O.Henry Ending

Wag More, Bark Less

Happiness is a dog named Fritz

By Brian Faulkner

Illustration by Harry Blair

My next door neighbor has a dog down the street. It’s not his dog, but the pup hasn’t figured that out. So, every time my friend approaches the house where the little guy lives, the thing starts to bark and shimmy and shake until Gordon gets there and scratches the dog’s neck. It’s quite the sight, all that love, which makes me think that maybe Charles Schulz was right about happiness being a warm puppy.

“Why not get yourself a dog like that?” I quiz my neighbor. “No need,” he says. “Fritz and I are happy with things the way they are.”

This isn’t an essay about dogs, although it does seem to be drifting that way — I could tell you about one dog I met who had been taught to smile on command or another who could back up on request, both to great merriment. So it may be that dogs and happiness come from the same place. The light in my youngest brother’s eyes when I brought a puppy home in a box one summer’s day in 1965 could almost make me think so.

We can do things that might lead to happiness, but there’s no guarantee that happiness will appear. But then, just when we finally think we’ve got a grip on it, happiness, slides away and hides out in life’s tall grass until it’s ready to show up again.

“Happiness ain’t a thing in itself,” declares a Mark Twain character who’s trying to figure what heaven might be like. “It’s only a contrast with something that ain’t pleasant.”

“It just seems that if you hang on for a while longer, there is always something bright right around the corner,” observed Schulz, who strung both happiness and heartache through his comic strips like multicolored ribbons. You may remember Charlie Brown each autumn, ready to kick the football Lucy is holding upright for him, eager to let fly with it but knowing that she probably will snatch the ball away just as he gets there. We know what’s going to happen, but in our story — the one in our hearts, Lucy holds fast and Charlie Brown sends the ball sailing. We’re all Charlie Browns, and disappointments thread their way through our lives like insistent melodies. The trick lies in learning to let whatever happiness may come our way just happen.

I enjoy poking around in vintage stores like The Red Collection, where from time to time I’m delighted to find old pictures with a bit of happiness still clinging to them, memories long separated from their people. One of the happiest pictures I’ve ever seen — anywhere — was shot by Matthew Lewis Jr., a Pulitzer-winning news photographer known mostly for his civil rights era work: two little girls swinging together — one black child, one white, soaring through the sky and having the time of their young lives. Anybody who claims that “happiness ain’t what it’s cracked up to be” should see that picture.

Sometimes happiness simply surprises, like the time I covered a news story for a radio station. A rather robust lady had fallen through her outhouse seat into the mire below. It took a winch to crank her out, and as her considerable bulk emerged from the darkness, she showered her audience with laughter. What a joy! It’s refreshing to see people happy despite their circumstance, people who know they are blessed and who bless us in return. It could be someone working in their garden and holding up a handful of fresh-pulled weeds in a wave as you pass by. Or Fritz, waiting up the road for my neighbor to come scratch his neck.

Despite scientific research that says happiness ain’t so hot because happy people are more likely to be “influenced by stereotypes” and have other discouraging traits, I for one am all for it — happiness, that is. My suggestion is to take the risk that things won’t turn out perfectly, jump on the happiness train and let it take you down the tracks. Let your spirits rise. Float off in the air, like a balloon that’s escaped from a child’s birthday party, exulting in the moment with no worry about where the wind may take you . . . if anywhere. Breathe in the fresh, breathe out the foul. Divest yourself of the things that gnaw at you, that bring you down, if just for a moment.

Then, as Mark Twain puts it, in no time at all you’ll be “happy as a dog with two tails.” OH

Brian Faulkner says he’s happiest when writing, which he’s done more or less successfully all his life, including a series of Emmy award–winning public television programs, the occasional essay and a children’s story now and then. He lives in Lewisville, which he claims is close enough for Greensboro to claim as kin. 


Phone Home

Downtown Greensboro’s Passport to Summer goes digital

If your summer dreams include sampling Laotian food, tasting fine Italian wines or touring airy museums, maybe you want to skip the airline reservations and TSA lines for a change of pace. Just grab your “Passport” and head to Greensboro. For the third year, Downtown Greensboro (DGSO) is hosting its Passport program, encouraging locals and visitors to explore the heart of the city. Through August 31, participants can earn prizes by visiting local “ports of call” — restaurants, bars, and shops any number of other attractions about town.

This year, DGSO has gone digital, eschewing the printed passport and physical stamps for an app that gets local adventurers in the game within minutes. “We received feedback from participants over the past two years. People would often say ‘I wish this were on my phone. I forget my Passport, but I always have my phone with me,’ so we took that to heart,” says Director of Operations Julia Roach.

To get started, download the DGSO app from the App Store or Google Play and choose from three passports: Food + Drink, Shops, and Things To Do. Visit one of the participating businesses, and complete the required task to check in and receive a stamp. Six stamps in one of the passports earns you Tourist status with a prize of two Downtown Greensboro koozies. Backpackers (12 stamps) will receive a DGSO T-shirt, while Globetrotters with 20 stamps will get a water bottle and be entered for a chance to win a night out in downtown Greensboro including a stay at the new Hyatt Place hotel.

Alexa Wilde, owner of Antlers and Astronauts on South Elm Street gives her, well, stamp of approval for the program. “It’s not just for people who live in Greensboro. It’s a great resource for anyone in surrounding areas, too. The Passport is like a guidebook to summer.” The program is, of course, designed to boost sales for downtown businesses. And it seems to be working. “All of the people that have checked in so far this year have made a purchase,” says Wilde.

Roach is following the initiative with anticipation. “I’m just really excited to see how people react to the change to digital. It’s given new energy to the project, so we’re really excited to see where it goes from here.” The prizes aren’t the only reason to get involved. On August 2, O.Henry’s own O.Hey is hosting a Passport Party at Preyer Brewing Co., a fitting way to top off the program . . . and snag another Passport stamp. — Annie Vorys  OH

Simple Life

The Road to Happiness

It’s an upward climb filled with twists and turns, but joy is in the journey

By Jim Dodson

A dear friend phoned the other day just to say hello, a gifted young poet I hired many years ago as our organization’s first staff writer, who went on to become the senior editor of this magazine. I always knew the time would come when Ashley would fly away to new horizons, which she did after many years of our working together, moving to the mountains where she became a teacher, artist and musician. Lucky for us, her soulful perspective continues to grace the magazine’s pages.

As old friends do, we spent a full half hour catching up on each other’s lives.

I was pleased to learn about her current boyfriend and their travels to art festivals across the Southeast, where they sell handmade crafts created from sea glass, answering the muse and enjoying life on the road.

“You sound pretty happy,” I ventured at one point.

“I am. Maybe never happier. How about you?”

I replied that I was happy at that moment because I was talking to her while sitting in a well-worn Adirondack chair on the lawn where I begin and end most of my day in quiet reflection, watching the dawn arrive and the day depart, usually with Mulligan the dog and Boo the cat by my side. When she called, my companions and I happened to be watching the first fireflies of the season dance in the dusk.

During our years working together, Ashley and I often fell into lengthy conversations about life, love, matters of faith and favorite poets. Among other things, we share an Aquarian sensibility about the future and how we must spiritually evolve in order to get there in one piece as a race of scattered and fractured human beings.

I wasn’t surprised when she asked what things make me happy these days.

I gave her my short and simple list: rainy Sundays, walks with my wife and our dogs, working in my garden, driving back roads, early church, books and movies that stir the heart, phone calls from my grown children and suppers on the porch with friends.

“What about writing?” she asked.

“Cheap therapy.”

She laughed.

“Maybe you should write a book about happiness.”

This notion made me laugh.

Somewhere I’d read that there are more than 500 books on the subject of happiness in print, proving happiness is purely in the eye — or soul — of the beholder.

Besides, I confessed, my kind of happiness was increasingly fueled by things I’d given up or simply no longer needed for the journey, a list that included, but was not limited to, late-night fears of failure, desires for wealth or fame, judging other flawed human beings, even my once all-consuming love of sports was practically gone.

True to the spirit of our talks, I turned the question around on her. Ashley didn’t hesitate.

“I think happiness comes when you are following your heart and doing good things for others.”

Her prescription reminded me of something I’d just read in commentator David Brooks’ outstanding new book The Second Mountain — The Quest for a Moral Life.

“Often,” Brooks writes, “we say a good life is a happy life. We live, as it says in our founding document, in pursuit of happiness. In all forms of happiness we feel good, elated, uplifted. But the word ‘happiness’ can mean a lot of different things.”

Brooks makes an important distinction, for instance, between things that make us happy — a good marriage, a successful career, a sense of material achievement — and the rarer experience of joy.

“Happiness involves a victory for the self, an expansion of self. Happiness comes when we move toward our goals, when things go our way. You get a big promotion. You graduate from college. Your team wins the Super Bowl. You have a delicious meal. Happiness often has to do with some success, some new ability, or some heightened sensual pleasure.”

Joy, on the other hand, he posits, has to do with some transcendence of self, comes almost unbidden when “the skin barrier between you and some other person or entity fades away and you feel fused together. Joy is present when mother and baby are gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes, when a hiker is overwhelmed by the beauty in the woods and feels at one with nature, when a gaggle of friends are dancing deliriously in union. Joy often involves self-forgetting.

”We can help create happiness,” Brooks concludes, “but we are seized by joy. We are pleased by happiness, but we are transformed by joy.”

The day after catching up with Ashley, I was on a winding road deep in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, chasing pieces of Wagon Road history and human stories for my next book — something that always makes me happy — unable to get our conversation about happiness out of my head.

The art of happiness, my version of it anyway, seems to be about an inward journey cultivated by intentionally making room in life for small restorative acts and daily rituals that invite you to step out of your hectic, overscheduled life into what Irish mystics called a thin space, a place where duty and obligation are put on hold and deeper mindfulness is possible. Without my early morning communion with the stars and the grateful prayers I send up like sparks from a signal fire to the gods, my day is curiously never fully complete.

For what it’s worth, I also agree with Ashley the poet and Brooks the wise counselor that service of the smallest order to others in a world where there is so much isolation, loneliness and suffering may be the truest pathway to a happier, more meaningful life, a true “Second Mountain” existence.

Since most of my days are spent in quiet working isolation — Hemingway, not a happy camper, called writing the “loneliest art” — I find myself these days almost unconsciously seeking out opportunities to commit some kind of tiny random act of kindness to a fellow stranger in need. The other day, I chased down a harried mother’s runaway grocery cart in the parking lot of Harris-Teeter. She had an infant on her hip and was struggling to unlock her SUV. Her grateful smile and warm thanks were like a liberating breeze to a weary brain that had been arm-wrestling words and sentences onto the page most of that day.

During our pre-dawn walks around the neighborhood each day, my wife began stopping by the house of an elderly shut-in lady to walk her newspaper from the curb to a chair by her front door. We’ve never seen our neighbor’s face. But the dogs insist on stopping to deliver her paper the final 50 feet. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis on prayer, this minuscule act of neighborliness may do nothing whatsoever for God, but it sure makes us all feel a tiny bit happier.

The 17th-century Buddhist monk Gensei wrote, “With the happiness held in one inch-square heart, you can fill the whole space between heaven and Earth.”

Sometimes, we need to be reminded of this fact. A friend who works with the homeless explained to me that perhaps the hardest things homeless people deal with on a daily basis is a feeling that they are not worthy of noticing or speaking to — are, in effect, invisible travelers in our midst.

This prompted a change a shift in my awareness and behavior, from that of feeling uneasy and even slightly resentful whenever I reach into my pocket to offer whatever modest sum may be there, to making a point of looking in the eyes and sharing a few words of ordinary greeting or simple recognition, maybe even learning a name and sharing mine. We are, after all, all traveling the same road between Earth and heaven.

It’s a lesson I seem destined to repeatedly learn. Watching Notre Dame cathedral in Paris burn live on CNN back in the spring, I was suddenly transported to a rainy July day 18 years ago when my son, Jack, then 10, and I were coming out of the famous cathedral in a thunderstorm. Surrounded by a swarm of tourist umbrellas dashing for cover, as we hurried past a lone ragged man with blind eyes standing in the downpour, simply holding out an upturned palm, a character straight from Victor Hugo, a dignified beggar for God.

No one was stopping. But when I saw my son glance back, something stopped me. I gave my son 100 francs and asked him to go and give it to the man. Without hesitation, he threaded back through the on-rushing umbrellas and placed the folded money into the man’s outstretched hand.

What happened next still gives me goose bumps of unexpected joy — the kind of self-forgetting transcendence David Brooks speaks of.

The blind man placed his free hand gently on Jack’s head, as if bestowing a blessing. Watching, my eyes filled with tears, or maybe simply rain. Or both. “What did he say to you?” I asked as we hurried off to find a dry lunch in a cozy Left Bank bistro.

“I don’t know,” he said with a happy smile. “But it was in French and it sounded nice.”

Last summer, at the end of a walking pilgrimage across Tuscany with my wife and 30 other pilgrims, I skipped the private tour of the Vatican’s famous Sistine Chapel in favor of climbing a leafy Roman hill to a small Greek Orthodox Church where I sat on a simple wooden pew for God knows how long listening to morning prayers being sung in Greek by three exquisite voices.

Save for an elderly woman manning a small stand at the rear entrance of the church, I was the only worshipper in the building, sitting beneath the tiny dome of a stunning blue ceiling painted with stars, angels and saints.

Time completely vanished, taking my weary feet with it.

Unexpectedly, it was the happiest moment of my long journey that week.

On the way out, the old woman smiled and waved me over to her stand, handing me a small gilt-framed portrait of an Eastern Saint. I’m still not sure which one.

When I reached into my pocket to pay, she gave me a gentle smile and nod, waving me on with gentle words.

I have no idea what she said to me. I believe it was in Greek and it sounded nice.  OH

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at jim@thepilot.com.

(Wo)man’s Search for Happiness

Oh, the lengths we’ll go to find — and keep it — for a little while

By Cynthia Adams

I’ve been on a quest about happiness for a long time. Not a project, not a preamble, just a working definition that would illuminate the good life. When it comes to capturing what Psychology Today deemed “that elusive state,” and Thomas Jefferson declared the inalienable right (!) I’ve discovered some detours on the road to happiness.

I even met a guru named Gaura.

Thank Jefferson for my obsession. And ad man Charles Saatchi for declaring he was more interested in the happiness of pursuit.

Here’s a roadmap.

1. Avoid the Unpleasant

Live long enough, and you’ll learn a few things. Here is what I am certain does not make you happy:

• Drinking pickle juice. (I did this to promote my gut biome.)

• Investing in a new nose unless it is a red clown nose. (Surgery for a deviated septum left me admittedly improved, but the Bob Hope-like ski slope nose did not leave me sniffing the sweet smell of success like Hope.)

• Impulsive experimentation with hair styles and color. (I did this during a winter funk. It deepened my funk.)

• Shopping sprees — unless it is to buy various brands of ice cream. (More on that later.)

• Mediums in the road. A Montgomery County farmer gave me directions admonishing me to strictly avoid “that thar medium in the road.” He probably meant median, but I skirt them thereafter nonetheless.

2. Party in an Envelope

Happiness comes in tiny pieces. I had only to stroll through my neighborhood of Latham Park (chalking up two scientifically proven methods toward claiming happiness — walks in the park and sunshine) that led me to a eureka moment, inspired by a neighbor, Kimberly Lewis and her birthday cards.

A candy-making, dog-loving, genuinely happy person, Lewis makes a signature candy and leaves it at the doorstep during the holidays, works with animal rescue and is always the first onto a dance floor. When her friends’ birthdays roll around, she sends them cards stuffed with sparkling confetti.

I think of the confetti as a ‘party in an envelope!’” says Lewis. Think of the bright bits of colored paper, the exuberant stuff of New Year’s Eve and the very hallmark of celebrations, as the B-12 of happiness. (The English word “confetti” — borrowed, by the way, from Italian — is the plural of “confetto.” It is derived from the Latin confectum and was a sweet confection thrown out to crowds during carnival. That’s a tiny shot of happiness expressly for wordsmiths.)

According to a designer named Ingrid Fetell Lee, Lewis is onto something. In a recent Ted Talk, Lee explains that confetti makes us happy. Incorporating its bright primary colors and shapes into institutional places — hospitals and schools, for example — jollies things up. No more gunmetal gray or sickly sea green.

3. Embracing a Medium in the Road

On another saunter in Latham Park, I encountered Gaura, a Hare Krishna devotee, as he was seeking a mulberry tree. Gaura had been feasting on mulberries along the park path. “A superfood,” he declared. As we directed him to Smith Street and cracked jokes, he grew serious. “You must be wise to be witty,” he said, and thanked us profusely for being “gurus on my path.”

4. Ben Franklin

The self-help section of any bookstore reveals to see how obsessed — and conflicted — we are with happiness.

When my sister’s house was being cleared following her sudden death last winter, I was surprised to discover one of the books on her bedside table was Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Opening it, I found my sister’s favorite pewter Celtic bookmark inside along with some scribbled notes.

The find puzzled me. We both enjoyed humorists like Rick Bragg — and I also found some of his works she’d recently read. But the mystery was, what to make of my sister’s seeming happiness? She had the kind of robust laugh that fills a room. I was eager to know what the book contained.

It was a dreary read. Rubin road-mapped a self-flagellating flog to become happier. Among Rubin’s recommendations were to nag less, which her husband acknowledged helped his own happiness, work out more and keep the house shipshape and organized. It was obvious she had a number of compulsions to be perfect. By the end of the book, I wanted to send Rubin’s much-nagged husband a sympathy card.

If self-improvement is, in fact, the road to happiness, then I’ll put my money on Ben Franklin’s 13 virtues. To recap, they were: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity and humility. In a dogged pursuit, Franklin charted and recorded his efforts to happiness. (An editor comments “Knowing Poor Richard, no doubt temperance and chastity had their share of marks.”) But the view was worth the climb. In later years, Franklin admitted he’d fallen short of his ambition “yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”

5. Warts and All

In a recent editorial meeting, O.Henry editor Jim Dodson mentioned a title on his reading list, The Second Mountain by David Brooks. “He explains the difference between joy and happiness,” says Dodson. “Joy is better.” He advises not to confuse the two.

If the consensus is that joy is longer lasting, perhaps Franklin was onto something, reconciling the good and bad, the inevitable failing in the attempt to be perfect. He had out-Rubined dour Rubin, charting his successes and failures on the way to finding virtue. And he found time for nude “air baths!”

6. Happy Hour

Most days, I’m happy. Admittedly, I’m not a zippity-do-dah morning person, but a let’s-talk-after coffee sort. If my happiness was a car, it would be a trusty diesel — once jollied up, fully fueled and caffeinated, I’m pretty damn happy till Happy Hour.

Oh, Happy Hour! It’s wrapped in the clichés of blinking neon martini glasses, bottomless pitchers and mounds of tortilla chips.

But literary types know it is as old as writing itself. It seems that the idea of a happy hour is Shakespearean — straight out of Henry V! “Therefore, my lords, omit no happy hour . . .”

Here again are two more scientifically proven methods to happiness: a glass of wine, or better yet, sharing a glass of wine and enjoying pals. Ben Franklin offered that wine is a “constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.” Tippling a little among those whose company you enjoy can lead to a few laughs. Which brings me to. . .

7. Laughter

I became a Certified Laughter Leader after a chance airport encounter with Dr. Patch Adams. (Remember the 1998 biopic starring Robin Williams as Dr. Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams?) Though he was on his way to minister to the sick in some of the world’s most cheerless, impoverished hospitals, the good doctor truly believed that laughter was the best medicine and invited me to take his laughter training course.

He and fellow volunteers (and you can add volunteering to yet another scientifically proven step to happiness) dress as clowns “to bring humor to orphans, patients and other people.” He calls his program, “clown care.”

Dr. Adams is also the inspiration for our dog’s name, Patch Adams, a pup who is eternally happy, my husband says.

I took the laughter training. The thing is, deep laughter promotes deep breathing, which may not transport you to happiness but it does promote less . . . unhappiness.

8. A Warm Puppy

And though it was Peanuts gang creator Charles Schulz who coined this one, I had only to look to Jane Gibson, a much-loved Hospice and Palliative Care Center staffer, to put it in context. She copes with seriously sad issues on a relentless basis. But she is invariably able to find a silver lining in the darkest cloud. For Gibson, the key to her happiness is humor.

“I always find talking to someone with a good sense of humor gets me back up,” she offers. Her husband, Paul Gibson, is known as a master of the witty comeback and wry observation. Just ask Jane: He suggested naming their new puppy Kayak upon registering Jane’s shock one Christmas morning. “It was the same bewildered look I gave him when he gave me a kayak another Christmas,” she laughs.

9. Catch a Sense of Humor

This goes beyond Paul Gibson’s quip or Patch Adams’ panacea, laughter, but the spark that engenders both.

This is what Gaura was talking about.

But where does it come from?

Get your catcher’s mitt out and be ready. For it is “caught, not taught,” I learned from found Helen Canaday, a beloved UNCG professor who directed the successful on-campus Nursery Program while teaching about child development. Psychologists would often observe the toddlers in her charge, determining and analyzing aspects of personality. Canaday believed humor was vital to a healthy adulthood and meaningful life. One needed to be in possession of one’s wits, she reminded me. She was of a generation who still described someone dull as a “half-wit.”

She personally was a full wit, possessed of a wonderful, ready laugh. If anyone would know what was funny, Canaday would, having made a lifelong study of children. 

And she always made me laugh with her observations about the foibles of adults.

Then she commenced to answer my question, but with difficulty, which was unusual. She started with the dictionary.

“I do have what Mr. Webster has,” she said finally, “which is, ‘the mental quality or faculty of experiencing or appreciating the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous;’ something designed to be comical, amusing or witty.”

I pressed that I wanted to know what she — not Webster — thought.

“Well, I was trying to, and I haven’t finished working up a definition,” she faltered. “I do think that humor is caught not taught . . I think it is learned vicariously.”

She offered something fascinating. “You can teach children to be respectful, to be friendly, to love. You can teach children all the other aspects of the personality, but I don’t think you can teach them humor.”

Then, the good professor observed that certain humor is innate, saying “even babies will laugh.”

Canaday added something I underscored in my notes. “I know people who never, ever enjoy humor,” she said ruefully. “I think they participate, but they don’t have a feel for it.”

A feel for it.

Having a feel for humor — is that it? Do we feel our way towards happiness? Uh oh. Scratch that. It sounds lascivious, just writing it, but you know what I mean, and (bonus!) it did make me giggle.

10. If All Else Fails — Ice Cream

If you do a Google-search of good humor, the first 10 entries all concern ice cream brands. (Remember Good Humor?) I once attempted to eat my way to good humor-fueled happiness in the third grade by saving all my lunch money up for ice cream. And my husband took the factory tour of T. Wall and Sons Ice Cream (once the largest manufacturer of ice cream in the world) so many times when he was a boy (probably eight times) that they finally waved him through for the complimentary ice cream at the end. Day after day.

A child of any age can be forgiven for believing ice cream is a path to happiness. Whether your choice is chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, Rocky Road or Cherry Garcia, it sort of is. Even the writers at Psychology Today concede this much: “small indulgences” are potential happiness boosters. Not to mention the sugar high.

11. Natural Highs — and Lows

All those scientific researchers must be pretty damn happy with their lists of other proven recipes for happiness that include making your bed, rumpuses (think: fun) and travel — unless you’re waylaid by TSA agents or your flight is cancelled. And for millennia, circles. (It’s a 40,000-year fixation; Manuel Lima explains the reasons we are attracted “to curvilinear shapes” over angular ones. Which brings me full circle to Psychology Today that beat Second Mountain-eer Brooks to the punch. They had already summited. Happiness “is not the result of bouncing from one joy to the next; researchers find that achieving happiness typically involves times of considerable discomfort.”

Was I just one pickle juice swig away from a good gut and all-encompassing happiness? Did I, as Canaday said, have a feel for it?

I felt something, I truly did! A smile tickled up from the corners of my mouth as pickle juice trickled out and I contemplated me, white water and a new kayak.  OH

Cynthia Adams is fascinated that Happy Hour is illegal in Kansas. It is also illegal for Kansans to serve wine in teacups, which automatically makes her happier.

True South


A kind of grief

By Susan S. Kelly

This is the month that I turn 65. I suspect I’ll have a breakdown.

I don’t put much store by birthdays typically. As a child, a July birthday meant that my friends were away on family vacations, so no one was around for a party. A summer birthday meant no cupcakes in elementary school, or care packages from Hickory Farms — the standard-but-thrilling gift — at boarding school. As an adult, I seem often to be at the beach, where my mother annually suggests that we have a “nice piece of fish” to celebrate my birthday — a roll-eye refrain the entire family now uses whenever we’re referring to celebrations of any kind.

My sister has a breakdown every time we leave the beach, crying and honking the car horn until she’s out of sight. She’s worried that by the next time we’re all together again, someone will have died, divorced or been irreparably altered in some way.  Cheerful, no? I made her a Breakdown CD full of mournful songs from James Taylor, Pachelbel’s Canon, the themes from To Kill A Mockingbird and The Thorn Birds, so she’ll have background music to wail with during the four-hour drive home.

The last time I had a breakdown birthday was 3 1/2 decades ago, when I turned 30. I was waiting at a stoplight and was suddenly just  . . .  overcome. I bowed my heard and laid my forehead against the hard, ridged, steering wheel and wept. I did not want to be 30 with children and a mortgage and a yard. I wanted to be a sorority girl wearing Topsiders and drinking beer at The Shack with my hair pulled back in a grosgrain ribbon on a Thursday afternoon. There was nothing for my despair but for my husband to take me to Chapel Hill for the weekend. But The Shack was a parking lot. Beers at the gleaming wood bar in Spanky’s didn’t cut it.

The good part about A Big Birthday year means that my friends are turning 65 too.  Bridge buddies, hiking homies, college pals, boarding school classmates — all of us. Meaning that every day brings a veritable blizzard of emails filled with dates, pleas, opinions, rebuttals, suggestions, complaints, reminders, asides, and the occasional joke, all in the service of organizing what I term Girl Gigs. Girl Gigs deserve a column of their own, but I’ll give you a teaser: One friend, for a Girl Gig in the mountains every January, flies in from Greenwich, Connecticut, and brings nothing but a mink coat and 3 pairs of pajamas. Stay tuned.

I don’t care a whit about getting old, or dying (proved by my Funeral File, a topic addressed earlier in these pages). I’ll admit to a fear of my house smelling like old people, and wondering whether it’s time to go ahead and lock into what one friend calls a “terminal hairdo,” the one you wear to the grave. And I drive a Mini Cooper, which seems to be the universally acknowledged car for females of a certain age. But otherwise, nope. No fear, no dread, no anxiety.

I also have zero regrets about those things in the past that I’ve done or left undone, or shoulda, woulda, coulda. Furthering my career? More me time? Taken that trip, accepted that offer? No, no, and no. Do-overs don’t interest me.

Wherefore the melancholy, then?  Just this: 1,277 photographs — give or take a couple dozen travel pictures — on a digital frame. A New Year’s resolution labor of love with a scanner that rotates continuously all day, every day, showing me 1,277 times what I cannot have back. That summer twilight evening of my oldest in his tacky polyester pajamas blowing dime-store bubbles in the driveway before bedtime. That child wearing a mask while he watches television, oblivious that he’s even wearing a mask. That child blowing out candles on what is surely the most hideous homemade birthday cake ever, shaped and iced like a sharpened pencil. The grin the day the braces came off. A husband mowing the lawn with a toddler draped around his neck like a pashmina.

What was I doing during these ordinary, everyday moments?  What was I saying, thinking, hoping, cooking, even?  I don’t want to time travel, to swallow a magic youth pill, to go back and re-live. What stops and saddens me is the simple yet incontrovertible fact that, no matter what, I cannot get that Tuesday morning in that picture, where the child with the trike, or the new backpack for the first day of school, or that Sunday afternoon when a young husband tosses free throws at the driveway basketball goal — long since vanished — back. Not a single, commonplace, inconsequential second of them. Nothing I can do will return them to me. No begging. No money. No who-you-know. No good deeds. No nothing.

Thornton Wilder knew the kind of grief I’m talking about, and in his play, Our Town, has Emily Webb, who’s dead, ask the Stage Manager, “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it . . . every, every minute?”

“No,” the Stage Manager replies. “Saints and poets maybe . . . they do some.”

And I’m neither.

So, this July, if you see someone pulled over with her head against the steering wheel, it’s just me, in my Mini, in the breakdown lane.  OH

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

Wandering Billy

The Boys Of Summer

Meet the chairmen of the boards of Greensboro’s skate parks and beyond

By Billy Eye

Photograph by Bry Seyez

“A smile is the shortest distance between people.”
— Victor Borge

Every time I run into Chris Roberts — and it’s quite frequently — besides an engaging grin, he almost always sports a different hairstyle. Not too long ago, his head was shaved. Today he’s coiffed in a green bowl cut pointing skyward. That’s not all that unusual when you consider he’s studying to be a barber.

Chris is a 25-year old Greensboro native, working full-time while attending school in Winston-Salem. He’s an impressive young man possessing unmistakable leadership skills with a passion for sidewalk surfing. Good thing, a skateboard is his main means of conveyance. Many times I’ve witnessed him whizzing by, neatly dressed, passing cars while perched on his board, left foot forward, riding to work. He’s one of perhaps hundreds of similarly inclined city dwellers gravitating from place to place primarily via wheels of urethane.

I wondered when Chris received his first skateboard. “It was a hand-me-down from my dad,” he replies. “I was probably about 3 or 4. At that point I would just scoot around on it on my knee. I couldn’t really stand up on it.”

He received his first “sick board” at 10 or 11. (The slang word “sick,” in the same way that “bad” really means “good,” indicates the board is anything but feeble.) “A World Industries [model], I got it at Board Paradise,” he recalls. “My dad took me there, it was one of the only times I’d ever been to a skate shop.” What impressed him was the art on the World Industries’ boards: “As I’m older, I realize that there are different shapes and sizes and different reasons for riding different boards. But for me, World Industries had the coolest art on the bottom, with this cartoon-style water droplet and fire droplet battling each other.”

Chris felt an affinity for the lifestyle right away. “About that same time I went to my first skatepark, 915. It was run by Cricket Hooks at the time. I met life-long friends there.” Established in 1999 on West Lee Street, 915 Skate Park and Skate Shop’s retail store were located in a former Guilford Dairy Bar. (They even preserved Guilford Dairy’s signage along the top of the building.)

“It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, where you come from,” Chris says. “If you see someone with a skateboard, you just automatically have this connection.” For the longest time, he says, skateboarding was looked on as something juvenile or criminal even. Not at 915. “So kids have a sense of community because we know we have each other to look out for. A lot of people walking down the street, they don’t see it, it’s kind of secret and kind of cool.”

Skateboard culture has evolved dramatically since the board’s invention in the late 1940s, originally marketed to bored California surfers when flat conditions forced them to seek thrills elsewhere, onto sidewalks lining the beaches, even if it meant wiping out on considerably harder surfaces.   

Eye received a primitive skateboard as a youngster in the 1960s, a lacquered wood plank on clay wheels that would catch in a crack in the sidewalk, lock up, then send the rider flying. It served the neighborhood well; however, getting nailed to the bottom of orange crates and refrigerator boxes, or whatever we wanted to transform into some makeshift, Little Rascals–type vehicle. That was when we were living two blocks north of what would become Greensboro’s new skate park on Hill Street.

“That skate park has brought a lot of outside revenue to Greensboro,” Chris says. “So many people are traveling here because it’s such a great layout.” Centrally located, “That gives an opportunity for young kids who only have a skateboard, not even a nice one necessarily, they can come to this place and focus on something that’s positive with positive people around them.”

Chris’ thoughts are echoed by his friend John Pearce. Originally from Fuquay-Varina, John is a 21-year-old vocal performance major at UNCG who grew up skating around downtown Raleigh and the skate park in Apex.

“I was about 8 years old,” John tells me about his first rig. “It was brand-new, my dad got it for me for Christmas. He was big into skating when he was younger. He got me a whole complete deck, it was awesome. Spitfire [wheels] with Royal [trucks] and a Birdhouse board.” John turns his board around to show us the underside. “It’s kinda funny, I still have the same trucks from when I was 8 years old.” (Trucks are the front and rear axle assemblies.)

With the rigors of full-time studies and part-time employment, skating is more than mere recreation. “Music used to be my outlet in high school,” John says. “Music and skating. Now that I’m in school, music kinda stresses me out so I skate to get rid of the stress. I never get sick of skating, you can always go to the skate park and learn new stuff.”

For 21-year-old Josh Acosta, who hails from Palm Springs, California, but relocated five years ago to Greensboro after his parents retired here, “Skateboarding is so much bigger in Southern California so I’ve been skating since I don’t even remember, on one of my older brothers’ boards probably.”

Skaters often talk about entering a state of bliss, not unlike an actor immersing himself in a role. That’s true for Josh, “It’s the sense of freedom of being on your board,” he explains. “It’s such an overwhelmingly calming thing. It’s weird to say ‘overwhelmingly calm,’ being overwhelmed is one thing but being overwhelmed by calmness is bliss, very relaxing.”

Not that this sport is without hazards, automotive collisions for one are being somewhat inevitable. “It hurts,” Josh replies nonchalantly. “You just get up and walk away, not much you can do.”

Chris Roberts has experienced more than a few scrapes and bruises over the years. “From top to bottom,” is how he characterizes his past injuries. “Both collar bones, both wrists, my left elbow four or five times, my right patella, my right ankle, and few toes here and there. I think that’s it.”

Regardless, or perhaps due to those occasional mishaps, skateboarding provides an excellent vehicle for teaching youngsters critical life skills. “It’s hard,” Chris notes. “You keep trying over and over again. It teaches you perseverance and also courage because it’s scary. It’s healthy, you’re outside, you’re not staring at a screen.” That’s why he’ll continue skating: “Until I can’t stand up on it anymore.”


As I was preparing to submit this article, I received devastating news that Taylor Bays had passed away. He was 34. Taylor was a towering presence in our underground music scene, a gifted collaborator, solo performer and lead singer for a number of bands including his own, Taylor Bays and The Laser Rays. He was consistently present in the audience whenever and wherever other local bands were gigging or when cult faves like Green Jellÿ came to town.

Could anyone ever get over losing a friend like Taylor Bays? Not grief whoring, just a simple statement of fact. One of the smartest, wittiest, most talented individuals I’ve ever met, whose death blows a gaping hole in our arts community and in our hearts; a mercurial singer/songwriter whose coat of many colors was woven from the thousands of people he inspired, supported, influenced, and loved. Whenever I spent time with Taylor, we were like kids catching minnows in a creek. Now I’m gasping for air. OH

Billy Eye will be summering this year in a large icebox.

The Omnivorous Reader

Ferlinghetti’s Torrent of Words

Little Boy  offers little wisdom

By Stephen E. Smith

Here’s the theory: If a writer drags his audience into unknown intellectual territory — even if the journey’s destination is an unpleasant one — he’s lifted his readers out of the familiar and allowed them to perceive the world from a new and revelatory perspective. Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind did that for a generation of poets, and the book remains one of the best-selling collections with over a million copies in print.

Ferlinghetti also achieved literary fame by publishing and defending in federal court Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. The lengthy First Amendment trial became a literary cause célèbre, and in the years since the Howl controversy, Ferlinghetti has continued to support leftist social and political causes while producing his own volumes of poetry and prose.

His latest book, Little Boy, was published on the author’s 100th birthday and immediately climbed the best-sellers list. Billed by its publisher as “a novel” and “last will and testament,” the book isn’t a novel, not in the traditional sense, and it isn’t the last word on anything. Call it bait and switch or simple misrepresentation, but Little Boy is, for better or worse, an adventurous, effusive, stream-of-consciousness rant that begins promisingly as a memoir complete with punctuation, plot and character development, and lapses almost immediately into an unpunctuated acerbic toxic word dump that occasionally sweeps up the reader in its rebellious energy.

If the designation “novel” is misleading, Ferlinghetti manages to hide a cursory explanation deep in his tangled text: “Ah yes indeed I must revert instead to the recounting and accounting of my own fantasies my ideas and agitations and dumb contemplations of the workings of the mind and heart  . . .  And so do I return to the monologue of my life seen as an endless novel simply because I don’t know how to end any life.”

The opening 15 pages of Little Boy recount how Ferlinghetti was separated from his mother shortly after birth, grew up in both privilege and poverty, and eventually graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, completing his doctoral study in comparative literature in France — all of which is conveyed in straightforward third-person prose.  Then the structure of the narrative abruptly transforms, launching into a torrent of words sans grammatical niceties, e.g.: “ . . . the Greeks really all gone now down the drain And shall we tally it up now and see what’s left after capitalism hits the fan But in any case now it’s time it’s high tide time to try to make some sense or cents of our little life on earth and is it not all a dumb show of mummery a blindman’s bluff a buffoon’s antic asininities with clowns in masks jumping over the moon as in a Chagall painting or as if we each were dropped out of a womb into this earth so naked and alone we come to this world and blind in our courses, where do we wander and know not where we go nor what we do, with no assigned destinies . . . .”

There’s nothing new about this narrative technique (Joyce gave us Molly Bloom’s monologue more than a century ago), and Ferlinghetti’s deluge of words wears thin with surprising alacrity.

With the exception of an occasional brief interlude of traditional storytelling, he continues in this vein for the remainder of the novel. Since the monologue is essentially plotless, he rails again about global warming, capitalism, fascism, socialism, people with cellphones — “can you imagine millions of them a whole new generation on earth computing their lives in pixels” —  and the world in general: “. . . it’s all like the old film The King of Hearts in which the inmates of an asylum consider themselves the only sane people in the world, while the people outside go forth every day to murder their dreams and ecstasies in the general conflagration of everyday life in the twenty-first century . . . .” 

Allusions abound, most of them employed as similes or used as foils or objects of derision as in “‘Tea Ass’ Elliot” or twisted into puns as in “Let’s not fall deep into romanticism again for the warming world is too much with us late and soon . . . .” And there are literary references galore, if you can identify them: “Let us go then you and me-me-me . . .” “Drive she said,” or “a tale of sound and furry animals.”

And the name-dropping goes on ad nauseam: Thorstein Veblen, Nelson Algren, Louise Brooks, Mikhail Lermontov, J. M.W. Turner, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Sri Aurobindo, Giacometti, Edward Bellcamp, etc., personages with whom most readers are probably unfamiliar. Unfortunately, Ferlinghetti makes no use of these allusions. He’s in a position to supply important scholarly insights into Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso, Beckett, Kerouac, Sartre, etc., but the mention of literary celebrities has all the intellectual import of the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s or an academic adaptation of Where’s Waldo? Readers can research the luminaries Ferlinghetti mentions — how likely is that? — or they can let the allusions ride and go plunging through the text, which is, of course, the more likely scenario.

Readers might presume, given Ferlinghetti’s appetite for social and political causes, that he’d have something to say about the political state of the country in which he’s lived for a century. It’s not unreasonable, after all, to expect a little wisdom from our elders, but Ferlinghetti disappoints on this count. Perhaps he’s correct when he writes: “. . . so I am just an onion peeling myself down to the core to find there is nothing there at all. . . .” The opening lines of his Coney Island poem “I Am Waiting”— “. . . and I am waiting/for the American Eagle/to really spread its wings/and straighten up and fly right . . .” — has more political oomph than all the words in Little Boy, and the sum of all the complaints and observations spewed forth in the novel tell us little more than we learned in A Coney Island of the Mind

Ferlinghetti’s longevity and literary reputation have earned him the right to offer a parting public thought. For better or worse, this might be it: “. . . so bye-bye civilization as we know it and should I just let everybody else die as long as I got my piece of prime cheese oh man it’s all beyond me-me-me . . . .”    OH

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch Sunday at 11 a.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesday at 8 p.m. To view prior programs go to: http://video.unctv.org/show/nc-bookwatch/episodes/.

For Love of Past Lives

For Steve Lynch, history is an everyday pleasure and privilege

By Jim Dodson     Photographs by John Koob Gessner

Not long ago, on a tip from a local historian, I called on a man named Steve Lynch who lives in a pretty, middle-class neighborhood off Alamance Road, a few miles north of the pre-Revolutionary-era (1771) battlefield of the same name.

I’d been led to believe that Lynch might be able to tell me something about a celebrated relative of mine named George Washington Tate, a surveyor, grist mill owner, furniture maker and prominent citizen of the county in the 19th century.

My great grandmother, Emma Tate Dodson, had been his daughter, and according to family lore, she was supposedly a Native American, an infant when Tate brought her home from one of his “gospel rides” out west to help establish Methodist churches in the wilderness of the Blue Ridge hill country.

All I really knew about her papa, old George Tate, was that he was famous for his furniture-making and owned one of the most important grist mills on the historic Haw River. It was a fording spot of the ancient east-west Trading Path used by Indian tribes and settlers in the 18th century — including my own immigrant Scottish and English forebears who came down the Great Wagon Road to the region in the 1750s. Greensboro’s Tate Street is reportedly named for this rural Carolina polymath.

My hope was that Steve Lynch could fill in a few blanks and maybe answer a question or two about my respected ancestor.

What I found instead was another polymath in the tradition of Tate himself, a patriotic native son of Mebane, a Vietnam combat vet, 33rd degree Mason, former police detective and history nut extraordinaire for whom the past is not only alive and kicking, but also a source of daily happiness. He enthusiastically shares it with visiting groups and individuals who find their way to perhaps the most charming personal museum in the state.

It’s housed inside “Lynch Lodge,” a pair of Amish-built sheds their owner artfully fused together in his backyard some years back. He added a pretty front porch where Lynch and bride, Betsy, can sit and admire the handsomely landscaped approach through a leafy garden that features a full-scale flag pole and live boxwood shrubs rooted from Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the governor’s palace at Williamsburg.

That was the first of many of nice surprises, each one more interesting than the last, when I called on him on a quiet summer afternoon.

Stepping into the Lodge, my eye went straight to an opposing wall where there was a beautiful portrait of George Washington hanging in a large gilt frame.

“Let me show you something,” Lynch said with a chuckle. The framed portrait had a nifty trick. It was set on hinges inside a larger matching frame, rather like a hidden safe.

“Here’s why.”

Attached to a linen binding on the back of the original framed painting, which dated from 1789, was the actual obituary of George Washington from a Philadelphia newspaper.

“I bought it at an auction in Mebane and got tired of having to pick it up off an easel to show people what’s on back,” he genially explained. “So I took it to a cabinet maker who came up with a clever solution.”

“You seem to have a thing for the name George Washington,” I commented, noting that the entire wall surrounding the portrait was covered with various paintings and antique pen and ink sketches of the nation’s first president. Lots of other Washington memorabilia was on displayed, too — antique tins of George Washington pipe tobacco, whiskey bottles and liquor decanters bearing the great man’s likeness, china plates with portraits of Mount Vernon and Martha Washington, an 1819 twin-volume History of the America Revolution featuring the writing of our founding president, at least a dozen statue heads, including a brass bank. Standing on the floor was a copy of Gilbert Stuart’s famous unfinished portrait of Washington.

“A fella I visited who owned a plantation house down in Little Washington gave that to me — just took it off the wall and sent it home with me,” Lynch offered, shaking his silver-topped head wonderingly.

Further along the wall, Lynch showed me an ancient pen-and-ink drawing of General Washington that was given to him by another friend that infected him with the collecting bug, setting him on the road to building his museum to house his growing and expanding collections.

“I do love George Washington,” Lynch said, stating the obvious.” Sure, he as our first president, but he’s also “someone everyone admires and should emulate in the way he lived. It’s also because I’m rather partial to the name,” my host explained.

With that, he showed me the first photograph I’d seen of my illustrious ancestor, G.W. Tate, whom I learned was his great-great-grandfather, as well. “Emma Tate’s sister was my great-grandmother, which makes us cousins,” he announced with a wide country grin.

He showed me two other Tate artifacts that left me momentarily speechless — and answered a lot of questions in an instant. One was a framed U.S. Patent certificate for a grain threshing machine that improved the famous one invented by Cyrus McCormick in the early 1800s.

The other items were Tate’s pocket watch, mess kit and solid brass telescope from his service in the Confederate States Army, given to Lynch by his grandfather. On the spot, I learned that Tate had served as a full colonel in the North Carolina 11th regiment.

Finally, he showed me a 19th-century map of Guilford and Alamance counties that revealed that Tate’s mill wasn’t where I’d always thought it was — and had visited near the I-85/40 bridge over the Haw, first as a boy and more recently, a few years ago when I began research on the Great Wagon Road.

“Tate’s Mill was nearby, though — actually on Haw Creek,” Lynch informed me. “I know a man who can take you to see where it was located.
I believe some parts of it may even be visible.”

The tour continued to the opposite end of the room to the “Franklin Corner” where lots of similar artifacts and memorabilia of Benjamin Franklin were on view.

That area led to a section filled with items gathered from Lynch’s distinguished 40-year career in law enforcement, including his 30 years as a detective for the Burlington Police Department and 11 more working as chief investigator for the Alamance District Attorney’s office. Displayed in this area were handcuffs (“They were on some pretty colorful people”) and a small pistol that a subject fired at Lynch during his first day on the job.

On the opposite side of the far end of the room was his “military corner” that displayed various uniforms, gear and items from the Vietnam era, including his year in combat for the 501 Infantry division of the 101st Airborne in 1969, one of the toughest years of the unpopular war.

“Just had four college boys from N.C. State and a veteran of Special Forces come by the other day to have a look at these things,” Lynch reflects, staring at the wall with visible emotion. “They all thanked me.”

At this point of the museum tour, I asked him to pause and sit for a spell so I could learn more about where his love of country and passion for history came from. This was the day after the Memorial Day weekend. The flag outside Lynch Lodge was still at half-mast.

Steve Lynch, I learned, was born on Clay Street in Mebane in 1949. Upon graduating from Eastern Alamance High School in the spring of 1967, he wrote a letter to J. Edgar Hoover and found a job working for a year in the fingerprint lab at FBI headquarters, before a romance lured him back home to Burlington.

“About that time, I got an official letter from President Johnson and soon found myself on the way to Vietnam. I was happy to serve.”

He was 19 years old. Within days of arrival, he was choppered to a unit fighting along the Ho Chi Minh Trail deep in the jungles of the A Shau Valley, west of the coastal city of Huế near the border with Laos, a key infiltration spot for the Vietcong and scene of some of the war’s fiercest fighting.

That year, American personnel fighting in Vietnam reached its peak of 543,000. Back home in America, antiwar protests also reached an early peak, filling the streets of America.

Steve Lynch grew quiet, speaking solemnly, rapidly blinking his eyes. “The nice guy that flew over there with me in the helicopter died the first day in action. We were new recruits. These were hardened soldiers. It was an unwritten rule among the guys who’d been in combat that nobody spoke to you in case you didn’t survive the next firefight.”

Steve Lynch survived the next firefight and many other major ones, including one in which his unit was overrun by the enemy. When his right hand got a serious infection that came close to becoming gangrene, he was airlifted out and treated before being sent back into the fray.

By that point he was an accepted brother in arms. From his first to last day in country, Lynch carried a small family Bible he kept wrapped in plastic. “Whenever we had a quiet moment, the others would ask me to read from the testament.”

The guys in his unit gave him a nickname. He was called “Preacher.” After serving his year, earning the respected Combat Infantryman Badge, Steve Lynch was sent home, only to be diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. A brigadier general he met at the Pentagon changed his orders to allow him to spend the rest of his military service under his first sergeant from Vietnam, assigned to Fort Stewart in Georgia. “He was one of my best friends. We’d been through a lot together. That meant a great deal to me.”

Lynch blinked for a few more seconds, his mind back somewhere in a war America tried hard to forget but he never has. Then he looked at me and smiled.

“You know, just a few weeks back I flew out to Missouri to see the chaplain I served with over there. He retired as a full bird colonel with a Silver Star. We had a wonderful visit,” he recalled. “As I told him, looking back, serving my country over there was the thing I’m proudest of in my life. You see the same thing in all the fellas and women who were there. It’s a bond, a love for each other that’s unbreakable.”

When his chaplain was driving him back to the airport for his flight home, Lynch added, they stopped by a patch of woods and sat for a while talking and actually holding hands and praying.

“When you see veterans at the wall in Washington,” he explained, “that’s what you’re seeing — real gratitude for loving friendship and memories of those who didn’t make it back.”

He nodded to a pair of well-worn Army boots on the floor beside me. There were dog tags attached to the boots’ laces.

“That was done so the army could identify your body if part of it was blown away,” he explained.

Lynch showed me a photograph of himself taken five years ago when the Pentagon called up out of the blue inviting him to lay a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“I have no idea why they chose me,” he said. “Except for the fact that I was over there and survived. It was a big honor.”

On a happier note, we moved along to a big wooden desk, above which were a series of framed photographs from his years of service in the police. Among his duties, he often was asked to escort dignitaries when they passed through the county. The dignitaries included Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, President George Herbert Walker Bush, President Bill Clinton and local luminaries including former Senator Elizabeth Dole and former North Carolina Congressman Howard Coble.

“I even liked president Clinton,” he allowed wryly. “People back then said we looked like each other. I suppose we did. That always struck me as kind of funny.”

The next section contained some beautiful spiritual artifacts — a framed page from the Isaac Collins Bible of 1791, the first family Bible printed in America, and an original page from the Geneva Bible of 1560.

Lynch made local news some years ago when he gave his family’s O’Kelly Bible to Elon University. James O’Kelly was a fiery preacher and one of America’s earliest proponents of religious liberty — also, I was not surprised to learn, an ancestor of Steve Lynch.

Therefore, I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn, moments later, that he was also a direct descendent of Thomas Lynch Jr., signer of the Declaration of Independence from South Carolina. Lynch and his father, were the only father and son to serve in the Continental Congress.

The tour of Lynch Lodge ended where it began, at a nook by the front door that was designated for great Masons in history — a wall of portraits, artifacts and figurines in the likenesses of Beethoven and Robert Burns; Generals Jimmy Doolittle, Douglas MacArthur and John J. Pershing; Roy Rogers and Mozart and Harry S. Truman.

Just days before I showed up on his porch, Steve Lynch filled the place with dozens of 33rd degree mason and grand masters from all over North Carolina. He even had a special glass engraved to give to each of the participants. Steve Lynch belongs to the same Eagle Lodge in Hillsborough where George Washington Tate — the man where my inquiry began — was initiated in 1857.

As I left, I asked Steve Lynch what is it about showcasing American history that gives him such satisfaction.

“You know,” he replied, “that’s a little hard to explain. History is personal to people. I have groups and people come look at this little museum and always seem to find something that connects them to their history. It’s the story of where we all came from, after all. It makes me very happy to be part of that.”

As we shook hands, he placed something into mine.

It was a well-worn belt buckle from the Confederate Army.

“I thought you might like to have that, considering what you learned about our relative George Washington Tate today.”

He was right about that.  OH

July Almanac 2019

Snapshots from July are salt-laced and dreamy.

Children skipping through sprinklers on the front lawn.

Baskets of ripe peaches, still warm from the sun.

Tree houses and tackle boxes.

Tangles of wild blackberry.

Brown paper bags filled with just-picked sweet corn.

Last summer, gathered in celebration of July 4, we made a game of shucking sweet corn on my grandmother’s front porch. Two points for each clean ear, a bonus per earworm, yet as husks and corn silk began to carpet the ground beneath us, joy and laughter were all that counted.

And now, memories.

Like Papa’s pickles, made with the cukes from his own garden.

Speaking of Papa . . . something tells me he would have loved watching us turn a chore into a simple pleasure, perhaps the secret of any seasoned gardener.

The Art of Shade-Dwelling

In the sticky July heat our state is known for, not just the flowers are wilting.

Advice from a fern: seek shade and thrive.

Yes, you.

Bring a hammock, summer reading, refreshments, pen and journal.

Daydream beneath the lush canopy. Bathe in the filtered light. Indulge in the summery soundscape. Cloud gaze.

And if you’re looking for a spot by the water, follow the spiraling dragonfly. She will always lead you there.

The dandelions and buttercups gild all the lawn: the drowsy bee stumbles among the clover tops, and summer sweetens all to me. — James Russell Lowell

Fresh from the Garden

Eggplant, snap beans, green beans, summer squash. Plump tomatoes are spilling from the vine, but there are two words on my mind: melon season.

In one word: cantaloupe.

And while it’s fresh and abundant, consider some new ways to enjoy it.

Blend it with club soda and honey.

Salt and spice it with crushed peppercorn and sumac.

Toss it with arugula, fennel and oregano.

Make cool melon soup, or sweet-and-salty jam.

Nothing spells refreshing like chilled cubes of it after a hot day in the sun, but if you’re looking for savory, check out the below recipe from Epicurious.

Cantaloupe and Cucumber Salad

(Makes 4 servings)


1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 large cantaloupe, rind and seeds removed, flesh cut into 1-inch pieces

1 large English hothouse cucumber, sliced on a diagonal ½-inch thick

2 Fresno chiles, thinly sliced

1/2 cup unsalted, roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/4 cup chopped mint

Sumac (for serving)

Ingredient Info

Sumac is a tart, citrusy spice generally sold in ground form. It can be found at Middle Eastern markets, specialty foods stores and online.


Whisk oil, vinegar, coriander, salt, pepper and cardamom in a large bowl. Add cantaloupe, cucumber and chiles, and toss to coat in dressing. Let sit, uncovered, 15 minutes.

To serve, add pumpkin seeds, cilantro and mint to salad and toss gently to combine. Top with sumac.

Lazy Days of Summer

The full buck moon rises on Tuesday, July 16, which, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, is a good day for pruning, mowing and weeding. But if R&R is more your speed, below are a few obscure holidays you might add to the calendar.

July 10: Pick Blueberries Day

July 17: Peach Ice Cream Day

July 20: Ice Cream Soda Day

July 22: Hammock Day

Happy Independence Day, friends. Happy, happy hot July.  OH


Beak House

This time of year sees a hot real estate market for house wrens

By Susan Campbell

Throughout the Piedmont and Sandhills, Carolina wrens are year-round residents easily recognized by their handsome rufous coloring, prominent white eyebrows, cocked up tails and loud voices. The emphatic “chirpity, chirpity, chirp” calls are made primarily by males, although, from time to time, females may join the chorus. These inquisitive birds, foraging almost nonstop in all sorts of nooks and crannies looking for bugs, are known to find their way into garages and even homes if there is a crack large enough for them to squeeze through. In addition, they seek out protected places to nest, often using front door wreaths, mailboxes, hanging baskets and manmade objects of all kinds.

House wrens, on the other hand, are a bit smaller and drabber in coloration. Both the male and female are gray-brown with faint streaking on wings and tail. These diminutive birds are just as feisty as their more familiar cousins. Their song, however, is a lovely mix of bubbling notes that carries quite a way. House wrens, too, are voracious insectivores, found in close association with people.

Once upon a time, they were considered seasonal migratory visitors to both the Piedmont and Sandhills, skulking in thick vegetation during spring and fall migration. In 1922, house wrens were seen nesting in the Piedmont and are now found commonly around Raleigh, and from Greensboro to Charlotte. The first documented, known successful breeding attempt in Moore County was sighted in Pinehurst during the summer of 2007. Since then a few pairs have been reported from Whispering Pines, as well as pockets around the Village of Pinehurst. However, these birds are easily overlooked by folks unfamiliar with the species. At this point, they are almost certainly breeding in more locations in at least the northern half of the Sandhills.

House wrens have a breeding strategy that allows them to colonize new habitat quickly. Females typically produce two sets of four to seven young each summer. The males are frequently polygamous. Interestingly, a female may move to the territory of a different male for the second nesting. And female house wrens are known to raise broods in quick succession. The male may finish raising the first brood as the female begins nest-building for round two.

Unlike Carolina wrens, house wrens are cavity nesters, so they will use bird boxes readily. Small holes are hard to come by on the human-altered landscape — but birdhouses are not. With increased urbanization and the widespread interest in providing for birds, more boxes are appearing on the landscape every spring. Although house wrens will use a box that is pole-mounted, they actually prefer hanging houses. It is possible that this is because dangling accommodations are less likely to be invaded by predators.

The challenge that house wrens no doubt have been facing here in the Sandhills as they attempt to become established, is available “real estate.” When they return to nest in mid-April, the bluebirds, as well as our nonmigratory chickadees, nuthatches and titmice have not only claimed a large percentage of the available bird houses but are also well into incubation. House wrens then must search for an empty box. If you are interested in providing for these uncommon little birds, it is best to wait to hang a suitable box until about April 15. Also you might want to consider a box with a smaller (1-inch or 1 1/2-inch) entrance that will exclude larger cavity nesters. If you happen to attract house wrens, please let me know. We are still very interested in the progress of these birds as they continue their southward dispersal here in central North Carolina.  OH

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