricey tortoise-shell combs, but he’d never see that watch again. But what really worried me was the tale in Christmas Stories ’Round the World about the little girl who puts a wreath of lighted candles on her head for St. Lucia’s Day.

By far, our favorite book — and the one that endangered Mom’s peace and goodwill because we fought over it so often — was the overisized, Golden Book of Christmas Tales. In spite of its worn and dog-eared condition, the book’s illustrations are still vivid, if not lurid, starting with the angel on the cover in flowing red robes, skydiving toward Earth with a baby doll in her hands. Equally sensational are the stories, most of them biblical: the cherry tree that bends over so a pregnant Mary en route to Bethlehem can pluck a few healthy snacks from its branches; the cock that crows on its serving platter, scaring the, well, bejesus out of King Herod; and even more frightening, the wolf-like monsters called Callicantzari that fly around terrorizing Greek peasants who haven’t painted a cross on their doors.

An antidote to the thrills was a story in the tiniest book in the box, A Pint of Judgment, in which a little girl attempts to acquire an item jokingly scrawled at the bottom of her mother’s Christmas wish list: “a quart of judgment.” Puzzled, the child asks her congenial uncle for a definition. He tells her it’s common sense, which she understands to be common “cents,” so she saves all her pennies, which amount to only a pint. Still, she puts them in a cup inside her mother’s Christmas stocking, which then spills out on the floor on Christmas Day, giving everyone a good laugh. As it surely made my mother laugh when she was about the same age as the story’s protagonist. For written in neat handwriting on the book’s inside cover is an inscription: “To Ann from Daddy (because she had a pain in her stomach). December 11, 1939.”

Which just goes to show, whether for stomach-ache or Christmasitis, a good book can cure what ails you.  OH

Nancy Oakley’s grown-up Christmas reading includes David Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries and a coffee table book about kitschy Christmas decorations. Some would argue she could use a good deal more than pint of judgment.

Short Stories

Top Brasserie

’Tis the season for giving, so why not give yourself a gift that keeps on giving — to others? When Chez Genèse opened in October in the antiques district on South Elm Street (for breakfast and lunch only), it began serving la vraie cuisine française. But, above all else, it also sought to serve those who are less fortunate: “It is our goal, as a team, to come alongside incredible individuals who (due to intellectual or developmental disability) may have the odds stacked against them in the workforce, to help develop and celebrate their own interests and potential,” chef Kathryn Hubert writes on the back of a menu, the front of which I drooled all over. My advice? Start with une verre of Languedoc rosé ($6) and the charcuterie board ($14) — jambon, saucissons (little sausages), smoked salmon and, of course, fromage: the creamy tomme de Savoie or, perhaps, a bold chèvre or Roquefort (your choice). If it’s rainy, why not order a classic and comforting bowl of soup, the creamy red-potato-and-leek ($5) or a soupe au poulet ($6) that’s rich in the way only the French seem to attain? Daily plats du jours ($11-12) are stick-to-the-ribs, hearty French country fare — sausage with lentils, lamb stew with turnips or, on Fridays, bouillabaise! Baguette or croissant sandwiches, along with pizzas and tarts, complement five traditional salads on the lighter side. Et les desserts? Ooh la la! Bon appétit, salut and Joyeux Noël. Private evening events available. Info: — D.C.B.

Saved by the Bell

No, not the kind that rings in a schoolroom, but the sort that accompanies the Salvation Army’s ubiquitous red buckets this time of year — and the focal point of Jacob’s Bell. The Yuletide tale by Triad author John Snyder is set in 1944 and flashes back to the 1920s and ’30s to reveal the journey of Jacob, a wealthy Chicago businessman, who suffers a fall from grace. But winding up as, of all things, a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army, the book’s protagonist ultimately finds redemption and as any good Christmas tale should include, love. Available at the usual suspects, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart and more. Info:

Remember in December

Or specifically, on December 15, the date on which Wreaths Across America encourages U.S. communities to place wreaths on the gravestones of their fallen military heroes. You can participate in the Gate City’s version of the program, Wreaths Across Greensboro, by sponsoring a wreath (or several) and attending a ceremony at Forest Lawn Cemetery (3901 Forest Lawn Drive) that will include a shuttle to the veterans’ area, hot chocolate and coffee. For more information go to

Show Ho Ho!

Meaning Winter Show at GreenHill (200 North Davie Street). Starting December 1 with Collector’s Choice Fundraiser, a preview of the exhibit that offers ticketholders first choice of 500-some works by North Carolina artists in advance of the public opening on December 2. You’ll wonder as you wander among the paintings, drawings, sculptures, and works in glass, fiber and ceramics at the wealth of creativity springing from our state’s red clay. Can’t make either date? Not to worry: Winter Show runs through January 18, adding a little springtime to the short dark days of the season. Tickets (for Collector’s Choice):

Sounds of the Season

Jazz and jingle were made for each other, especially in a swank environment Check out Greensboro’s newly renovated Carolina Theatre (310 South Greene Street) on December 18th for a concert of seasonal tunes, courtesy of Piedmont Triad Jazz Orchestra. Boasting “new versions” of all genres, from sacred to secular, PTJO’s lineup will inspire toe-tapping, hand-clapping, head-bobbing, be-bopping, and more. Tickets: (336) 333-2605 or

Blades of Glory

Break the ice, quite literally (but not an arm or a leg), by channeling Hans Brinker, or better yet Olympians Joey Cheek and Dorothy Hamill, when you spin around the WFMY News 2 Piedmont Winterfest skating rink in LeBauer Park (208 North Davie Street). From now through January 27 you can rent a pair of skates for just $10 and practice your best Salchow or camel — or simply glide around without taking a spill. And speaking of gliding, how about some cool runnings on the ice slide? For information on public skate times, children’s rates and group rates (think: skating party à la Peanuts Gang) go to

Visual Treats

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” wrote Romantic poet John Keats. So why not spread a little seasonal joy with the gift of art? All month, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to attend the Center for Visual Artists’ Holiday Invitational, held through January 4 at the Cultural Center (200 North Davie Street). Opening on December 1, gift seekers can peruse art and fine, handmade wares as they sip craft beer, and on December 7, mingle with the 50-some local artists who created the items. Additionally, there will be craft-making sessions, among other events, throughout the season. Best of all, the beneficiaries are, not only the loved ones on your Christmas list, but the working artists and CVA’s educational programs that bring art to makers of all ages. Info:


By now it’s the stuff of Gate City legend, but what would the holidays be without the Running of the Balls? It might be too late by the time you read this to register for the race through Greensboro’s festive Sunset Hills, whose residents celebrate the season of light with thousands of illuminated orbs suspended from the neighborhood’s towering old oaks. But there’s nothing stopping you from cheering on the competitors on December 15, and enjoying hot chocolate, tasty eats, music and camaraderie — while supporting a cause that makes the lives of others merry and bright: the Northwest North Carolina Food Bank. Info:

Ogi Sez

Ogi Overman

One of the beauties of the holiday season is the combination of Christmas-y and secular concerts. Granted, some radio stations have been playing carols since Halloween (it seems), but, hey, the FCC doesn’t require you to listen to it. And for the discerning listener, there is plenty of live music to choose from, traditional and otherwise, to make the season bright. So get out there and roast some dang chestnuts.

• December 4, High Point Theatre: Some years back I wrote a column on the five best voices in country music, those who were so operatic and polished that it was almost demeaning to call them “country.” Coming in at No. 2 was John Berry. He does a Christmas tour each year, which, come to think of it, is not country at all. You will walk away with goosebumps.

• December 7, Blind Tiger: Greensboro may rightfully claim two of the finest blues guitarists on the planet, ever since Eric Gales met a local girl and moved here (the other being Bob Margolin). But, just as with John Berry, Gales is hardly confined to a specific genre. In fact, there are those who question whether he is actually from this planet. He does stuff that’s otherworldly — upside-down and left-handed.

• December 9, Greensboro Coliseum: While most national touring acts shut it down for much of December, that’s when the Trans-Siberian Orchestra cranks it up. Their holiday show is so in-demand, there are actually two ensembles. Seriously. If you’ve never seen them, they will make you look at Christmas music in a whole different way.

• December 11, Ramkat: Could it have really been 20 years since Lucinda Williams set the world on fire with Car Wheels on a Gravel Road? Apparently so, since she’s doing a 20th anniversary tour behind it. After all these years that CD is still in regular rotation in my life, just as clever and fresh as it was in 1998. Can’t wait to see her again live.

• December 31, Westover Church: I’ve loved Dixieland jazz since grade school, and there weren’t then and aren’t now any finer purveyors of the style than the Dukes of Dixieland. Sending you to a show in a church may be a first, but you’re gonna have to just get over it. See you there.


O, Tannen-Bird!

The feisty red-breasted nuthatch flocks to North Carolina’s evergreens in winter

By Susan Campbell

Every few years, certain species of birds show up in the South when their food supply to the north becomes scant. This winter seems to be one of those years for the red-breasted nuthatch. Weighing in at only a few ounces, these feisty songbirds travel in small groups, typically moving during the cooler months from Canada’s 1.5-billion-acre boreal forests into the northern coniferous forests of the United States. As long as they can find enough seeds to sustain them through the season, they may not travel very far. But this fall, the red-breasteds’ favorites, found in spruce and fir cones, are already hard to come by. Therefore, they have begun to move well southward in search of suitable alternatives and can now be found in forested areas across North Carolina.

Red-breasted nuthatches are easy to recognize with their white eyebrows and rusty colored undersides. Like all nuthatches, they have gray backs and short legs and tails, along with a distinctive pointed, upturned bill. It’s great fun watching these birds crawling forward, sideways or upside down in search of food. And they are experts at clinging on the tippy-tops of branches as they hunt for their next meal. Strong legs and sharp claws enable red-breasteds to navigate the challenging terrain of evergreens, and their specialized bills work well to pry out seeds that other birds cannot reach. They adeptly are able to ferret out seeds from the smaller cones of cedars, hemlocks and larches. Here in our area, the sizable cones of loblolly and longleaf are easy pickings for these ravenous little birds.

This species has a very distinct vocalization, like its cousins, the white-breasted and brown-headed nuthatches, which are common here in the Sandhills and Piedmont. Red-breasted nuthatches do not sing but rather call frequently. Listen for a horn-like “yank, yank” coming from the treetops. You are much more likely to hear this bird before you see it. But individuals may be mixed in with chickadees and titmice traveling through the area. Any location with abundant pines, such as Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve or the edge of Fort Bragg or the Sandhills Game Lands, is prime territory for these little birds from now through February. I am hoping that our winter banding activities will include capture of at least a few individuals in the next couple of months. We have only been fortunate enough to study a couple close-up one winter in 2012, which was the last big invasion of the species this far south.

Red-breasted nuthatches readily do come to bird feeders. They are attracted to oil-rich sunflower seed above all else. They will, however, also take advantage of suet especially if it contains peanut butter (as mine always does). You may find them attempting to monopolize your feeding station and bullying other birds — even larger birds such as cardinals. Defending food sources is a big part of daily life for these small guys and gals who year round live much of their lives on the edge. Regardless, I am looking forward to a few of these winter visitors finding my offerings this winter.  Their colorful appearance and feisty behavior always make me smile.  OH

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos. She can be contacted by email at

POEM – December2018

Winter Solstice

I dread dark-closet mornings,

cold feet in sloughing slippers,

thinning robes from Christmas past.

I stumble, squint to find the switch

that turns on a fluorescent dawn,

wander to the window,

feel the snow, its weight upon the trees,

feel the horsetail wind

fly off the roof to sting my cheeks.

I close my eyes, cover dark with dark,

dream a sun-path on the kitchen floor,

a yellow road like Oz to lead me

barefoot to sweet tea and sand.

I picture the azalea bush ablaze,

blooms redder than a cardinal’s wing,

dogwoods, baby blanket colors

crocheted creamy yellow, white.

I long for days

when skies stay bright until I sleep,

and morning is a lyric light sings.

— Sarah Edwards