The Lost Colony

America’s oldest mystery gets a new look, a new life and a new vision

By Gary Pearce     Photographs by Joshua Steadman

A drive that takes 30 minutes to an hour from the Outer Banks takes you back 434 years.

Back to America’s beginnings. Back to the earliest English settlers. Back to America’s oldest mystery: The Lost Colony.

You start the drive on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. You leave behind the beaches, the bars, the shops, the restaurants, the crowds and the traffic.

Cross over the causeway to Roanoke Island. Pass through the town of Manteo. Turn off the main road into the dark woods along the sound. Park and walk through the trees. It’s evening, nearly sunset. In the quiet, you hear only the wind and the water.

You’re standing where, in 1587, a band of English colonists abandoned a tenuous settlement they’d established less than a year before. They set off in search of a new home. And they disappeared.

You sit in an open-air theater where, on summer nights since 1937, the colonists’ story — and the mystery of their fate — have been brought to life by The Lost Colony, America’s oldest outdoor symphonic drama.

Last summer, COVID cancelled the production for the first time since World War II.

This summer, The Lost Colony is back — with new energy, new casting, new production techniques, a new script and musical score, and a new look at what might have happened when two cultures, English and Native American, came into contact and conflict.

This will be the 84th summer the drama is performed in Waterside Theatre, at the northern edge of Roanoke Island in Dare County. The theater is part of the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, which preserves the location of Roanoke Colony. The colony was the first English settlement in the New World and the birthplace of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America.

The play itself is a historic dramatization. It began as a federally funded Depression-era project. The theater was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The Lost Colony was intended to be a one-year production. Then President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended the show with a good deal of media fanfare on August 18, 1937 — the 350th anniversary of Virginia Dare’s birth and a little more than a month after the July 4th premiere.

After FDR’s visit, the crowds came. The show was so popular that organizers decided to stage it every summer. They’ve been doing it for 83 years. World War II forced a four-year cancellation.

Last season’s cancellation in the pandemic was a financial blow to the Roanoke Island Historical Association, which produces the drama. The year-round staff had to be greatly reduced.

But Kevin Bradley, the association’s board chair, says, “The year off turned out to be a blessing. We had the time to reimagine the production, recharge our batteries and refresh how we tell this story.”

A new director/choreographer was recruited: Jeff Whiting, whose Broadway credits include Bullets Over Broadway (6 Tony Nominations), Big Fish, The Scottsboro Boys (12 Tony Nominations), Hair (Tony winner for Best Revival) and Wicked 5th Anniversary.

The New York Times called Whiting a “director with a joyous touch.”

Whiting says his goal is “to honor the history of what occurred here on Roanoke Island, and to honor the legacy of this important theatrical work. As the wind rolls off Roanoke Sound, it whispers the tale. It’s my job as director to listen to that breeze and bring to life what happened here so many years ago.”

Whiting has reduced the lengthy original script, written by North Carolina playwright Paul Green, allowing the scenes and story to move faster and providing more time for theatrical storytelling.

Additional theatrical devices will support the storytelling, including large-scale puppets, a military-style drum corps and a new symphonic score. The show will also feature traditional dances from both Native American and English historical cultures.

But Paul Green’s imprint remains.

Green was a Harnett County farm boy who became a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. Green was the father of  “symphonic drama.” He saw it as the people’s theater, a way of telling Americans about their past.

Green had a deep concern about race relations. His vision of The Lost Colony reflects what can happen when different cultures and races come together.

In the past, the production didn’t always use Indigenous actors to portray the Native American roles in the play. Seeking authenticity, the association reached out to Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. He now serves on the board of directors. 

With the tribe’s help, Native Americans were recruited as actors and dancers. Auditions were held in Robeson County, in the Lumbee tribal territory.

“We are appreciative of the Historical Association’s desire for accurate and historical representation,” Godwin says. “With North Carolina’s American Indian population numbering more than 100,000, it enriches the production to see and hear their voices on stage.”

Kaya Littleturtle, the Lumbee Tribe Cultural Enrichment Coordinator agrees, adding that the new choreography, regalia, language accuracy and orchestration help to insert “more of an authentic and cultural American Indian perspective into the play.”

But the real test is whether the new production will bring back audiences, says John Ancona, general manager: “We want to give our audience an exceptional evening’s experience in an outdoor setting — an experience you can’t get many places. We want to inspire interest in a part of history that remains a mystery today.”

Ancona hopes that visitors will leave the theater intrigued by the story. Perhaps they’ll dip into the ongoing, unending research and archeological exploration that still seek clues about The Lost Colony.

Where did they go? What happened to them? Did they drown at sea? Were they killed by natives, or by Spanish raiders? Or did they quietly go live with a friendly tribe?

We don’t know. But we do know the colonists dreamed of freedom. They dared a dangerous ocean voyage. They sought a new life in a new land.

Take the drive back to their world. Walk where they walked. See and feel what they saw and felt.

Hear their story. Listen to the wind, the water and the trees. Feel the mystery of The Lost Colony.

The Lost Colony’s 2021 season launched May 28 and continues through August 21. For tickets and more information:  OH

Gary Pearce is a member of the board of directors of the Roanoke Island Historical Association. He and his wife, Gwyn, divide their time between Raleigh and Nags Head.

Juneberry Ridge

On down the road, seeds for a bright and beautiful future have been sown

By Ross Howell Jr.     Photographs by Amy Freeman

My destination is a 600-acre retreat in the foothills of the Uwharrie Mountains — just outside Norwood, about 70 miles south of Greensboro.

Most vehicles on the highway are log trucks. The rolling hills are thick with pine and hardwoods. Cattle loll by hayricks and calves frisk and butt in roadside pastures.

I turn onto Old Cottonville Road. The name tells you something about the farm history here.

Cotton’s still grown in the North Carolina Piedmont, along with crops for livestock. But essential topsoil is eroding away. Conservationists say this area has some of the poorest soil in North Carolina.

On Old Cottonville Road, I spot a metal plate announcing, “Juneberry Ridge.” The drive rises steeply up an allée of young maples, with swales cut to catch runoff from the slope.

I pass what’s known as a Five Stand. With heaters to warm shooters in winter and misters to cool them in summer, five shooting stations, an outdoor kitchen, a gathering space and loads of technology to support media presentations. Juneberry Ridge might be the finest competitive clay-shooting facility on the East Coast.

The Five Stand was built by Judy Carpenter of Charlotte.

Rising through the ranks of National Welders Supply Company, a regional business started by her father, she reaped full value for that enterprise through hard-nosed negotiations to a national distributor.

She also happens to be a champion clay target shooter.

When someone told her that, as a woman, she needed to find someplace else to compete, she bought this land and built herself one.

Everybody at Juneberry Ridge calls her “Miss Judy.” She’s a genial, plain-spoken woman who could well be the most determined person on the planet.

Farther up the ridge I see an expansive log house. First built as Miss Judy’s residence, it now houses a handful of the more than 30 individuals in her full-time employ. Beyond the house is a sizable solar array and a wind turbine.

Rob Boisvert greets me outside.

A retired news anchor for WSOC-TV and Spectrum News in Charlotte, Boisvert is the business development manager for Juneberry Ridge. I follow his car downhill past a conference center known, because of its proximity to a pond, as the “Toad House.” The building features more state-of-the-art technology and a commercial kitchen that can serve 70.

Driving up another ridge, we pass tennis courts, and at the crest, a wellness center, cabins and a cottage.

We pull up at Longleaf, where I’ll be staying.

It’s an airy, light-filled, three-bedroom cottage with a vaulted-ceiling great room. Other cabins were built by Juneberry Ridge employees with lumber harvested on the property and milled nearby.

The details are both simple and exquisite. In the refrigerator, for instance, I find a salad of lettuce grown in Juneberry Ridge’s 45,000-square-foot greenhouse and fresh vinaigrette dressing made by head chef Tiffany Lackey, the hospitality director.

I get it. I’m in a bucolic spot that’s an easy drive from Greensboro, Charlotte or Raleigh. It’s ideal for a weekend getaway outdoors. It’s perfect for a productive corporate retreat.

But Miss Judy tells me what Juneberry Ridge is really about.

“We’re kind of about saving the world,” she says.

After lunch, two members of her young team meet me at the wellness center.

Lead designer and Davidson biology grad Ross Lackey spreads a map across a table. After traveling the country, working on organic farms through the international movement called Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), he returned to his hometown of High Point to work at Lindale Dairy. Later he ran a farm business in South Carolina. He consulted at Juneberry Ridge before joining as an employee.

On the map, he points out a small building near Hardy Creek, which he says was the first greenhouse on the property.

“The idea was that the greenhouse would supply food for Miss Judy and all the employees,” Lackey tells me.

“That little greenhouse is where farming here was born,” adds farm manager and Appalachian State graduate Brian Hinson. Before joining Juneberry Ridge, he worked for the town of Norwood while tending to his family’s 500-acre farm.

Farming at the Ridge got started with a small aquaponics system where the fish (tilapia) waste provided nutrients for the plants and, in turn, the plants filtered the water for the fish.

We chat a bit more and climb into a pickup for my tour.

As we enter woodlands, Lackey, a certified mushroom forager, says, “The morel mushrooms will be up soon. And we’ve found some lobster of the woods down there in the hollow.” As part of a plan to build miles of bike and hiking trails, Lackey will one day lead visitors on foraging hikes.

Trained as a permaculture designer by the Greensboro Permaculture Guild, Lackey explains that an important tenet of permaculture is the notion of “right livelihood,” meaning that practitioners should not harm other living beings. It’s all about emphasizing biodiversity and natural systems, while creating jobs.

“Miss Judy takes a very long view,” Lackey says. “She’s making it possible for us to build an infrastructure that will employ people now and in the future, paying a good wage with benefits.”

Lackey explains that mature crops of chestnuts, walnuts and pecans may require 10–15 years of growth. Meanwhile, there are plans to plant a scuppernong vineyard. Quicker maturing crops like chinquapins, blueberries, mulberries, pawpaws and persimmons are being planted now.

We stop at a dilapidated farmstead, where parts of the house date from the 1830s.

Hinson points out a thick rock wall that’s waist-high and follows the contour of the hillside.

“That stone wall’s a good 150 . . . 200 yards long,” Hinson says. “All hauled by mule.”

As they point out various sights on the property, including the earthen berms on the drive up to the big greenhouse, their reverence is palpable. 

“It’s like a game, seeing how long you can get water to stay in the environment,” Lackey comments. “Any farming system that’s lasted longer than 200 years has intricate water management systems.”

At the massive greenhouse, we’re met by more members of the Juneberry Ridge team. Here’s where the farm’s transformation comes clearly into focus. The engine of change?


“When anybody is talking about an animal that’s good for fertility,” says Justine Carpenter, who runs the farm’s logistics and livestock, “it’s a polite way of saying that the animal produces a lot of poop.”

Nearby, 30 hens wander contentedly in a grassy area defined by an electrified mesh fence. Carpenter tells me they’re heritage birds — Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks — long-prized for their egg-laying.

“They’ll give us about 10 dozen eggs a week, not a lot, something we can serve in the kitchen,” says Carpenter.

They’re entertaining. Funky and feathered and scratching about in the grass. About once a week, the fence and hens will be moved to a different area of the farm.

From behind the greenhouse, a sloped field is visible. A year ago, it yielded soybeans and corn. Now it’s planted with grass and rows of trees and bushes that follow the contour of the hill.

Almonds, grapes and blackberries will be added to the rows, and in a year or two, Hinson tells me, livestock will graze in the alleys.

“We’ll use portable fence,” he continues, “so we can keep rotating the animals, spreading manure to have positive impact across the whole farm.”

A flock of white chickens (Cornish Roasters) pick and kick at the earth nearby. Like the laying hens, the Cornish Roasters are inside a portable enclosure.

This is the team’s inaugural set of meat birds. The target is to raise 1,000 Cornish Roasters for processing. They’ll yield upwards of 3,500 pounds of chicken to serve from the Juneberry Ridge kitchens.

“These birds eat locally grown and milled grain produced on a fifth-generation farm,” Carpenter adds. “They’ll be processed at a facility that’s only 15 miles away, so we’re really keeping these birds local.”

I walk inside the expansive greenhouse with Hinson, along with head grower Gabe Calkin and quality and production manager Stephen Hileman.

Big changes are underway.

The original Hardy Creek greenhouse grew herbs, flowers, lettuce and peppers, serving upwards of a dozen local restaurants. The decision was made to scale up and build a commercial aquaponics facility.

“I was hired on as greenhouse tech and salesperson,” Hinson says. He soon realized it was going to take way too many restaurants and a far too cumbersome delivery system to sell what a 45,000-square-foot greenhouse was capable of producing.

“So we got into the wholesale market selling lettuce, basil and chives to Harris Teeter supermarkets,” Hinson continues. “They were a great customer.”

But the profit margins were tight.

Hileman explains that seeding lettuce plants could be difficult. Then there was a philosophical problem. The seed was planted in pads of rock wool — volcanic rock that’s heated and spun like cotton candy.

“The pads worked really well,” Hileman says. “But rock wool isn’t biodegradable and it isn’t cheap.”

Calkin points out another significant problem.

“While the greenhouse provides an ideal environment for plants,” he says, “it also provides an ideal environment for pests.” With large-scale monoculture crops, the pests could spread even more rapidly.

“It was a disaster,” Calkin says.

“Last week was our final delivery to Harris Teeter,” Hinson adds. “So we’re moving into our next phase with more biodiversity.”

The space where thousands of heads of lettuce and basil had been grown hydroponically is being converted into a nursery for trees, shrubs and a variety of other plants that will be planted on the farm or sold to consumers. The aquaponics system is still used to grow tilapia and a variety of lettuce and herbs.

When I’m finished at the greenhouse, Boisvert takes me by the Five Stand for some fun.

Taylor Estep, a Charlotte native who’s a shooting instructor, carpenter and metal fabricator at the farm, gives me a quick rundown on gun safety, then hands out protective glasses and ear plugs so the three of us can shoot clays. My youthful days hunting upland birds come back sufficiently for me to avoid humiliation.

Then I’m off to visit Suzanne Durkee. After graduating from the University of New Hampshire and receiving an M.B.A. from Simmons University in Boston, she focused on strategic planning and built a successful consulting business, which she sold. Then she spent 10 years as an executive at General Dynamics in Charlotte before retiring.

“After that I kicked around painting, traveling,” she continues. “I was having a great time.”

But fate intervened, in the form of Miss Judy.

The two women worked out at the same gym. They started talking.

“I loved what Miss Judy was doing, but I didn’t want to go back to work,” Durkee says. “So I told her I’d write her up a business plan.” 

That was four years ago. Now Durkee is the CEO at Juneberry Ridge.

“We’d given ourselves 10 years to transition to regenerative agriculture,” she says. “We’d created a strategic road map with guideposts and benchmarks showing progress and profitability.”

Then the coronavirus hit, slowing the farm’s transition.

“We’ve had time to plan,” Durkee continues, “but not that much time to implement.”

She says even the huge corporate farms in the Midwest are realizing that continued tilling and massive use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are methods that are not sustainable.

“When we say we’re changing the way the world grows, it’s not just how we grow our food,” Durkee continues. “It’s how we grow as human beings, how we improve our own physical and mental health, how we grow our communities and how we grow as a nation.”

Highfalutin? Maybe. But she’s made me a true believer.

Count on Miss Judy to bring us down to Earth.

“You know, we didn’t start out to be a regenerative farm,” she says. “We morphed here. But our young farmers can make something out of nothing.”

Tour complete, my packed suitcase is in the car, but I’m reluctant to leave. I walk over to the vista behind Longleaf cottage, where chestnut, persimmon and Juneberry trees have been planted.

Scattered among the young trees are clumps of muhly grass, blueberry bushes and prickly pear cactus along with big stones grubbed up from the land.

I look in the distance at the native forest emerging beyond the recent plantings and imagine coming back to this spot someday to see the chestnut trees loaded with nut burrs and the Juneberry trees shading the bushes below.

Given my advanced years, I may not be around for that.

But from what I’ve seen and heard, I’m certain Juneberry Ridge will.  OH

Ross Howell Jr. is a freelance writer in Greensboro. Contact him at

The Nature of Things

The Call

A walk in the rain (a rewilding)

By Ashley Wahl

It isn’t a postcard-pretty day. The sky is gray. The grass is soaked from a night of heavy rains. And yet I am being lured outdoors by a silent, mysterious force.

I zip on my boots, swipe my raincoat and let the gentle tug of this squishy spring morning guide me wherever I am going. 

The Arboretum, it turns out.

Not the wildest of excursions. But here I am, squelching through a soggy field alive with wriggling earthworms and vibrant bursts of buttercup. I turn off my phone and slip on my hood as the rain picks up. 

Something about the dullness of the sky and the darkness of wet mulch and bark makes all that blossoms utterly pop in contrast. Saucer magnolia petals scattered across puddled sidewalks resemble swirls of koi breaching the water’s surface. Songbirds twitter. The air is warm. There isn’t another soul in sight.

As a woodpecker sails past a willow oak whose still-bare branches look like black ink strokes against the hazy sky, I tap into my own wildness, remove my hood, remind myself to be here, now — fully open to the magic of this rainy spring morning. 

Unfortunately, walking in the rain isn’t something I tend to do on purpose. I don’t remember when — middle or high school? — but I learned to avoid rain as if my life depended on it. As if the sky were spewing hot oil. As if wet hair was cause for tribal banishment. And don’t get me started about the wind. (Have you seen what open windows do to curls?)

At some point, where we’re going next becomes more important than where we are right now. There are social constructs to consider. You can’t just show up mud-caked and dripping like some kind of wild animal.

Or can you?

When I was 22 years old, my best friend and I hiked 40 miles through the Smokies on the Appalachian Trail — from Fontana Dam to Newfound Gap.

We spent four days and nights in the deep woods. Our skin gleamed from the endless layers of sweat, sunscreen and bug spray. It wasn’t an easy hike, but the freedom to be just as we were — blissfully soiled and at home in the elements — was restorative. There was nowhere and no one else to be.

Nature guides us closer to the truth of who we are. But it’s up to us to hear the call.

Today, I’m one hundred yards from Wendover Avenue. But the rain is kissing my face. A cherry blossom drifts along the glimmering path like a paper boat.

Tomorrow, more petals will have spilled upon the earthen floor. And weeks from now, the naked trees will flaunt new leaves. The exquisite composition of this moment will never repeat itself. I whisper a simple prayer of thanks. The rain softens to a drizzle.

And then it happens: I cross paths with another human. A man, perhaps twice my age, likewise enjoying this misty spring morning. An effortless, genuine smile animates his face — the kind that starts from the inside — and when our eyes meet, a wordless exchange becomes a sacred bond. An instant knowing. A recognition of truth.

“I see you,” our eyes seem to say.

And we are no longer strangers. We are kindred. If only for this rainy spring moment.  OH

Contact editor Ashley Wahl at

Serial Eater

Frog Legs with a Side of Simple Charm

Epicurean delights in — where? — Wallburg

By Jason Oliver Nixon

When you think of North Carolina culinary pilgrimages, you might envision Vivian Howard’s Chef & the Farmer in Kinston or The Fearrington House Restaurant in Pittsboro.

But tucked inside a sunny Doris Day yellow, two-story building smack in between the post office and a mulch outpost in downtown Wallburg — yes, that blip in the road between Winston-Salem and Thomasville — there’s an unexpected epicurean gem.

Welcome to the Wallburg Diner, folks.

Although the kicky blue shutters give it some flair, the diner isn’t much to look at. Inside, décor leans heavily on bolted-down booths with Cracker Barrel-styled vintage signage. Think retro Mountain Dew ads on the walls, paper towel rolls on the tables.

Where, you ask, are we going with this? Straight to the menu. And in particular: the chef’s ever-changing specials, which you’ll find scribbled across the Dry Erase wall opposite the diner’s open kitchen.

The diner’s everyday laminated menu features the usual suspects (cheese omelets and burgers), but peruse the aforementioned “Specials” board — complete with bright pink flourishes — for the unexpected.

Crispy fried frog legs, for example, which we sampled on a recent Thursday evening.

“We sold out fast,” our charming server, Wendy, told us.

Don’t expect foie gras. But if hearty fare such as the cajun shrimp po boy with tangy homemade remoulade and kicked-up slaw piques your fancy, you’re at the right place.

Dive into the brisket sub served au jus with a horseradish mayo and crispy onions or the loaded-up chicken-and-sausage gumbo paired with a soul-satisfying grilled cheese — just $7.95. And that includes your drink of choice!

Or the buttermilk fried chicken and “sugar-glazed Belgian waffle” topped with a chipotle maple syrup.

And don’t pass up on the sides, such as the fried green tomatoes, as you side-glance the crowd that ranges from contractor types to families and gents in Barbour vests with artsy glasses.

Thank affable chef/owner Josh Hartley for the diner’s vision.

“I grew up in Wallburg and worked at a local restaurant all through high school,” says Hartley. “My grandfather was a chef, and I think that that really inspired me.”

Hartley caught the epicurean bug and eventually moved to Charleston, where he received a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales. After cooking high-end Lowcountry fare around the Holy City for several years, the Triad tempted him back, and Hartley served as the executive chef at Thomasville’s Colonial Country Club for twelve years.

“I swore that I was retiring from food service,” says Hartley, “and then, in 2016, I somehow ended up buying the Wallburg Diner. And here we are. I wanted to keep the diner’s vibe but kick it up a notch. I tried to liven up the menu so that it wasn’t just country-fried steak and the like.”

So, we ask, are there any other unexpected delights we ought to know about?

“Folks love our chicken gizzards,” notes Hartley. “We boil them with white wine, celery, garlic and bay leaves to soften them up and then soak them in buttermilk, dredge them and fry them up. Perfection.”

And future visions?

Perhaps beer and wine, says Hartley — but who knows?

“I look up to superstar chef Sean Brock of Husk fame. He is such a renegade and really has the gumption to do anything. Still, I am not trying to blow anyone’s mind.” His aim, he says modestly, is “to create cooking that is simple enough so that it’s understandable.” Smiling himself, he says, “I just want our guests to walk away with a big smile.”  OH

The Madcap Cottage gents, Jason Oliver Nixon and John Loecke, delight in the unexpected — prints, patterns or frog legs.

Short Stories

Load of Bull

It’s true: Those born under the earth sign Taurus are fixed in their ways. But if you think that makes them boring, consider that the Bull is ruled by Venus (goddess of love, beauty and money). In other words, they’re hypnotic. Magic Mike’s Channing Tatum could only be a Taurus. Ditto David Beckham, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and pop icon Janet Jackson. And heaven knows HM Queen Elizabeth II is no dullard. If you know and love a Taurus, consider yourself lucky. You could be stuck with them forevermore.

Jazz It Up

We see trim of green. Stone pillars, too. And on Saturday, May 15, from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., step inside the Historic Magnolia House at 442 Gorrell Street for an exclusive glimpse of its past and future. In the mid-20th century, the Magnolia House was a favorite stop for Black performers on the legendary R&B Chitlin’ Circuit, including the likes of James Brown, Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner, Joe Tex, Jackie Robinson and Louis Armstrong. Now, funds are being raised for this historic inn to once again host overnight guests. Repairs are in the works. And just wait until you see how VIVID Interiors is reimagining the home’s four original bedrooms. Let’s just say the future Magnolia House Boutique Hotel is looking bright. Jazz Up the Magnolia tickets are $25. Info: (Click on “Magnolia Events.”)

7 Minutes in Heaven

Preservation Greensboro will host its 11th Annual Tour of Historic Homes & Gardens from Saturday, May 15, through Monday, May 31. And it’s all virtual, baby. This year’s tour features seven-minute videos detailing six homes in one of Greensboro’s oldest neighborhoods — College Hill. Explore the interiors of centuries-old “Grand Dames” and quirky brick loft spaces while soaking up the history and architectural specifics that make College Hill such a treasure trove. Free tour. Donations benefit Preservation Greensboro.  Info: (336) 272-5003 or

We’re Moving!

Martha Graham called dance the “hidden language of the soul.” Perhaps you know this to be true. On Saturday, May 22, from 5–7:30 p.m., Dance Project is putting on Move Together Mini Marathon, a fundraiser to support dance in Greensboro and across the state. This evening of interactive dance classes and performances also includes “moving stories” about the transformative powers of the soul’s “hidden language.” Donations support emerging artists, help bring dance into low-income schools and fund scholarships for students who otherwise could not afford dance. Join virtually through Facebook Live, YouTube or the Dance Project website. Info:

The Giving Tree

His phone rang the day the giant fell.

People knew that Mike Haggas, a custom furniture maker, was always on the lookout for good wood. Surely, he’d be interested in the massive red oak that had crashed on the grounds of Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem.

Haggas, who does business as Roots Originals, drove out to see the tree.

He was awestruck.

Visible from the driveway, the behemoth lay on her side. She — Haggas refers to the tree with female pronouns — was about 70 feet tall. Her rounded canopy, under which her progeny had once sheltered, was half as wide.

Haggas noted that she had toppled into a clearing, away from her offspring, as if to say, “OK, you kids get growing.”

He felt an emotional tug.

Later, a cross section of the grand dame’s 40-inch trunk revealed that she’d extended a pale green root from a cracked acorn at the dawn of the 20th century.

She bore no sign of disease, pest or lightning strike. She had gracefully died of old age.

Her torso — an arrow-straight 32 feet from base to branches — was woodworker’s gold.

Haggas, whose day job is in the administration at Wake Forest University, was intoxicated and intimidated at once. The cost of moving and milling that much wood would be exorbitant.

He went home sad.

His phone rang again. It was Stephan Dragisic, director of advancement at Reynolda House, calling. He and Jon Roethling, head of the adjacent Reynolda Gardens, wondered if Haggas might use the wood to make benches as a fundraiser for the gardens.

Intended for indoor use, the benches would be replicas of garden seating drawn by landscape architect Thomas Sears, who shaped Reynolda’s grounds for tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds and his wife, Katharine.

Inspired by the back story, Haggas visited the tree with a millwright who concluded that, yes, he could plane the lumber on site.

A few weeks after the titan fell — on May 1, 2020 — 3,000 board feet of wood was stacked in Haggas’ basement, where it seasons.

Already he has made two benches — one for display in the museum, one for a buyer.

The seats, crafted with mortise-and-tenon joinery, come in three sizes, costing from $2,000 to $4,000.

Proceeds will go to Reynolda Gardens, which is free and open to the public. Attendance has exploded during COVID, but the outfit’s operating budget has wilted because of the popular plant shop’s closure.

So even in death, mama tree sustains.

“She deserves a next life,” Haggas says.

Learn more about the benches at 

– Maria Johnson

Simple Life

Simple Gifts

The secret to a good life? Less is more

By Jim Dodson

A friend recently wondered why I named this column “Simple Life.”

I joked that it was better than the original name I came up with — “Frankly, My Name Escapes Me.”

In truth, the title is as aspirational as it is functional, a useful reminder that the longer I live, the more I grow to appreciate the value of simplifying my life.

In her recent column, “Simplicity: The Neglected Value,” author and communications coach Bruna Martinuzzi points out that we time-enslaved, stressed-out, overworking humans simply don’t know what’s good for us when it comes to where we place our focus in life.

“We read and hear enough about its benefits in just about every facet of our lives,” she writes, “yet we walk past it, every day, in pursuit of the more complex, complicated, tangled and sometimes puzzling. There is no glitter in simple, not enough buttons to play with. We fear that simple equates with easy, light, too basic — unsophisticated.”

Leonardo da Vinci, in fact, declared simplicity the ultimate form of sophistication. As did the likes of Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Walt Whitman, Lao Tzu, Yogi Berra, Marcus Aurelius, Leo Tolstoy and Maya Angelou. Rumi called it the dust that hides the gold.

Whether planning a wedding or a war, simplicity is key to a successful outcome, knowing what’s not essential and eliminating it before things get out of hand.

A year ago, the combination of the pandemic and wedding plans that had grown far more complicated than expected prompted my daughter, Maggie, and her fiancé, Nate, to postpone and rethink how they wished to tie the knot. They’ve since envisioned an intimate gathering of close friends and family to celebrate their union when the moment is right, somewhere in nature, stress-free and away from the madding crowd.

One unexpected benefit of this strange year of distance and isolation, social scientists and trend-watchers report, is a broad refiguring of how we Americans live, work and appropriate our time.

While churches and bars — the yin and yang of modern cultural society — still struggle to stay open, life-enriching activities like meditation, Zoom yoga, home gardening, golf and bird-watching have mushroomed in popularity. According to more than one expert on the American workplace, mobile workspaces and home offices will be the engine that produces the next Industrial Revolution, spawning a vast new generation of home-grown entrepreneurs and inventive visionaries.

History holds some encouraging parallels. During the Great Depression and Second World War, an era of severe economic dislocation and public self-sacrifice, a generation of self-made engineers, tinkerers and inventors — many working in the isolation of their own garages and backyard sheds — managed to create everything from frozen foods to the first computers, color TV to dialysis machines, jet engines to Tupperware. That boom became the foundation for the consumer revolution and space age of the 1950s and ’60s. Your smart phone is the godchild of that time.

A couple years ago, while traveling the Great Wagon Road for my current book project about America’s original immigrant highway, I paid an afternoon call on a lovely Amish family, the Lapps, who live in the heart of Pennsylvania’s lush Lancaster County.

The “plain” ways of America’s Old Order Amish — such as their unadorned clothing, use of oil lamps instead of electricity and reliance on horses for transportation and farming — are an echo of our vanished agrarian past and a living reminder of the virtues of simplicity.

Amish and Mennonite farmers were the first European settlers to answer William Penn’s call to Lancaster County in the late 17th century, using their wise farming practices and love of the land and their animals to transform the county’s rich limestone soil into the most productive farmland in the nation. The so-called “Garden Spot of the Nation” is now regarded as the birthplace of American agriculture.

The Lapp family’s ancestors had been on their land since before the American Revolution, living as comfortably in accord with nature and the Divine as anyone I’ve ever met. After Mervyn showed me around his immaculate barns, we sat with his wife, Catharine, in the evening light, sipping delicious meadow tea — a drink made from boiling fresh mint gathered from surrounding fields — beneath a grove of old trees. They talked about their three grown sons, all of whom worked in the family’s masonry business, and how devotion to God, family and the pleasure of doing good work with their hands were the pillars of a rewarding life. It was one of the most pleasing interviews I’ve ever conducted.

For the record, there were even a few myth-busting surprises, including the fact that the Lapp men were all crazy about playing golf, and that Mervyn was a lifelong L.A. Dodgers fan who often watched games on his neighbor’s television.

“If you’re smart,” he told me during our walk through his beautiful stone barn, “you take stock of what’s really important in your life . . . and other things you can simply live without.” He paused and gave me a wry look. “Simple things are always best. That’s a key to happiness. But I do need my Dodgers.”

As I drove home to North Carolina on a winding backcountry road, I was reminded of my own aspirations of simplicity, beginning with my chosen route home. Getting anywhere fast is one thing I can do without.

In his 1939 classic, The Importance of Living, Lin Yutang points out that beyond the noble art of getting things done, there may be an even nobler art of leaving things undone. “The wisdom of life,” he writes, “consists in the elimination of nonessentials.” 

During this year of distance from friends and family, in place of going out to movies or dinner, an older couple I know took up reading to each other every morning from their favorite books, a practice they plan to continue indefinitely. “It’s been a wonderful discovery,” Harry reports. “A simple gift that’s brought us closer than ever. It’s now part of our lives.”

Over this same interlude, I began work on a large garden I have dreamed of making for many years, one that will probably take me many more years to complete. As any gardener knows, of course, a garden is never finished, so my education as a man of the soil — and my wonder at its constant gifts — will never cease, until I do.

Simply put, what a lovely thought.   OH

Jim Dodson can be reached at

Scuppernong Bookshelf

Greensboro Bound: A Literary Festival

It’s here! It’s here!

By Brian Lampkin

In the March issue of O.Henry, we announced that the May Scuppernong Bookshelf column would give you the schedule of events for this year’s Greensboro Bound Literary Festival, a virtual gathering of the minds held May 13–16. Twenty-one conversations pair North Carolina writers with voices from the outside world. Without further ado, here it is:

A Conversation with Roxane Gay

Thursday, May 13, 7–8 p.m.


Join The New York Times best-selling author ROXANE GAY hosted by CYNTHIA GREENLEE. Gay’s writing explores what it means to be a feminist, a woman of color and, quite simply, a human being with a body.

Dirty Gold: The Rise and Fall of an International Smuggling Ring

Friday, May 14, 4–5 p.m.


An in-depth discussion among veteran investigative reporters KYRA GURNEY, NICHOLAS NEHAMAS, JAY WEAVER, JIM WYSS and host JOHN COX. This talk will unearth the story of death, drugs and corruption within the gold mining industry in Latin America and dredge up the impact of greed on the people caught in its wake.

Craft, Violence and the Art of Storytelling

Friday, May 14, 5–6 p.m.


Join BRYAN GIEMZA and AMY WELDON as they host novelists JOHN HART, ROD DAVIS and DENNIS McCARTHY. Hart’s latest novel, The Unwilling, is a thriller framed around the consequences of the Vietnam War. Publisher’s Weekly describes Davis’ 2020 novel East of Texas, West of Hell as a maelstrom of meth-dealing, human trafficking and white supremacy.” Dennis McCarthy’s debut novel, The Gospel According to Billy the Kid, moves an American tale of violence and redemption west to New Mexico.

Chefs Ricky Moore & Whitney Otawka

Friday, May 14, 6–7 p.m.


Host DABNEY SANDERS chats with award-winning chefs and authors WHITNEY OTAWKA and RICKY MOORE.

LIVESTREAM: An Evening with Nnedi Okorafor

Friday, May 14, 7–8 p.m.


DR. TARA GREEN, UNCG Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies and the Linda Arnold Carlisle Excellence Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, explores the past and future with NNEDI OKORAFOR, Nigerian-American author of Africanfuturism and Africanjujuism.

Our Stories, Our Voices: Four Years On

Saturday, May 15, 10 – 11 a.m


Our Stories, Our Voices was published in 2018. Nearly four years later, the authors share how their perspectives have changed and how, if given the chance, they might rewrite their essays now. Featuring AMY REED — editor of Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors Get Real About Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America — and contributors TRACY DEONN, AMBER SMITH and I.W. GREGORIO.

Hidden Histories

Saturday, May 15, 11–12 p.m.


ANN CAHILL hosts authors SHANNA GREENE BENJAMIN and LISA LEVENSTEIN as they talk about memory, the public persona and the private individual, the biographer/historian’s relationship to her subject(s) and the intersectionality of sexism, racism and economic inequality. 

Love, Justice and Healing

Saturday, May 15, 12–1 p.m.


MOLLY SENTELL HAILE hosts a discussion on love, justice and healing with SHARON SALZBERG and OMID SAFI. Salzberg, a central figure in the field of meditation, is the author of eleven books, including The New York Times bestseller Real Happiness and, most recently, Real Change. Safi, translator and editor of Radical Love is a professor of Islamic studies at Duke University and leads Illuminated Tours interfaith journeys.

Speculative Fiction

Saturday, May 15, 1–2 p.m.


JASON HERNDON hosts RIVERS SOLOMON and K.M. SZPARA in an exploration of their newest works, which, like the best of speculative fiction, force protagonists to question what’s real in their lives while shining a light on society’s darker corners.

Read Romance, Fight Patriarchy!

Saturday, May 15, 2–3 p.m.


Host SARAH COLONNA frames the conversation with romance authors KIANNA ALEXANDER, ROSIE DANAN, JOANNA LOWELL and ALISHA RAI. The authors will doubtless unpack the ways in which modern romance writers are reshaping what it means to write romance.

LIVESTREAM: All Up In Your Feels (Poetry Workshop)

Saturday, May 15, 2–3:30 p.m.


Poets and partners JESSICA JACOBS and NICKOLE BROWN shine a light on the difficult art of writing about love and heartbreak.

Issac Bailey & Bakari Sellers

Saturday, May 15, 3–4 p.m.


STEPHEN COLYER hosts essayist ISSAC BAILEY, author of Why Didn’t We Riot: A Black Man in Trumpland, and CNN commentator BAKARI SELLERS, author of My Vanishing Country.

Allan Gurganus & George Singleton

Saturday, May 15, 4–5 p.m.


DREW PERRY hosts a talk with two

of the Carolinas’ best short story writers, ALLAN GURGANUS (author of The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All) and GEORGE SINGLETON (author of the recent You Want More).

Poems in a Crisis

Saturday, May 15, 4–5 p.m.

KATIE KEHOE joins poets TRACI BRIMHALL and NICKOLE BROWN along with editor ALICE QUINN in a soulful discussion of navigating family, the pandemic and remaking the world through poetry.

LIVESTREAM: A Conversation with Billy Collins & Ron Rash

Saturday, May 15, 7–8 p.m.


Host MICHAEL GASPENY will investigate the mysteries of art and the heart in a discussion with former U.S. Poet Laureate BILLY COLLINS, hailed as “the most popular poet in America,” and RON RASH, who has been celebrated as the “Appalachian Shakespeare.”

Our Stories, Our Voices: Writing as Activism

Sunday, May 16, 10–11 a.m.


AMY REED — editor of Our Stories, Our Voices — and contributors AMBER SMITH and I.W. GREGORIO discuss what it means to write in one’s own voice.

Writing Outside the Lines: Nonbinary Authors Changing YA

Sunday, May 16, 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.


Authors MASON DEAVER and NITA TYNDALL join host SHANNON JONES in a conversation about how Young Adult authors outside the gender binary are reshaping that world.

Art of Memoir with Ginger Gaffney & James Tate Hill

Sunday, May 16, 12–1 p.m.


Authors GINGER GAFFNEY and JAMES TATE (JT) HILL talk about the craft of writing memoir with host STEVE MITCHELL. Gaffney’s Half Broke is the memoir of a woman who relates more to horses than people and finds a home of sorts teaching at an alternative prison ranch. Blind Man’s Bluff is James Tate Hill’s memoir of becoming legally blind at age 16 — but pretending for years that he was not.

LIVESTREAM: Your Story, Your Voice: A Writing Workshop

Sunday, May 16, 12–1:30 p.m.


AMY REED — editor of Our Stories, Our Voices — and contributors AMBER SMITH and I.W. GREGORIO explore how to find your own “voice” in this writing workshop. Ideal for young adults, parents of young adults, aspiring YA writers and those who identify with marginalized communities.

The Soul of the Novel

Sunday, May 16, 1–2 p.m.


KAITLYN GREENIDGE and ANNETTE SAUNOOKE CLAPSADDLE are two rising stars in the world of literary fiction. Greenidge’s Libertie has been called “Pure brilliance.” Lee Smith says Clapsaddle’s Even As We Breathe “lifts the curtain to show us a South we don’t know . . . A wonderful novel, complicated as life itself.” This conversation is moderated by N.C. novelist ZELDA LOCKHART and informed by her work, The Soul of the Full-Length Manuscript.

LIVESTREAM: Candacy Taylor and The Historic Magnolia House

Sunday, May 16, 2–3 p.m.


CANDACY TAYLOR, author of Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America, joins preservationist NATALIE PASS-MILLER at The Historic Magnolia House, one of only four Green Book sites in North Carolina still in operation. Taylor reaches into her personal history to share the story of the Green Book and the roots of Black travel in America.

A Measure of Belonging: 21 Writers of Color on the New American South

Sunday, May 16, 3–4 p.m.


IVELISSE RODRIGUEZ and DIANA CEJAS join CINELLE BARNES, editor of A Measure of Belonging: 21 Writers of Color on the New American South, to talk about their experiences — the good, the bad and the befuddling — of living down South.

Naima Coster & Leesa Cross-Smith

Sunday, May 16, 4–5 p.m.


At the center of the powerful, tender new titles, What’s Mine and Yours by NAIMA COSTER and This Close to Okay by LEESA CROSS-SMITH, are deftly wrought, perfectly imperfect characters with paths that can never be unwoven from another or from the ways we see our communities and ourselves.

A Conversation on Race & Grace in America

Sunday, May 16, 5–6 p.m.


The nonfiction work of DENISE KIERNAN has become surefire bestseller material. Her latest book, We Gather Together, brings her considerable gifts to the untold story of Lincoln and the burgeoning of the Thanksgiving holiday. Kiernan will join D. WATKINS — author of the recent We Speak for Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress (and also The Cook-Up: A Crack Rock Memoir and The Beast Side: Living (and Dying) While Black in America) — introduces you to Down Bottom, the storied community of East Baltimore that holds a mirror to America’s poor Black neighborhoods. As Watkins sees it, the perspective of people who live in economically disadvantaged Black communities is largely absent from the commentary of many top intellectuals who speak and write about race.

Wilmington’s Lie: A Conversation with John Sayles & David Zucchino

Sunday, May 16, 6–7 p.m.


JOHN SAYLES is an indy film legend. His 2011 novel, A Moment in the Sun, looks at America in 1898 and the Wilmington Race Riot figures prominently in the narrative. DAVID ZUCCHINO’s 2020 nonfiction book, Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy, is the definitive book on the massacre. Together, Sayles and Zucchino will talk about the atmosphere in Wilmington in 1898 and the lasting impact of the white riot through the 20th Century. The discussion will also focus on the parallels with the January 6, 2021, insurrection and the continued strain of white supremacy in America. Hosted by BRIAN LAMPKIN.

Guilford County Schools High School Poet Laureate Year-end Reading

Wednesday, May 19, 6–9 p.m.


Hosted by Jennifer Worrells, HS Poet Laureate coordinator and Library Media Specialist at Grimsley High School.  OH

For more information about the virtual Greensboro Bound Literary Festival and complete biographies of the participants, visit

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.

Home by Design

Meet the Turnip Toffs

A little salt, a little pepper and a brave new sense of adventure

By Cynthia Adams

I am a Turnip Toff. In fact, both my hubby and I are Turnip Toffs, a derisive term typically reserved for hoity-toity Brits.

We are neither to the manner born nor to the manor born.

Nonetheless, we are Turnip Toffs of a different variety. Here’s how I know for sure: We grew giddy over a bag of turnips from Farlow Farm’s CSA last spring.

What is a CSA, you ask? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture. If you are a farm-born person like me, Community Supported Agriculture is an amazing concept. For a membership fee, you get a share of the farm’s locally grown produce. The farmers grow it. You pick it up — in our case, from the Greensboro Farmers’ Curb Market. Located in nearby Archdale, Farlow Farms is one of a small handful of farms offering CSA memberships in the Triad area.

Never did I imagine that I would be so excited about lowly turnips.

Last spring, if not for picking up our CSA vegetables on designated Saturdays, we wouldn’t have had any plans at all. Our rendezvous with the vegetable kingdom included one-on-ones with kale, colloquies with collard greens, bonding with broccolini, sashaying with spring onions and Swiss chard, and quiet evenings with strawberries, potatoes, eggplant, squash and cucumbers.

Home from market, we got intimate with our new friends in granular detail on the tiled counter, like a CSI for a CSA.

“Which do you think — is this collards or kale?” My hubby asked, holding something green aloft.

Given my farming background I bluffed, but for all I knew it was chard. “Kale.”

“Hmmm,” he said. In the end, we’d consult the farm’s email for a positive I.D.

“What are we going to do with it?”

“I’m thinking we will make kale chips,” I peeped. “And salad.”

Mind you, I had never eaten a kale chip. But I had spent much of my pandemic free time watching what people ate on the internet.

So, we fired up a YouTube video then prepped the kale. It was a two-person job.

First, we washed it. Then we dissected it, cutting the tough kale ribs away before drying and dicing it. After anointing the rugged leaves with olive oil and sprinkling them with sea salt, into the oven they went for a good bake.

“Hmmm,” hubby said a quick 12 minutes later.

“Is that a good hmmm, or a bad hmmm,” I asked, hovering.

“Just a hmmmm. As in, it’s not a potato chip . . .”

We were amazed by how many vegetables we had never before eaten. Like bok choy, which I had only ever seen in Chinese takeout.

Once we found things we could do with this cute little vegetable, like stir frying it in garlic and ginger, we discovered that we liked it.

Score 1 for bok choy!

Summer rolled around and squash and eggplants came to visit our home. “What is that?” hubby asked suspiciously, pointing to the crockpot where squash, tomatoes and onion roiled.

“It’s ratatouille. French. You know. Like the children’s film,” I offered defensively. “Ratatouille sounds so great, doesn’t’ it?” I asked with enthusiasm I didn’t really feel. Look, I am no Ina Garten. 

He nodded with noticeably less enthusiasm.

“Looks like vegetable soup,” he said, stirring it with the large wooden spoon.

I chopped an eggplant, pointedly ignoring him, then tossed the meaty chunks into the pot.

His mouth twisted ever so slightly sideways. Ruefully.

Once sacrificed to the dish, he wasn’t wrong: the caldron of summer’s bounty looked exactly like vegetable soup.

I wilted just a little myself, reclaimed the spoon, stirred the brew energetically, then covered the pot and ordered him out of the kitchen.

That evening, ratatouille filled two fetching Seagrove pottery bowls. We were not in a Paris bistro with a baguette on the table, but it was ratatouille showtime.

“This needs salt,” I admitted, tasting.

“Maybe pepper.”

His eyes stayed fixed upon the steaming bowl.

The first spoonful passed his lips. Then another.

“Maybe France,” he added.

Then, wordlessly, he smiled, refilling our glasses with a Trader Joe’s red that I reserve for lower expectation occasions.

We sipped, slid our soup spoons into the ratatouille, slurped — and most importantly — shut up.

But Turnip Toffs being Turnip Toffs, we couldn’t help ourselves. We signed up for the CSA again this year.  OH

For more information about local participating CSAs, including NIMBY Gardens, Emmaus Farms, Pine Trough Branch Farm and Handance Farm, visit

In case you were wondering, O.Henry’s contributing editor Cynthia Adams won’t, in fact, be sharing her ratatouille recipe with the public. But she does recommend an extra pinch or three of salt. 

Wandering Billy

Blast from the Past

When Blockbuster and Netflix fell short, Video Review had it all

By Billy Eye

The VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston Strangler is to the woman home alone. — Jack Valenti

It’s been a decade since one of my favorite places in Greensboro, Video Review on Westover Terrace, closed its doors. You can’t possibly understand my grief. That place was responsible in no small part for one of the most successful network television experiences of my life. Seriously.

I stumbled into a television “career” in 2002 when VH1 asked me to write for and appear on a brand-new series called SuperSecret TV Formulas, which would be a companion to the network’s popular I Love the ’80s docu-series. Since I had a book out at the time, I figured why not? Besides, I had a gnawing hunger to prove (mostly to myself) that I could excel at something I’d never attempted before.

SuperSecret became the highest-rated program on VH1 that fall.

Figuring that was a one-and-done situation, I was surprised to find myself involved with the same kind of gig for the Bravo network, filming in L.A. and New York just a few short months later. In 2004, the latest iteration of that Bravo series became 100 Funniest Movies, a “talking head” countdown-type of show. Basically, I’d been given a list of one hundred movies that would require my snarky commentary. I was familiar with most of them but, in dozens of cases, hadn’t watched these films in several years.

Needless to say, I had homework to do.

I was disappointed but hardly surprised to discover that Blockbuster was well stocked with the latest DVD releases — but not so much the ’60s and ’70s-era comedies I was searching for. Netflix fell short as well. But after commiserating with my pal Michael Scott (not the guy from Dunder Mifflin), my world opened up.

“Go to Video Review,” Michael replied casually.


I must have passed that spot a thousand times — never gave it a thought.

Wandering through the doors for the first time, my heart leapt upon seeing row after row of shelves packed with DVDs and, more importantly, a staggering inventory of films on VHS tucked alongside them. They had every single motion picture on my list.

I recently caught up with Jason Laws, son of Jim Laws, who was the owner/proprietor of Video Review. Jason and his brother, Michael, were working the counter when I was furiously renting the maximum number of videos for weeks on end.

“I mean, I was born into this,” says Jason, who started shelving movies at the store when he was 12 or 13. “I actually started working the counter at around 15 or 16. When you’re in a family business, that’s kind of normal.”

Jason’s father, accountant Jim Laws, entered the video rental biz in 1983, two years before the first Blockbuster store in Texas debuted and many more before that chain became ubiquitous. “He and my mom looked at various opportunities,” Jason says. “At one point, they considered a wine and cheese store.”

In 1983, the Laws bought into a fledgling franchise, Video Connection. They opened with an inventory of 125 titles — just about everything out there that wasn’t X-rated.

“Video stores sold more equipment then,” Jason says of a time when video cassette recorders were retailing for around $1,000 ($2,640 in 2021 currency). “It was high-dollar stuff. My father would actually go into people’s homes to set up their VCRs.”

The Video Connection chain unraveled in 1985, just as the price of VCRs dropped below $300. Before long, VCRs were cheap and readily available. Rebranding the business as Video Review, Jim Laws was determined to go it alone, despite video rentals being an alien concept to the general public. “People would come into the store and think it was an arcade,” Jason says. “They had no clue what video was. We were really in on the ground floor, but that was a good thing because it became a rapidly growing industry.”

After six years at Caldwell Square, Video Review moved south next to Outback on Westover Terrace in 1990. For the next 21 years, that place served as a cultural lighthouse for those seeking refuge from reality. Foot traffic was so brisk that the Laws opened a second location at Adams Farm.

In the early-2000s, strolling the copious aisles at Video Review to select a suitable flick for date night was a genuine bonding experience. Entire families were inexorably drawn by the gravitational pull of a 7,000-square-foot showroom displaying well over 150 thousand titles. “That’s probably the main thing people miss: the tactile experience of seeing everything laid out,” Jason says. “And I think about all the people with their kids that grew up in the store. Later, some of those kids would come to work for us.”

New videos arrived every Friday but wouldn’t hit the “New Releases” wall until Tuesday. One nice clerk perk? “You could take new videos home and watch them over the weekend,” Jason says. “That way you’re ahead of everybody. We can say, ‘Hey, no, you don’t want to watch that.’”

As the 21st century unfolded, Netflix’s signature red envelopes began peeking out of just about everybody’s mailbox. If, as the song goes, video killed the radio star, then streaming snuffed out the video store. The Adams Farm branch closed in 2008. Then, after 27 years of business, the Westover Terrace megastore shuttered in 2011.

“Video Review was a library of culture and film,” says Greensboro’s chanteuse extraordinaire Jessica Mashburn (pictured left doing her best Dolly Levi impression). “A place a nerdy artist like myself could go and discuss the latest releases and exchange one-liners with the staff. I always left there feeling joyful and connected to people like me. It was a constant of my childhood here in Greensboro, and I was present for the final hour of its existence.”

What does Jason miss most about those days? Quality time with his dad, he says.

Bravo was thrilled with the ratings for 100 Funniest Movies, which must have made an impression in the Big Apple because, in 2005, VH1 summoned me back to work on 100 Greatest Kid Stars. I asked the producer, “Who’s going to be No. 1? Shirley Temple, Spanky McFarland or Stymie Beard?” None of them, she replied. “It’s Gary Coleman.”

I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” and begged off the project. As much as I came to enjoy the process and the people involved, I didn’t have any desire to be on television in the first place.  OH

Billy Eye returned to his hometown (yep, Greensboro) in 1994 after 16 years of working as a writer and artist for the entertainment industry in LA. Oh, and Bravo’s No. 1 funniest movie? Animal House.


By Ashley Wahl

May is a blushing bride, lips sweet as plump strawberries, humming an ancient rhyme for luck.

Something old (snakeskin), something new (four eggs), something borrowed (birdhouse), something blue (songbird).

The second stanza starts with honeyed warbles. Tu-a-wee sings the bluebird on the pitched roof of the birdhouse. Tu-a-wee trills the bluebird at the nest.   

Verse three is the sound of movement through soft grass. In the black of night — a shadowy flash — four eggs swallowed one by one.

Lucky rat snake, with its new skin, its luscious fluidity, its bellyful of tender life.

Lucky rabbit, nibbling in the garden at dawn, bellyful of baby lettuce, salad greens, Swiss chard, snow peas.

May is a banquet, a ceremony, a celebration.

It is the vow from bee to flower, flower to bee. The sacred oath to give until there is nothing left.

And there is so much here.

An apple blossom for the maiden. Wild berries for the groom. An ancient rhyme. Sweet nectar and the tender, green promise of a full and luscious life — pleasant and bitter, in darkness and in light. 

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ― John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga

Strawberry Fields

Behold the earliest strawberries, fat and sweet. Like love notes from summer, ripe for the picking.    

And if ever you picked them straight from the bush, perhaps you’ve noticed that they smell as scrumptious as they taste. Members of the rose family, strawberry plants are perennial. Fruit can be picked green (pickle them) or ripe (you’ll know what to do), but don’t fret if they’ve gone a bit soft. Instead, make wine —  or jam.

You won’t need much: Two pounds of fresh strawberries (mash them), four cups of white sugar and one-fourth cup of fresh lemon juice. One heavy bottomed saucepan, too.

Stir mixture over low heat until sugar dissolves, then bring to a full rolling boil, stirring often, for about 15 minutes.

Sure, you can transfer to hot sterile jars, seal and process — or save yourself the trouble. Let cool and eat right away.

The May Wreath

May takes its name from the Roman goddess Maia, midwife of plants, flowers and the riotous beauty of spring.

Speaking of flowers, it’s time to gather them.

On the first of the month, May Day, celebrate this fertile, fruitful season by fashioning a wreath of twigs and greenery. Weave in wildflowers: crab apple, dogwood, painted trillium. Add pomegranate, garlic, herbs and nettle. Hang it on your door until midsummer night.

Wreath-making is an ancient Greek custom believed to ward off evil and invite prosperity. The act itself is a sacred dance between the weaver and the natural world.