Chip on Your Shoulder

Listen for the machine-gun call of the feisty chipping sparrow

By Susan Campbell

Here in North Carolina, we’re lucky to have so many species of sparrows. As a group, sparrows can be a challenge to sort out. But one, the chipping sparrow, stands out. Even though Chippings are the smallest in the group, do not let their stature fool you! They are tiny — but feisty. And they may be found just about anywhere at any time of the year.

Only slightly larger than a chickadee, chipping sparrows have a chestnut cap and a black eye line, set off against a pale face and white eyebrow. The pale gray breast is unmarked and the back is a mix of browns and blacks typical of most sparrows. Young of the year have a brown, streaky head and pale streaks on the chest and flanks. In winter, all “chippies” will have, more or less, this same muted plumage.

This bird gets its name from its frequent “chip” calls. The bird’s song, however, is a long, staccato trill that is said to have a machine gun–like quality. Males will sing throughout the day, even on the hottest afternoons. They are territorial little birds and so are constantly on the lookout for interlopers. Trespassing is not taken lightly with shoving matches typically followed by a dogfight that gives the unwanted guest a clear message.

Chipping sparrows are found almost statewide and they tend to favor pine forests.  However chippies are not fussy when it comes to neither the type of pine nor the abundance of trees. They do require clusters of needles toward the ends of branches as nesting substrate. Come nesting season, a loose cup of stems and fine grasses will be constructed.  They almost always incorporate some type of hair in the nest: In the Sandhills, this is often horsehair. But it is a flimsy affair and will barely last the few weeks it takes to raise a brood of three to five young. Energy is directed toward producing multiple sets of young quickly in this species. The approach surely is successful given how well the population is doing in our area.

Chipping sparrows are drawn to feeders if small seeds such as millet or chipped sunflower seed are available. Otherwise they can be found foraging at ground level for tiny grass and weed seeds. Like most of our breeding birds, adults also seek protein-rich insects in summer to feed their voracious youngsters.

So keep an eye and an ear out for these little birds. They are not shy — in summer they can be downright approachable when distracted by family rearing activities.  And come winter, chippies will form large flocks. A congregation of 75 to a hundred individuals is not unusual. They may be joined by migrant birds from further north, increasing the local population to astronomical proportions. OH

Susan would love to hear from you. Feel free to send questions or wildlife observations to

Scuppernong Bookshelf

Is Democracy Coming to the U.S.A.?

In the tradition of Alexis de Tocqueville, several authors address the current state of America’s Great Experiment

Compiled by Brian Lampkin

What has happened to American democracy? Has it been undermined to the point of no return or has our republic always been teetering between the hopes and dreams of a Constitutional ideal and a Three-Fifths-Compromise reality of a desperately flawed beginning? Still, while it’s been said many times before, this election seems to be an existential moment for democracy itself. These recent books that Scuppernong’s staff recommends all examine democracy at its breaking point — as some try to find a way forward to save democracy for our children.

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, by Anne Applebaum (Doubleday, $25). From the United States and Britain to continental Europe and beyond, liberal democracy is under siege, while authoritarianism is on the rise. In Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum, an award-winning historian of Soviet atrocities, was one of the first American journalists to raise an alarm about antidemocratic trends in the West. The authoritarian and nationalist parties that have arisen within modern democracies offer new paths to wealth or power for their adherents. Applebaum describes many of the new advocates of illiberalism in countries around the world, showing how they use conspiracy theory, political polarization, social media and even nostalgia to change their societies.

Indecent Assembly: The North Carolina Legislature’s Blueprint for the War on Democracy and Equality, by Gene Nichol (Blair, $16.95). University of North Carolina constitutional law professor and attorney Gene Nichol has been a burr under the saddle of the Republican-majority N.C. Legislature for several years, and with good reason. More than any other commentators, his fiery OP-EDs have chronicled the literal dismantling of long-held conventions and values in our previously moderate state. He accused the veto-proof majority of fostering racism, gerrymandering voting districts, legislating bathroom behavior and grossly limiting the power of the governorship, to name just a few of his jabs. Nichol has not been shy to call out these perceived outrages, and in this book, commissioned by Blair, he was asked to “let it rip.” He has. In plain language, he lays out the recent history of this body and the effects of their actions. Many of their enacted pieces of legislation are now cropping up in other states, so in the upcoming election year, this book will remind the citizens of North Carolina what has happened to their state — and maybe, even more importantly, it will serve as a cautionary tale to other states who are about to go down the same path.

Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box, by Evette Dionne (Viking Books for Young Readers, $19.99).  For African-American women, the fight for the right to vote was only one battle. This is an eye-opening book that tells the important, overlooked story of Black women as a force in the suffrage movement — when fellow suffragists did not accept them as equal partners in the struggle.

Democracy in One Book or Less: How It Works, Why It Doesn’t, and Why Fixing It Is Easier Than You Think, by David Litt (Ecco Press, $28.99). The democracy you live in today is different — completely different — from the democracy you were born into. You probably don’t realize just how radically your republic has been altered during your lifetime. Yet more than any policy issue, political trend, or even Donald Trump himself, our redesigned system of government is responsible for the peril America faces today. Poking into forgotten corners of history, translating political science into plain English, and traveling the country to meet experts and activists, Litt explains how the world’s greatest experiment in democracy went awry.  OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.

Great Beginnings

Hooked on summer reading

Let’s be honest, who among us sails on through the master class on whale anatomy if Herman Melville doesn’t write “Call me Ishmael” right out of the blocks in Moby Dick? At the top of every writer’s job description is the ability to kidnap the reader’s imagination and keep it, at least for a while. Since everything in the Year of the Pandemic is cloaked in a bit of the unknown, our Summer Reading Issue of 2020 is all about capturing imaginations. Who better to learn from than seven of the best writers North Carolina has to offer? And who better to help them then seven terrific artists and photographers? Some of these great beginnings were written specifically for this issue, some are the first few words of books appearing in stores near you soon, and others were just kind of kicking around on laptops. Each one is designed to grab your attention and hold it. Feel free to fill in the rest of the story yourself. — Jim Moriarty

Why I Love Pool Halls

By Bland Simpson   •   Photograph by Mark Wagoner

From the open upstairs windows of a plain two-story commercial building overlooking a bricked side street, Colonial Avenue in Elizabeth City, as a boy I used to hear the pouring out of loud jolly talk and laughter but most of all the hard clicks of cue balls breaking the racks, and spoken and sometimes shouted encouragements and disappointments, and the lighter clicks of wooden scoring beads, as men I could not see slid them along strung wires above the green felt-covered slate pool tables in that magic room above. A small sign hung by the streetside door, stating simply: 

City Billiards, Home of Luther “Wimpy” Lassiter, World Champion, 9-Ball.

In the nearby corner movie theater, the Center, my friends and I often sat, enthralled and forgetting we were only a hundred yards from a swamp river on its way from the Great Dismal Swamp to the sound and the sea, believing instead that we were riding along on horseback as we wove with the cowboys through some saguaro range or that we were stomping or swinging along with Tarzan of the Jungle through mamba-snake-ridden equatorial brakes. We even saw Zsa Zsa Gabor there, in Forbidden Planet, and knew this short interlude of imaginary space travel had brought us to our worshipful knees before the most beautiful and powerful woman in the Universe.

Yet when we emerged from these diversions, our riverport reality fell heavily upon us, and the sounds of smack and click kept spilling out from the pool hall on high, and we somehow knew that was where the real men, not boys, went to have their adventures, though all we could do, our ages still in single digits, was to stand on the sidewalk below and listen hard and try and make out what the hoots and hollers and howls, and the cussing, were all about, and what they all really meant.

Bland Simpson is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the author of nine books, and a longtime pianist and composer/lyricist for the Tony Award-winning North Carolina string band The Red Clay Ramblers. In 2005 he received the North Carolina Award for Fine Arts.

The Pressing Spirit

By David Payne   •   Photograph by Laura Gingerich

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.  — Genesis, 32:24

One minute I’m asleep, the next it’s as if the roof’s collapsed and pinned me under tons of rubble. Except it’s not the roof. The weight isn’t external; it’s inside me somehow. I’m paralyzed and pinioned. The greatest effort I can muster sets one eyelid aflutter, lets me crook — just barely — the digit of my index finger. And it isn’t dead, this weight, it’s living. There’s something with me in the bed, and not just with me, on me, and not just on me, in me.

I fight and strain, and suddenly like someone with his shoulder to a door when the door flies open, I’m bolt upright in bed. What happened? What the fuck just happened? Sweat pours off me. Silver in the silver moonlight through the shutter, steam rises from my shoulders in 40-degree air of the unheated bedroom. Boom! says the surf outside my window. Boom! and Boom! again like the percussion section of an orchestra. And I’m alone here, alone in this unheated, flimsy summer house that thrums and trembles like a spaceship on the launch pad as the January gale blows off the ocean. The roof’s intact, there’s no intruder. The bedroom door I closed when I retired is still latched the way I latched it, from the inside. Yet for a moment, several, staring at that door, I have the sense that it, It, whatever pinned me, is still here, just beyond, listening as I listen, breathing as I breathe, aware of me, as I’m aware of It.

Who’s there? I call.

No answer.

David Payne is the author of five novels and the 2015 memoir Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother’s Story, which The New York Times called “a brave book with beautiful sentences on every page.” A founding member of the Queens University of Charlotte Master of Fine Arts program, Payne also taught at Bennington College, Duke University and Hollins University. He recently completed a screenplay of Barefoot to Avalon for the Oscar-nominated director Giulio Ricciarelli.

The Last Wedding

By Frances Mayes   •   Illustration by Laurel Holden

The wine spilled. As I reached across the table, my sleeve grazed Austin’s glass. The big Brunello globe fell over in a quick crash. Dark, that carmine red spreading on the embroidered linen tablecloth. Austin stood up so fast his chair tipped backward. He found two napkins on the sideboard and helped spread them over the stain. Instinctively, I glanced at Annesley as her mouth fell open. She knew I’d spent the afternoon lavishing my attention over every place card and dessert spoon. I moved the flowers and water carafe over the napkins. “Doesn’t matter, Kate, good as new,” Austin said. He has unusual eyes. Hazel, I guess, but it’s the way he looks at you rather than their color, as if he’s surprised to see you. But glad. I had the odd thought that he might say I see you. Do you see me? I rinsed his glass in the kitchen and refilled. All solved, except not.

Frances Mayes is the celebrated author of the No. 1 New York Times bestseller Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy. A poet, essayist, author and professor, her recent works include Always Italy from National Geographic Books and See You in the Piazza: New Places to Discover in Italy. Her excerpt is the opening of a new book, The Last Wedding.

Being the Record of Hannah King,
born April 14, 1681, Salem Village

By Lee Zacharias   •  Photograph by Andrew Sherman

I was a girl, you understand. I had a girl’s sins. I wanted to know whom I would marry. We all did. Would our husbands be rich, would they have land? What would be their trade? Though Reverend Parris preached against magic as a trick of Satan, we knew ways to tell the future. And if we were predestined, what could be the harm?

I was 11 that year, two years older than the Reverend’s daughter Betty, the same age as her cousin Abigail, who lived with them. Abigail was an orphan. Many of the girls who would be afflicted were living as maidservants with relatives or others who might take them in, Mary Warren with the Proctors, Elizabeth Hubbard with Dr. Griggs, Mercy Lewis with the Thomas Putnams and their daughter Ann. Only Mercy knew who her parents were. They had been killed by Indians at Casco Bay, and for a brief time she stayed with the Reverend George Burroughs, who survived. How she came to Salem and the Putnams no one knew, but we could guess. Reverend Burroughs had once been pastor of the Salem Village Church, but he had left for Casco Bay in dispute over his salary, forced to borrow money from Thomas Putnam, who was known to hold a grudge. Mercy was older, as were Mary and Elizabeth, 17 or 18, old enough to marry, but orphaned girls had no dowries, and the question of the future was of much urgency to them, for if they failed to marry or displeased their masters, they would have nowhere to go.

The salary for Reverend Parris was also in dispute. The church in Salem Town accepted the Half-Way Covenant, but in the Village, Reverend Parris feared the Devil was among us and refused to baptize any child whose parents had not testified to how God had shown Himself to them. Only the converted could be members of the church. It was brutal cold that winter, with much snow, but the villagers refused to supply the Meeting House or Parsonage with firewood, and they argued with church members whether their tax revenues should be used to pay his wages. Betty was a sensitive girl, and though she was but 9, perhaps she too feared for her future.

I was drawn by curiosity alone, for I lived with my parents, brothers, and one sister. Surely my dowry was secure. And though I was marked, for underneath my shift there was a small brown mole near my hip, not so different from the marks of Satan that the Court of Oyer and Terminer would soon look for on the accused, that small spot was my secret, and I kept my secrets well, just as I kept Betty’s.

It was Abigail persuaded her. First they tried the scissors and the sieve, but when Goody Parris opened her basket, she did not find her scissors as they were, and she blamed their servant Tituba, the strange, dark-skinned woman Reverend had purchased in Barbados when he was a sugar merchant there. Nor were the girls discovered after they tried the Bible and a key, but neither sieve nor Bible yielded answers, and so they turned to the Venus glass. It is known that the shape an egg white takes when it is dropped into a glass of water will reveal your future husband’s trade. A plough foretells a farmer, a ship a man who sails the seas. Instead, Abigail saw a coffin, which caused her to faint dead away. In her fright, Betty became forgetful of her chores, her mind apt to wander during prayer, and when Reverend rebuked her, she fell into fits. They say she barked like a dog, crawled about the floor, and writhed most hideously. Abigail too took fits, but Reverend’s prayers failed to cure them, and he summoned Dr. Griggs, who could find no disease and concluded that they had been bewitched. When Reverend forced them to reveal who had possessed them, they named Tituba, the beggar woman Sarah Good, and the outcast Sarah Osborne, who was feuding with the Putnams over an inheritance.

Tituba was examined first, and she confirmed the spectres of both Sarahs. Despite the faults in her English, the confession she delivered to the court held such power that many of those present trembled as if stricken or fell to the floor. She did not will to hurt the children, she insisted. A tall, white-haired man in a black coat had forced her to torment them lest she die. She had looked upon the Devil, who took many shapes, a big black dog, a hog, black and yellow rats, a yellow bird. Again she said that she had seen the spectres of Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne, and over the next weeks the afflicted girls, especially Thomas Putnam’s daughter Ann, would name many more. Once a month all that summer we gathered upon Gallows Hill to watch the witches hang, including Reverend Burroughs, whom Mercy had accused. When he recited the Lord’s Prayer upon the gallows, some protested he must be innocent, but he was not spared. All of the hanged pled innocence, though Giles Corey refused to plead and was pressed to death instead, which is more grievous to endure.

But I have not yet told my part. I was a strong girl. I did not swoon or fall into fits. Neither accuser nor accused, I kept my secrets, that hidden mark, and this: for I too had gazed into the Venus cup, where I saw not ship, not plough, nor coffin. What I saw was a book. But I could not tell from the shape of it whether it was a Bible or that other book where the Devil made his minions sign their names in blood. I knew not whether I would marry a man of the cloth or pledge my troth to Satan.

Lee Zacharias is the author of three novels, a collection of short stories and a collection of essays. Her most recent novel, Across the Great Lake, was named a 2019 Notable Michigan Book, took a silver medal in literary fiction from the Independent Publishers Awards, and won both the 2019 North Carolina Sir Walter Raleigh Award and the 2020 Phillip H. McMath Book Award. Her fourth novel, What a Wonderful World This Could Be, will be released in June 2021 by Madville Publishing.

Rosalie Goodbody

By Celia Rivenbark   •  Illustration by Harry Blair

Rosalie Goodbody had been thinking lately when she woke up and felt every awful second of her 83 years that her last name was God’s ironic joke. But then she remembered, as she brushed her own teeth, stooped over the idiotic glass sink her son in Colorado had decided she needed on one of his rare visits home . . . God didn’t give her the name “Goodbody.”

No, that honor belonged to her dead husband, Raymond, whose own body had been slowly twisted and tortured with a combo platter of arthritis and being “bad to drink.” Dead at 66. Goodbody indeed.

So here she stood in her pink Walmart mules and a bright aqua housecoat she’d paid too much for just so she could talk to the nice lady at QVC, Rona something, spitting toothpaste with a pink tint of blood in it into this stupid sink. Damn this sink and damn Carl, who had flown in for just a couple of days.

Rosalie had thought they’d talk, at last, about Cliff. What were we all going to do about Cliff? But Carl had had other ideas, ideas involving ridiculous glass sinks from Lowe’s that sit on top of the vanity instead of down in it like God intended.

God. There was that name again. Rosalie realized that she was thinking a lot more about Him these days and whenever she did, she thought of Him in capital letters because to do otherwise might risk some kind of backlash. God. Him. Where was He, anyway? Didn’t He see how tired she was?

It was almost time to wake up Cliff, a chore she dreaded every single morning. She lingered for a moment, thinking that if she flossed, she could put it off for a few more minutes. But she’d seen the blood in the sink, so it was probably better not to stir up anything else.

Cliff was her big, retarded grown-up son. There was no nice way to put it so, for more years than she liked to think, if Rosalie saw someone eyeing them oddly in the Piggly Wiggly or wherever, she would just smile big and false and say, “Yes, that’s right. He’s my big grown-up retarded son and I love him!”

Cliff would just grin, of course, when Rosalie made this pronouncement to a total stranger whose only sin had been to stare a half second too long. Cliff was much more interested in the way a shipment of beach balls was contained in this elasticized box on the end of the canned meats aisle. Looking around first, Cliff pulled on the elastic, pinching it good, making all the balls jump a little inside their rubber corral. He did it a few more times until Rosalie reminded him that they still had a few more things on their list and didn’t he want her to get those nice Duncan Hines frozen brownies?

Good Christ, Rosalie thought to herself while running the same wide-toothed Goody comb she had used for more than two decades, through her sturdy gray hair. Good Christ but those brownies were her salvation some nights.

If Rosalie was being honest, and she really was most of the time except when she was talking to the cable company and said she only had one month to live and didn’t want to spend it watching a snowy picture of The Young and the Restless (you shoulda seen ’em move; everyone should try it), she loved Cliff more than Carl.

Celia Rivenbark is a New York Times bestselling author of seven humor collections, including You Don’t Sweat Much for a Fat Girl and We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier. Rivenbark writes a weekly political humor column syndicated by Tribune Media Services and is an award-winning playwright. Her next play, High Voter Turnout, will be staged in Wilmington in the fall of 2020, pandemic permitting.

What the Cat Knew

By Ruth Moose   •   Illustration by Emery Tiptoe

Under her feet the black cat lay curled. Occasionally he twitched his tail and half opened one eye, let the green of it shine meanly. The cat knew the girl in the chair was asleep; her breathing was slow and even. Sometimes she jerked her legs or let out a small, soft snore.

The cat knew the noise he had heard was not a normal one for this house. It was not a clock tick, nor chime, not the rackety dump of the icemaker, nor hum of the furnace.

The cat knew the footsteps that followed that small squeak when the front door opened did not belong to anyone he’d ever heard before.

The cat raised his ears.

The footsteps stopped, but there was the dull thud and a metal click of something heavy dropped in the hall.

A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, three Pushcart nominations and the Sam Ragan Fine Arts Award, Ruth Moose taught creative writing at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for 15 years, tacking on 10 more at Chatham County Community College. Her fifth collection of short stories, Going to Graceland, was published by St. Andrews Press in 2020. She is the author of six collections of poetry and two novels, Doing It at the Dixie Dew and Wedding Bell Blues.

Die Trying

By Michael Parker   •  Photograph by John Gessner

Carthage, Texas, 1973

Because his clothes were line-dried, they smelled to Earl of sun, grass, earth. But the girls on the bus said he smelled like creek mud. It was worse in the winter when he wore parkas donated by the Kiwanis Club coats-for-kids drive, easily recognized by the fake fur collars, which reeked of the kerosene used to heat their house.

At home, his family treated him like a second cousin much removed. “Oh, look, Earl,” they’d say after he’d been sitting quietly in a room for a half hour. He knew he was creek mud to them, too. And so he refused celery filled with peanut butter and dotted with raisins, because, seriously? Ants on a log?

Into the smoke from neighbors burning their trash in rusty barrels slipped Earl, on the lookout for someone to whom he might define himself. But he always ended up in the woods, listening to the transistor radio his father had given him, or reading aloud from the biography of Leadbelly he carried with him always.

His people were proud Louisianans transplanted across the border to Carthage, Texas. His father was vaguely around. His mother talked all the time to her sisters in Bossier City, installing a 20-foot cord on the telephone so she could sit outside on the front stoop and smoke and ask her sisters about the fates of various men she might have married instead.

Prison, preacherman, gay, career military, meth-head, Port Arthur were the answers Earl imagined coming across the line. “Shoo now, Earl,” said his mother when she caught him snooping.

His father, when he worked, laid pipe. He claimed to be Acadian but his mother said he was out of Lawton, Oklahoma. Wherever he was from, his brothers and cousins soon arrived in Carthage and a compound of trailers and vehicles sanded down to primer or missing bumpers or outright wrecked beyond repair sprung up in the piney woods on the outskirts of town. Earl’s father once took him on a walk through the woods to a pond, where he taught him the words to “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry.” Even when he disappeared for weeks, Earl had his transistor radio, on which his father claimed to have listened to stations out of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Matamoras, Mexico, when he was a boy in his bed at night. Is there anything in the world more romantic than listening to radio stations from other countries illicitly after lights out?

Michael Parker was born in Siler City, North Carolina, and grew up in Clinton. He is the author of 10 books of fiction and taught in the Creative Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for 27 years. He currently lives in Austin, Texas. His excerpt is the beginning of his new book, Die Trying.

Poem August 2020

Ritual Revived 

She grows impatient waiting 

for gallons of water to boil

in the massive vessel.

Finally, back burner’s roiling ocean  

receives a steel rack of jars packed 

with marmalade — zesty orange,

piquant cranberry.

Ten minutes in water boiling 

inches above metal lids. A rest, 

and she lifts each glass carefully — 

straight up from scalding bath. 

A day to cool; labels affixed,

and the ’lades are now gifts:

holiday, birthday, any day . . .

Sweet memories led to this labor:

her parents on hot August nights, peeling, 

slicing crops green, yellow, red, filling 

Mason jars, hovering over the steaming kettle,

putting up peaches, beans, tomatoes,  

from their small Victory garden,

enough to feed their children,

for yet another wartime winter.

— Barbara Baillet Moran

Short Stories & Doodad

Swing Time

Baseball season’s officially shelved and football season hangs in the balance, but in spite of the pandemic, the Royal and Ancient Game continues to thrive. If you’d like the chance to drive for show and putt for dough, then sign up for the inaugural Captain’s Choice tournament, Golfing for the Gals. Held September 13 at The Champions Course at Bryan Park (6275 Bryan Park Road, Browns Summit), the tourney benefits research and care for something even deadlier than coronavirus (yes, Virginia, there is such a thing): uterine cancer. Sure, you’ll have to practice the usual distancing protocols on the links but the reward is knowing the contest’s profits will go directly toward UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, deemed one of the most exceptional by National Cancer Institute. Can’t make the 9 o’clock shotgun start? Then consider making donation either online or via snail mail. For information and registration:

Light in August

We’re holding our breaths and keeping our fingers crossed that the cautious optimism of Reynolda House Museum of American Art (2250 Reynolda Road, Winston-Salem) bears fruit on August 15 with the postponed opening of the much-anticipated exhibition Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light. As detailed in the April issue of this magazine, the show, now scheduled to run through November 29, emphasizes Louis Comfort Tiffany’s painterly eye through a series of lamps illuminating the museum gallery. Complementing the exhibit is Katharine Smith Reynolds’ collection of Tiffany blown-glass vases on view throughout the bungalow-style house. Whether stained glass or blown, Tiffany’s handiwork will shine all the brighter, as the switch is flipped on the pandemic and we move from darkness to light. Tickets: (888) 663-1149 or

Down the Garden Path

We never tire of one of the Triad’s loveliest gems, Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden (215 South Main Street, Kernersville), which brings joy year round. If you’re as grateful as we are for this gift that keeps on giving, enjoy the last gasp of the season, a twilight walking tour of the garden’s summer annuals at their peak. Led by Adrienne Roethling, PJCBG’s director of curation and mission delivery, the tour, which includes light snacks and refreshment, starts on August 20 at 6 p.m. so that each glorious bloom is highlighted by the setting sun. There’s a limit of 25 people, so register sooner rather than later by calling (336) 996-7888 or visit

Mane Attraction: The Astrological Outlook for Feline Fine

Here, Kitty, Kitty! If anyone deserves — or demands — a place in the sun, it’s Leo. After all, the sun does govern the bold, creative and — let’s be honest — over-the-top lion, who awakened late last month from a Neptune-induced stupor. You’ll find prides of Leos in the performing arts (Alfred Hitchcock, Tony Bennett, Mick Jagger, JLo, Whitney Houston, Daniel Radcliffe, Anna Kendrick.) Is it any wonder cineastes have been greeted by the MGM king of beasts for more than a century? And as king, Leo is also the sign of royalty and rulers, such as Roman emperor Claudius. At their best, they are warm-hearted, passionate, generous and protective souls. At their worst, they are insufferable megalomaniacs. (Paging Napoleon Bonaparte!) But boy, do they ever like to have fun and entertain. Just ask lioness Martha Stewart. If the sign had a mantra, it would likely be: “I vant to play!” Too bad most of this year has had the zodiac’s feline on the literal and figurative treadmill, with buzzkills Saturn and Pluto, along with expansive Jupiter touring Capricorn, tagging the lion’s sixth house of work, health and daily routines. But with all these big boys retrograding for a bit, a wave of eclipses fading in the rearview mirror, Mercury direct and riding shotgun with El Sol, and turbo-charged Mars hangin’ at home in fellow fire sign Aries, August just might shift from boring to roaring. So toss that mane, Leo, open wide and cut loose!

And the (Art)beat Goes On

Four Gate City organizations receive much-needed lifeline

No need to worry about the art and soul of Greensboro: With $200,000 in grant awards from the National Endowment for the Arts through the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, four Gate City stalwarts will be able to thrive.

Among some 855 organizations, Dance Project, North Carolina Folk Festival, Triad Stage and ArtsGreensboro will each receive $50,000 to cover expenses. Under normal circumstances (whatever that is or used to be), the arts enrich and educate our citizenry, whether from advocacy of artists, agencies and teachers courtesy of ArtsGreensboro; the training, performances and collaboration (think: Dance Marathon) of Dance Project; live theater at Triad Stage; or the numerous musical stages, craft demos and freewheeling fun of the N.C. Folk Festival.

During the pandemic, the arts have saved us, serving as sources of comfort and distraction. Thanks to online galleries, plus virtual concerts, performances and tutorials, many of us who were sheltering in place without a full day’s work found solace and inspiration through new avenues of imagination and expression. And though our local arts organizations worked hard to feed our souls, who has been feeding them during this bizarre era of cancellations and shuttered doors?

With aid from NEA through CARES, the organizations’ cares are assuaged for the time being, and ever the cockeyed optimists, we know that in time, there will be dancing in the streets at Folk Fest and modern moves at Van Dyke Performance Space. Players will once again strut and fret upon the boards at the Pyrle downtown, and galleries and classrooms will flourish and throughout the city, as ArtsGreensboro continues to nourish them.

And a shoutout to the other 22 fellow grant recipients across North Carolina, such as Winston-Salem’s RiverRun International Film Festival, Blue Ridge Music Center and North Carolina Black Repertory Company, the Charlotte Ballet and Mint Museum, Wake County’s United Arts, Wilmington’s Cameron Art Museum and the Penland School of Crafts. From where we stand, the state of the state’s arts looks mighty fine.  OH
— Nancy Oakley

The Omnivorous Reader

Portrait of “Little Thunder”

Sue Monk Kidd imagines the wife of Jesus

By D.G. Martin

“It could have happened.”

My friend was talking about The Book of Longings, the latest novel from Sue Monk Kidd, the bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees that sold over 8 million copies and appeared on The New York Times bestseller list for 2 1/2 years.

The central character and narrator of Kidd’s new book is Ana, who opens the story with the following, “I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth. I called him Beloved and he, laughing, called me Little Thunder.”

It could have happened, just as my friend asserted, but it is a stretch to believe Jesus was married. No, it would be many stretches, and Kidd, the expert storyteller, uses each one to build a rich, complex, and almost believable tale of a woman who became Jesus’ wife.

Although the book is set in the Middle East of 2,000 years ago, the coming together of Jesus and Ana was framed in North Carolina, where Kidd wrote her book. That came as a complete surprise to me. I knew Kidd had deep roots in Sylvester, the town in Georgia where she grew up. Until I learned about her new book, I did not know that she and her husband moved to Chapel Hill a couple of years ago, a place they chose, never having seen, after reading articles about best places to live in America.

Her move to our state solidifies North Carolina’s claim to be a home and refuge for the nation’s best writers.

The book’s story begins in the year 16 A.D. Ana is the teenage daughter of the head scribe of Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, and, subject to the Roman overlords, the ruler of Galilee. We know this Herod Antipas as the King Herod from the Bible’s account of his ordering the execution of John the Baptist. 

Ana and her mother, father, aunt and servants live near Antipas’ palace in Sepphoris, a thriving city. Ana’s cousin and adopted brother, Judas, has left home to join with Zealots fighting against the Roman occupation. Near Sepphoris is the poor village of Nazareth, where Jesus lives in a less-than-modest hovel with his widowed mother, Mary, and his siblings. 

Unlike most other young women of the times, Ana is well-educated and writes stories of women heroes of the Bible. Although she cherishes her unmarried status, her parents arrange for her betrothal to an elderly, unattractive but wealthy man. She is distraught. When he dies before the wedding, she is relieved. Then her parents push her to become Antipas’ concubine, a position that would provide security for her and her parents.

Meanwhile, she has encountered the young Jesus, who walks each day from Nazareth to Sepphoris to work on a massive construction project for Antipas. The spark is immediate. She appreciates his deep connection to God, or as Jesus calls him when he prays, Abba or Father. He appreciates her education and aspirations to write and promote the place of women.

Their marriage transforms her privileged life into hand-to-mouth poverty in the crowded house in Nazareth, where Ana does not get the warmest of welcomes from Jesus’ brothers and their spouses.

Kidd describes the smells and the constant chores of cooking, milking, feeding, sewing, petty jealousies and resentments that fill the lives of the struggling poor family. Jesus is often gone for long periods to work on projects in other parts of Galilee, sometimes even going as far as the Sea of Galilee to work with fishermen.

Jesus’ search for God leads him to the preaching of John the Baptist. He becomes a follower, and when John is arrested by Antipas, Jesus becomes a leader, leaving Ana alone with his family in Nazareth.

When Ana offends Antipas, she becomes another of his targets. For safety, Ana’s aunt takes her to the great library city of Alexandria in Egypt, where she encounters another set of conflicts and challenges. 

Ana waits and waits for a message from Jesus telling her to return. The message finally comes in the form of a letter from Judas, who urges her to hurry. She arrives in Bethany near Jerusalem just in time for a Passover dinner with Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Jesus, but Jesus is not there. He is on trial in Jerusalem. The next day Ana hurries to Jerusalem just in time to watch as Jesus carries the cross toward the execution site. He collapses. Ana rushes to comfort him and say goodbye.

Kidd reconstructs the crucifixion experience in a way more horrible and poignant than any of the four Gospels.

She also offers a surprising explanation of why Judas betrayed Jesus. Many deeply faithful religious people have never understood Judas’ motivation. Was it simply for the 30 pieces of silver? In Kidd’s version, it is not for the coins, but rather his belief that Jesus’ death at the hands of the Romans would ignite a rebellion against those occupiers, a goal Judas and his fellow Zealots shared, but Jesus rejected, working instead to prepare for the coming Kingdom of God.

“One of the biggest questions in the Christian crucifixion story is why Judas betrayed Jesus,” Kidd says. “I wanted to give him a motivation for his betrayal, to humanize him, too, and cause our thoughts about him to be less black-and-white and more complex. In my imagined version, Judas is Ana’s adopted brother who was orphaned when his father was crucified and his mother sold into slavery after a failed Jewish revolt against the Romans, a historically real insurrection by the Jews of Sepphoris in 4 BCE. I portray Judas as a child consumed with hatred for Rome, as a radical Zealot, and as an ardent disciple who believes Jesus is the Messiah destined to deliver them from Rome. His betrayal of Jesus is a piece of intricate and earnest political theater. It speaks, I think, to the danger of hyper-idealism, how a person overly possessed by a principle can begin to justify almost anything for his cause.”

That Ana’s story continues after Jesus’ death emphasizes Kidd’s and Ana’s belief that excluding and minimizing the role of women in the days of Jesus and today has been a tragic mistake.

For many years, Kidd has been interested in feminist theology and has written “about silenced and marginalized women and the missing feminine within religion. I can only speculate that the premise for the novel bloomed out of that exploration.”

Whether Kidd’s readers are true believers or skeptical inquirers, whether they are strong supporters of an expanded role for women in religious organizations or resisters of change, The Book of Longings will be an enriching and challenging read.  OH

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Wandering Billy

Old School

This year’s fall semester will be a far cry from what it used to be

By Billy Eye

“What we need now is some new, fresh clichés.” — Samuel Goldwyn

When I was young, August signaled the beginning of the end of summer, with school rapidly approaching, one chapter closing while another opened. That started me thinking of going-back-to-school rituals — a trip to Blumenthal’s (aka “the Store with a Heart”) for new jeans and Converse Chucks, Straughan’s bookstore downtown for notebooks and pens — and how young people today are liable to experience something drastically different from what any of us ever expected on the first day of school.

I thought it might be nice to reminisce with a couple of former schoolmates, like me Page High class of ’74 grads, about what school life was like in decades past before preapproved standardized lesson plans and teaching for mandatory testing.

Adelaide Fortune and I attended school together from first grade at Irving Park through middle school at Mendenhall, and on to graduating from Page. Today she owns a, whoops, corner-copia of classy kitsch on Spring Garden, Adelaide’s Vintage Home & Garden.

“My store tends to be more cottage-style furniture,” Adelaide tells me. “We specialize in painted pieces, mid-century and small goods that I recycle and repurpose.” While she sells one-of-a-kind furnishings for vacation homes and the like, “Mostly I sell to couples who are starting off their homes, accumulating dressers, dining room tables and chairs, they’re one of my biggest customers. A lot of our furniture is 1920s, 1930s,” Adelaide notes. “Furniture in need of an uplift that I paint. So I don’t always look for something that’s in pristine shape. I think by painting furniture, you give it a more contemporary feel.”

It’s one of the demands of her market, driven by yet more generational differences between our generation and those that came after. I remarked that the trend for young people today seems to be Rooms To Go, where customers can select an entire suite of furnishings at once. “Also, a lot of people have their passed-down parents’ furniture and they’re not really liking it,” Adelaide says. “It’s brown, boring, but when they see it painted they’re like, ‘Oh, maybe I should paint more of these pieces.’ Because it’s a whole new look.”

Her business acumen is an indication of Adelaide’s academic record. Besides being one of our brighter students, she was a member of the Homecoming Court at Page. “In high school there’s such a social structure,” she observes. “We had service clubs, you went to football games, homecoming, pep rallies, art classes, band practice . . . it’s such a shame if kids are not able to have that. At least there’s social media now so they can Skype and FaceTime one other.”

They’re also missing out on the community of teachers and administrators who keep the show running, and the group participation we enjoyed at Page, “We liked our principal, Mr. [Robert] Clendenin, very much. You could just casually walk into his office and talk with him,” Adelaide recalls. “Mrs. [Luvenia] Chavis, my chemistry teacher, I loved her. Mrs. Newman was an English teacher. She would dress up in some costume depending on what we were studying; we would stand up in class and recite The Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare. She was, by far, one of my favorite teachers. Those are the two that really stand out to me, they were so creative in the way they taught.”

Another aspect of student life for many of us was an after-school job. “My parents said, ‘If you want money to put in your car you gotta go get a job,’” Adelaide says, word for word what my father told me. “So I worked at Mayberry one summer. We had to wear those ridiculous outfits, those pink and white striped dresses, then all your friends would show up and you had to face them. I also worked at Roy Rogers where we had to wear those little cowboy hats and greet customers with, ‘Howdy partner, can I take your order?’  Even when friends from school showed up, they expected you to say that.”

Senior year she worked at Brown-Gardiner. “Everyone bought everything on credit,” Adelaide says. “They’d say, ‘Charge this on my account’ and you’d fill out a form for them.” Instant credit checks weren’t possible back then, “How many drugstores do that anymore?”

Hard to believe but as long as you were at least 16 years old, male or female, and you possessed a driver’s license, then passed written and driving tests, you were qualified to drive a school bus. All city school buses were piloted by students. Paid good money as I recall.

Page, Mendenhall and Claxton Elementary drivers were all “Road Runners,” a Junior Woodchucks version of Hells Angels, more Quisp than Crip. They wore jean jackets with the words “Puro Carajo” (Pure Fornicators in polite conversation) stitched around the shoulders in Old English font (all caps naturally, so as to be nearly unreadable), with similarly stitched “Road Runners” below, circling a crude rendition of the elusive bird harnessing a lightning bolt. Road Runners were always out in force protecting the pirate ship from Whirlies sabotage on the week before the Page-Grimsley football games, often in vain.

Another Page alumna, Trisha Costello, owns Carriage House in the Golden Gate Shopping Center. “We are a home décor and accessories store,” Trisha says. “I’ve been in furniture sales for 20 years now after I met Wally Freemon who said, ‘I’m opening a store, do you want to run it for me?’ and I said, ‘OK’ and then ended up taking over the business.”

Carriage House specializes in unique items for beach houses, mountain homes, a little bit of everything for everybody’s domicile. “We love antiques and look for quality, scouring estate sales and stores all over the country. Chinoiserie items are always a big seller, it’s a Chinese look, very popular. Also English, Italian and some American pieces.”

Looking back on school days, “I was a Catholic girl so I went to St. Pius instead of Irving Park but I attended Mendenhall and Page,” Trisha says. “At Page there was an English teacher, African-American, Tony Bryant, I had him for homeroom, he was the greatest. I loved Mrs. [Margaret] Garrett, she taught English lit. And Mrs. Newman, she taught literature and creative writing, little short lady. She might have been my biggest influence. She taught me to think for myself.”

Not at all odd that Adelaide, Trisha and I were all profoundly affected by Mrs. [Jean Davis] Newman’s tutorage. She inspired me to pursue the goal of becoming a writer. Before coming to Page in 1971, she was frequently voted Teacher of the Year at Grimsley. One wonders how many hundreds, thousands, of others she inspired over her 30-plus-year career.

Just before our get-together, Trisha and I received the devastating news that Billy Owens, my cousin and her lifelong friend, had died of a heart attack. Just 65 years old and beginning his retirement after 45 years working at Ensco Supply, Billy received his first Social Security check days before passing.

“I met Billy when I was about 10 years old, out at Sherwood,” Trisha recalls. “He and my brother Kevin were good friends so he was at our house a lot. We always consider him to be our fifth brother.” Billy, known by the nickname ‘Brother’ in our family, “Always looked dapper,” Trisha says.

A perpetually upbeat guy with an underlying sarcastic wit, I can’t remember any occasion when Billy Owens wasn’t smiling. One friend of his noted that the only time he ever saw Billy lose his cool was in defense of the Tar Heels’ basketball team. Upon hearing the news of his death I was, for once, glad my mother wasn’t alive. It would have been too devastating.

For the rest of us, at future gatherings, reunions and over holidays, comes the painful reminder that there’s one less Brother in all of our lives.  OH

Billy Eye wonders if you would allow a random 16-year-old to drive your first grader to school.

Simple Life

In the Sweet By and By

Until then, the dance of life continues

By Jim Dodson

The Great Pandemic Summer of 2020 is drawing to a close.

How have you coped?

As you read this, I am coping by being thigh-deep in a tumbling stream at the base of Mount Mitchell, deep in a national forest, amusing a few sleepy rainbow trout with my rusty fly-casting skills.

If ever there was a summer to get away to the wild, this is it. For me, fly fishing has long provided relaxation and unexpected answers to questions that seem to resist easy answers.

Twenty-five summers ago, during an unexpected family crisis, my daughter Maggie and I spent a glorious summer camping and fly-fishing our way across America. Maggie was 7 years old. Our old dog Amos was pushing 13. It was a summer to remember chasing trout  in some of the West’s most iconic rivers.

This summer, Maggie and her fiancé, Nate, and their two rescued pups are retracing portions of our route through the West as they head for new jobs in Los Angeles, camping and hiking. The other night, Maggie phoned from the banks of Shoshone River in Wyoming just to hear her old man rhapsodize about the summer night we spent camped by the swift blue river beneath a quilt of glittering stars. Such nights stay with you.  

Throughout this devastating pandemic and summer of social discontent, many of us have faithfully sheltered in place and adopted wearing face coverings in public. We have placed our trust in science, avoided crowds, dutifully washed hands and learned new phrases like “safe distancing” and “community spread.” We’ve also marveled at the human capacity for finding meaning, change and creativity in the midst of a crisis our children will probably tell their grandchildren about in tones of wonder and solemnity, and maybe even gratitude.

Change and history move in halting steps, stumbling before we who are living through them finally come to terms with the truth. To many in America, a racial awakening in the midst of a worldwide pandemic either seems like a cosmic piling on or a clear message from the universe that it’s time for America to face up to the sins of our collective past and finally take steps to end systemic racism, a reckoning long overdue. 

One man’s awakening, I suppose, is another’s End of Days.

For what it’s worth, a different metric on this time of trials comes from leading astrologers who point out that for the first time in thousands of years, half a dozen planets are simultaneously in retrograde and the rare success of three consecutive eclipses, two lunar, one solar, combined with the planet Pluto — the diminutive power broker of darkness and chaos — passing through America’s chart in almost the exact location at the time of our country’s founding, indicates a period of feeling “stuck” in a protracted time of intense disruption and bitter division. As the planets move forward, or so we are told, we may experience a vast spiritual awakening, possibly even a new age of enlightenment springing from lessons of the past.

Whether the problem lies in our stars or ourselves remains an open question.

In the meantime, lacking the gift of celestial prophecy, I stand in tumbling waters thinking how this year of chaos and change reminds me of valuable lessons learned at an early age in life in the racially bifurcated world where I grew up.

My father was a newspaperman with a poet’s heart who lost his dream in 1958 when his partner cleaned out the operating funds of their thriving weekly newspaper in coastal Mississippi, disappearing without a trace.

One day later, his only sister died in a car wreck on an icy road outside Washington, D.C., and my mother suffered her second late-term miscarriage in three years.

We left Mississippi with everything we owned in a Pontiac Star Chief and drove all night to Wilmington, where my dad worked for several months at the Star News before moving on to a better job in South Carolina.

I started first grade in Florence, a pretty Southern town of old houses and shady streets. I was the only kid in my class who could read chapter books and had perfect attendance at school.  At year’s end, Miss Patillo presented me with a small brass pin shaped like an open book with Perfect Attendance inscribed on its pages. I still have the pin.

For my parents, however — something I learned many years later — Florence was like a silent ordeal, a twilight world between the unyielding values of the Old South and a brave new world of tomorrow.

The summer before second grade, a lovely African-American woman named Miss Jesse came to help my mother get back on her feet. She was said to be a natural healer and a woman who knew how to take care of families like ours. My mother held strong views about race and resisted the notion of having a maid like other women in town. But her health was dangerously frail. So Miss Jesse came.

It is no longer the fashion to speak of having someone like Miss Jesse in your privileged white life.  I get that. But for one summer this kind woman took me everywhere with her to keep me out from under my mother’s feet — to the public library, to the Piggly Wiggly, to and from vacation Bible school at the Lutheran Church. I adored riding around town with Miss Jesse. The radio of her blue Dodge Dart was always tuned to a Southern gospel station. I can almost hear her singing “In the Sweet By and By” and “I’ll Fly Away.” I sang along, too.

She and my mom quickly became friends. Among other things, Miss Jesse introduced my mother-a former Maryland beauty queen-to flower gardening and turned her into quite a respectable Southern cook. Her beauty and vitality returned.

One evening while the two of them were cooking supper, a lively gospel tune came on the transistor radio and Miss Jesse invited me to hop on her strong feet, sashaying us both around the kitchen floor. She called this “feet dancing.”

One night that autumn of 1959, my father’s boss came to supper. He was a thin old man with loose change jingling in his pants pockets. Miss Jesse was cooking supper. The adults were all standing in the kitchen talking about “protests” that were suddenly happening across the Deep South. My father’s boss jingled his change and declared, “Fortunately, we don’t have that kind of trouble around here, do we Jesse? That’s because we have good nigras round these parts.”

“Jimmy,” my mother chimed instantly, “could you come with me, please?”

I was barely into the hallway when she took hold of my ear and perp-walked me to the bathroom, leading me in and shutting the door.  Over my protest, she ordered me to sit and hush up.

As I watched, she calmly opened a new bar of Ivory soap and held it inches from my face.

“If I ever hear that word come out of your mouth,” she said, restraining her Germanic fury, “you’ll be sitting on this toilet with this new bar of soap in your mouth for an hour. Is that clear?”

I knew exactly the word she meant. She explained that “nigra” was the way “supposedly educated white people in the South” said the word my brother and I were forbidden to ever use, though I heard it often used in those days.

For what it’s worth, I can’t stomach the smell of Ivory soap to this day.

Weeks later, shockingly, Miss Jesse went into the hospital and we went to visit her in its “colored wing.” She passed a few days later. We went to her funeral service at the little brick church she attended. The place was full of flowers and people, including a few white women who’d benefited from Miss Jesse’s healing presence. The music was pure gospel. My mother cried. I remember meeting Miss Jesse’s daughter, her pride and joy whom she called “Babygirl,” an art teacher from Atlanta.

A few weeks later, my dad took a new job and we finally moved home to Greensboro, where I started mid-way through the second grade.

Just days after my brother and I got our new library cards, our history-mad father mysteriously turned up at school to spring us for the afternoon. He drove us downtown to stand near the “colored” entrance of the Center Theater and watch as four brave students from A&T attempted to integrate the Woolworth’s lunch counter across Elm Street.

“Boys,” he said to us. “This isn’t just going to change life in Greensboro. It’s going to change America.”

That event is considered a watershed moment of the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement of America.

It was my 7th birthday, February 2, 1960.

Sixty years later, as statues of Confederate generals and segregationists topple and sweeping racial reckoning has finally commenced, I’ve been playing a lot of Southern gospel in my car, thinking about Miss Jesse and the first music I ever learned to sing. Embarrassing to admit, I’m having trouble remembering her last name. To me she was always Miss Jesse.

As I cast after slumbering trout in a gorgeous mountain stream, far away from that strained and vanishing South, I find myself humming “In the Sweet By and By” and wishing I could properly thank Miss Jesse for saving my mother’s life and unexpectedly shaping mine.

Maybe someday, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to feet dance with her again. And learn her whole name.  OH

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

Flower Power

Betting the farm on a budding business

By Maria Johnson

Like a lucky lover who plucks flower petals in a game of “she-loves-me, she-loves-me-not” and ends on a promising note, Elaine Fryar and her family have found that many folks adore the old-fashioned bouquets they make in McLeansville.

The thirst for botanical beauty is encouraging because the Fryars are betting that their billowing arrangements — dense mounds of 20 to 30 stems — will help the family farm survive.

“It’s been something we’ve truly enjoyed doing, as well as being profitable,” says Elaine, 64, who founded Waseda Farm Flowers in 2020 with her adult children, Crystal Osborne and Ricky Fryar.

Together, the family cultivates a half-acre of cutting flowers, brilliant ribbons stitched into 200-plus acres of farmland that have been in the family of Elaine’s husband, Gerald, for more than 100 years.

Waseda Farms — pronounced wah-SEE-duh, a Native American word for “by the pines” — has evolved several times, adapting to the markets of the day.

Gerald’s great-grandfather started with tobacco and grain.

Gerald’s father switched to dairy.

Gerald pivoted back to grain in the early 1970s.

He added turf grass late ’80s, raising tall fescue for sod until the Great Recession of 2008, when the bottom dropped out of the housing market, and therefore the landscaping market.

The family fell back on a cushion of grain — corn, wheat and soybeans — and another income stream: a dairy barn repurposed as a wedding venue, from moo house to I-do house.

The Fryars had overhauled the classic barn for Crystal’s wedding in 2004. On the outside, they veneered the concrete-block first level with stone. They painted the hayloft red and topped the barn with a second metal roof for insulation.

To transform the interior, they milled pines that grew on the farm and used the lumber for handsome paneling, floors, doors, window frames and trim. They installed a full kitchen and HVAC system.

The Fryars rented out the site for weddings from 2005 until 2016, capitalizing on the popularity of rustic nuptials and receptions that are often cheaper and more relaxed than church-and-hall affairs. Sometimes, wildlife provided comic relief during weddings in the field behind the barn.

“We had coyotes and deer to run across,” says Elaine.

About half the couples hired Crystal to provide the floral arrangements. Crystal bought the stems from wholesale growers and arranged them into essays of color and texture, each with bold statement flowers and soft fillers. She spiked them with fragrant lavender and basil.

“We thought it would have been nice to grow the flowers, but there weren’t enough hours in the day,” says Crystal.

The Fryars still raised corn, wheat and soybeans, an enduring operation that today covers about 500 acres, half belonging to the family and half leased from other land owners.

They stopped doing weddings so Crystal could spend more time with her family, but her friends kept asking her to make bouquets for weddings and other events.

As 2020 approached, both Crystal, a preschool teacher, and her brother, Ricky, an electrical and mechanical engineer, wanted to figure out a way join their parents in farming full time.

“It was mostly about wanting to keep the farm going and giving them a chance to slow down if they choose to,” says Crystal.

Eager to ensure a fifth generation of farming Fryars, Elaine, a certified public accountant, jumped on the Internet.

“I spent all winter reading and learning and researching,” she says.

She narrowed the possibilities of lucrative new crops to microgreens and flowers.

“We started messing around with flowers, and flowers won out,” she says, noting that Gerald’s mother and grandmother had once raised and sold  flowers as a sideline.

Elaine and Crystal resurrected the business, ordering seeds based on Crystal’s memory of what brides wanted in their bouquets. They culled advice from the Facebook page of “The Gardener’s Workshop,” a business run by flower farmer Lisa Mason Ziegler of Newport News, Virginia.

Elaine rigged a walk-in cooler with grow lights, converting the space to a makeshift greenhouse where they started seeds.

Crystal holds out her phone to show a picture of her 11-year-old daughter London using a wet toothpick to pick up tiny snapdragon seeds and stick them into soil blocks the size of sugar cubes.

As soon as the fields were dry enough — which wasn’t until March — the Fryars transplanted the seedlings outdoors. There, they grew in long rows beside a field of corn, a natural windbreak.

The family hung houses to attract birds that would feed on bugs drawn to the flowers.

To ward off the deer, they raised an electric fence around the rainbow lanes. Elaine tells the story of a woman who ordered bouquets for a wedding shower.

“She said, ‘I want them to be lavender,’ and I said, ‘Well, you’re gonna have to tell me more, because I have about 15 shades of lavender.’ ”

This summer, the family has started seeds in the greenhouse every week. Their goal is to have flowers blooming from April through frost.

Hobby gardeners would recognize some of their 30 varieties, such as cosmos, black-eyed Susans and zinnias. Their grandparents might know the rest, including feverfew, billy balls, strawflower, stock and amaranth, as well as their colorful cousins, which sometimes go by the Latin names denoting genus: Cerinthe, Scabiosa, Didiscus and Bupleurum.

Crystal’s son, Max, 8, ticks off the names with the assurance of an old farmer. He and his sister spend summer mornings cutting flowers and hauling them into the barn, which now serves as a design studio.

Crystal builds most of the bouquets, cinching them with a rubber band, wrapping them in brown craft paper, tucking in a packet of preservative, and slipping them into plastic bags with enough water to get them home.

Most arrangements leave the farm with walk-in customers and subscribers who pay $100 to pick up a fresh bunch of flowers every week for five weeks. Several Waseda customers have given subscriptions as gifts.

Crystal reads a message from a woman who received a gift subscription: “Girl, you are an artist, and I’m unbelievably impressed.”

Elaine quotes a text from another subscriber: “These are the prettiest sunflowers ever.”

The family provides wholesale stems to a couple of local florists, Garner’s on Church Street and Abba Design on North Eugene Street.

The Fryars are taking a break from selling bouquets at the Gibsonville Farmers Market during Covid-19, but eventually they’d like to attend more markets. They’d also like to make a flower truck out of a three-wheeled Italian vehicle called an Ape (pronounced AH-pay), an adaptation of the Piaggio company’s popular Vespa scooters.

“We think there’s a market in neighborhoods,” says Elaine. “Like with food trucks.”

Crystal is experimenting with another revenue generator: “Bubbles and Blooms,” a flower arranging class conducted in the barn’s hayloft at well-spaced tables. Electric fans and champagne provided.

Like most businesses, Waseda has made concessions to the coronavirus, but overall the pandemic has been good for sales, Elaine says. Outbreaks around the world have snipped flower imports into the United States

“It opens up a lot of opportunities for local flower growers,” she says. “I saw pictures from Holland of them just dumping flowers.”

With Americans spending more time at home, many of them are willing to spend more money to beautify their surroundings.

Supplying them with sprigs of cheer is rewarding, says Elaine, who now thinks that retirement isn’t nearly as attractive as pushing out daisies.  OH

Waseda Farm Flowers, located at 6298 McLeansville Road, is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Find them at or on Instagram @wasedafarmflowers.

Wandering Billy

Mex ’n’ Match

No less than four new restaurants expand Downtown’s dining scene

By Billy Eye

“How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?” ― Julia Child

This month Eye offer up a Bento Box of brand-new places to dine and shop downtown that you may not have discovered yet.

Los Chico’s

Despite an oddly placed apostrophe, Los Chico’s brings great-tasting Mexican fare back to downtown for those who still yearn for the days of Tijuana Fats. Located in the old Meyer’s building at South Elm and February One, Tex-Mex lunch fajitas at Los Chico’s are a pleasing combination of carne asada strips and multicolored peppers wrapped in freshly made tortillas. I especially enjoyed the rich flavor of their frijoles. Street tacos, sopes, gorditas and tortas (Mexican sandwiches) are authentically prepared and taste muy deliciosos, as is does the menudo and caldo de res (traditional beef soup with potatoes, corn on the cob, squash and cabbage) available on weekends only.

Come to think of it, the last time I ate at Los Chico’s I didn’t eat there at all. No harm, no foul — the waiter took my order, that was handled efficiently enough, only my food never arrived so I tossed a few bucks on the table for the salsa and water then wandered farther down South Elm to dine at one of my fave new places, Bonchon. But I’ll be back!



A few doors north of Mellow Mushroom, Bonchon is an international Asian Fusion chain best known for their Korean fried chicken. To tell the truth, there are so many other delicious dishes on the menu, I haven’t sampled Bonchon’s signature dish yet. I savored their sesame-ginger salad topped with a crispy cooked serving of salmon. Another time I gorged on delicious bulgogi (thinly sliced marinated ribeye sautéed with mushrooms, scallions, and onions served with rice). Their Bibimbap was rated No. 40 in the 50 most delicious foods according to a CNN Travel reader’s poll. Bonchon’s menu is extensive; finally, a place downtown that serves a proper Udon noodle soup capped with sesame oil, nori and toasted sesame seeds. I particularly like the seafood version with shrimp, calamari and scallops that’ll warm you up from the inside out.




Located where Ganache once was, more recently LaRue Elm, I’m captivated with this restaurant even though I’m not a fan of smoked meats generally. The flavor profile can at times be overwhelmingly artificial but not at Smohk’d. Their brisket, St. Louis ribs, pastrami, pork shoulder and chicken wings are seasoned with a pleasing combination of garlic and herbs then smoked for about four hours for a well balanced taste. There’s even an “impossible” meatloaf for our meatless friends.

Order à la carte or assemble a plate consisting of your choice of protein, sauces, two sides and bread for around $12. I heartily recommend the Texas brisket with a side of homemade horseradish sauce, baked beans, collards, and sweet-and-spicy cornbread. Booths are wide, easily accommodating six to eight diners each with long, hardwood community tables for larger parties, as well as a private dining area upstairs for more intimate affairs.

One recent Sunday, our party lucked out when the chef was experimenting with prime rib, which may be added to the menu by the time you read this. If so, ask for the prime rib sandwich consisting of four large chunks of perfectly roasted beef wrapped in a hoagie roll with mayo, lettuce and tomato. Heavenly!


The Sage Mule

Restaurants can typically take months to build a following, if they’re lucky enough to survive at all. Not so with The Sage Mule, only open a few weeks, this comfy bakery and bistro has been buzzing with excited, hungry patrons from the very start.

Forming a triumvirate on Battleground, along with Preyer Brewery and Machete (where Crafted — The Art of Street Food used to be), The Sage Mule is open for breakfast and lunch beginning at 6 a.m. — although I doubt many of you are up that early to milk the chickens or whatever one does at such an ungodly hour.

It’s a casual atmosphere, you order at the counter then find a seat inside or on the large outdoor patio. How could you possibly go wrong starting the day with a simple Blue Plate Special, perhaps a breakfast cassoulet (white bean and stout ragout, Carolina chopped pork, fried eggs on focaccia), or avocado toast with poached egg? For lunch a friend and I truly enjoyed the Salmon Niçoise Sammie and old-fashioned flat top burger. Fresh breads and baked goods are also on the menu.


In addition to these new eateries, downtown is now home to four barber shops (at Rock’s Hair Shop you can enjoy a cold brew as you get a close shave) while work is nearing completion on a six-lane bowling alley/bar on the corner of East Lewis and South Elm, where that Hoarders-like junk shop had been doing business since at least the 1980s.

There’s also an ethically sourced clothing store, Mindful Supply Co., on the only strip of storefronts that survived the devastating 1980s fires that decimated South Davie Street (I can almost hear Old Photo Specialist Bill Heroy saying, “Why is Billy Eye so obsessed with those fires?!?”).

A UNC-TV documentary described Mindful’s supply chain as, “Dirt to shirt.” Co-owner David Grubbs tells me, “We offer completely sustainable goods, 100 percent North Carolina Cotton. The message is sustainability, traceability, knowing where your products come from.” Not only is the cotton grown in state, it’s ginned, dyed, and printed locally as well. David Grubbs and partner Derek Glass even design their retro-activewear on the premises at 335 South Davie, including T-shirts that celebrate The Boro. You have to check this place out. There’s something for the entire family.


Local party band Grand Ole Uproar will be performing at The Crown above the Carolina Theater on February 9th, opening for Nashville’s The Southern Gothic, who were named “Artist on the Verge” in Billboard’s Best Bets after debuting at No. 1 on its Heat Seekers List.

Grand Ole Uproar describes their style as a musical gumbo conjuring up, “the Texas twang of Waylon Jennings and Doug Sahm, the electric carnival of Dylan, the improvisational impulses of the Grateful Dead, and the laid-back swampy sound of JJ Cale.” This promises to be a terrific night of original music.  OH

Billy Eye is a major contributor to a 600-plus page oral history just published by Mikey Bean entitled Phantoms: The Rise of Deathrock from the LA Punk Scene that details the emergence of the Goth scene in America. Go figure. . .