Life’s Funny

Talkin’ ‘bout My Generation

Giving no quarter to the Top 25

By Maria Johnson

I resist click bait most of the time because it’s a total time chew.

But once in a while — in the same way I enjoy an occasional bag of Cheetos — I enjoy “news” that clearly isn’t.

Take, for example, the piece that snared me recently: The Top 25 Things Baby Boomers Think Are Cool, a compilation by the celebrated Millennial journalist Serget T.

The implication, Boomers, is that if you like anything on the list, you’re not cool. Spoiler alert: You’re not.

But you’re also not very disciplined. Soooooo, click.

1. Diamonds. Did you know that most jewels are a scam? People purposefully keep the stones out of the market to drive the prices up. Think of all the student loans you could pay off with the money spent on diamonds. I agree that natural diamonds are a rip-off, and they’re often mined under horrible conditions. But if you ever propose marriage to someone special, your high-minded self had better not cough up a piece of pink zirconia. Trust me on this, kiddos.

2. Golf. This is the most boring sport in the world, it hurts your back, and apparently it only exists as some sort of status symbol. Plus you have to spend tons of money just to start? No thanks. Agree. My husband probably could offer up a reasonable argument, but he’s out playing golf, so . . .

3. The mall. You can buy everything you want online without any need to go into a crowded store with a terrible parking lot. Unfortunately, this is true. I say unfortunately because I have great memories of Orange Bowl slushes, Spencer’s gifts, and walking counterclockwise around giant planters for no apparent reason.

4. Plain toast. Make fun of our avocado toast made on artisan bread all you want. But do you know what sucks? Plain, dry toast on boring white sandwich bread. Agree, but no one eats plain toast unless they have malaria.

5. 24-hour news networks. It’s basically just trash for your brain. Like Top 25 lists.

6. Crocs. I don’t care how comfortable they are. They still look ridiculous. Yes, they do. Call me when you develop plantar fasciitis — which you will, my little child of Vans with no arch support — and I’ll let you borrow mine.

7. Reader’s Digest. Wrong generation. That was your grandparents.

8. Ironing. It’s so boring. I’d rather let my clothes be a touch wrinkled than spend time ironing everything I own. Yes on the boring part, but as far as I know, only my grandmother ironed everything she owned, and I’m here to tell you that hell hath no fury like a cardboard bath towel. However, in defense of light starch, I will say this: Do not — I repeat, do not — wear a rumpled shirt to a wedding or a job interview.

9. Jorts (jeans shorts). The last time I checked, New York was awash in young women wearing cuffed denim shorty shorts. Granted, the effect was not the same as the knee-length dad jorts pictured in your list, but then again, do you really want to see your dad in cuffed shorty shorts? Mind your denim bias.

10. Scripted art from department stores. Whether it’s a wall decal or a painting, it just looks . . . tacky.  Bless Your Heart.

11. Airbrushed T-shirts. Woooo-hooooo! Daytona Beach, Spring Break, 1979. Yeah, baby — smoking free cigarette samples and playing that Devil’s Triangle drinking game that was so popular among Boomers.

12. Conspiracy theories. Baby Boomers are the generation that brought us JFK and moon landing conspiracy theories. It’s no wonder they believe sites like “” these days. I’m so glad young people are beyond fringe theories (cough-cough, Kanye West and David Bowie are spirit-swapping soul mates, cough-cough).

13. NCIS. Damn straight. If you ever turn up dead and in the Navy, you’d better hope Jethro and Abs are on the case.

14. Sending emails. Emails are the worst. You’re right. It would be sooooo much better to have lengthy texts and attachments pouring into a place where I cannot ignore them.

15. Landlines. AKA cell phone finders.

16. Cruises. Wow, a prepackaged vacation where you’re trapped on a boat and get to visit another country for two hours and feel like an adventurous traveler. Agree. Never been on one, never wanted to.

17. Paper bills. Ugh. Paperless bills are SO MUCH BETTER. Yup, paper’s on the way out. And yet . . . have you ever noticed how quickly a feral Millennial will snatch a $20 bill from a Boomer hand? Watch your fingers.


19. Retirement funds. HAHAHAHA. YOU’RE FUNNY.

20. Mrs. Dash. There’s a WORLD of spices out there. Why are you yelling about spices?

21. Home shopping channels. I generally agree that we don’t need more stuff. However, the stretch puffer coat with removable hood and faux fur, in dark purple or black, is undeniably attractive.

22. Slacks (shown with picture of Boomer dude in billowing, cuffed UN-IRONED khakis) Do these look good on anyone? Wait. I think I’m starting to understand skinny jeans. Fabric under tremendous body heat and pressure needs no ironing.

23. Racquetball. What is the point of this sport? (To score points). Who plays it? (Racquetball players). Why don’t you play tennis? (Because we are playing pickleball).

24. Patterned wallpaper. All wallpaper looks bad, but Baby Boomers tend not to notice. True, it looks bad. And false, we notice.

25. Giant cable TV packages. Point taken. Roku to the rescue. With a high-def antenna to pick up local network affiliates because . . . NCIS.

For the record, this list of 25 things ran on to 62 things, ending with “unpaid internships.” I agree. Fork over the dough, fellow Boomers.

And do yourselves a favor, Millennials: Learn to count.  OH

Also on Maria Johnson’s recommended reading list: Top 25 Reasons Your Dog Follows You to the Bathroom.

A Magical Plant

A Magical Plant

When life hangs in the balance, hang some mistletoe

By Ross Howell Jr. 

The more I write about plants, the better I see how we humans are compelled to invest them with meaning.

Consider mistletoe. Practically all of Western civilization hangs on its evergreen, parasitic little branches.

Escaping Troy’s annihilation by invading Greeks, Aeneas would be named the ancestor of Rome by the poet Virgil. Along the way, Aeneas used mistletoe, the “golden bough,” to light his way “through a vast and gloomy forest” to the river Styx, according to Professor Frank H. Tainter. There, he shows the bough to the ferryman, Charon, and “both were immediately transported to the nether world.”

Says Professor Tainter, “Such was the power of the mistletoe plant!”

The ancient Celts viewed it as a fertility plant; the Druids as a magical cure for most anything. This pagan primal power was translated delicately into a Christmas kissing tradition in 18th-century England. And that’s how most of us think of the plant today.

Shirley Broome remembers her mother — known as “Mom” to Greensboro Farmers Curb Market goers — having two big maples in front of her house. The maples were dying and loaded with mistletoe, but they were her mother’s favorite trees. Finally she agreed to have one felled.

“Some of the branches of mistletoe were as thick as my thumb,” Shirley says. “We left part of the maple limb attached, so customers could see how the mistletoe grew into the bark.

“People were surprised at the size of the clusters! I had one bunch that must’ve been 12 inches in diameter.”

Did Mom ever hang a sprig of mistletoe in her own house?

“Goodness, no,” Shirley says. “We didn’t have time for that!”

For O.Henry Contributing Editor David Bailey, gathering mistletoe meant getting to fire his father’s 12-gauge shotgun. Near Reidsville, “We’d head to an old home site where there were several massive oaks,” David says. “There’d be a nip in the air and to this day whenever it starts to get cold, I recall the acrid scent of cordite.”

David’s father loaded No. 8 shells, small shot used for dove or quail. For a 6-year-old boy, aiming accurately enough to bring down mistletoe from a towering oak wasn’t easy.

“Two or three shots would leave my shoulder bruised, but I was ecstatic,” David says. “We’d usually get a third of a bushel basketful to take to neighbors and friends.”

“Mom would’ve whipped up eggnog by the time we got home and I was allowed just a whiff of nog,” David continues. “Good memories, even if my sister planted a big old, sloppy wet smooch on me under the mistletoe.”

Some of his wife’s earliest memories of Christmas revolve around the search for mistletoe. “My mother’s younger sister Hope was in high school then and dating, so of course mistletoe hanging from the doorways was essential,” Anne says. “The urgency of procuring the stuff, and the ritual of gathering it, made it plain to me that mistletoe was a magical plant.”

As her father drove down woodland dirt roads of South Carolina’s Lowcountry, her mother, aunt and Anne would search the tall trees. Once they’d spotted a fine growth, “Dad would park the car, get his gun and shells from the trunk, and confer with Mom and Hope,” Anne remembers. “Which bunch was fullest? Which least obscured by intervening branches?”

With all the input from her mother and aunt, and her own squeals added into the equation, “It could take almost an hour to get down to the nub of gathering mistletoe,” Anne says.

“At last Dad would take aim, and after the blast the air under the tree was filled with a snowfall of small green clusters, peppered with waxy white berries,” Anne continues. “We’d retrieve the fullest twigs and pile them into a box in the trunk of Dad’s Ford. Dad was a good shot and he’d always bring down a few more clumps, just in case we ran out, I suppose.”

O.Henry’s editor Jim Dodson says his earliest memory of mistletoe dates back to seventh grade, when his mother asked his father to collect mistletoe for the Christmas holiday.

“Dad loaded my brother and me in the car along with a shotgun and we headed out Buckhorn Road near Mebane,” Jim says.

Driving on what was then a country road, “We turned into an overgrown sideroad and hiked half a mile into an oak forest to an abandoned house with giant oak trees out front,” Jim adds. “Those trees were loaded with mistletoe.” This was the spot, his father informed the boys, where their great-grandfather, “Jimmy” Dodson, had grown up. Nearby was the house where their great-grandmother, Emma Tate Dodson, had been raised.

Both the Dodsons and the Tates had journeyed to North Carolina on what Jim’s father called the “Great Road,” or “Great Wagon Road,” the path that many Scots-Irish immigrants followed in search of places to settle in their new country.

“We blasted away with the shotgun,” Jim continues. “I remember we had so much mistletoe we loaded it in a cardboard box.” On the way back, they hiked to a spot on the Haw River, where the Dodsons had operated a gristmill in the early 19th century.

“That was the first time I remember my father sharing with us a sense of family history,” Jim says. “The idea of the Great Wagon Road really caught my imagination.”

With more than enough mistletoe to satisfy their mother’s request, they took what remained to the Lutheran Church. And you can read about the Great Wagon Road when Jim completes his current book on the historical road.

See? Quite a bit still depends on a branch of mistletoe.  OH

Ross Howell Jr. is circulating a collection of short stories to various publishers. Please wish him luck.

The Accidental Astrologer

Brilliant and Batty

A cold moon rising ramps things up for the ramped-up December born

By Astrid Stellanova

My Grandpa talked about the Cold Moon, which is what the old-timers used to call the Yule Moon. The Cold Moon falls on December 22, just as Old Man Winter tightens his grip over the Old North State.

So, baby, it’s going to be a cool Yule. Winter Solstice is just 19 hours earlier, with the full moon sitting just above the horizon in a show we won’t forget. What people do forget is how tough it is being a December child and competing with the biggest holiday season of the year.

Brilliant or batty, December babies bring it: Ozzy Osbourne is a December baby. Ditto for Samuel L. Jackson and Taylor Swift. Stalin, Sinatra, Spielberg, Walt Disney, Jane Fonda and Pope Francis, too. That’s the short list. — Ad Astra, Astrid


Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

Here you are, Birthday Child, with a bucket list that is slap full of ink. Stop making lists and start making memories. After the holidays, go to what calls you: Graceland or Dollywood. Get a gee-tar. Back talk somebody who scares you. Pick a bone with the smartest one in the room. Be too big for your britches. Don’t hold your taters.  Have a hissy fit with a tail on it, or get as nekkid as the day you came into this world and take the Polar Bear Challenge. Just don’t fiddle fart around, ’cause a birthday reminds us to make the time count before we kick that bucket slap over.

Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

You owe a debt to Saint Nick Nack for your love of the holidays. Sugar, nobody can outdo you at the high altar of tackiness. If there is a corner in the house you haven’t put a bow or geegaw on, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Sprinkle all the fairy dust you can; in this big old world, more than a few are grateful to you for the smiles.

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

Sugar, as much as you want to come clean, this ain’t the time to air your dirty laundry. Things could get nastier, faster. So make nice, bake something yummy for the neighbors and get into the spirit without taking the cap off the spirits.

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

Yes, you have a taste for the good things in life. But Darling, life in a gated community — like, say, a jail — wouldn’t be your cuppa tea. You have got to stop allowing some wild-child impuls es to get the better of you. Take a shine to normal.

Aries (March 21–April 19)

Honey, sometimes you just have to slam the gol dang door! This is that time. You want to believe the best. Someone walked back into your life with sass and attitude. Also, a sense of entitlement. You are being far too kind and generous.

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

You are on the highway to the danger zone, Baby. Yeah, you want to buy the world a Coke and shower it with love, but try reining in your impulse to pull out the wallet. Splash out on kindness, not dollars and you will be more than loved.

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

True, life can suck.  True, you seem to have managed to jam a straw right down in it and pulled from the very bottom.  Act like you have got some raising, child.  What happened has happened.  As for the sucky part, what you do with it is up to you.

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

Have fun, but try to be home before zero-dark-thirty. This is no time to be taking chances. Grandpa used to say when you finally get your ducks in a row, first be sure that all of them are yours once you start counting them little tail feathers.

Leo (July 23-August22)

If the saying is true, that there is an ass for every seat, then you are in luck.  You have something important in the wings and need everybody that ever waved or winked at you for support. They will be there, Sugar, both gems and asses, too.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

A dog may bark, but it is definitely not the same as a hyena. And bluebirds know better than to take up with a buzzard and build a nest.  Somebody has already warned you — don’t get into the Jell-O punch at the office party and forget that.

Libra (September 23–October 22)

Cuss and fuss if you want to, but you are going to enjoy the holidays a lot more than you expected.  Keep your superstitions tamped down and your wet shoes out of the oven. Don’t matter what temperature you set them on, shoe leather won’t turn into biscuits.

Scorpio (October 23–November 21)

If you drank act-right juice with the same determination you gulped down the Jack Daniels Root Canal Remedy, you might not have to face the long list of people you have ticked off. Make amends.  Send some fruit baskets. Like Mama said, try to act right.  OH

For years, Astrid Stellanova owned and operated Curl Up and Dye Beauty Salon in the boondocks of North Carolina until arthritic fingers and her popular astrological readings provoked a new career path.

Drinking with Writers

Poetry and Protest

The gravity of the written and spoken word

By Wiley Cash     Photographs by Mallory Cash

Khalisa Rae is a star, and like a star her presence bends the fabric of the universe in a way that draws creative people into her orbit: writers, activists, choreographers and artists. But it is not simply people who are drawn to Khalisa. Justice projects, writers’ workshops and femme empowerment movements have all found their way to her. Or maybe I have it wrong. Perhaps she is not the star but the explorer drawn to burning centers of mass where historical infernos rage hot and bright, where smoke burns the eyes, and where the good work of community building can begin once the fire is sated.

Khalisa Rae is a poet, feminist speaker, performance artist and educator who holds an MFA from Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina.\Her first collection of poems,\Real Girls Have Real Problems, was published in 2012, and she has been a finalist for the Furious Flower Gwendolyn Brooks poetry prize. Her collection Outside the Canon: Poetry as Protest is forthcoming.

I first entered Khalisa’s orbit when my friend Lori Fisher told me the two of them had joined forces to start Athenian Press and Workshop in Wilmington. Along with a few others, the two women envisioned Athenian as an “anti-racist, feminist, creative organization” that would offer space for writers, artists and activists to work alone, together, and with their communities to effect change. According to their mission statement, the organization is based on core values that include social justice, feminism, accessibility, community building, sustainability and independence. Before long they had found a home they called Athenian House, where they regularly hosted open mics, readings, meetings and other community events.

When I met Khalisa at Drift Coffee in Wilmington’s Autumn Hall neighborhood in early November, I quickly learned that Athenian was only one of the many projects she had initiated, joined or planned to start, all of them centered on the writer’s role in social justice and community organizing.

Drift Coffee has done an exquisite job marrying the laid-back feel of Wilmington’s beach community with the city’s upscale tastes in fine coffee and food. The menu is focused and healthy, combining standard breakfast fare with surprises like the Acai Bowl that features house-made granola and the Za’atar Spiced Chicken Sandwich with apple and tomato chutney and a tahini spread on sourdough bread. Drift’s light-filled interior is bright and welcoming with white walls, slate-colored cement floors, and comfortable tables and chairs where people are just as likely to be holding business meetings as catching up with friends.

Khalisa and I ordered some coffee and found seats in a sun-drenched corner. I asked her what had brought her to Wilmington from her native Chicago.

“I wanted to write films,” she says. “And this was the place to do it, so I came to UNCW.”

But it was not long until Khalisa’s passion for writing turned toward poetry, and she found an opportunity to work with activist poets in Greensboro. She left the Port City for an undergraduate degree at North Carolina A&T. A few years after graduating, she found herself in Wilmington again, working in community outreach and programming for the YWCA, leading workshops in writing and diversity training around the city, and eventually discovering the literary and cultural home she had not found as an undergraduate.

The more time Khalisa spent in Wilmington, the more she uncovered painful remnants of the city’s racial strife, strife that is grounded in events like the wrongful convictions of the Wilmington 10 and the 1898 coup d’état, which is the only successful coup in American history and an event that would greatly affect Khalisa’s work as a poet and activist. 

While working at the Cameron Art Museum as part of their Kids at Cam initiative, Khalisa met Brittany Patterson, an artist and social worker who had just seen the 1898 documentary Wilmington on Fire. Patterson and Khalisa began a discussion about how to use art to repair the racial rifts that had run through Wilmington for more than a century.

“We wanted to curate something that was a medley of poetry and dance to focus on how 1898 affects people today,” says Rae. But the goal was not simply a performance. “The first thing we did was to have the cast sit in a circle and talk about what it means to be a person of color, what it means to be a white person moving around in spaces with people of color who were all affected by 1898.”

The outcome was the Invisibility Project, a performance that reaches across racial lines and combines dance choreographed by Patterson and spoken word poetry written and performed by Khalisa. The group’s first performance was in 2017, and their work has continued since with a special production to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the 1898 coup.

“It’s been interesting,” she says. “I’ve learned so much about this community, about what certain public spaces mean to certain groups of people, about how the past can push down on you without you understanding why.”

Khalisa and I finished our coffee. Nearly two hours had passed, and our conversation had run from our early fascinations with the written word to our hopes for our city’s racial reconciliation. As we got up to leave I could not help but feel pulled toward her energy and passion. I could say it was gravitational, but perhaps my feelings were anchored by the gravity of this generation’s struggle to reach through Wilmington’s painful past in the hope that, once the fire is out, there will be a hand to grasp.  OH

Wiley Cash lives in Wilmington with his wife and their two daughters. His latest novel, The Last Ballad, is available wherever books are sold.

ALMANAC-December 2018

ALMANAC-December 2018

By Ash Alder

It’s been a while since you’ve come to visit, and when you see her, you gasp.

She looks different. And not just the kind of different one looks from the passing of an ordinary spring, summer and fall.

She has stories.

In the sweeping meadow, the weeping cherry is the axis about which all of life revolves. It’s always been this way, at least for as long as you have known her. Which is why you’re so shaken to discover the woodpecker drillings along her trunk and branches.

Signs of decay.

As you sit beneath her trunk, comforted by her silhouette in purple twilight, three, four, five white-tailed deer slip through the longleaf veil in the distance. Either they do not see you, or they recognize you as one of their own.

Six deer.


You watch them graze in the meadow — just feet away now — and as the last doe brushes past, you exhale a silent prayer.

Grace is here.

You place your hands on the weeping cherry’s trunk, honoring this perfect moment, this bare-branched season, the vibrancy among decay. 

It’s time to go home now. It won’t be the same. But there are stories to share. And grace.

Spirit of the Deer

As a child, Christmas Eves were spent at my grandparents’ house, where all the cousins hoped to be the first to spot the shiny pickle ornament Papa had hidden in the tree. After evening Mass, then dinner, where soft butter rolls, pumpkin bars and scalloped potatoes were first to vanish from the spread, gifts were exchanged. Whoever found the pickle got theirs first.

And then, the hour drive home.

“Watch for deer,” Papa would say before
we left.

We always saw them, frozen in the headlights on the roadside.

Three, four, five . . . six deer, seven.

I counted until drifting off to sleep.

Many ancient cultures believe that when an animal crosses your path, its spirit has a special “medicine” for you. The deer is a messenger of gentleness and serenity.

If you happen to see one in the thicket of holiday hustle and bustle, even if it’s the one you recall snacking on your hosta and pansies last spring, consider the ways you can bring more grace and kindness to yourself and the world.

Comet and Cupid

According to National Geographic’s Top 8 Must-See Sky Events for 2018, the comet eloquently named 46P/Wirtanen will travel past the luminous Pleiades and Hyades star clusters as it makes its closest approach to the Earth on Sunday, December 16 — the comet’s brightest-ever predicted passage.

Whether or not you catch the celestial show, don’t miss the chance to celebrate the “rebirth of the Sun” on Friday, December 21 — the day before the full cold moon. Call it winter solstice, Yule or midwinter, the longest night of the year is a time for gathering . . . and ritual.

In Japan, it’s tradition to take a dip in the yuzu tub, a hot bath filled with floating yellow yuzu fruit, to ward off the common cold.

Not a bad way to welcome winter.

Or around a fire with dearest friends, sharing stories and cider beneath the near-full moon.

The simplicity of winter has a deep moral.
The return of Nature, after such a career of splendor and prodigality, to habits so simple and austere, is not lost either upon the head or the heart. It is the philosopher coming back from the banquet and the wine to a cup of water and a crust of bread.

– John Burroughs, The Snow-Walkers, 1866

In the Garden this Month

Rake fallen leaves for compost.

Plant hardy annuals (snapdragon, petunia, viola).

Take root cuttings from cold-sensitive perennials and plant them indoors.

Order fruit trees and grape vines for late-winter planting.

Dream up, then plan for your spring garden. 

Folding Architecture into Christmas

Folding Architecture into Christmas

Greensboro’s Carl Myatt models good cheer

By Maria Johnson     Photographs by John Gessner

Jane Levy starts watching in late November for the distinctive Christmas card from her friend, architect Carl Myatt.

It always seems as if Levy’s out running errands when Myatt personally delivers the card, so he props the block-lettered envelope against her door, and Levy sees it when she gets home.

“The ritual is, I drop everything and open up this little toy miniature,” she says. “I don’t get very far. Honestly, I don’t think I even sit down. I just go to the sideboard and have at it.” Myatt’s pop-up greetings — renderings of buildings that he has designed — require some assembly.

Spatially challenged? He includes step-by-step instructions.

Pitch, fold, tuck, and behold: An enchanting blend of merriment and marketing.

“These little contraptions contain an oversized spirit,” says Levy. “They bring such joy.”

Levy understands the emotional power of structures; her father was the late Greensboro Modernist architect Ed Loewenstein, whose sleek residential and commercial designs elicit smiles to this day.

Myatt and Lowenstein never worked together, but Myatt has done projects for friends of Levy, and she admires his deft touch. She keeps his cards and displays them in the foyer of her home every holiday season. She doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but she delights in Myatt’s labor of love.

“I think it’s a joyful way for him to express himself to everyone,” she says.

Her visitors agree. They love to pick up and study the card-stock creations. Like dollhouses, some of the models contain interior rooms that coax viewers to peek through openings.

“They invite participation,” Levy says.

Myatt, who grew up celebrating Christmas in the Baptist church in Houston, Mississippi, started his card tradition with more “hum” than “ho.”

He sent a store-bought card in 1992. Two years later, he issued a Christmas letter of sorts, complete with a list of recent clients. In 1997, he turned out a three-dimensional arch covered with drawings of his recent projects. He saw it as a way to honor his clients — and to advertise to prospective customers.

From then on, his stand-up salutations were standard. They leaned on Myatt’s ability to make three-dimensional models, a specialty of architects.

“We do it all the time, so why not?” he says.

Every year, he mulls which of his projects can be shrunken, flattened to fit into an envelope and reconstituted by non-architects.

Occasionally, he opts for a simple trifold card that stands on edge.

But several of his cards require spatial skills to build.

To make them easier, Myatt — who works in the top-floor studio of a Fisher Park home he designed — spends untold hours drawing, cutting and folding prototypes. His color printer guzzles ink during trial runs. His models require no glue or staples, though he once enclosed two straight pins to secure a roof.

He sweats the choice of envelopes and stamps, too. He addresses each envelope — more than 200 last year — by hand.

“It’s like a project,” says Myatt. “When it’s finished, everybody says that looks simple, but it’s not simple.”

The reward, he says, is imagining his friends and clients opening and building his glad tidings.

“I can see their smiles,” he says, as a sympathetic grin lights up his face. “Architects are visualizers.”  OH

The Omnivorous Reader

A Masterpiece that Matters

To Kill a Mockingbird continues to resonate

By D.G. Martin

Last October, on the final episode of PBS’s The Great American Read, Harper Lee’s 1960 Southern classic To Kill a Mockingbird was named “America’s Best Loved Novel.”

From a list of 100 candidates and a total of 4 million votes cast over several months, Mockingbird was a clear winner, receiving 242,275 votes.

What explains the popularity of Mockingbird and its staying power more than a half century after its publication?

The host and leader of the The Great American Read, Meredith Vieira, said she was not surprised with the result. “Mockingbird,” she said, “is a personal favorite of mine — one that truly opened my eyes to a world outside of my own. Harper Lee’s iconic work of literature is cherished for its resonance, its life lessons and its impact on one’s own moral compass.”

Vieira told USA Today that she would have picked Mockingbird if it had been solely up to her. “I read it when I was 12. Of course it holds up; it’s a brilliant novel, and all of the lessons I learned then resonate deeply now. I think the reason I picked it is because I read it at a pivotal time in my life. I was a young kid growing up in Rhode Island and I didn’t know anything, really, about bigotry or racism, and that book pointed it out in the voice of a little girl, which appealed to me. And her dad (Atticus Finch), his ability to fight the good fight and step into other people’s skin. When you’re trying to determine your moral code moving forward, in that time in your life, your parents are influential, teachers are as well, but books are, too. And that book said to me, ‘You can do the right thing, or you can do the wrong thing.’”

For me, the book’s lasting success comes from its poignant story of Jean Louise, or Scout, whose love and respect for her father, Atticus, and his example gave her the courage to face the dangers and unfairness of a flawed world. It is also Atticus himself, the small town lawyer in the Jim Crow South of the 1930s, with his example of dignity, kindness and courage.

But it is much more complicated according to a new book, Why To Kill a Mockingbird Matters: What Harper Lee’s Book and the Iconic American Film Mean to Us Today, by Tom Santopietro.

That staying power is remarkable, according to Santopietro, because in “the nearly sixty years since Mockingbird was originally published, the world has changed much more than the previous three hundred years combined.”

Santopietro gives us a biography of the Mockingbird phenomenon. He takes us to Harper Lee’s hometown, Monroeville, Alabama, and introduces us to the friends, family and neighbors who were models for the characters of her book, to her gentle home life, and the town’s oppressive segregated social system.

In Mockingbird, Monroeville becomes the fictional town of Maycomb. Harper Lee as a child is the basis for the central character, the tomboy nicknamed Scout. Lee’s father, A.C. Lee, is the model for Atticus Fitch. Her childhood friend, Truman Capote, becomes Scout’s good friend, the irrepressible Dill. Her family’s troubled neighbor, Sonny Boulware, is the inspiration for the mysterious, frightening and, ultimately, heroic Boo Radley.

Santopietro explains how Mockingbird was first written and then rewritten. Lee’s early drafts focused on Jean Louise as a grown-up. The revisions eliminated the adult woman from the book and only told Scout’s childhood story.

When the revised work was sold to a publisher, it took the country by storm and won the Pulitzer Prize.

Then came the movie staring Gregory Peck as Atticus. Santopietro devotes twice as many chapters to his account of the production of the movie as he does for the making of the book.

On UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch recently, Santopietro explained how Peck’s star power enhanced the role of Atticus. “Peck was also a smart Hollywood star, and he thought, ‘I’m producing the film, I’m starring in the film, there’s gonna be a big courtroom scene in there.’ He was protecting his territory.”

In that powerful courtroom scene, Atticus defends the black defendant, Tom Robinson, who is accused of the rape of a white woman. Atticus demonstrates Robinson’s innocence, but the all-white, all-male jury convicts him nevertheless.

Mockingbird’s powerful message of racial injustice and oppression was clear, in the book and the film. Certainly, race is an important factor in the book’s continuing importance.

But Santopietro believes that something else explains why the book “still speaks to such a wide range of people.”

On Bookwatch, he explained, “What the book to me is about that’s so extraordinary — and I tried to write about this — it’s about what I call the ‘other,’ the concept of anybody who does not feel like they fit in. Every one of us in this room, every human being at some point, feels like the ‘other.’ You talk differently, you walk differently, you act differently, and that’s the journey through adolescence, which is universal. We all have felt that way sometimes. And, what Harper Lee is saying is that when we’re children, we think of the world as black and white, all good, all bad, but it’s so many different shades of gray. That’s our journey through adolescence, and she makes us realize that the people we fear, the monsters in our life, in fact can be our saviors. So, there are two people who fit the construct of the ‘other’ in Mockingbird. One is Tom Robinson, the African-American man unjustly accused of raping a white woman, and the other is Boo Radley. So, Scout and Jem think of Boo Radley as this monster in that dark house and, in fact, he’s their savior at the end, and I think that universal journey through adolescence — as we all learn those lessons — that to me is why the book still matters.”

In 2015, shortly before her death, the publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman gave us a different and disturbing look at Atticus in the 1950s, set 20 years after the events in Mockingbird.

On a visit home, Jean Louise sees Atticus leading a meeting of the local White Citizens’ Council, one of many established throughout the South in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision to resist the Supreme Court’s and the NAACP’s efforts to destroy “the Southern Way of Life.”

Confronting Atticus, she says the Citizens’ Council contradicts everything he had taught her. Do we now, like Jean Louise, have to push Atticus Finch out of our pantheon of heroic images?

Even though he is on the wrong side of history, Atticus’ core human values win out as they lead Jean Louise to confront him and to make him proud of her for doing so.

Many of our parents and grandparents who lived in Atticus’ times, like him, would never fully accept the changes the civil rights revolution brought to our region. But the core values of human kindness and respect for all people that they taught prepared their children to welcome and even work for those changes.

And for that, they and Atticus are for me, although imperfect, still heroes.  OH

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch, which premiers Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on the North Carolina Channel and airs on UNC-TV Sundays at 11 a.m. and Thursdays at 5 p.m.

True South

Holiday Fantasies

Get on board or get out of the way

By Susan S. Kelly

My mother was having a Christmas cull one year and asked if I wanted the toilet lid cover. As one does.

This piece of church bazaar finery was my first claim as a child when the box of decorations came out every Christmas: a forest green, glitter-glued felt oval adorned with a ho-ho-hoing Santa face of pink, white and red felt with sequin eyes, a tufted cotton beard, and a clever drawstring to tighten the cover just so around the commode lid. I thought it was divine. I have it still, the outlined shapes of eyebrows becoming visible as it disintegrates, revealing the crafts-by-numbers kit it originally was. In the attic, Santa’s slowly getting de-flocked and de-felted somewhere under the Advent wreath candles that became a waxy purple unicandle during the 100-degree days of August.

The good news about Christmas, besides the obvious Good News, is that tastemakers and arbiters of Tacky are banished, or at the very least, muffled. That’s the bad news as well. Everyone is permitted his or her holiday indulgences and eccentricities. Last year my neighbor had an egg-shaped wreath on her door, and I have no idea whether it was accidental or intentional.

Flannery O’Connor famously said of William Faulkner, “Nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down.” This sentiment applies to Christmas as well. Either get with it, or get mowed over by it. But we can agree on this sentiment: Without women, there would be no Christmas as we know it. Females are out there in the trenches, responsible for every holiday fantasy promulgated in mags and ads — caroling, cookies, gingerbread houses, the works. “I see more of the Salvation Army ringers than I do my husband,” a friend once remarked to me. Another friend drew the line in the sand, er, carpet. “I shopped, wrapped, mailed, decorated, planned, cooked, cleaned and organized,” she told her husband and two sons. “You guys have to take down the tree.” They took down the tree all right. They took it down at Easter. Another friend buys herself an additional piece of her Christmas china every time her ex-husband mentions his new wife’s name in her presence.  I suspect she’s on finger bowls by now.

As for that gingerbread house fantasy, here’s what I have to say about doing that with your children: Go for the pre-fab kits. I actually made gingerbread from scratch, spread it thinly on parchment-paper-lined baking trays, then cut it into wall shapes. Like many activities, it was cuter in the planning than the execution, never mind unappreciated. I’m still digging peppermint candy slivers out of the kitchen heating vents. Instead, keep an illustrated Hansel and Gretel book, complete with candy-covered fantasy gingerbread house, on the coffee table along with ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. Point out what really happens to bad little boys and girls, not getting switches in stockings.

I don’t understand the Fairness Doctrine of today, when couples routinely alternate Christmas between families. I get Christmas Eve, you get Christmas morning, they get Christmas Day dinner . . . logistics alone are on a par with the Normandy invasion, not to mention the emotions, prompting my next-door neighbor to wryly refer to the comings, goings and schedules as “the prisoner exchange.” To counter this trend, I had a third child after two boys — fully aware that the baby would likely be another boy — just to increase the odds that someone, someone, would come home to me at Christmas. Still, the in-laws have a powerful draw, in part because my sister-in-law concocts eggnog with five kinds of liquor, which she totes around during the holidays in a wheeled cooler. I don’t mean that the cooler holds containers of eggnog. I mean that the cooler actually holds the eggnog itself, sloshing around. Open the lid, and enticing clumps of a substance I’m afraid to ask about — Ice cream? Whipped cream? Egg whites? Butter? — float whitely on the surface. Five kinds of liquor soften, not to mention blur, the blow of absent family. And it was my mother-in-law who taught me the value of smilax at Christmas. I wrap the supple stems all through my (so-called) chandelier, and suspend papier-mâché angels from that green and leafy heaven. Ivy will not do that for you. I’ve also nurtured two smilax shrubs for years, for no other reason than to use their bright berries at Christmas, and have concluded I have two males or gender-neutral plants. Whatever their sexual preferences, they aren’t producing and I’m still using fake red berries.

Still, if I haven’t been able to fulfill every Christmas fantasy, I’ve managed to produce a few of the Christmas food fantasies out there. Clove-studded oranges: Check. Apples dipped in egg whites, then coated with granulated sugar so they appear to glisten: Check. On my friend Ginny’s birthdays, her mother would hand her some cash and say, “Run uptown and buy yourself a bathing suit for your birthday.” It’s not surprising, then, that Ginny’s ongoing fantasy for her own daughter was that she’d dash downstairs on Christmas morning, see wall-to-wall presents, and fall over in a dead faint at Santa’s largesse. If this is your fantasy, point your compass toward the North Pole of IKEA. Last I checked, a cloth tepee that covers 10 square feet of living room space was $5.99. Same for the fabric playhouse you drape over a card table. Never mind their two-hour shelf life; they come in desert browns and beiges, and jungle browns and greens. Because nothing says Christmas like camo.  OH

Susan Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and proud grandmother.

Folly Jolly

Folly Jolly

At Körner’s Folly, nothing succeeds like excess

By Nancy Oakley
Photographs by Amy Freeman

At first glance Körner’s Folly appears to be the stuff of that old saw, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” But look closer, and you’ll discover it’s an extension of the man who built it, Jule Körner. Perched right on Main Street in downtown Kernersville, (the town having been named for Jule’s grandfather, Joseph Körner), the imposing Victorian brick house with the steep gabled roof is a product of Jule’s restless ingenuity and marketing savvy. Not to mention his “tongue-in-cheek” sense of humor, says Dale Pennington, executive director of the site, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “There was method to his madness,” she says. Both of which were apparent in Jule’s early career.

After studying art in Philadelphia, he enjoyed a stint in advertising for the Bull Durham Tobacco Company, where, under the pseudonym Reuben Rink, he created a stir by painting advertisements on the sides of buildings and barns. According to The Reuben Rink Company, a marketing and ad agency in Winston-Salem named for the original “Reuben” and headed by Jule’s great-great-grandson J.G. Wolfe, Jule would paint the tobacco company’s bovine mascot as “anatomically correct” and then, in anonymous letters to local newspapers, express faux outrage at the so-called offending images. As intended, the letters succeeded in drawing crowds to the outdoor billboards — increasing public awareness of the Bull Durham brand. Just as surreptitiously, the mysterious “Reuben Rink” would then repaint the billboards, camouflaging the bulls’ extremities, often with strategically placed fences. But the puckish Jule didn’t stop there: He claimed to have painted similar billboards on the sides of the Great Pyramids and Mount Kilmnajaro, “which isn’t true,” Pennington affirms.

When he switched careers to interior design, the huckster in Jule again anticipated the notion, “build it and they will come.” So, in 1880 he constructed the gabled house on Main Street, which would double as his residence and a showroom, or living catalogue, for clients who were enjoying middle-class prosperity of the Industrial Age.

Where to begin?

The front porch is as good a place as any, with its intricate, hand-laid tile and “Witches Corner,” a small nook containing a cast-iron pot where visitors have cast pennies. “It’s a nod to Halloween, a European tradition,” Pennington explains. “If you deposit coins into the witches’ pot, it will keep evil spirits and witches out of the house.”

Not that a talisman is needed here. Any evil spirit that dares enter this wonderfully weird dwelling would be too confounded to stick around. For once inside, the senses are assaulted with an onslaught of high-Victorian flourishes, such as layer upon layer of molding in various patterns, heavy dark cabinetry with barley twist accents, a fireplace framed with ornate colored tiles, an intricately carved mantel, and a painted ceiling — and all of this in just the front entry hall that originally served as a carriageway. “A horse and buggy could pull in right off Main Street into the center of the house. And then stables were attached to the left, and to the right, rooms,” Pennington says.

An expression of Jule’s quirkiness, yes. But also an example of his efficient use of space, and again, his marketing genius. Those fireplace tiles, for example, came from Zanesville, Ohio. The moldings in the house are, to use Pennington’s word, “a hodge-podge,” of locally crafted work and newer materials of the period, such as Bakelite, all easily transported to Kernersville by rail.

In 1890, four years after Jule’s bride, Polly Alice, entered the picture, the first of several remodels began that would expand the structure’s 15 rooms to 22, all in varying dimensions. Among the modifications? That indoor carriageway and stable were moved across the street. The adjacent front parlor became the master bedroom (unheard of in the day), the stable and hayloft were closed in to accommodate a guest bedroom, the tack room became the library. To accommodate the Körner children, son Gilmer and daughter Doré, a playroom with the ceiling height of 5 1/2 feet was installed directly above the carriageway-turned-foyer. Polly Alice could not only hear the pitter-patter of her children’s feet, she could keep an eye on them, too — through the playroom’s floor-to-ceiling pivot windows. Though certainly a potential hazard to children who could easily have fallen through them (these were kids whose pet of choice was a raccoon named Bob, after all), the windows also helped air flow through the house.

Other touches reflect Jule’s ingenuity, such as the sunny breakfast room, containing “one of the first skylights in a private home in America,” says Pennington — and one of the defining features for the house’s National Register status. She also points to an icebox, an alcove built into 14-inch thick walls of the main kitchen, and shelving outside one of its windows and covered with a screen that served as a pie-safe. Jule, she says, “considered this kitchen to be one of the most modern of its time because it was very efficient, in his opinion. No wasted space, all these custom built-ins.” And he was ahead of his time in other ways, for some of the finishes — painted cabinetry and subway tiles, for example, are de rigueur today.

Jule also cut trap doors in the floor and covered them with grates to let cool air flow from the basement in the summertime. To the smoking room he added small doors so as to seal off the space in the event of fire (and positioned the room with easy access to the water pump outside). Speaking of fires, the house had no shortage of heat, with some 15 fireplaces — remarkable, considering there are only six chimneys. “There’s an intricate flue system in the house,” Pennington explains, pointing to an archway over the master suite concealing a flue that connects a downstairs fireplace to another upstairs. “So it’s using the aesthetic to hide the pragmatic,” she observes.

With Jule’s penchant for the theatrical, it’s not surprising that he converted the billiard room to a theater on the very top floor of the Folly (a moniker bestowed upon the place by his puzzled neighbors, one which the former ad man fully embraced). “There’s no attic. It’s the roofline. This is what it looks like in reverse,” says Pennington of the angled ceiling resembling the folds of an origami sculpture. Painted on them are murals of cupids; hence the venue’s name, the Cupid Park Theatre that opened in 1897 for stage and musical productions. “Polly Alice felt that her children had such unparalleled access, to travel, theater, vocational resources,” explains Pennington. Access that she extended to her children’s friends and other local youngsters in the formation of a youth theater group, believed to be one of the first private little theaters in the country. A crack seamstress, Polly Alice designed and sewed the costumes for the plays and taught music lessons alongside a Greensboro music professor, Charles Brock, while Jule, who fashioned an unusual circular curtain rod over the stage, built the sets. “I just imagine it being a wonderful time at the Folly,” Pennington muses. And it still is: To this day, the Cupid Park Theatre hosts community plays and revues, along with puppet shows, a staple of the Christmas season.

At Yuletide, Körner’s Folly quite literally shines. “If the house is over-the-top now,” says Pennington, “at Christmas it’s to the nines.” In late October local volunteer groups, each of which has “adopted” the Folly’s 22 rooms, start decking the halls, a process that continues through Thanksgiving, just in time for holiday tours. These, says Pennington, began about 15 years ago, but ramped up in the last decade. In the last five years, candlelight tours and additional puppet shows were thrown into the mix.

The decorations must be period appropriate. After all, the Victorian era, again because of mass production and middle class expansion, not to mention that other icon of the day, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, gave rise to many of our modern holiday traditions: Christmas cards, ornaments, ham and turkey dinners, eggnog, and of course, Christmas trees and garlands. Decorators have leeway to interpret a yearly Victorian theme. Last year’s was “Victorian Christmas Traditions,” this year’s, “A Körner Family Christmas.” Pennington says the Folly staff encourages the use of Moravian decorations, including the distinctive Moravian stars, in keeping with the family’s heritage. But they do make a couple of concessions to modernity and safety: Given the age of the house, greenery must be artificial (though of such high quality as to look real); and no actual burning candles are allowed so as to prevent the house from going up in a blaze as it could easily have done in the Körners’ day when son Gilmer slept under the Christmas tree with a bucket of water handy.

“We put the 12-foot tree in this room,” says Pennington, referring to the pièce de résistance of Jule’s vision: the grand reception room, with carved archways, ornate figures flanking fireplace mantels and seemingly in defiance of Victorian propriety, remote, curtained off corners, “where couples could steal a kiss at his parties,” Pennington explains.

The seasonal pageantry is a crowd-pleaser, drawing an estimated 3,000 visitors among an annual total of about 10,000, but the holiday tours serve a larger purpose: to help raise money for the ongoing restoration of the house that began in earnest in 2012. “In a lot of ways the restoration work we’re doing now is carrying out their vision,” says Pennington of the 26 local families who bought Körner’s Folly in 1970.

At the time, the house sat vacant, the Körner children long since having grown up and dispersed. Following Jule’s death in 1924, with the Great Depression and two World Wars, upkeep had become impossible. Taking smaller family heirlooms (the large Victorian furnishings, such as the foyer’s massive cabinets, being too large to disassemble and move), the family boarded up the house, which fell prey to vandals and looters. It became a haunt of local teenagers, some of whom carved their initials in one of the upstairs hallways. Even after the property’s purchase and placement on the National Register, it was manned solely by volunteers for 30 years.

Now, with a professional staff, three phases of restoration have been completed — the porch, the foundation, the roof and chimneys. The fourth phase, the Folly’s interiors, started in 2015 with daughter Doré’s bedroom, aka the Rose Room, a confection of soaring pink walls and floral trim. Gilmer’s room, it turns out, was a bright, robin’s egg blue, thanks to an architect’s color analysis. “With the technology today, they’re finding the colors are so much more vibrant than we used to think they were,” Pennington notes. They are also discovering Jule’s constant tweaking of the house’s interiors. “He was never satisfied,” says Pennington. Even up until his death, he had drawn plans for another renovation.

The house is still a work in progress, painstakingly refreshed room by room. The Cupid’s Park Theatre was upfitted last year, its 120th anniversary, and next up is the ground-floor master bedroom, but not until January. Meantime, Christmas comes again to Körner’s Folly, every day as festive as Fezziwig’s ball in Dickens’ classic opus. And surely that jolly old elf with the sly twinkle in his eye — not St. Nick, but Jule Körner — would be pleased that his calculation paid off: He built it, this oddity of oddities, and they are still coming — by the thousands.  OH

Nancy Oakley is the senior editor of O.Henry.

Christmas events at Korner’s Folly continue this month through January 5, 2019. For more info visit

Separate and Equal

Though known as a creative visionary with an irreverent sense of humor, there is another side to Jule Körner, evident in the cottage that stands behind Körner’s Folly, containing the site’s gift shop and administrative offices. Known as Aunt Dealy’s Cottage, it was the residence of Clara Körner, nursemaid and surrogate mother to Jule Körner, whose biological mother died when he was 2 years old. As a slave owned by a family in Salem, just down the road, Clara had been hired by the Körners to care for Jule and his siblings (who gave her the nickname “Dealy,” a variation of “Dearie”); the family later bought her freedom, but she chose to remain with them, drawing income from rental property in Winston that Jule’s father, Philip, had bequeathed to her.

So revered was Aunt Dealy that every year, on the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death, Jule Körner would hang black swags across the Folly’s windows and porches. “It was unusual for this area, says Dale Pennington, the Folly’s executive director. “To me, it speaks to someone who didn’t much care what people thought.” And when Clara herself died in 1896, a funeral, officiated by a black pastor was held on the Folly’s north lawn, drawing an integrated crowd. Refused burial in the whites-only cemetery in the Moravian church across Main Street, Clara’s body was interred in the Körner family plot — a standalone piece of property bordering the church graveyard that Jule purchased — separate in death from the rest of the Moravian congregation, but equal among Körners. -N.O.

In the Spirit

Beer on Whiskey

Not so risky. And sometimes surprisingly delicious

By Tony Cross

In holidays past, I would have a moment of clarity when visiting my loved ones. It would come on suddenly, and always within 12 hours of arriving. Like clockwork. “I’ve got to get out of here and get a drink.” The members of my family are not big drinkers. I would have a beverage or two around them, but I always craved my escape drink. It’s not because my folks are hard to be around — they’re amazing. It’s because this time of year stresses me out and I turn into Mr. McJerkface after a few hours of sitting around.

Mom and Pops live near me now, but for almost a decade they didn’t. There were no close bars that could whip up a decent drink, so off to the dive bars I went. One of my favorite things to order was a beer with a whiskey back. It did the trick every time. So, for this month’s column, I teamed up with Jason Dickinson, a certified Cicerone — think sommelier for beer or, as I like to call him, “beer nerd.” We had fun pairing up a few different styles of beer with spirits. And by we I mean that I texted him the three spirits I was bringing, and he used his expertise to bring a few pairing suggestions for each. Use these pairings anytime of the year, of course, but give these a shot when you’re out of town and are drawing a blank when you run away from your family.

Sour/Blanco Tequila

For our pairing, Jason brought Dogfish Head’s Sea Quench Ale Session Sour, and I provided El Jimador. Right off the bat, I sensed this would work. I spied a picture of a lime wheel on the can, and immediately saw the word “salt” in the description. That’s a margarita all day. “I chose this because of its year-round production,” Jason said. “It’s one of the few sours that we’re going to see on draft in more places pretty soon.” The first sip was all we needed. Tart and salty. Perfect with a blanco tequila — just make sure the label has “100 percent Agave” on it. If it doesn’t, I don’t think any beer will save you. If the spot you’re frequenting doesn’t have any sour-style beers, grab a Mexican lager. As I’ve mentioned before, a can of Modelo and tequila have been good pals of mine during the summer. However, I wouldn’t discriminate against them in winter.

Milk Stout/Spiced Rum

We combined a Nitro Merlin Milk Stout with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, and it went together quite nicely. The Merlin is light, creamy and smooth. The Nitro comes from the beer having more nitrogen gas than carbon dioxide (like most traditional beer). This also gives the beer a touch of sweetness. I picked Gosling’s because there’s more likelihood of finding it behind a bar than other rums that I would drink straight (e.g., Smith & Cross, or rhum agricole). With that said, I never drink Gosling’s on its own. The distillery owns the trademark for “Dark ‘N’ Stormy,” so there’s that. But never on its own. But boy, oh boy, these two are yummy together. The sweetness of the rum and spice complement the chocolaty creaminess of the Merlin. I would pour my shot into the beer next time. Again, the chances of your finding the Merlin at a dive bar might be slim, so if you don’t see it anywhere, grab a Guinness. “A Guinness has a dry and roasty flavor profile, so adding the sweetness of the Gosling’s will bring a nice counterbalance,” Jason says. If they don’t have a Guinness, walk out.


“If someone asks what an American porter is, this is it to a T,” says Jason. “This is the beer a lot of people point to as the classic one in this category. There are a couple of producers that do one — Sierra Nevada makes a good porter. But Deschutes Black Butte Porter is generally thought of as THE porter for American style. They’re usually low ABV too.” That’s news to me. And if you’re as ignorant about porters as I am, keep reading. “Because bourbon and rye have been really popular over the past decade, the breweries rest their porters in bourbon and rye barrels. So, for me, this is a no-brainer.” This is one of the reasons I like Jason. Out of the park. One gulp of the Black Butte followed by a swig of Maker’s Mark (again, pretty much a trademark whiskey in myriad bars) pulls Jason’s theory together. The porter was dry on the end and having whiskey in between sips lent an oakiness to my palate. We both agreed that this was our favorite of the night. Bourbons tend to be sweeter than rye, but rye has spice. Me likey the spice. So next time, I’m having a porter with rye, that’s a what’s up, for sure.

In the pre-Jason era, when I paired beer and spirits, I’d make up my own boilermaker — by definition a shot of whiskey dropped into a glass filled halfway with beer. It was usually an IPA and a rye whiskey. Why? Because at the time, those were my favorite styles of beer and whiskey to drink on their own. As soon as I arrived at my getaway drink spot, that’s all it took to wash my Scrooge demeanor away. Now, as the saying goes, I got options.  OH

Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.