Pleasures of Life Dept.

Pleasures of Life Dept.

The Kindness of Strangers

Found in unlikely places

By Ronald Winter

Note from the editor: This was our 2023 O.Henry Essay Contest winner.

I suppose I should tell you right away that this took place during a war, and wars are more likely to make the evening news for acts of inhumanity rather than human kindness.

It was November 1968 in Quang Tri, South Vietnam, a beautiful place that at the moment in question for many was lethal. The U.S. Marine Corps maintained an airstrip there that served as a staging point and northernmost helicopter base for operations in the Demilitarized Zone or the Laotian border, both of which were major infiltration routes for communist troops from North Vietnam.

I arrived there in May with the Marine helicopter squadron I had joined nearly two years earlier in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Since then, the tide had definitely been turned against the communists after the so-called “strong points” defenses envisioned by the former Secretary of Defense had been replaced by a highly mobile interdiction strategy, which required lots of helicopters flying thousands of missions.

But on Nov. 28, 1968, Thanksgiving Day, the action subsided as a mutually agreed upon, and mutually distrusted, ceasefire took place for 24 hours. I had been trained as a helicopter electronic/electrical technician, but also volunteered to fly as a door gunner. So each month I spent half of my time fixing helicopters and half flying in combat.

But on this day, our job was to simply deliver canisters of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, desserts and beer to outposts and landing zones in our area. The aromas of  those meals tantalized us all day as we visited landing zone after landing zone, giving the Marine infantry the first hot meal many had seen in weeks, if not months, making it the toughest duty I had seen in the more than 200 missions I had completed thus far.

By mid-afternoon we were done, and it was back to Quang Tri, where the Seabees had completed construction of a mess hall for us. We couldn’t wait to dive in to our own Thanksgiving dinners. After our post-flight duties, a group of us headed for the mess hall where, to our dismay, we found not a noisy jam-packed hall full of Marines scarfing down turkey dinners, but an empty building and, even more distressing, a barren chow line, devoid of anything but crumbs left from what obviously had been a sumptuous feast.

I think we went into a collective shock, which wasn’t helped when we approached the mess sergeant, a senior NCO, asking where the meals were for the flight crews. “Should have gotten here earlier,” was his caustic, wholly uninformed and certainly unsympathetic reply.

We drifted back to the squadron enlisted living area as dejected a group of Marines as could be imagined. It looked as though C-rations was going to be it for us — packaged meals that are unappetizing at best, even when heated, and not belonging in the same universe as a turkey dinner.

As I sat on my cot and pondered the ramifications of what we had just experienced, the door to my hooch burst open and in strode Billy Bazemore, another electrician and a relative newcomer to the squadron, who also had been flying that day and had just discovered that in his absence mail had been delivered, including packages from home. Billy, who had an incredibly ebullient personality, especially considering our current situation, triumphantly reached under his cot, pulling out package after package.

He displayed a large, precooked, canned turkey and more containers with potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce — yes it was the canned variety, but really, where were we going to cook up fresh cranberries in that environment? — and more.

At his invitation a half-dozen of us gathered around Billy’s cot, bringing our own contributions from hoarded C-rations — pound cake, peaches, fruit cocktail, even turkey loaf — and adding them to the growing feast. Then the hooch door opened again and in came another electrician, Tommy Lenz, carrying an armful of Lone Star beer in 12-ounce cans that had been arriving from his mother in small batches to escape detection. He had been secretly saving them for such an occasion. Where Billy was outgoing, Tommy was taciturn, tall and lean — a Texan. But he had a huge smile on his face that day!

And just when we thought we had it all, I discovered that I too had received a package. Upon opening it I found to our great joy a Sara Lee chocolate cake that, thanks to modern chemical preservatives, not only survived the 12,000-mile voyage from upstate New York intact, but arrived reasonably fresh!

Most of us didn’t know the benefactors, who realized that Thanksgiving in a war zone might be difficult and did something about it. But they rescued the day for us and I have never forgotten our appreciation for them.

I wish I could say that this story has a happy ending, but five months later, on April 22, 1969, Tommy and Billy were flying as gunners together near the DMZ when their helicopter was hit by a command-detonated mine as it settled into a landing zone. They both died.

A month later, with more than 300 missions under my belt, I left Vietnam, physically unscathed. But more than five decades later, I still remember that Thanksgiving with far more detail than any other holiday meal during my time in the service.

I have lived a good life, far away from the war, in both time and distance, but I haven’t forgotten the people who created a memorable day for a bunch of Marines they never knew. And every Thanksgiving I stop for a moment, by myself, with no fanfare, and quietly raise a glass to them, and to Billy Bazemore and Tommy Lenz, to say, “Thank you. Semper Fi!”  OH

Ronald Winter is an author, www.RonaldWinterbooks.com. He is a decorated Marine Corps Vietnam veteran who spent nearly 20 years as a print journalist, earning numerous awards and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. He is a public speaker, competitive powerlifter and media relations specialist, living in Eden, N.C.

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

The Eras Experience

(Cassie’s Version) 

By Cassie Bustamante

 

I pause on the pedestrian bridge to Nashville’s Nissan stadium, taking a moment to soak it all in. Together, we are a shimmering rainbow of colors and costumes, arching toward a privileged pot-of-gold: The Taylor Swift Eras Tour. Everywhere I turn, glitter make-up, sequined garments, T-shirts emblazoned with “Not a Lot Going on at the Moment.” I spy two floral-sheeted “ghosts” sporting hats and sunglasses. Even my daughter, Emmy, who lives in leggings and hoodies, is wearing a dress — the first in years. The outfits are almost as over-the-top as Comicon and I’m feeling a little underdressed in my long aqua dress.

What is it that draws a record-breaking crowd of over 210,000 people to one stadium for a weekend of concerts? While I can’t speak for the rest of ’em, this 45-year-old has been a card-carrying Swiftie since the 2008 release of her second album, Fearless. The track that caught my ear? “You Belong with Me,” which speaks to anyone who’s ever been an awkward teen — my hand is up! — sidelined in the friendzone:She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers/dreaming about the day when you wake up and find/that what you’re looking for has been here the whole time.” Dressed in marching band attire, Swift played that as the opening song on the Fearless Tour. I know because I was there.

For those of you who are Swift-deprived, Taylor is somehow able to turn her joy and anguish into a mix of catchy tunes that are totally relatable, everything from her mother’s battle with cancer to being taken advantage of by an older man. (I’m looking at you, John Mayer.) She’s not afraid to admit to a carnal desire for revenge that most of us pretend doesn’t exist. After listening to an entire album, we’re left feeling like she’s one of us. And that someone out there understands our pain and knows how to celebrate life’s joy with us.

Emmy’s entire childhood has been set to a soundtrack of Taylor Swift, and, as she’s grown into a teen, the songs have become more than just snappy singalongs. During the great stay-at-home of 2020, while my two teens were hiding from their parents and toddler brother behind closed doors, Swift was busy writing two albums worth of songs. Every day felt like the same challenge on repeat, but the releases of Folklore and Evermore drew Emmy out of her room and gave us something to share. Our kitchen Alexa was mighty tired of Taylor that year.

In fact, Emmy’s love for Swift has — dare I say? — outgrown my own, her bedroom a twinkling shrine. So, when a 2023 tour is announced, my husband, Chris, and I decide that an Eras experience will be Emmy’s Christmas and birthday gift. After chatting with friends — Chandra, Erienne, Jessika and her daughter, Vivienne — we all set our sights on Nashville for Swift’s first tour since 2018.

Almost six months later, after lucking out during Ticketmaster’s Swiftgate, the moment is finally near. We enter the stadium and add our LED concert wristband to our arms, already stacked with friendship bracelets we’d made that morning. (Most Eras concertgoers — inspired by the lyrics, “So make the friendship bracelets, take this moment and taste it — craft beaded bracelets to exchange.)

Everywhere we turn, we see strangers exchanging smiles and bracelets. I take note of boyfriends wearing “Karma” shirts (“Karma is my boyfriend”), fathers sporting pink button-downs that match their daughters’ dresses and friends in matching sequined ensembles. On this night, one thing is clear: We are all unified, in this together. And that’s no easy feat after a few tumultuous years in America. I look at my own little crew, each of us representing different eras, and tears spring to my eyes. I choke them back before Emmy — who rarely cries and teases me for my constant waterworks — notices.

We continue our search for our second tier seats. After struggling to figure out how to reach our level, we decide to ask a stadium attendant for help, a fortuitous encounter that changes everything.

Erienne approaches a young, Black attendant with warm brown eyes. The attendant, let’s just call her Janie, notices the friendship bracelets piled on Erienne’s arm. She smiles shyly and says, “Those are some nice bracelets you have.”

Erienne kindly removes a green beaded strand that reads “Ivy” and hands it to Janie, asking if she’s a fan.

Janie lights up at the gesture. “Well, I wasn’t before last night [the first of the Nashville shows]. But now, I think I am becoming a Swiftie — that’s what it’s called, right?” she asks. “I listened to her music for two hours last night on my way home and, man, she’s talented.”

After a few minutes of us filling Janie in on all the must-know Swiftie info, she directs us to the escalator that will take us to the second level. But then she glances at us sheepishly, walks a few steps down the hall, away from her coworker, nodding for us to follow. “You know, the front few rows of this section are usually empty,” she says. “If y’all come back here around the time the show starts, I can probably get you into those seats.” (We can only assume they’re typically reserved for potential celebrities or special guests.)

Our mouths drop. Front row stadium seats? As in, just behind the floor seats? Quick-thinking Chandra pulls out her phone and exchanges numbers with Janie. We thank her and I give her one more bracelet: a sunny yellow beaded loop with “Happiness” spelled out.

We make our way to our ticketed seats to catch the opening acts, Gayle and Phoebe Bridgers. Just after their sets conclude, Chandra texts Janie, who gives us the thumbs up emoji, signaling that we are good to go. Back in Janie’s section, she breaks our crew of six into two, placing half of us in row A, the other half in row B.

I sit in the front row, Emmy between me and Chandra. Erienne, Jessika and Vivienne pile in just behind us. We all exchange glances of disbelief. Emmy’s face is happier than I’ve ever seen, her blue eyes, one of which is outlined in a pink glitter Lover heart, wide with excitement. Already sweating from the sunshine and body heat of thousands of fans, my palms begin to perspire. I wonder if I am the only one fearing a tap-tap-tap on the shoulder followed by “This isn’t your seat!”

But then a montage of melodies from each era, intermingled with “It’s been a long time coming,” envelopes us. Showtime! Seven background dancers, each trailing a lavender-and-pink parachute, slowly saunter down the length of the catwalk. They come together, parachutes collapsing on top of one another. And when the chutes open back up, there she stands in a gold-and-silver sparkling bodysuit, the first chords of “Miss Americana” barely audible as 70,000 Swifties rejoice.

Once again, I look to my right at Emmy, wanting to capture this moment of her pure joy in my mind, and I am shocked by what I see. Tears — real tears — stream down her cheeks. At that, my own eyes water once again.

The next three-and-a-half hours rush by, all five senses swimming in an experiential tide. Around the stadium, as Swift performs a total of 44 songs — a number that’s almost unheard of in a single-artist concert — our LED bracelets light up in sync, flashing blue, pink, red, purple, yellow or green, depending on the song playing. It’s like a stadium wave as colors seem to magically flow from one section to another in the dark. At one point, during “Bad Blood,” blazing streams of fire shoot forth to the beat around the stage floor, the faces of Swifties around me glowing reddish-orange. Tissue-paper pieces of confetti fall not once, but twice, a kaleidoscope of color swirling in the air as Emmy reaches her hand out, collecting bits to take home as souvenirs. Of course, Swift also pares it down for her mellow Folklore and Evermore eras, a moss-covered piano and raw wood cabin lending a woodsy and mystical vibe.

Just before her surprise songs — she plays two, never repeated, at each concert — Swift emerges in a long, ruffled, emerald-green gown. As she speaks, she notices that her dress sleeve is not on properly, a green ruffle dangling under her armpit rather than gracing her shoulder. She awkwardly maneuvers, trying to get her arm into the hole, but gives up. Shrugging, she laughs it off, saying, “Just pretend you didn’t see that. It’s fine.” And just a few moments later, when she messes up the lyrics on surprise song No. 2, “Out of the Woods,” she giggles and asks the audience to join her in a repeat of the bridge. On stage, in front of all those fans, she’s still that awkward teen she once was and we all fall in love with her a little bit more.

After the show, we make a very slow trek back over the footbridge into downtown Nashville. As tired as everyone is, someone in front of us starts singing “Love Story” and soon the tune travels through the chorus of strangers — strangers who came together for one night, swapping bracelets, stories and costume compliments.

The contagious joy of the concert crowd lingers in my mind as Emmy and I drive home from the Raleigh-Durham Airport. “You know, Emmy, every single person I talked to in that stadium was kind,” I say, my tired eyes focused on the highway in front of me. “That really says a lot about the person Taylor Swift is to have cultivated such a friendly, caring community.”

Emmy nods in agreement. I may have — OK, I have had — many failures as a mother, but I did something right in introducing her to Taylor Swift’s music all those years ago. Not only has it brought the two of us together during some of the hardest times, but it’s helped us find common ground with friends and virtual strangers alike. We continue along, headlights shining in the dark, as I hear Swift’s voice in the back of my mind: Long live all the magic we made.  OH

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

Do it Anyway

A lesson from the wildest walk of my life

By Sarah Ross Thompson

Last fall, I embarked on a trip to the Galician region of northwestern Spain to hike part of the Camino de Santiago, a route that pilgrims have taken since medieval times as a spiritual trial. Some people say that the trail begins at your own front door — and ends, if you’re lucky, at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It was quite intimidating to set out on my own, but after the pandemic, I was determined to do something that was just for me.

After the pandemic, I, like so many people, find myself changed in ways that I struggle to articulate. I love my home, my husband and my two young children, Owen and Ellie, but the monotony and isolation of those years had taken a toll. As the world began moving forward again, I felt lost and incomplete.

I needed to do something to shake off the malaise, empty my pockets of the loss and frustration that I had been carrying around like pandemic souvenirs. I missed who I used to be and craved feeling excited, inspired and energized. So, I hurled myself into an experience that I realized would be exhausting, uncomfortable, a little chaotic and definitely risky, but I hoped, in the end, I would find my way to myself (whoever she was now).

Generously and incredibly, my husband, John, and extended family worked out the logistics of caring for the kids. I booked my flight with airline miles that had been collecting dust for years, packed my backpack and a pair of trail sneakers, and flew across the ocean. And then, I took that first step. And hundreds of thousands more to discover a truth that has since been whispering in my ear and guiding me as I move into the next chapter of my life: Fear can be your friend.

Before I even set foot on a plane bound for Spain, there were countless times that I seriously considered cancelling. Traveling alone to Europe (where I had never been) to spend a week walking through rural countryside was so vastly different from how I had spent the previous two years — at home with only my family of four —  that I almost wrote it off as too out of reach or too challenging. And I worried about how my family would deal with their daily routine during my absence. Would my 1-year-old daughter forget me, I irrationally wondered. My biggest hesitation, though, was the nagging thought that I was being selfish in choosing to do something just for myself. As mothers, we often deny for ourselves what we encourage in others.

Close friends gifted me a journal with an inscription that read, “You are setting an example for Owen, but especially for Ellie.” That’s when I knew I had to go. I wanted to show my daughter — and, I suppose, myself — that a woman’s wants and needs are valid, no matter what phase of life she finds herself in or what roles she holds. So off I went.

After several flights and a bus ride, I am dropped off in the city center of Sarria, about 70 long miles away from Santiago de Compostela. Armed with nothing but a backpack and guidebook, the plan is to walk that distance over five days through a region of Spain where most people did not speak English. Did I mention the only Spanish I know is from a couple of college courses close to 20 years ago? As I exit the bus and find myself alone, that nagging feeling that I can’t do it begins following me like my shadow. What had I been thinking?

Shifting into survival mode, my first step is to find my way to my lodging using a printed map, not the GPS technology that I used in the states even on the most routine and constantly traveled routes. And yet, taking longer than I thought it would and climbing several unanticipated hills, I arrive sweaty and thirsty at the door of the inn — in a state of absolute exhilaration.

Here I am, in Spain on an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day, having completed the first, albeit small, leg of my journey.

Next challenge: attempting to converse with my very gracious and understanding host, Monica, completely in Spanish. Do I follow even half of what she says? Not even close. But the interaction ends with a key in my hand.

The next morning at breakfast, I walk right into the first fully immersive foreign language experience of my life. Laughter fills the room, plates and silverware clang together, coffee has been brewed. In between bites of fresh tomato slathered across crusty bread, fellow pilgrims chatter away — in Spanish, of course. I can’t understand a word. That shadow is back but before I get a chance to sneak away and discretely hide in my room, Monica catches my eye. “Come, come,” she says, while pointing to an empty seat. I smile at the group and give what I can only imagine is the most American “hola” ever spoken. Much to my relief, everyone smiles and replies “Buenos dias.” That, I can understand. This is the first of many kindnesses on the part of strangers I encounter on the trip.

Full of warm bread, coffee and gratitude, I load up my pack, find the trailhead and as the miles mount up, my trepidation and fear melt away and the joy of accomplishment and its sister, self confidence, come to the fore. One step at a time over the course of five beautiful, exhausting days, I trekked 70 miles, surprising myself by weeping as I reach the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where I spend time in quiet contemplation before celebrating with a shower and wine.

“Feel the fear,” is the advice of psychologist Susan Jeffers, “and do it anyway.”

I did. And I see you. I am you. Take the trip, write the essay, have the conversation. Your soul will thank you.  OH

Sarah Ross Thompson lives in Greensboro with her husband, John, and her children, Owen and Ellie. A psychologist by training, she finds getting lost in the woods and writing little stories to be two of the greatest therapies.

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

What Me, an Air Marshal?

Or am I over-qualified?

By Cynthia Adams

It happens that the United States government needs writers monitoring America’s airway. We are uniquely qualified.

How do I know this? 

Because no less than Corey Rzucidlo of the Federal Air Marshal Service messaged me. Via LinkedIn.

“Your background is impressive,” he writes, “and I encourage you to learn more about the Federal Air Marshal (FAM) role. No law enforcement experience is required. We provide excellent federal benefits, extensive training and extraordinary opportunities for growth.”

Corey’s message was welcome news, the Balm of Gilead, at a time of professional insecurities. 

The fact that the Feds want to enlist me follows on the heels of a bank meeting where my advisor, John, reviewed IRAs, SEPs and other “instruments” I’ve, um, underfunded. The graph of my investments plunged lower than a Kardashian’s neckline. 

“You mean, you write as a full-time job?” John asked pointedly. 

I practiced effective silence.

John recalibrated. “I mean, how cool is that?”

He probably didn’t mean cool.

But back to the new U.S. Marshal opportunity.

Finally, someone noticed the toolkit we writers uniquely possess. Wondering which quality tipped the scales, I conducted a thorough self-analysis. “Self,” I asked, “what did a Federal Air Marshal recruiter see in you that compelled him to reach out?”

Was it punning? Or cunning?

Had he read my take-off on Grace and Frankie? Or did Mama Buys a Horse get flagged during transportation searches? 

Whatever had attracted it, there was Corey’s unmistakable interest. Other qualifications were self-evident:

True, I’ve flown on airplanes. Hither and yon. Excepting the Poles, South America, the Middle East, Asia and Russia.

True, I make scrupulous note of fellow passengers and assess each as they board, with special focus upon footwear and accessories. 

It is also true: A writer’s imagination could help anticipate thorny in-flight situations. Plus, having heard confidences during countless interviews, discretion is my middle name.

While Air Marshals might possibly be given pause by a recruit of my physical size — rather petite — and demographic, think of the cover it affords!

Why, middle-aged women are practically invisible! Agents of chaos and such would never be suspicious of me.

Should push come to shove, I could probably be tucked into an overhead bin. 

But I also know when to shut down nonsense. As for recent incidents when passengers punched flight attendants? Not on my watch, I assure you! Or, say, a passenger attempts to wrench open the emergency door? No way, Jose!

Another strength: admission of failures. 

On 9/10/2001, I absentmindedly packed a vintage cake knife into my carryon — en route to a South African wedding. 

It is also true that I accidentally returned from London with a forgotten apple in my pocket. The darling beagle tracking me upon my stateside arrival was not friendly simply because he recognized a dog lover when he saw one. Nope, he simply smelled a smuggler with furtive fruit.

Surely, such oversights shouldn’t be dealbreakers. 

Applicants to the Federal Air Marshal Service must be a U.S. citizen or nationalized. Check. You must have a favorable background investigation. Check. A polygraph exam must be completed in Washington, D.C., or Atlantic City in New Jersey, of all places. 

Wait. Are polygraph experts in Washington and Atlantic City uniquely qualified to detect liars and cheaters?     

Also, Federal Air Marshals must demonstrate “defensive tactics and physical control techniques.”

My husband is happy to be a reference.

Selective Service registration is required. Whaaa? Seems the age minimum is 21 and maximum 40. 

But there are exceptions! Current or prior service in law enforcement is one. 

Surely, my dedicated Community Watch service counts for something?

Meanwhile, I’m reading up on the art of concealment — who cares if it was about undereye darkness? — and cannot wait until John gets a load of my new opportunity.

Cynthia Adam is a contributing editor to O.Henry magazine.

Pleasures of Life

Pleasures of Life

Hats Off to Hats

With a little help from the royal family

By Ruth Moose

I miss wearing, seeing, buying hats. Queen Elizabeth always wore the most elegant, most becoming, absolutely stunning hats. Hats that matched her outfits. Perfect hats. Of course, she did have at her command and fingertips the finest millinery in the land. And she did them proud. What are the chances a newly crowned King Charles III can do half as much for the humble hat?

My grandmother, a country preacher’s wife, owned two hats — one for summer, one for winter. Summer’s hat was a flat pancake of black straw with silk daisies. Winter’s hat was a black felt cloche with a feather or two. She would never have gone to church bareheaded.

Nor without her gloves.

The last time I wore a hat was to a funeral. I had, on a crazy whim, gotten some fairy hair for fun. It was a sort of passing fancy, and the funeral for my sister-in-law was totally unexpected. I could not go to a funeral sporting red and blue and green fairy hair. Since it was January, I dug my black felt cloche from the top closet shelf and very respectfully went to the funeral. I was the only one there wearing a hat.

My mother was not a hat person, so I must have gotten my “hats” gene from my grandmother.

My Great Aunt Denise sold hats in the Peebles department store in Norwood, North Carolina, the town where she lived. It must have been the smallest store in the Peebles chain, yet she sold the most hats.

Every December Peebles paid for Aunt Denise to take the train from Hamlet, North Carolina, to New York to buy for the store. They knew every woman in town depended on her to “know” the market.

When the women of Norwood came into Aunt Denise’s Peebles, they went directly upstairs to the mezzanine, where Ladies’ Ready to Wear had mannequins with no arms, nor legs, that sat on tables wearing hats in every color, shape and fabric. Wide hats, tall hats, hats with flowers and feathers. Spring hats were pink and yellow, fluffy as frosted cakes. Some had veils or netting. All had ribbons. Fall and winter hats were serious in grays, blacks and browns. Gray hats hugged the mannequins close. They were the colors of rain and fog. Black hats were dark as night, and the women in Norwood knew they had to have at least one for funerals. It might have a feather or a veil, but it had to be a solemn piece.

No salesperson, male or female, ever knew their Ready to Wear clientele better than Aunt Denise knew hers. “Mrs. Cohen, when I was in New York last week and saw this hat, I knew it was just for you. I said to the designer, ‘I know just the lady for that hat.’” And then she’d add, in a whisper, “I only bought one. You won’t see yourself coming and going in this town. No ma’am.” Then she’d hold that hat up like a prize trophy, and Mrs. Cohen would start to reach for it, but Aunt Denise would step back, still holding the hat aloft. “Here,” she’d say, “let me put it on for you.” Then she’d lift it lightly, lay it on like a crown. “There,” she’d say, “don’t you feel like a queen now!”

Do you suppose Charles will feel so good?  OH

Ruth Moose taught creative writing at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for 15 years and tacked on 10 more at Central Carolina Community College.

The Pleasures of Life

Ode to a Daffodil

Acres of yellow blooms beckon the splendor of spring

By Lindsay Morris

In the evening Alice sat on her grandfather’s knee and listened to his stories of faraway places. When he had finished, Alice would say, “When I grow up, I, too, will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I, too, will live beside the sea.”

That is all very well, little Alice,” said her grandfather, “but there is a third thing you must do.”

“What is that?” asked Alice.

“You must do something to make the world more beautiful,” said her grandfather.

“All right,” said Alice. But she did not know what that could be.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

 

I remember the morning as if it were yesterday. It was early, oh so very early. Much too early for my 8-year-old, growing body. With every ounce of my being, I silently commanded my spirit to ignore the telltale signs of the low beams of light seeping through my blinds. I ordered the gentle tugging on my shoulder to relegate its dictates to the deep recesses of my dreams. Within moments, the strong hands that tugged also separated me from the comfy sanctuary of flannel sheets that enveloped me and jarringly forced me to welcome the earliest moments of dawn.

And then the magic words were spoken: “It’s time.” Just as a hypnotist awakens his client from the edge of consciousness, I was completely awake and reminded of our task at hand. In a trance, I methodically enumerated my to-do list, putting on work boots, donning gardening gloves and grabbing whatever was accessible on the kitchen counter to fuel what I knew would be a long day ahead.

Opening the back door of my childhood home has always brought about visions of Wonderland or Terabithia, and that morning was no different, other than the sun shining much lower and more intensely through the dense trees that hedged our little world of Avalon Loop. You see, Avalon was a world my sisters and I firmly believed God created for our imaginations. The animals of the realm, while not visible, could certainly be heard talking among one another. From the swans’ snorts and the ducks’ cackles on the pond to the neighing of our horse, Ike, son of Tina, and the low whimpers and barks of our dogs, all were offering their morning greetings. But time with furry and feather friends would have to wait. It was as if they, too, had heard the summons, “It’s time,” as my father walked by with tools and bags in hand.

I followed his lead with confidence, knowing that he always had a plan prepared with precision and efficiency. I also knew there would be rules that I must follow, but that is how order thrives in the kingdom of Avalon. My father was a Renaissance Man, one who could dream, create and implement with scientific acumen — a rare man of beauty and science. As much as my young mind could conceive, I knew his goal was never to disrupt nature, but instead to curate it and if possible, unveil and highlight its beauty.  

But that warm October morning, I feared our task that day may not reach completion as I observed the mound of bulbs at our feet. My father, a patient and determined man, seemed nonplussed and content to get started. According to my father, we had around one thousand bulbs to plant alongside the driveway and the north end of the pond. Listening closely, I absorbed with great care his meticulous instructions. He demonstrated how to push the spade into the soil just enough so that the bulb was covered but would still have room to adequately grow and absorb the earth’s nutrients. I worked alongside him, mirroring as closely as possible how he broke the earth. With his small spade, he calculated the distance, spaced and designated a home for each bulb. His plan was masterful, and it played out like a lyrical dance as we glided down the hillside.

The minutes quickly turned into hours. Only when the sun began to dim over the pond did it call out to the swans, ducks and geese, who echoed in unison to the fading sunlight. As I surveyed our work, a sense of pride filled my entire being. With a reassuring smile, my father glanced over at me, tired, but expectant. While my arms and limbs were heavy with fatigue, it could not rival the growing anticipation of what I knew the spring would reveal.

And spring could not come soon enough for my impatient spirit. I remember assessing the soil on a daily basis, practically pleading with it to offer any sign of life. 

The winter of 1990 was a particularly cold one, and those first shoots of bright spring green seemed as though they would never appear. I imagined myself to be an evangelist, praying and wooing those tiny bulbs that we had so carefully sown to rise from the earth. I wasn’t even particularly sure what variety of flower they were because I had never asked my father. Instead, I hoped to be surprised by what would spring forth from the work of our hands. I wanted their beauty to be unveiled in their own timing. And it wasn’t long after their green shoots greeted the sun that I noticed a yellow tint to a few of them. However, as quickly as my synapses fired this message to my brain, my heart sank with great dismay. 

Yellow: The color of sickness, the color of school buses and pencils. For me, it was more than just a color that clashed with my golden blond hair, impeding me from wearing anything in its hue, but it also made me anxious and uneasy about everything when it surrounded me. For some reason, yellow fully dilated my senses. You see, colors have always had a way with me. I have synesthesia, in which colors dictate my mood, my taste and my sense of well-being about the world. After all these months of anticipatory excitement, I was now utterly uncertain what this initial indication of yellow would reveal. However, just a few mornings later in February, I was awakened to an unseasonably warm and sunny day. Rushing outside, I expected to be greeted with sickness at the sight of so much yellow. 

However, nothing could have prepared me for what my eyes encountered and the response that followed. If heaven could be so adorned with rays of golden and lemony yellows, and even yellows marked with golden orange halos, I would have thought that I was in the realms of glory. I willingly abdicated my senses and gazed upward to the sun and offered it gratitude for the beauty that it had nurtured and now reflected. Yellow no longer triggered painful anxieties to rush through my veins, but instead lovingly beckoned me to sit among it to just soak in its splendor.

And the splendor of our daffodils has grown exponentially over the years. More than 30 years later, their yellow blooms have become an intrinsic part of our family’s life, just as they have become the centerpiece around many occasions with family and friends. Not only are they the foremost indicator of spring’s arrival, but each year, without fail, they celebrate my March 1st birthday with grandeur. They have marked with great intentionality baptisms and homecomings. 

Now, more than three decades later, not only has my memory of that day remained vividly intact, but with each passing year numerous events and moments with the daffodils have been added to the storehouse of my memories. You see, over the course of three decades, the daffodils have been divided and spread over and under and around our property.  Easily covering five or more acres, adorning both entrances and even abounding in great numbers around the loop road surrounding our pond, their numbers now add up to more than 25,000 flowering blooms. The magic of that day has turned into a proliferation of beauty that not only welcomes but befriends all who enter the realm of Avalon each spring. Their beauty, and the work of our hands, has been a reminder of what planting and nurturing can create. 

This is how Miss Alice Rumphius from Barbara Cooney’s beloved children’s book learned to make the world more beautiful by spreading her lupine seeds across her home and down by the sea. Similarly, my father, on that unseasonably warm October day, showed me with love and patience how beauty can be elicited and magnified in unexpected ways through the vision of a daffodil bloom.  OH

Though living alongside the Mayo River in Rockingham County, Lindsay Morris is connected to Greensboro through the spirit of Howard Coble and her love of the local arts scene. 

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

Flower Power

Betting the farm on a budding business

By Maria Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerald’s father switched to dairy.

Gerald pivoted back to grain in the early 1970s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food for Thought

A Springtime Soup

Simple. Seasonal. And richly satisfying.

 

By Jane Lear

Some soups require a lengthy list of ingredients and plenty of time on the back burner; they are worth preparing in a big batch so you can freeze a couple of quarts for another day. Leek and potato soup, however, does not need this sort of commitment. It’s an uncomplicated, almost austere, old farmhouse soup that brings out the best in two vegetables, and it’s easily cobbled together on the fly.

I made it the other day when a trip down the grocery store’s produce aisle yielded leeks with very fresh, relatively crisp leaves and long, stout snowy white stems. (Note: The longer the stems, the greater the amount of chopped leeks will be.) As soon as I got home, I prepped those beautiful leeks, along with some burly russet potatoes, straightaway. Then, as the soup simmered, I stowed the rest of my haul and set the kitchen to rights. Filling and fresh-tasting, the soup was going to be exactly what we wanted after a brisk walk on the beach.

In terms of flavor, the leek is the most nuanced and refined member of the onion-garlic clan — a real treat on the palate after months of winter’s storage onions. It’s sturdy, too: Left whole, with roots untrimmed, leeks will easily last a couple of weeks in the refrigerator if you wrap them in a slightly dampened kitchen towel, then put them in a plastic bag.

As for the potatoes, they have varying starch and moisture contents depending on their type. Russets, the standard baking potato, are high in starch and low in moisture. So-called “boiling” potatoes are low in starch and, you got it, high in moisture. Yukon Golds, with their yellow-tinged flesh, strike a happy medium in both categories.

Each kind of spud will make a delicious soup in its own way, but typically, if using boiling potatoes, you’ll need to add more salt, because low starch means a higher proportion of natural sugars. I buy organic potatoes when I can find them, and often leave on the skins unless very thick; it seems a shame to waste them, and they add to the rough-hewn character of the soup. (At the other end of the spectrum is crème vichyssoise, in which the leek and potato mixture is puréed with cream and served cold. This soup, which has great finesse and timeless appeal, was created by the French chef Louis Diat, who became chef de cuisine at the New York Ritz-Carlton in 1910. In 1947, he joined Gourmet magazine as the in-house chef.)

Although some leek and potato soup recipes say to simmer the vegetables in chicken stock and/or milk, I stick with plain old water. It’s cleaner tasting, and if you like, you can thin as well as enrich the finished soup with some milk or cream.

Leek and potato soup hits the spot for lunch — feel free to add slices of cheese toast, made with a good cheddar — but it can be extremely satisfying for supper, too. Try embellishing it with a handful of greens — spinach or lemony-tart sorrel, for instance, or finely shredded kale — and serve it with a plate of thinly sliced brown bread, unsalted butter, and smoked or kippered salmon.

I first had this combination long ago in Scotland, in a gray stone cottage framed by neat rows of blue-green leeks, and to this day the meal conjures long twilights, a crackling fire in the hearth, and the distant boom of the surf. In case you find yourself wishing for dessert, a rhubarb oatmeal crisp is as good as it gets.

Leek and Potato Soup

Serves 4

In the recipe below, the method for cleaning the leeks may sound finicky, but it’s not a place to cut corners. Leeks always have a certain amount of soil embedded in their multitude of layers because of how they grow. Rain splashes the dirt onto the leaves, then washes it down to where the stem (which is actually lots of tightly bound leaves) begins. The particles of soil work their way deeper into the plants as they mature. So take your time! Put on some music and embrace the process.

About 4 large leeks

About 1½ pounds of potatoes

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

About 6 cups of water

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Milk or cream to thin soup (optional)

Chopped fresh thyme, chives, chervil or tarragon for serving (optional)

1. Trim off the roots and dark green part of the leeks. Discard the tough outer leaf layer. Cut leeks in half lengthwise and thinly slice. Swish them around well in a bowl of cold water, then let them sit so that any soil or sand settles to the bottom of the bowl.

2. Scrub the potatoes and peel if desired. Quarter them lengthwise and cut into ½-inch pieces. Gently lift the leeks out of their bath with your hands and drain.

3. Melt the butter in a pot, add the leeks, and cook over low heat until the leeks are softened but not browned. Add the potatoes and water; season generously with salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are very soft, 30 to 40 minutes. They should be almost, but not quite, falling apart.

4. Smash some of the potatoes against the side of the pot to give the soup a thicker, smoother consistency, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, pulse a few ladles of soup in a blender, then return to the pot. Taste and think about adding some milk or cream. Or not. Tinker with the seasoning, adding a bit more salt and a few grinds of pepper. Ladle into bowls and scatter with chopped herbs if desired.  OH

Jane Lear, formerly of Gourmet magazine and Martha Stewart Living, is the editor of Feed Me, a quarterly magazine for Long Island food lovers.

Scents and Sensibility

The loss of smell brings an unexpected gift

By Bridgette A. Lacy

Maybe I should have taken more time to smell the fragrant rosemary in my yard. Or I should have soaked in my almond-scented bubble bath more often. Perhaps, I should have savored the sweetness of my Uncle Jack’s red roses instead of assuming they would always be there for me.

Nineteen years ago, when I lost my sense of smell, my ability to relish those simple pleasures went away. I never thought that at 37 years old, my olfactory nerve would be stolen by a benign brain tumor the size of a tennis ball.

Even when my neurosurgeon told me that losing my ability to smell was one of the side effects of brain surgery, the reality of what that meant didn’t sink in. How could it? After all, I was facing life or death.

Before the tumor — and the surgery that saved, but forever changed — my life, I was a smell-centered person. Smells resonated with me. They had the ability to set my mood or even shape my attitude about ordinary, everyday activities. A soak in that aromatic bath soothed me at the end of a long day.
A sip of orange, cinnamon-flavored tea calmed me in the evening. The sensuous waft of the lavender  growing in my front yard delighted me as I rocked back and forth on the porch. I appreciated the world so much more, in part through my nostrils.

At first, I thought I had survived the surgery with my sense of smell intact. I even complained to a nurse that my ICU room stank. Phantom odors, I guess.

I returned home from the hospital in October 1999 after five-and-a-half hours of surgery. I tried to recover and return to my old routine while also adjusting to the loss of sight in my right eye. It took me awhile to understand why my pot roasts burned to a crisp in the oven. I had always used the aroma floating through the house as a sign the roast was close to done. Sometimes my mother would visit to find a banana or some other fruit rotting on the countertop that I had forgotten about.

I didn’t truly realize I couldn’t smell until I received two gift baskets that included scented candles, a fragrant bubble bath and soap. As I sat in a chair, a friend commented on the wonderful aroma of one of the candles. She said it smelled like an autumn day. I inhaled to find no scent of anything under my nose. Nothing.

I ran into the kitchen and opened a bottle of Lysol. Nothing.

I ran outside and snipped a piece of rosemary. Nothing.

I was crushed as the realization of what this meant pressed upon me like the weight of a barbell.

At first, I hid the gift baskets in a closet. I couldn’t bear to see them and risk being reminded of what I was missing. I shoved them behind the door and tried not to think about them. 

Months later, when my scalp began to heal from the trauma and incisions of surgery, I realized I couldn’t even get my typical natural high from the hints of coconut and honey in my freshly-washed hair. Shampooing my hair had always been a reassuring, sensory delight. Somehow, it just made me feel better. My aunt would often say she knew when I was at my mother’s house visiting because she could smell my shampoo in the air. Now, that was gone too.

After all that had happened to me, I couldn’t even sniff my way through recovery. It was hard knowing I couldn’t smell my own body. I was changed. It was devastating but I knew I had to find ways to cope with the loss.

It took time, but eventually, I finally mustered the courage to retrieve the contents of those gift baskets. I needed the closet space, but also I was determined not to let perfectly good lavender-scented body wash go to waste. Even if I couldn’t enjoy the benefits of their aroma, I still wanted to use them.  I am a practical soul at heart.

I started to remember how much I loved it when people commented on how nice I smelled, whether it was from a scented soap layered with a matching lotion or a tiny dab of White Linen perfume behind my ear. The kind words from others about my personal fragrance became the ultimate compliment. I liked that family, friends and colleagues appreciated that about me even though the same experience was unfortunately lost to me. And so, I happily put the gift scents and soaps to good use as they were originally intended.

The hardest part of moving about the world without a sense of smell is explaining my loss to people. It just doesn’t seem to register to most that such a condition may even exist. In the course of any given week, some unsuspecting person may say: “Smell this. Ooh, that smells good, doesn’t it?” The same people are pretty shocked when I reveal that scent does not register with me. Yes, it is a little awkward. However, my loss of smell has actually forced me to relish and rely on my remaining senses.

I cherish the fact that I can still taste. Bitter, sweet, salt and tart still delight my tongue. My love of good food and my affinity for sharing it with others inspired me to write my first cookbook. Sunday Dinner, a Savor the South Cookbook from UNC Press, published in September 2015, was a triumph for me. It’s been very well-received. (Editor’s note: It was a finalist for the Pat Conroy Cookbook Prize awarded by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance.)

I set out to make Sunday Dinner a life-affirming celebration of recipes, as well as a tribute to the value of meals shared and prepared with those you love. It highlights some of my most endearing memories, many of them intricately and lovingly tied to smells and thoughts of home.

The recipes call to mind my time spent in the garden and kitchen with my maternal grandparents. When I was young, I spent many a Sunday afternoon taking in the familiar smell and sizzle of Grandma frying chicken and the sight of Papa’s Nilla Wafer-brown pound cake cooling on the back porch. His cakes always released their own distinct, irresistible aroma that filled the air.

When I’m standing in my own kitchen recreating these time-honored dishes I grew up with, I sometimes think about my sense of smell, or rather the lack of it. As quickly as those thoughts appear, I redirect them to focus on the loved ones who originally created these meals and how much my family continues to influence me in and out of the kitchen.

As the years have passed, every once in a while, I experience a smell memory. It’s a curious thing. Once, in a grocery store, while walking past a display of country ham in sealed vacuum packs, I remembered the smell of country ham frying in a pan. It was so real I could practically taste it. Another time, driving home from a day spent with a male friend and his mother, I suddenly felt like I could smell spring in the air. The car windows were down and I remembered how the scents of that season came rushing in with the crisp smell of freshly-cut grass combined with the sweetness of one of my Tropicana, long-stemmed roses. These smell memories come flooding back with such crystal clarity, I almost feel like I really did smell something.

When that happens, I’m not mad. I’m not upset. I just remind myself that while that part of me is gone, so much more remains. Then, I simply and resolutely smile, take a very deep breath and thank God.

Come íní Get It!

The following dishes are one of many evocative of home and family:

Mamaís Meaty
Crab Cakes

I request my mother’s crab cakes almost every time I return to my childhood home. These meaty crab cakes flavored with Old Bay Seasoning are far better than any I’ve had at a restaurant. They are crunchy on the outside from the cornmeal and moist on the inside. My mother serves them on Martin’s potato rolls with potato salad. There will be no leftovers with these. In fact, get to the table fast. These won’t last.

Makes 8 servings

1 pound fresh jumbo lump or lump crabmeat

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1⁄2 medium white onion, finely chopped

1⁄2 green bell pepper, finely chopped

2 tablespoons Hellmann’s mayonnaise

1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning, or more, to taste

1⁄3 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs

Cornmeal for dredging

2 cups vegetable oil (more or less, depending on the size of your skillet)

Place the crabmeat in a large bowl. Remove the cartilage (lump crabmeat doesn’t have much). Add the celery, onion, green pepper, mayonnaise, Old Bay, and bread crumbs and stir together gently with your hands so as not to break up the crab too much. Add more mayonnaise if the mixture looks too dry.

Shape the mixture into eight patties about the size of the palm of your hand. If you are cooking the crab cakes immediately, dredge them in the cornmeal. If not, you can store the crabmeat mixture in a covered container in the refrigerator until ready to cook (up to 2 hours) and dredge them just before cooking.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Don’t use too much oil; it should reach only halfway up the side of the crab cakes. Gently place the crab cakes in the pan and fry on one side until browned, about 2–3 minutes. Carefully flip over the crab cakes and fry them on the other side until they are golden brown. Drain the cakes on a paper towel and transfer them to a warm platter. Serve with your preferred sauce.

NOTE * Buy the crabmeat the day of or the day before cooking because fresh crabmeat perishes quickly. Jumbo lump or lump crabmeat makes for the best crab cakes. The meat is pricey, but it’s worth it for this special meal.

Estherís Summer
Potato Salad

My mother started making potato salad when she was a girl. The oldest of four children, she made it Sunday after church and would make enough to fill the large vegetable compartment at the bottom of the refrigerator. Her father, my beloved Papa, a blue-collar worker, often carried the potato salad in a mayonnaise jar for his lunch. My mother was a Moore, and many Moore family gatherings were marked by this classic summer salad. “My love of potato salad came from watching my aunt Shirley make it and smelling it in my grandmother’s kitchen,” she says.  The scent of fresh-cut celery, onions and pickles drew her closer to the bowl. “We always ate it when it wasn’t ice cold. That’s why I like it today when it’s just made.”

Makes 6-8 servings

6 medium white potatoes

1 cup chopped celery

1 white onion, chopped

1⁄2 cup pimentos

5–6 sweet pickles, chopped

3 hard-boiled eggs, grated

5 tablespoons Hellman’s mayonnaise

2 teaspoons prepared yellow mustard

2 teaspoons cider vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Paprika for garnish

Wash and peel the potatoes and cut them in small, uniform chunks. Put the potatoes in a pot and cover them with water. Boil until fork-tender, about 20–25 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander and let cool, about 30 minutes or so. You want them warm but not hot.

Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl and add the celery, onions, pimentos and pickles.

In a separate bowl, combine the grated eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, and sugar. Taste it. Adjust the seasonings to your taste.

Gently combine this mixture with the potato salad.  Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with paprika and serve.  OH

Recipes from SUNDAY DINNER: a Savor the South Cookbook by Bridgette A. Lacy. Copyright © 2015 by Bridgette A. Lacy. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press. www.uncpress.org

Bridgette A. Lacy served as a longtime features and food writer for The News & Observer in Raleigh. She is also a contributor to The Carolina Table: North Carolina Writers on Food.

Pleasures of Life Dept.

All the Pretty Horses

Jolly holidays on our regions local merry-go-rounds

By Annie Ferguson

It’s hard to deny the magical aura of carousels. Their sheer beauty and craftsmanship harken back to times long gone, bestowing upon them an other-worldly aspect. And who doesn’t remember the Disney film version of Mary Poppins, where Mary’s, Bert’s and the Banks children’s steeds break free from a roundabout to join a foxhunt? Add a little enchanting music, some twinkling lights and the mechanical whir of going round and round, and suddenly you’re transported back into a simpler, gentler era, if only for a few minutes.

On vacations, my family makes it a point to seek out carousels whenever possible — even if it’s just a family visit to my hometown of Salisbury, location of Haden’s Carousel at Dan Nicholas Park. We’ve gone round in circles in farther-flung places such as Boston’s common, Disney World in Orlando, Florida; Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. We’ve even ridden the carousel in Hersheypark, the largest I’ve ever seen.

Leading up to our trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania, my then 4-year-old innocently asked, “Will the carousel be made of chocolate?” No, but it rotates to the soundtrack from a Wurlitzer model 153 military band organ.

For our children — and many others — carousels offered life’s first theme park rides. Our oldest has graduated to seeking thrills on some of the more heart-stopping roller coasters at the amusement parks we visit, yet like her parents, she’s still drawn to merry-go-rounds everywhere we go.  As luck would have it, we don’t have to wait to go on vacation from the Triad to enjoy kinder, gentler rides now that warm weather has rolled around. An abundance of carousels await merry-go-round lovers within a 40-mile radius of Greensboro. Transport yourself to a footloose and fancy-free time this summer on one of our area carousels

One of my favorites is the Three-Row Dentzel Menagerie Carousel at Burlington’s City Park. I’ve ridden it dozens of times, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard the same song played twice (though I never tire of hearing “Carolina in the Morning”). The exact date of the carousel’s construction — or its first location — is unknown, but it was likely built sometime between 1906–1910 at the Dentzel Carousel Company on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia. Its mirrors are stamped March and April of 1913, and the bottom of the wooden platform reads May 1914. Another fun fact: One of the rounding boards is a copy of a 1903 Remington painting.

The early 1900s were known as the Golden Era of carousels, and it was common for an older model to be sent back to its manufacturer to be refurbished or recycled. For this reason, it’s difficult to authenticate official dates for many carousels still operating in the United States. Their familiar construction, a series of horses or animals mounted on poles to a rotating board, are a revision of the earliest carousels that appeared at fairs in the early 18th century. These usually consisted of flying horse figures suspended in the air, while some poor beast of burden — or groups of people — generated centrifugal force by pulling the contraption from a chain while walking circles, or even hand-cranking it. The entire concept has roots in Middle Eastern jousting and cavalry drills from the Crusades that required a high level of equestrian skill.

The Dentzel, which the city of Burlington acquired in 1948 from Carl Utoff, owner of the Forest Park Amusement Park in Genoa, Ohio, exemplifies the uncanny craftsmanship that German and French artisans applied to carousels in the 19th century. It features forty-six animals — horses, cats, ostriches, rabbits, pigs, a deer, giraffe, lion and tiger, as well as two chariots — hand-carved out of bass and poplar wood. The Dentzel carvers, like their predecessors, achieved a high level of realism, carving the veins and muscles into the animal figures and fashioning their eyes from glass. Their tails are from real horsehair. The precision mechanism of the Carousel, like a cuckoo clock or Volkswagen Beetle engine, is a testament to German engineering with its battery of bearings and gears and an unusual clutch system.

In the early 1980s, as part of an extensive restoration, an army of artists and volunteers was dispatched to strip and repaint the animals and the rounding boards, which revealed original tableaus underneath cracked outer layers of paint. With its made over exterior and rejuvenated gear system, the Denzel bears the moniker of one of the “newest old” carousels around, and entices new generations of riders when it opens Easter weekend through the fall, its season culminating in a two-day Carousel Festival every September.

Opening a little later in the spring is the merry-go-round in City Lake Park in Jamestown near High Point. Built by San Antonio Roller Works in the early 1960s, it was designed as a traveling carousel, and rests on a trailer that can be moved from site to site. But why move it, with picturesque City Lake as its dramatic backdrop? Though not as historic or elaborate as the Dentzel in Burlington, High Point’s carousel still draws legions of kids, who line up for turns with an all-day pass on the roundabout’s wooden deck, bearing sixteen horses, and two benches. From May to October, the number of riders has swelled to 25,000 people annually, since High Point bought the carousel in 1979.

Farther afield, you can take a spin on the Endangered Species Carousel at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, which was designed by The Chance Morgan Ride Company and opened at the park in 2006. The polar bear figure was specifically designed for our zoo, and the rest of the ride features lights, old-time music, as well as zebras, bears, sea lions, elephants and gorillas. Among other animals, you can go round and round accompanied by a spinning tub shaped like a bird’s nest or a swan in a bench seat that accommodates wheelchairs. All of the animals are shaped from fiberglass and hand-painted. It’s a great place to take a break from your North America and Africa walkabouts.

Unless you’d like a taste of Venice at Winston-Salem’s Hanes Mall, of all places. On the exterior panels of its Venetian Carousel are scenes of canals and gondolas from the confection-like Italian city. Ride on any of the three rows of horses and a spinning tub. Winston is also home to Wayne Ketner, who during his retirement years has been carving all kinds of figures including carousel animals. “I always liked carousels because they’re colorful,” he recently told an interviewer. The more intricate and detailed the project, the more the self-taught artist enjoys it. Some take as much as six months to complete.

And where does Greensboro fit into this merry-go-roundup? Well, hold your horses: A year-round, custom-made carousel illustrating the Gate City’s history has been in the works for about ten years. Now possibly targeted to open within the next year. Initial plans are to make the Greensboro ride enclosed in a glass structure during winter months, similar to Jane’s Carousel in New York’s Brooklyn Bridge Park. The force behind its creator is the Greensboro Rotary Club which plans to give the carousel to Senior Resources to operate, and proceeds will go — fittingly —  to the organization’s Mobile Meals program. Though a permanent site is yet to be determined (somewhere downtown or at the Greensboro Science Center are leading candidates) the ride will feed not only hungry mouths, but the imaginations of the young and young at heart — just as carousels have for centuries.  OH

One of the oldest carousels in the nation, the Watch Hill Flying Horses, is on Annie Ferguson’s vacation bucket list. Located along the seaside in Westerly, Rhode Island and originally powered by a horse and built circa 1894, the carousel’s horses are suspended from above instead of being attached to the floor.