Omnivorous Reader

Omnivorous Reader

A Gift to Art and Us

The legacy of Fred Chappell

By Stephen E. Smith

Courage.

That noun rarely comes to mind when considering the attributes a writer should possess in abundance. But what a writer does — the act of creating through fiction, poetry, drama, etc. — is something anyone could do who has the heart, the skill, and the courage to do it. And courage is what Fred Chappell, North Carolina’s former poet laureate and career-long creative writing teacher, instilled in his students during his 40 years as a professor in the Master of Fine Arts program at UNC Greensboro.

Fred died on Jan. 4 at age 87, and I suspect he would find this highfalutin’ courage stuff a trifle excessive. He would laugh and shrug it off as so much puffery. But in fact, courage was Fred’s greatest gift to his students. They had to demonstrate the fortitude to survive his graduate writing workshops. If you couldn’t take the criticism, you had no business pursuing a writing career. Moreover, you’d be unlikely to take the chances necessary to produce art that’s compelling in its originality. 

Fred taught by example, demonstrating great courage as a writer from his early Southern gothic novels to his last line of poetry, taking his readers into unexpected precincts, exploring new ground within the context of traditional verse and prose, while always challenging and surprising and delighting his readers.

Of the more than 30 books and hundreds of uncollected stories, poems and literary essays that might be reviewed in this space, one book stands out as both traditional, experimental and uniquely ambitious — Midquest: A Poem — for which Fred was awarded the Bollingen Prize.

Originally published as four chapbooks — River, Wind Mountain, Bloodfire and Earthsleep — the poems (each volume is presented as a single poem composed of shorter poems) appeared from 1975 through 1980, when Fred was in his 30s. Constructed around the elements of water, wind, fire and earth, the work that comprised Midquest was a startling achievement following Fred’s first volume of poetry, World Between the Eyes. When other poets were playing it safe with carefully controlled collections of verse, Fred suddenly expanded the national poetic palette by employing a startling range of forms. Reviewers labeled Midquest “a verse-novel,” but such descriptions don’t capture the variety of exploration and the sense of adventure evident in each “poem” in the collection.

The arrival of Midquest had an effect on late 20th century audiences similar to that of Leaves of Grass on 19th century readers. Within a familiar format, there’s an explosion of energy and constant exploration, all of it mingled with Fred’s depth of knowledge, range of diction, and implacable intellectual curiosity. Fred lays it all on the line and he makes it work. Midquest could only have been written by a poet of extraordinary courage.

The poem “Firewood,” which appears in Bloodfire, is nothing less than astonishing. A stream-of-consciousness foray through the mind of a persona who is chopping wood, it’s demanding of readers in its humorous wordplay and levels of philosophic allusions. As the persona hacks away at the heart of oak, he muses in some of the densest language imaginable. Here’s a bit of “Firewood”:

. . . we can

even half read the dark that sucks the fire away

& swallows, hearth being dug out of earth &

overpowering entropy of earth clouds from the

beginning the wild root mass of fire, it was sun

jammed into dirt that raised the tree, Lucretius’

seed of fire ignis semina is seed semina mortuis

(dirt we rose from, dirt we’ll never forget)

of death in that same split second, moment

split by the man’s hand hard as an iron wedge . . . .

And so the poem goes for more than 450 lines that engage, delight, mock, question, enlighten, challenge, amuse, and befuddle the determined reader, all of it sustained by an energy that’s part elegiac, folkloric, spiritual, and droll. If “Firewood” is a trifle demanding of the reader, it’s emotionally immersing and immensely satisfying as a work of art.

I was out of the MFA program and publishing books of poetry when I read “Firewood.” The sheer brilliance of the work left me with the knowledge that I’d never achieve such excellence but that I’d be compelled to try, even if it took forever. Fred’s Midquest had relegated me and my fellow poets to the status of neighborhood rhymesters.

If “Firewood” demonstrates a degree of exclusivity, “Cleaning the Well” from River is generous and inclusive — a narrative poem about a boy lowered into a well to clean out years of accumulated detritus:

Two worlds there are. One you think

You know; the Other is the Well

In hard December down I went.

“Now clean it out good.” Lord, I sank

Like an anchor. My grand-dad leant

Above. His face blazed bright as steel. . . .

Beginning his descent into the unknown, the persona imagines:

Ribcage of drowned warlock gleaming,

Rust-chewed chain mail, or a plangent

Sunken bell tolling to the heart

Of Earth. (They’d surely chosen an art-

less child to sound the soundless dreaming . . . .

What does the poet find? He discovers random objects right out of the possibilities of life:

Twelve plastic pearls, monopoly

Money, a greenish rotten cat

Rubber knife, toy gun,

Clock guts, wish book, door key,

An indescribable female hat.

Hauled back to the surface, the poet muses:

I had not found death good.

“Down there I kept thinking I was dead.”

“Aw, you’re all right,” he said.

Fred followed Midquest with more than 25 books — novels, short story collections, and volumes of poetry — material crafted with his unique combinations of precision, intellect, generosity, and courage. But Midquest remains a singular masterpiece, a poem every lover of great literature should read and cherish.  OH

Stephen E. Smith graduated with an MFA in creative writing from UNC Greensboro in 1971. He was one of Fred Chappell’s students, and a friend. Apprentice House Press will publish Smith’s memoir, The Year We Danced, on May 7.

Life’s Funny

Life’s Funny

All Hail the King of Toaster Pastries

Why Pop-Tarts are a thing again

By Maria Johnson

As a child of the ’60s and ’70s, I was an advertiser’s dream.

Allowed to roam all three TV channels — four if you counted “educational TV,” which I didn’t — I spent many Saturday mornings glued to the cartoon adventures of Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, the Flintstones, Jonny Quest, the Jetsons, Scooby-Doo, Space Ghost and Fat Albert while making room for real humans in the form of The Monkees.

I use the term “real humans” loosely.

Anyway, consuming so much animation gave me a rich audio and visual catalog. I still hear the whistling of falling anvils when something drops, mutter “ruh-rho” when I make a mistake, and feel like I’m turning to a block of ice then cracking into a million pieces and falling into a pile of shards when I step into water that’s colder than expected.

So, you know, yabba-dabba-doo for imagination.

I also ingested a helluva lot of marketing for sugary convenience foods, which translated — as intended — into me begging my parents to buy them, which translated into a nasty Pop-Tarts habit.

Strawberry.

Blueberry.

Brown sugar-cinnamon.

Dutch apple.

Chocolate.

Painted with a hard shellack of frosting.

Or plain.

It hardly mattered.

These highly processed tiles of joy were sold as “toaster pastries,” which was laughable because they were neither real pastries nor toasted. Not much anyway. Not in our house. My brother and I usually snarfed down those perfectly rectangular suckers at room temperature.

They were packaged in twos, suggesting to some people, perhaps, that the contents were meant to be shared. Translated into sibling-speak, however, the meaning was clear: “Two for me. Get your own.”

We did, and we were wary of pretenders, chiefly Toastettes, which were distinguished by deep hash marks around the edges, and Danish Go-Rounds, which were flat tubes of fruit-filled crust curled into spirals.

Imposters, both.

In due time, of course, I left Pop-Tarts behind, moved onto other unhealthy habits and eventually — as happens to the best of us — became a health-conscious adult.

If I ever bought Pop-Tarts for my own kids, I don’t remember it.

In fact, I tilted the other way, toward whole-grain parenting. Let’s just say there’s a reason my adult sons sometimes tease me with the word “flax,” as in, “Oh, what a shame, Mom. There’s no flax on the menu.”

Or, “What would you call the color of those jeans, Mom? Flax?”

Or, “If only I’d eaten more flax, this wouldn’t be happening.”

To which I can only say, “That’s probably true.”

So, honestly, it was one of the biggest shocks of my life when the boys came home for the holidays recently and we all sat down to watch one of their alma maters, N.C. State, play in a longstanding Florida football contest that was branded, for the first time ever, as the Pop-Tarts Bowl.

Huh?

My interest was piqued.

I hadn’t thought of them — Pop-Tarts, I mean — in so long. And now, here was the logo, plastered all over the field and the screen. Honestly, I didn’t realize Pop-Tarts were still in production.

Then came halftime, and a bellowing announcer directed everyone’s attention to midfield, where a giant toaster was set up. Music blared and the crowd noise swelled as the official Pop-Tarts mascot — frosted, natch, with sprinkles — rose up on a stage inside one of the slots.

Jets of sparks and smoke spewed as the mascot emerged into full view.

Endowed with golden-brown arms and legs, the Pop-Tart strutted, punched the air and whipped up the crowd with his painted-on smile.

It was a rock star’s entrance. Freddie Mercury had nothing on this cat.

A dam broke inside of me. I was flooded with memories.

Of the smell of Pop-Tarts.

Of the feel of Pop-Tarts in my hands, and how I used to break off the crusty edges and eat them first.

I could taste them again.

I fidgeted in my seat.

“Have y’all ever had a Pop-Tart?” I asked the young heads in the room.

They stared at me.

“Not even in college?”

More blank looks.

“Do you WANT to eat a Pop-Tart?” I asked.

Shoulders shrugged. Then someone said, “No, but I think YOU do.”

It was the truth.
“I’m going to the store,” I said flatly. “Who’s with me?”

My younger son, the one who taunts me most about flaxseed, was ecstatic at seeing me crack.

“I’m in!” he said.

Minutes later, we were back with two boxes: one blueberry and one brown sugar-cinnamon, both frosted. We passed them around.

The packets were wrapped in thin, silver film, not the paper and foil envelope of my youth.

The tarts were smaller and thinner than I remembered.

And they tasted less robust, if that’s possible for a laminated wafer born on a conveyor belt.

But they tickled a long dormant lobe of my brain.

My older son’s partner, who is an outstanding baker, chewed slowly.

“What do you think?” I asked, smiling at her with purple teeth.

Her brow furrowed.

Beside her, my elder son, who’s also a foodie, offered an olive branch: “It’s . . . complicated.”

Kansas State won the game. I couldn’t tell you the score.

But forever seared into my mind is the sight of a Pop-Tart incarnate flitting about the sidelines and the announcer wondering which team was going to have the privilege of eating the mascot at the end of the game.

It was blatant cannibalism.

I was all for it.

At the game’s conclusion, as thousands of fans roared their approval, the mascot sacrificed himself to the humongous toaster, descending on his stage to a fate sealed by the heating elements.

A few seconds later, an oversized, frosted tart — sans arms and legs — slid from the bottom of the toaster. The winning team was invited to come over and break off a piece to celebrate.

It was advertising genius.

I fell for it. Again. As it turned out, I had plenty of company.

The kitschy show went viral.

Pop-Tarts’ brand value jumped 25 percent thanks to the media chatter, such as this post on the social platform X:

“I would actually watch the Super Bowl halftime show if it was the Pop-Tart fighting a Toaster Strudel.”

Enchanted fans snapped up novelty T-shirts commemorating the game.

And my newly exposed sons?

The epicure decided he could do without pastries that resembled postcards.

The other, the anti-flaxxer, was open to a Pop-Tart inclusive life.

Secretly, I was happy.

Days later, when we dropped him off at the airport, I noticed he’d left something behind on the car seat: a silver packet of Pop-Tarts.

“Wait here,” I told my husband. I dashed into the airport, sussed out my son in a security line and pardoned my way through the queue.

“You left this in the car,” I said, breathlessly handing him the shiny packet.

He grinned.

I grinned.

Then I turned and zipped away as fast as . . . well, the Road Runner.

Meep-meep. OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine. Email her at ohenrymaria@gmail.com.

Tea Leaf Astrologer

Tea Leaf Astrologer

Pisces

(February 19 – March 20)

They say the average person has three to five dreams per night. The average Pisces, on the other hand, exists in a perpetual dream state, operating from a realm of consciousness akin to a bowl of kelp-laden miso soup. Be gentle with yourself this month, especially when a high-pressure deadline threatens to derail you. Should you find yourself floating on a cube of silken tofu, consider it your life raft from a kind and loving universe. 

Tea leaf “fortunes” for the rest of you:

Aries (March 21 – April 19) 

Suffice it to say that the eagle has landed.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

Try rearranging the houseplants.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

Worrying won’t change the outcome.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

Note the spice level warning.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

Mustard versus vinegar, baby.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

A dull knife is most dangerous.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

Drop the act.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

A splash of lemon goes a long way.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

They don’t need to understand.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Invest in a nail brush.

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

More tree pose.  PS

Zora Stellanova has been divining with tea leaves since Game of Thrones’ Starbucks cup mishap of 2019. While she’s not exactly a medium, she’s far from average. She lives in the N.C. foothills with her Sphynx cat, Lyla.

Sazerac March 2024

Sazerac March 2024

Sage Gardener

Plant some beets. Now. If you don’t have a vegetable garden, put them in your flower bed or in a planter. They’re easy to grow, thrive in cold weather and add a splash of color to your winter palate of pale, mushy turnips, rutabagas and potatoes.

Beets in all forms are descended from a maritime plant that grows wild along the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of Europe. Prized by the Greeks and Romans for their green tops (Swiss chard is a first cousin to beets), the multicolored roots were largely ignored except for animal fodder through the 17th century. Beetroots, as the Brits call them, really didn’t catch on until the 19th century when the French began pairing them with rich béchamel sauce, stewing them in butter and drowning them in cream. Then again, what doesn’t taste good after swimming in a rich roux? Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, “throughout the Colonial era, Americans relied heavily on the garden beet for survival during the winter months. The vegetable was considered an essential winter food — especially during the Six Weeks of Want, a period of produce scarcity that extended from the end of January through mid-March.” That, according to the Smithsonian’s online article “Beauty and the Beets.” (There’s also a www.justbeetit.com website and an online recipe for Paula Deen’s Red Velvet Beets.) On the other side of the planet in Belarus, Poland and Russia, borsch was emerging as a nourishing beet-intensive stew, packed with other various cold-climate vegetables and amped up with almost anything on two or four legs. Ukraine claims borsch as its national dish. An X-(or Twitter-)sphere battle is ongoing between Russia and Ukraine over the birth of borsch. The comments section is ripe with fighting words: “As if stealing Crimea weren’t enough, you had to go and steal borsch from Ukraine as well.”

But back to beets. Fresh is best and farmers markets will be peddling them soon — red, yellow, orange and candy-striped. Don’t have the space to grow your own or the time to make it to the markets? Beets are one of the few vegetables, in my opinion, that aren’t ruined by canning. Harvard beets (beets, sugar, water and cornstarch) are one of my favorite winter dishes. (The name is derived from the deep red of Harvard’s football jersey — or perhaps a tavern in England named “Harwood” that was corrupted in American English into “Harvard.”)

I’m not sure my mom (or most other Southern cooks of her era) ever cooked beets that weren’t canned — and then pickled. If there’s a traditional Southern recipe for beets that are anything but pickled, I’d be tickled to know. I couldn’t find one in any of my slew of Southern cookbooks, including the one from Crook’s Corner, though I know they once served warm-goat-cheese salad with roasted beets and pumpkin seeds. A shame, because they’re so good roasted or in borsch or even raw in salads.

I must admit that most of the beets we grow rarely get much larger than shooter marbles. No sweat. We split them in half, cut up the greens and throw them in a frying pan with way too much butter. Butter, beets, ba-da-boom. Ba-da-yum. Don’t beat me up. Remember I don’t claim to be an expert gardener, just a sage one who never skips a beet.
              David Claude Bailey

Unsolicited Advice

There’s a reason the March Hare in Lewis Carroll’s epic tale, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, appears nerve-wracked and, well, harried: We’re betting it’s because he’s just returned from a family vacation with his many offspring. Since his month is upon us — and so is spring break — we thought we’d offer up a helpful packing list for Mama or Papa Rabbit. Hop to it!

Snacks: We know you’re on break, but here’s a little math equation for you. Take the number of snacks you think you need and multiply that by at least five. It likely still won’t be enough, but you’ll get closer.

A book: You’re a sippy-cup half-full kind of thinker, aren’t you? We like how hopeful you are that you’ll have time to relax. So, go ahead, bring the book. They make great coasters.

An outfit per day: Load up that suitcase with fashions for the person you hope you’ll be on vacay as opposed to who you know you’re gonna be. Just make sure you also pack your fav sweats. You know, the ones with the holes.

Devices with screens: Let’s just be honest here. Opening aforementioned book? A device in the hands of your kiddo might be your only chance.

Ear plugs: We’re sorry, what?

Sazerac Letters

To Cassie Bustemante in response to her December 2023 “Chaos Theory.”

Laid up by my third round of COVID (my chemo-compromised immune system likes to alternate that with pneumonia every few months), I finally found time to read December’s O.Henry and laughed out loud over your story of blow molds, which I did not know were called that until today. My three offspring and their two cousins loved nothing more than seeing their paternal grandmother’s “tacky Santa,” old and faded then, lighting up her carport in the ’70s. He was so beloved that when Nanny’s “treasures” (of which there were three stories and an outbuilding full) were offered upon her entering a nursing home, the only item asked for by name by all five grands was Tacky Santa. It took some costly negotiation, but my middle son prevailed and, to this day, it’s the “leg lamp” on the front porch of his multimillion-dollar Texas home, even after the HOA’s silly comments about “not meeting neighborhood standards of taste.” Thanks for the memories!     
Nelda Howell Lockamy

Photograph © Greensboro History Museum Collection

Window to the Past

Did you know that New York-based Constellation Brands has its humble roots in the Gate City? Beginning life as Car-Cal Winery, the company imported from California and bottled here before relocating to the Empire State. You could say it was a Car-Cal-culated move as it’s now one of the world’s top wine producers.

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

Thank you to all who entered our 2023 O.Henry Essay Contest, with the theme, “The Kindness of Strangers.” Your stories brought tears to our eyes and laughs to our lips while cementing our faith in humanity. With so many delightful entries, our task was daunting, but we’re pleased to have chosen three beautiful essays that will appear in our pages throughout this year. Without further ado, your 2023 winners:

First Place: Ronald Winter, “The Kindness of Strangers, In Unlikely Places”

Second Place: Harry Roach, “The Gift of the Fan Belt”

Third Place: Kay Cheshire, “The Checkout Counter”

We’re mixing things up for the 2024 contest and will accept entries May 1 through September. 30. Look for an announcement and details about our theme in our forthcoming May issue. 

        O.Henry editors

Turning a Page

Nobody knew what to expect in 2018 when a group of readers, writers, students, academics, authors and volunteers organized the inaugural Greensboro Bound Literary Festival.

Founded by book lover Steve Colyer and Scuppernong Books owners Brian Lampkin, Steve Mitchell, and Deb and Dave White, it closed with a sold-out event featuring celebrated poet Nikki Giovanni.

Now Greensboro Bound has named its first-ever executive director.

What prompted the move?

“Exhaustion,” says Lampkin. “Most nonprofits get to that point,” he chuckles. “You have all this volunteer enthusiasm and you realize you need somebody to tie everything together.”

After a thorough search, Greensboro Bound decided on Lex Orgera.

“Lex is an exceptional writer and publisher,” Lampkin says.

A poet, writer, editor and herbalist, Orgera holds an M.F.A. from Emerson College. She is the cofounder of Penny Candy Books for young readers and the author of two collections of poems, along with a memoir, Head Case, about losing her father to Alzheimer’s disease.

“I’m really thrilled to be stepping into the role of executive director in an organization I believe in,” Orgera says. “The festival is an amazing weekend of conversations, ideas and workshops, but we also partner with Guilford County Schools to get books and authors in front of students,” Orgera adds. “We stay busy!”

And the upcoming festival in May?

“We have a little something for everyone — best-selling novelists, award-winning poets, music writers, culture critics, chefs, memoirists and more.”

With Orgera on board, the 2024 edition of Greensboro Bound should be quite a read. — Ross Howell Jr.

Chaos Theory

Chaos Theory

When Winter Gives You Lemons . . .

Make savory salmon with tangy citrus butter

Story and Photograph by Jasmine Comer

Years ago, I had a culinary revelation — citrus fruits reign supreme in the depths of winter or when it simply won’t go away in March. How could a season so dark and chilly yield fruits so bright and tangy? How could such vivid sweetness thrive in a season painted in shades of gray? I had always associated lemons with summer and my seasonal childhood fav — ice-filled fresh lemonade. Nature never ceases to amaze me and, while I can’t explain why things are the way they are, I do know that every savory dish needs a dash of acidity. When I was preparing this recipe, I was reminded of a book by Samin Nosrat called Salt Fat Acid Heat. Nosrat believes that if you can master those four elements, you can master the kitchen. The trick? Balance — that delicate dance of flavors and textures. When done right, balance creates unforgettable meals, the kind your senses recall at their very mention. This recipe reminds me of that profound truth.

Salmon, rich in omega-3 fats, salted and seared, then basted in citrus butter, creates a melody of acidity and fat — and, of course, salt and heat —  that will delight your tastebuds. Even though this recipe is specifically for salmon, the citrus butter would also add a rich, zesty flavor to any type of vegetable, or even your favorite poultry or fish. Imagine roasted broccoli bathed in melted citrus butter or succulent roasted chicken with a tangy twist. I’m drooling already! Don’t be afraid to add fresh herbs such as earthy rosemary, which would also play nicely with the acidity of the citrus. Experiment — Meyer lemons would add a sweeter flavor, while grapefruits pair perfectly with rosemary, which happens to be readily available throughout the Southern winter. Rosemary salmon with grapefruit butter? Yes, please. This recipe is an invitation to let your creativity sizzle. You can’t go wrong, no matter how ya slice it.

Salmon with Citrus Butter

Ingredients

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound salmon with skin attached, cut into 4-ounce filets

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh herbs for serving

Citrus Butter

1 stick salted butter, softened

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon lime zest

1 teaspoon orange zest

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons fresh orange juice

Pinch of cayenne pepper, optional

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season the salmon lightly with salt and pepper.

Place the salmon skin side up in the skillet and cook for 3-4 minutes. Then flip and cook for 2-4 more minutes depending on the thickness of the salmon.

Meanwhile, place all the ingredients for the butter in a small bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.

Once the salmon is almost done cooking, reduce the heat to low and add a couple tablespoons of the citrus butter to the skillet, basting the salmon with the butter as it finishes cooking for about 2 more minutes.

Top with fresh herbs of your choice (I used cilantro). Serve immediately.  OH

Jasmine Comer is the creator of Lively Meals, a food blog where she shares delicious, everyday recipes. You can find her on Instagram @livelymeals.

Simple Life

Simple Life

Coffee with God

Faith beneath the stars

By Jim Dodson

Every day between 3:30 and 4 a.m., I take a cup of coffee outside to an old wooden chair beneath the sky where I sit, look, listen, think and pray.

If you’ll pardon the expression, it’s something I’ve done religiously for at least two decades, regardless of season and weather, bitter cold or bright summer night. Fog, rain, snow or sleet — almost nothing keeps me from my early morning rendezvous with the universe.

I call it coffee with God.

Between you and me, it’s probably the only time in my day when I can be assured, with the faith of a mustard seed, that I and the world around me are reasonably OK.

Between God and me, you see, it’s something very personal.

After sipping coffee and eyeballing the night sky for a bit (I’ve seen several shooting stars over the years, probably a few UFOs, too), I listen to an app on my smart phone called “Pray As You Go,” a daily scriptural meditation produced by the Jesuits in Britain.

That puts me in the mood to chat with God about whatever is on my heart or mind.

Sometimes it’s worries about the state of the world, which always seems to be coming apart at the seams and can clearly use as many healing prayers as it can get. The news out of Israel this year has been like watching the Old Testament come to life. It’s eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth until everyone is blind and toothless, as Mahatma Gandhi supposedly said. Dear God, I ask, will we ever learn to give peace a chance?

Sometimes it’s thoughts and worries about our far-flung children that occupy my coffee time with God. One of them is always up to something that tends to keep the old man up at night. The good news is, they’re all smart kids with very good hearts. I have faith they’ll figure it out in time. They may even learn that praying is good for the soul and usually works wonders. Some atheists even pray — just in case.

Most of my morning prayers, however, are focused on simple gratitude.

I give thanks for my amazing wife, our good-hearted kids and the possibly undeserved good fortune I’ve enjoyed in this life. I often give thanks for other things great and small, including, but not limited to, unexpected blessings, birds at the feeder, good Samaritans, golf buddies, wise book editors, phone calls from old friends, rain for my garden, our crazy young dogs, our cranky old cat, afternoon naps and people who say thank you.

Meister Eckhart, the 13th century German mystic and priest, said that if your only prayer is “thank you,” that will be enough.

I rarely ask God for stuff, except maybe a little help finishing a book or finding patience with idiots who run red lights or drive too fast through the neighborhood. The world is moving much too fast. The truth is, I probably need to slow down, too.

Critics of faith like to say there’s no such thing as a personal relationship with God.

They argue that we human beings are simply a collection of random molecules floating aimlessly through a cold and empty universe. I’ve lived long enough to know that’s simply not the case. I can’t, frankly, think of anything more personal than a relationship with a divine source whose name is different in every language but the same in loving spirit.

This probably explains why I’ve naturally felt God’s presence since I was a little kid growing up across the rural South. In the absence of playmates, I spent most of my time alone outside immersed in nature, looking at birds and bugs, taking hikes through the woods, building forts, watching clouds pass overhead, listening to the love songs of the bullfrogs and the crickets, reading adventure stories on hot summer days beneath shady trees. I never felt alone for an instant. In fact, I felt accompanied by a large and loving presence that clearly cared for me and probably kept a sharp eye on whatever funny business I was up to.

Maybe this is why Jesus was so keen to have little children come near him. As we age, we lose that sense of natural wonder.

It also may explain why, as an adult, I’ve never been terribly keen on public praying, even the lovely prayers and familiar creeds we recite at church every week. They’re written by other well-meaning people and meant, I suppose, to help us catch God’s ear.

Between us, I don’t think God has a hearing problem.

Besides, as Jesus advises in Matthew 6, when you pray, go into a dark closet, shut the door and pray in secret, for God sees you and knows your heart and will openly reward you.

With coffee in hand, I like to think of my early mornings outside beneath the stars — which are always there, even if you can’t see them (kind of like God) — as my own great, big private prayer closet. No need to even shut the door. The world at that hour is normally so dark and quiet that I can whisper to God about anything on my mind. And the strangely wonderful thing is, God whispers back.

One of the worst things that’s happened to faith and prayer across the ages is the unholy marriage of religion and politics. Both are manmade institutions that thrive on telling people what is the correct thing to believe, and what isn’t. Often, when the two get together, all hell can break loose for anyone who dares to believe differently. Near as I can tell from many years of whispering to and being whispered to by some large and loving divine source, God is probably not a member of any particular denomination, sect, tribe, religion, political party or NFL booster club.

I happen to be a follower of Jesus, but find deep inspiration and comfort from the prayers of every faith tradition, a reminder that we’re all just ordinary folks down here on an ailing planet trying to help each other find the way home.

One of my favorite books is called Heaven on Earth: Timeless Prayers of Wisdom and Love by Stephanie Dowrick. I found it a decade ago in a London bookshop and have probably purchased half a dozen copies since to give friends who regularly pray — or ought to.

It’s a marvelous collection of prayers from every spiritual tradition.

One of my favorite prayers comes from the ancient Bhagavad Gita: “Whichever God you worship, I will answer your prayer. Whatever path you take, I will welcome you.”

Funny how similar that sounds to Isaiah 41: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. From wherever you come, I will lead you home.”

Easter arrives on the last day of March this year, a month named by the Romans for the God of War. Easter’s message is one of rebirth and forgiveness.

I pray it’s time we forget war and find peace at last.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

In Good Taste

In Good Taste

When Winter Gives You Lemons . . .

Make savory salmon with tangy citrus butter

Story and Photograph by Jasmine Comer

Years ago, I had a culinary revelation — citrus fruits reign supreme in the depths of winter or when it simply won’t go away in March. How could a season so dark and chilly yield fruits so bright and tangy? How could such vivid sweetness thrive in a season painted in shades of gray? I had always associated lemons with summer and my seasonal childhood fav — ice-filled fresh lemonade. Nature never ceases to amaze me and, while I can’t explain why things are the way they are, I do know that every savory dish needs a dash of acidity. When I was preparing this recipe, I was reminded of a book by Samin Nosrat called Salt Fat Acid Heat. Nosrat believes that if you can master those four elements, you can master the kitchen. The trick? Balance — that delicate dance of flavors and textures. When done right, balance creates unforgettable meals, the kind your senses recall at their very mention. This recipe reminds me of that profound truth.

Salmon, rich in omega-3 fats, salted and seared, then basted in citrus butter, creates a melody of acidity and fat — and, of course, salt and heat —  that will delight your tastebuds. Even though this recipe is specifically for salmon, the citrus butter would also add a rich, zesty flavor to any type of vegetable, or even your favorite poultry or fish. Imagine roasted broccoli bathed in melted citrus butter or succulent roasted chicken with a tangy twist. I’m drooling already! Don’t be afraid to add fresh herbs such as earthy rosemary, which would also play nicely with the acidity of the citrus. Experiment — Meyer lemons would add a sweeter flavor, while grapefruits pair perfectly with rosemary, which happens to be readily available throughout the Southern winter. Rosemary salmon with grapefruit butter? Yes, please. This recipe is an invitation to let your creativity sizzle. You can’t go wrong, no matter how ya slice it.

Salmon with Citrus Butter

Ingredients

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound salmon with skin attached, cut into 4-ounce filets

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh herbs for serving

Citrus Butter

1 stick salted butter, softened

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon lime zest

1 teaspoon orange zest

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons fresh orange juice

Pinch of cayenne pepper, optional

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season the salmon lightly with salt and pepper.

Place the salmon skin side up in the skillet and cook for 3-4 minutes. Then flip and cook for 2-4 more minutes depending on the thickness of the salmon.

Meanwhile, place all the ingredients for the butter in a small bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.

Once the salmon is almost done cooking, reduce the heat to low and add a couple tablespoons of the citrus butter to the skillet, basting the salmon with the butter as it finishes cooking for about 2 more minutes.

Top with fresh herbs of your choice (I used cilantro). Serve immediately.  OH

Jasmine Comer is the creator of Lively Meals, a food blog where she shares delicious, everyday recipes. You can find her on Instagram @livelymeals.

 

Their Lot in Life

Their Lot in Life

How Jim and Barbara North composed the hillside symphony called Wood Notes

By Maria Johnson 

Photographs by Amy Freeman

Long before they built their home on a wooded slope that nuzzles up to a small lake in Oak Ridge, Jim and Barbara North got a lot out of their lot.

The Greensboro couple and their children spent many merry hours on the site, visiting friends Bob and Reba Benbow at the Benbows’ rustic getaway home during the 1970s.

“For us, it was a special thing to drive out to Oak Ridge,” says Jim.

The Norths bought two chunks of their friends’ land in the early ’80s. The Norths’ kids, Scott and Cherie, were in college by that time, but Jim and Barbara still felt a connection to the place, and more importantly, they had a vision for the next stage of their life.

The almost-empty nesters would build a new nest on the incline that was blanketed by hardwoods and pines. Residential development had just started in Oak Ridge, now a popular bedroom community thick with brick manses.

“This was out in the country when we came,” Barbara remembers. “There was nothing out here.”

The couple hired renowned local architect Joel Funderburk to draw up their dream. Funderburk’s hallmark was to set a lumber-clad home, paneled with picture windows, on a slope without cutting and filling to create planes of lawn. The esthetic jibed with the Norths’ wishes.

“We wanted it to be as natural as possible,” says Jim. “I wanted to get away from mowing grass.”

Funderburk, who now lives at Well-Spring retirement community, perched the home on the hillside, situating it between the street and the twinkling water below. Inside, the layout is basically two V-shaped wings fused at the middle, where the entrance sits. The front of the home is at ground level. The back is propped up, like a beach house, on wooden pilings set in concrete.

From this perch, the Norths would look through a lattice of branches to see the same scenes as other creatures living on the slope.

The orange confetti of leaves fluttering to earth in the fall.

The gauzy mist of morning rising from the water.

The mote-filled shafts of daylight filtering through tree trunks.

They would hear the same sounds, too — the hollow hoots of barred owls, the watery slaps of beaver tails, the chatty yips of scruffy coyotes, the ringing chants of shiny frogs.

The Norths called their home Wood Notes.

In 1994, they moved from their base, a bungalow in the Lawndale Homes neighborhood, and set about feathering their 2,400-square-foot nest with a highly personal palette of polished antiques, unvarnished folk art and nature-focused fine art they’d collected, along with lush pockets of faux-floral arrangements stemming from Jim’s creative hand.

Outside, they kept it simple, accentuating the native landscape by adding more shade-loving plants — hellebores, rhododendron, yew, mahonia, Japanese maples and ferns.

Considering the home’s exuberant interior and its minimalist wrapper, you might call the whole package a modernist cottage, which seems like a contradiction, but it’s not.

The place reflects the couple’s shared understanding of what was, what is, and what can be. They have a long history — bracketed by more than six decades of marriage — of growing together.

They met in 1961. Jim, a native of St. Simons Island, Ga., was finishing up at Valdosta State University and working as youth director at a local Methodist church. Barbara was a freshman at the college and attended the same church.

They married at the end of Barbara’s freshman year, furthered their educations in Tennessee, and moved to Greensboro in 1964 so Jim could lead the children’s ministry at West Market Street United Methodist Church. A few years later, he pivoted to secular education at a local Head Start training center.

Then, around age 40, Jim had what Barbara describes as a midlife crisis.

He heard a calling to create beauty, a pull he’d felt while working for florists in college. He’d felt the same tug while working for Herschell’s Fabrics, a high-end textiles house in Atlanta.

Guided by his inner light, Jim enrolled in the interior design program at UNCG. He was encouraged by Barbara, who’d finished her biology degree at UNCG, then landed a job with pharmaceutical and agrochemical company Ciba-Geigy.

Jim’s contacts led to a full-time position at Under One Roof, a seller of fine domestic goods in Quaker Village.

“I was building a reputation for floral design,” he says.

When the owners sold the shop, Jim felt stuck.

“I said, ‘What in the world am I going to do now?’” he remembers.

He answered his own question by opening Designs North, a business devoted to the arrangement of interior spaces and flowers — both cut and silk flora, or as they are sometimes called in the industry, PBs, short for permanent botanicals.

He ran the store — first in a shopping center at Lawndale Drive and Martinsville Road, and later in the Westover Gallery of Shops — for 27 years. He retired at age 68.

Eight years Jim’s junior, Barbara worked for several more years, then tacked on a second career as a part-time consultant.

The house evolved with them, becoming a dynamic journal of their interests and activities.

Avid supporters of the arts, the couple bejeweled their walls with paintings by area artists including Roy Nydorf, Connie Logan,  Alexis Levine, Betsy Bevan, Adele Wayman and Leigh Rodenbough.

They adorned their shelves with pottery from Tarboro’s Siglinda Scarpa, Greensboro’s Charlie Tefft and various Seagrove artisans.

They stocked their lofted screened porch, which feels like a treehouse, with so many whimsical birdhouses purchased at Habitat for Humanity fundraisers that the goldfinches and cardinals outside must have been dying for an “open house.”

The Norths understand from first-hand experience the challenges and thrills of creating extraordinary works from ordinary ingredients. Jim still does interpretive floral arrangements for their church, Presbyterian Church of the Covenant on South Mendenhall Street in Greensboro.

“They’re based on my thoughts about relationships and about creating a more sustainable Earth,” he says.

The couple take the concept of “small world” personally.

For several years, they have opened their doors to Friendship Force, an organization co-founded by former President Jimmy Carter to promote home-based visits between people of different cultures.

The Norths have traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Denmark.

They’ve hosted visitors from Japan, Australia, Moldova and Turkey.

And they have participated in the Road Scholar program, formerly Elderhostel, which orchestrates adventures for seniors. In 2023, they went to the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. Their group helped to decorate a riverboat float representing Louisiana.

“We crushed coconut,” Jim says, explaining that only botanical materials are used on the eye-popping entries. “Everywhere there was white on the float was crushed coconut.”

The Norths brought back a sweatshirt. A trip to Iceland, with another outfit, yielded a small ceramic bowl.

“We’ve gotten to the point we try not to bring back a lot of stuff. We have so much from over the years. We don’t need one more thing,” says Barbara.

The couple have been trying to thin their material possessions.

“The problem is, we’re so emotionally attached to our things,” says Barbara. “Most everything we’ve got has memories attached, and that’s so hard to give up.”

To Jim, the next step is clear: Move to a retirement community that offers lots of activities.

“We’re young elderly people,” says Jim, who turns 88 next month. “If they have a trip, I’ll be the first person on the bus.”

Barbara, 80, isn’t ready to board yet.

“This year, we will have been in this house 30 years,” she says. “That’s hard to think about. Those 30 years have gone by fast.”  OH

The Art of Gratitude

The Art of Gratitude

A painter takes his stroke from the canvas to the greens

By Jim Dodson

So why is Dave Baysden smiling?

On the final hole of Rees Jones’ challenging Championship Course at Bryan Park, he’s completed an otherwise sterling round of golf with a bogey on his card.

“Yeah,” he says with a carefree shrug, as he and his playing partners head for a beer in the clubhouse, “that was kind of disappointing, especially after one of my best rounds ever. But how can you not feel happy looking at that?”

He nods toward a fairway tumbling downhill to a slate blue lake glittering in the long light of a golden afternoon, girdled by forests afire with color. “Looks like a painting, doesn’t it,” he muses. “I may have to come back and sketch that.”

Baysden is certainly qualified to do that. A youthful 47, this affable father of two and former engineering artist has taken the golf world at large by storm with soulful paintings of some of the game’s most revered landscapes.

In a fine-art golf world crowded with ultrarealistic renderings of the game’s notable playgrounds, Baysden’s versions of the same tumble with bold movement, swipes of light and color — almost Impressionist in their ability to convey the mood, weather and mythic qualities of his subjects. His work calls to mind the luminous landscapes of 19th-century British Romantic Age painter J.M.W. Turner, works that tug on the emotions as well as the eye.

“I’m not sure I have a particular style,” Baysden allows with characteristic modesty, “because this is all still relatively new to me. What I simply try to capture is what I see and feel when I look at a golf course and other things in the game. People seem to like them.”

Indeed they do.

His distinctive landscapes, illustrations and sketches have turned up lately on everything from the cover of the 2022 President’s Cup program to commercial golf club headcovers. Underscored by a growing portfolio of major client commissions — including leading private and public entities like Pinehurst, The Dormie Club, Ballyhack, Old Town, Secession and the Country Club of Detroit — his distinctive style is popping up almost anywhere golf is enjoyed.

Not long ago he was invited to support the Arnold Palmer Foundation with paintings and design services for the annual Palmer Cup and the restoration of Palmer’s beloved Latrobe Country Club. A collection of 11 of his paintings also recently found their way to Ric Kayne’s spectacular new Te Arai Golf Course in New Zealand. His sketches for the likes of Bandon Dunes and Sweetens Cove, B. Draddy and MacKenzie Golf Bags, meanwhile, speak eloquently about his visionary art’s broad allure to the small-ball world. Landscapes for Royal County Down, Tara Iti and Kauri Cliffs have also recently graced his studio easel in High Point. Last spring, Baysden was commissioned to do a 4’ X 5’ painting of the Cassique Clubhouse for the USGA’s annual Amateur Four-Ball Championship on Kiawah Island. The list goes on and on.

Not bad for a kid nicknamed “Smiley” who grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, doodling in class and church because he believed that helped him concentrate. “I was born a natural doodler,” he says with a laugh. “That really bothered my teachers but, crazy as it sounds, doodling actually helped me pay better attention to what was going on in class. It’s the same now when I’m on a golf course — either doing a live sketch of folks at a tournament or just out on a golf course alone, looking and sketching what I see. My eyes and brain work through my hands. The images come through me to the paper that way. It helps me feel the landscape.”

This somewhat late-in-life gift comes naturally, he explains, from his parents — father, Ron, is a gifted career engineer for AT&T-Bellsouth, and his mom, Carolyn, a lifelong artist. Ditto his sister, Cara, also a visual artist. “Dad is a brilliant engineer, very left brain, analytical and scientific, which was the path I naturally assumed I should follow. But my mother and her father were both landscape painters, so that probably explains why the urge to visually create — to doodle at least — seized my brain early,” he speculates.

After taking a degree in biology at the University of South Carolina, Baysden entered grad school at UNC-Charlotte to earn a master’s degree in geography, which landed him in the planning and development department of a top engineering firm producing detailed maps for major highway projects. “I learned a lot in that job about how creativity could benefit an engineering environment. I drew landscapes from aerial photography that helped the engineers better envision what they were building. I loved the job. That’s why I stayed in it for 18 years.”

Providentially, however, two factors unexpectedly led him into the world of golf. When his company announced a merger with another firm, he was basically left alone in a 6,000-square-foot space with a decreasing workload. “I knew my job was probably destined to be eliminated, so I set up an easel in an empty office and began to go over there to sketch and paint when things got slow. It felt so good, like something calling me back.” His early works were pastoral scenes of barns, fields and nature.  Just for fun, he began putting them on Twitter (now X).

A pivotal moment occurred when, seemingly out of the blue, the pastor of his church in Charlotte invited him to participate in a special project that involved several established artists painting scenes on a wall for the church’s Easter observance. 

“These were top artists, mind you, some really talented folks, and I couldn’t believe he would ask me,” Baysden recalls. “I’d never painted anything that large and so public in my life. The fear of failure was pretty real. But terrifying as that was, I realized something had to get out.”

He credits the minister at Forest Hills Church, Steve Whitby, for providing the push he needed. “He told me just not to say no. To be guided by faith. So, I gave it a shot.”

Right: Swilcan Bridge, Old Course St. Andrews

 

Baysden’s painting of a man struggling to get free of the vines that enwrapped him — simply titled Transgression — struck a powerful chord among those who saw it as a living metaphor for the human yearning for faith and freedom, a perfect Easter message of rebirth that was happening to the artist himself.

“The response from people — and the other artists — took me by surprise. To tell the truth, I had no idea if it was good or not. But they seemed to really see something in my work. It got me thinking, eager to try more.”

As Baysden likes to say, that’s how art found him again. How golf found his art almost seems divinely orchestrated.

One of those who saw his pastoral sketches online was Graylyn Loomis, one of golf’s leading influencers, an Asheville native who helped take his high school golf team to the state championship in 2010 and spent four years attending the University of St Andrews, clocking more than 180 rounds on the Old Course between classes. Loomis’ passion for links architecture and love of the auld game led him to create a popular golf blog and travel newsletter read by thousands of classic golf nuts.

“I loved what I saw Dave doing online and got in touch because of his spectacular illustration of speckled trout,” Loomis says. “His subjects were almost breathtakingly beautiful. They had such a natural feel, I just had to know who this guy was and where he came from.”

“I remember Loomis asked me — Who are you?” Baysden recalls with a laugh. “We had a great conversation that changed my life.”

Loomis felt Baysden’s luminous art leant itself perfectly to a painting a golf course, and wondered if Baysden would be up for an interview for his blog and consider doing a couple of watercolor paintings of St Andrews and Cypress Point.

“I was floored. I grew up playing golf with my dad and friends but had never painted a golf course before,” says Baysden. “It was kind of scary to think I could possibly paint from photographs. But he also said he saw something unique in my work, so I was willing to try.”

“I simply told Dave that his work was so different a wider audience needed to see it,” Loomis remembers. “I even offered to pay him, but he said he wouldn’t take any money. That’s how humble Dave is. I told him those days would probably be ending soon.”

Today, both paintings hang in Loomis’ home. “His paintings capture the soul of golf. When you look at his work, whatever the subject, you feel like you are really there with him. That sets him apart, in my view.”

Encouraged by the strong response on Loomis’ website, Baysden began posting a daily cartoon of whatever was happening in golf on Twitter, which landed him a gig as roving cartoonist at the PGA Tour Championship.

“It was an amazing experience. They told me to draw whatever caught my attention. I honestly didn’t even know what to charge them. That’s how inexperienced I was. But it was a blast — the first time I’d ever sketched and walked a golf course at the same time.”

His signed originals of the four “scenes” he produced during the championship’s first two days were presented to the top finishers.

Left: Augusta National, Hole 12

Right: ArborLinks, 5th Hole

 

For the PGA Merchandise Show that following winter, Baysden was commissioned to paint a 5’ X 8’  backdrop of the second hole at Old McDonald at Bandon Dunes, which hung in the firm’s booth along with his painted headcovers. “I did the work in our garden shed,” he remembers with a laugh, “because that became my studio at home, where I could disappear and sketch and paint for hours without worrying about the mess.”

That same year, 2018, Tour star Zack Blair invited Baysden to come play and paint at his inaugural two-day event called “The Ringer” at Sweetens Cove. “Dave was really perfect for our event. He did a couple paintings that we auctioned off and everyone loved his work,” explains Blair.

“That’s really where I fell in love with playing the game again,” says Baysden. “I’d never walked a golf course until Sweetens Cove. I saw the game in a new light, one where friends share their love of the game and true fellowship. It was a true eye-opening experience.”

Not surprisingly, Blair became an enthusiastic friend and patron. “Dave’s art is extraordinary. I have an entire gallery wall of his work at home [in Utah] — not just golf art but also his river scenes, barns and lots of other non-golf subjects. My mother has several of his paintings, too,” says Blair, pointing out that Baysden has been the artist-in-residence at every “Ringer” since the Dormie Club, Streamsong and Sand Valley.

Back home in his studio in High Point — a spare bedroom with north-facing windows, his largest  workspace ever — “Smiley the Doodler” finds himself hard at work on a stream of new projects, including work for the approaching 2024 US Open at Pinehurst.

Yet, true to his nature, he takes time to count his blessings.

Maybe most important of all, he explains, as the reach of his artistic gifts continue to expand across Planet Golf, his friendships through the game have deepened and grown in especially meaningful ways. Perhaps his most notable role has been in the creation of a group of spiritually-minded golfers who started the “Restoration Club,” a faith-based band of brothers who enjoy the fellowship of the game and a community that encourages them to walk with Jesus and be better husbands, brothers, dads and friends.

“I’m still blown away by the generosity of the golf world, so grateful how this all happened,” he muses. “My wife, Mandy, encouraged me at every step of the way and the golf world had been incredible. It’s a long game, as they say, and I’m still learning. But that’s the beauty of golf — and, for that matter, living in this world. There’s always something new that catches my attention. I see it,” he adds, still smiling, “and I want to paint it.”  OH

Greensboro: A Cultural Herstory

Greensboro: A Cultural Herstory

Eight women who made a lasting mark on the city

By Cassie Bustamante

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re paying homage to the fierce females who were pioneers in Greensboro’s arts and culture scene. Some you may know; others you may not.

Photograph © Greensboro History Museum Collection

MARTHA SEBASTIAN

Beginning in the late 1800s, Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie made his fortune in iron, oil and steel, and then invested it in one of the most valuable commodities: public knowledge. At a time when segregation laws were still in place, Carnegie funded 2,500 libraries, including 12 free-to-use libraries, dubbed “Carnegie Negro libraries,” for underserved Blacks. In 1924, Greensboro’s Bennett College became the site of the last one built, and Martha Sebastian, a library science graduate of Simmons College in Boston, became head librarian, a role she maintained until her death in 1948. By 1930, Sebastian had built the largest collection of any public segregated library in the state. Sebastian also amassed an African American literature collection and created a meeting space for Black organizations. Knowledge is power, and, under her leadership, the library empowered those it served. Today the former library houses offices for Bennett College. Nearby, a meeting room at the Vance H. Chavis Branch Library is dedicated to Sebastian.

Photograph Courtesy of the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Portrait of Laura Weill Cone, 1910 The Carolinian

LAURA WEILL CONE

Hands down, Cone is one of the most recognized surnames in Greensboro history. Brothers Moses and Ceasar established their business, Cone Export and Commission Company, in 1891, which led to a textile empire that culminated in today’s denim innovator, Cone Denim. The name can be seen on schools, street signs and any number of medical facilities throughout the city. But it was the Cone women who would have a profound impact on the city’s art scene. Thanks to the family’s lucrative business, sisters Claribel and Etta were afforded the luxury of global travel and collecting art. In Paris, they rubbed elbows with the likes of Picasso and Matisse, and began collecting Modern art. Their sister-in-law, Laura Weill Cone, married to brother Julius, was a loyal Woman’s College (now UNCG) grad who worried that the school’s Weatherspoon Art Gallery was struggling. She asked Etta to consider a donation. Upon Etta’s death in 1949, a large collection was left to Woman’s College. So next time you admire Picasso’s The Coiffure while perusing the free-admittance gallery, think of Laura and the Cone sisters. Without them, the graceful ink sketch of a Parisian beauty admiring her hairdo in a mirror would doubtless be hanging somewhere other than Greensboro.

Photograph © Greensboro History Museum Collection

By piloting students into a career in flying, Mary Nicholson gave wings to the dreams of others.

MARY NICHOLSON

Anybody who’s seen an N.C. license plate knows we’re “First in Flight,” but you may not know that the first female in the state to earn both a commercial pilot’s and transport license was Spartan Mary Nicholson. Born in Greensboro in 1905, Nicholson attended North Carolina College for Women (now UNCG) to study music, but, after taking her first flight in 1927, decided the only high notes worth hitting were in the friendly skies. How did she get aloft? Easy. She parachuted out of a plane as an ad for a flying school. In 1929, she became a charter member of The Ninety-Nines: International Organization of Women Pilots — founded by Amelia Earhart, Fay Gillis Wells and Ila Loetscher, and still around almost 100 years later. She was one of 25 civilian women on the British Air Transport Auxiliary unit during World War II. On May 22, 1943, Nicholson died doing what she loved after her engine froze up, demolishing her propeller mid-flight. Despite her best efforts, she crashed into a stone barn in Worcestershire County, England. Next time you’re preparing for takeoff at PTI and see a female in the cockpit, you can thank Mary Nicholson for paving the runway for others.

Photograph Courtesy of the Leung Family

Whether as unofficial “mayor” or “mother” of Tate Street, Amelia Leung fed and nurtured her community.

AMELIA LEUNG

In 1969, Amelia Leung, a trained nurse who was working at the Lotus restaurant in downtown Greensboro, and her husband Robert, a recent N.C. A&T grad with a degree in electrical engineering, were cruising along Tate Street when they noticed a restaurant, the Apple Cellar, for sale. According to Leung in a November 2016 O.Henry story, the owners weren’t jiving with the rising hippie scene. A couple years later, Hong Kong House opened and dished out more than cuisine; it created its own culture. Amelia blended her Chinese family recipes with customer and staff suggestions, a fusion ahead of its time. But more than the diners, the local musicians were nourished by Amelia and remember her as the “mother of Tate Street.” She offered free meals to starving artists in exchange for playing at her restaurant. Creating a neighborhood atmosphere that welcomed everyone, she helped organize the very first Tate Street Festival in 1973. While the restaurant closed in 1999 and Amelia died in 2017 at the age of 77, the festival returned to Tate Street last fall after a three-year hiatus, once again bringing music, food and people together.

Photograph © Greensboro History Museum Collection
Family portrait of Edward London, Sadie Mack London, and daughter Evelyn

SADIE MACK LONDON

Sadie Mack, born in South Carolina in 1898, was drawn to the business of beauty from a young age and moved to New York City to pursue her passion. There, she learned cosmetology as well as product manufacturing at Poro Beauty College. Post graduation, she became licensed in the Empire State. But when her brother fell ill, Mack moved to Greensboro to care for him. No powder-puff entrepreneur, she opened her own Gate City beauty shop and married a widowed tailor named Edward D. London. Together they created a joint Black-owned establishment featuring his tailoring and dry-cleaning services, as well as her salon, where she began teaching cosmetology. In 1935, Edward left his tailoring business and the couple opened Maco Beauty College at 505 E. Market St. Quickly outgrowing the space, MBC relocated to a former hotel, which allowed for dormitories as well as other amenities. Sadie died in 1942, but, under Edward’s direction, the school flourished and, during its 34 years in business, trained over 1,000 cosmetologists. Maybe she was born with it, but it certainly didn’t die with her.

MARGARET FALKENER

In December 2023, North Carolina A&T State University won ESPN’s inaugural award for HBCU Band of the Year in Division I. Bang the drum for Band Director Kenneth Ruff, but let’s remember Margaret Mitchell Falkener, who founded the music department in 1894. She opened doors for the Blue and Gold Machine to march right through. Born in 1870 in Oberlin, Ohio, Falkener, a talented pianist, came to the Tar Heel State to teach. After settling with her husband in Greensboro, not only did she found the Aggies’ music department, but she also volunteered for more than 800 hours in 1918 alone, providing home service to Black families affected by World War I, and served as the first female supervisor of Guilford County Black schools. Founder of the county’s first Black garden club, an organizing member of Unified Institutional Baptist Church and the mother of five sons, one of whom would become a city councilman, Falkener died in 1938, but her beat goes on.

Photograph by Sam Froelich

Elissa Minet Fuchs instructing a class

ELISSA FUCHS

By the time Elissa Minet Fuchs came to Greensboro in 1976, she’d already had quite an impressive career as a ballerina, radio actress and choreographer. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1919 to a Jewish American family, Fuchs left at the age of 16 to pursue a professional dance career in Chicago, where she’d heard opportunity awaited. A grand jeté of faith? Perhaps, but from there she pirouetted into professional dancing and teaching for years to come, including work on Broadway, with Ballet Russe, a 12-year stint as a soloist and corps de ballet member at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and the founding of the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre. When her husband, Dr. Peter Paul Fuchs, took on the role of Greensboro Symphony and Opera conductor, Fuchs began serving on the board at the Greensboro Ballet, where she would later choreograph and teach — well into her 90s! In 1981, Fuchs and director Maryhelen Mayfield decided to bring The Nutcracker to the Gate City. It remains a long-standing tradition today. Fuchs died in February 2023 at the age of 103. On her obituary page, one word reappears in the comments left by those who remember her: legend.

Photograph © Carol W. Martin/Greensboro History Museum Collection

SANDRA HUGHES

If you tuned into WFMY News 2 from 1972–2011, chances are you found the face of Sandra Hughes — a proud Aggie alum-turned-professor — smiling back at you. In 1974, shortly after launching her career in journalism, Hughes became the first Black woman to host her own daily talk show in the Piedmont, Sandra and Friends, which ran for four years. In a 2019 WFMY News story, Hughes recalled receiving bomb threats at the station because of her show, saying “People didn’t think that the time had come for a Black woman to be doing a show by herself on television.” Not only did she prove them wrong, but she became one of the most recognizable names in Triad journalism. As Greensboro History Museum curator of community history Glenn Perkins notes, we can thank her for “opening the door to a generation of journalists.”  OH