Pleasures of Life Dept.

Pleasures of Life Dept.​


Dim Sum-day at Christmas

A hometown guy tests the hot trend of eating Chinese food on Christmas Day

By David Claude Bailey

Now that our two girls are grown-ups and have homes (and Christmas trees) of their own, we empty nesters almost religiously endeavor to spend Christmas morning any place but home — in Savannah, in Florida, in France, in Spain visiting our older daughter.

And then, last November, Anne said, “Let’s not go anywhere this year. Let’s just stay home.”

And so it came to pass that on Christmas morning we find ourselves with our younger daughter, Alice, and her fellow serious eater, Evan, at arguably Greensboro’s most authentic Chinese restaurant, Hometown Delicious.

My idea was to eat in the company of others not entirely focused on little children giggling with delight around a Christmas tree. A few years ago while eating dim sum in Chinatown with Lori, a New York City friend and cookbook author, I heard all about how crowded Big Apple Chinese restaurants are on Christmas day with dim sum eaters.

Literally translated, dim sum means “close to the heart” and encompasses a wide range of hors d’oeuvres, mostly plump dumplings served in steaming bamboo baskets. Once back home, I did a little research. “Going out for dim sum on Christmas Day started as a New York Jewish tradition, spread across America and then caught on across the world,” says the Financial Times.

Getting back to our family summit in November, I proclaim, “Let’s feast on dim sum Christmas morning with Alice and Evan.” They readily agree, though neither had heard about the hot trend of eating Chinese on Christmas morning. I call several Chinese restaurants around town and find that most plan to be closed. One insists that I make a reservation to guarantee a table, which I don’t want to do without consulting my fellow dim (con)sum’ers. Evan, who doesn’t like crowds any more than I do, agrees with me that we ought to eat early to avoid the rush. I have visions of ordering deep-fried sesame balls stuffed with red bean paste only to have the waitress point to another table and say, “They got the last ones.”

So at 11 a.m. sharp, we’re sitting in the parking lot as the lights come on inside Hometown Delicious, and a waitress opens the door with a big smile and a warm welcome. Soon we’re sipping cups of piping-hot wulong tea, a traditional complement to dim sum. I’m glad we’re with family and not in snowy Canada, where I’d suggested going. Or Beirut, Lebanon, where, decades ago, I spent a cold and edgy Christmas on assignment.

To our delight, we have the restaurant totally to ourselves, and, for the first time in months, we are blissfully surrounded by the complete absence of Christmas music.

The menu, however, is almost dim-sumless. Still, we start our feast with an order of  pan-fried dumplings, pillowy and stuffed with a savory combination of cabbage and garlicky pork. They are, in fact, delicious, whether they’re hometown or not. I am already one happy camper.

To us, half of the fun of eating Chinese food is sharing all the various dishes. Alice orders eggplant in red sauce as well as spicy mapo tofu. Evan orders pine nuts with corn. Corn? Anne orders the dry-fried green beans. A meat lover, I retaliate by ordering hearty braised duck with beer in an iron pot and a dish the waitress tells us is a specialty of the chef, fish-flavored shredded pork. Anne raises her eyebrows.

As soon as the shiny, purple chunks of eggplant arrive, literally still sizzling, visions of dim sum dancing like sugar plums disappear from our heads. The plump eggplant dissolves, a cloud on our palates, savory with a sauce that leaves you licking your fork. “Oh, my!” Anne says. Alice glows with satisfaction.

“It is cooked in the style of my hometown of  Luoyang,” the chef, Jianjun Li, tells us later. (Luoyang is in east-central China in the Henan province — not to be confused with the Hunan, Hainan or Yunnan provinces.) The fish-flavored pork turns out to be a slightly sweet-and-sour stir fry with shreds of pork, slivers of peppers, bamboo shoots, carrots and the same sort of mushrooms found in hot-and-sour soup. “No fish — flavor of fish from the sauce,” Li says. As it swims into our mouths, Evan and I are ecstatic. 

We all love the sweet, creamy-fresh corn, stir-fried and amped up with pan-roasted pine nuts. Origin? “Pine nuts with corn is a traditional dish from northeast China,” Li tells us. The dry-fried green beans are from Szechuan, as is the duck cooked in beer, which is my favorite dish. The spicy mapo tofu is, in fact, appropriately described and from Hunan.

Not from his hometown? “These are from my customers’ hometowns,” Li tells us, “so they feel at home in my restaurant.”

Which is where, on this sunny morning, we all feel perfectly at home — in Hometown Delicious.

No need to go to Canada or Florida, we decide over a last cup of tea. Home is wherever your family gathers and eats food cooked by someone who knows how to make people feel happy and at home. It also helps that most of Li’s employees are family members.

As we’re leaving, our waitress says, “Merry Christmas.”

I’ve heard this dozens of times in previous weeks, but not with such total sincerity.

“Merry Christmas to you and all of yours,” I reply.

As we’re stretching our legs and saying our goodbyes outside, I give my daughter a holiday hug and whisper in her ear, “Next year in New York City?”  OH

O.Henry’s contributing editor David Claude Bailey fell in love with Chinese cooking 55 years ago when a UNCG faculty member’s wife gifted a wok and a Chinese cookbook to him and his own wife, Anne.

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

Rockin’ Deals Around the Christmas Tree

Find more than you bargain for at Burlington Outlet Village

By David Claude Bailey

“Josh would be all about this,” I say, digging into the box containing an electronic squirrel-proof bird feeder. It’s August, hot as blazes outside and the spirit of Christmas shopping glows dimly in Anne’s eyes.

“Delivers a mild electric correction,” Anne says, looking it up on her phone. “$148 — half of which is $74. That’s a little steep for a bird feeder.” I agree, putting it back on the shelf at J&R Liquidations in Burlington Outlet Village. I also put the chicken-coop heater back, deciding that it might be like giving your special someone a vacuum cleaner or nose-hair removal kit for Christmas. Still earlier, though, I had scored two boxes of Lindt Gourmet Truffles for $8 each at J&R’s food outlet. Retail price? About $25 each — and, no, they aren’t expired. I resisted the 7-pound can of Italian gourmet Amarena wild-cherry syrup for $20 (retail: $80-plus), but did snag the plant-based “beef” jerky for a friend and thought about buying her some Tree-Free Toilet Paper, “It’s up to us to save our butts!” ($6 for 12 rolls.)

I’ve always loved discount shopping and every Christmas I’m on the lookout for over-the-top, gag gifts for friends and relatives. And Burlington Outlet Village (BOV) definitely offers laughs for less. I inherited the discount shopping bug from my dad, who loved nothing more than buying day-old doughnuts and dented cans — in fact, just about anything with a neon “Marked Down” sticker. (He also ordered stuff from those tiny display ads that once crowded the back of magazines. My sister and I still howl about a hot dog cooker that electrocuted the wieners with the touch of a switch, completing a circuit from one end of the dog to the other — causing them to sizzle, hiss and moan.)

For those of you high rollers, BOV was the site of the Tar Heel State’s very first discount shopping center, founded as Burlington Manufacturers Outlet Center (BMOC) by no less than Stanley Tanger, father of Steven, as in Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts and Greensboro-based Tanger Outlets. But let’s flash back a few decades to my hometown of Reidsville, where Stanley Tanger was CEO of Creighton Shirts, to the day when he got sick and tired of absorbing pricey shirts returned by huge retailers wanting to balance their inventory. So he set up an employees store, where I remember buying, for a song, a fashionably pink, button-down Oxford — and loads of irregular army duds. Soon, Tanger was operating five outlet stores around the Triad, an enterprise he quickly realized “was more profitable, really, than making shirts and selling them to retailers.”

In 1981, he opened BMOC, an almost-instant success, with literally busloads of shoppers showing up to scarf up name-brand bargains. Forty-two years later, the company, with Steven Tanger as CEO, owns and/or manages 37 centers in 20 states and Canada, leasing 2,700 stores. But the years have not been as kind to BMOC, today’s BOV. Many of the name-brand stores moved to the tonier Tanger Outlet in Mebane. Others closed. Nowadays, it does what a lot of other struggling shopping centers do: hosts either specialty stores — Steve’s Leather selling motorcycle-related garb, for instance — or churches, day-care centers, hair dressers, bars, ethnic markets, nail salons, nonprofits, gyms and shops on the margins of mainstream consumerism looking for a safe space with reasonable rent. 

Five years ago, J&R opened its first storefront. “Now, we’ve got five stores here and 25,000 followers on Facebook,” says Joe Black, the “J” in J&R. Merchandise includes returns and surplus from Lowe’s, Target, Amazon, Walmart. “You name it,” he says, hawking everything from lawn mowers to leaf-blowers, vacuum cleaners to a Pearl drum set! In one of his stores, you pay half of the lowest retail price you can find on the internet. Customers have 30 days to return items, provided they keep the receipt.

J&R’s stores are more than a little messy, with piles of products cascading off display tables onto the floor and aisles, which are sometimes blocked with even more goods waiting for a shelf or table to open up. “It’s a jumble,” Black admits, “but people love to hunt around like at a yard sale.”

“Beer soap, $4 a bar,” Anne says, “and, yes, it smells just like beer.”

“For the same price we can get someone a gallon can of boiled peanuts,” I counter.

We’re back in J&R’s food outlet, half of which comprises a dollar store where everything is, in fact, still one dollar. Peeps-flavored Pepsi anyone? Or a 2-pound box of Kinder eggs? And there are literally hundreds of purple brassieres, $1 each.

Anne avoids eye contact with me and slips off to Ann Hope’s Corner by Peter Rabbit Consignment, where she scores some new baby clothes for our soon-to-be grandchild. A fleet of Grayson strollers sits on the sidewalk with a half-dozen children’s bikes. Gently used toys, games, books, along with junior and maternity clothes crowd the aisles, where more heaps of goods await pricing and stocking.

Looking for dozens of matching dining chairs or hundreds of identical lamps and lampshades? Stop in the Hotel Liquidation Store, where we bought a handsome bedstead a few years ago. Across the way, Hollo’s Bargains 4 U features teaching and instructional material, along with cake decorating and baking supplies, party goods and closeouts of every ilk. Sphinx Home Furniture features ornate gold- and silver-inlaid Rococo furnishings handmade in Egypt. Whether you’re looking for handcuffs or a bullet-proof vest, Davis Public Safety’s the place to go. Safa Market offers Armenian string cheese and other Middle Eastern groceries, and Sweet Rice Asian Market sells gallons of boba tea to Elon students. But I think the most unique outlet is What’s All the Rage, an axe-throwing venue where you can “unleash your inner lumberjack” and engage in family-friendly paint-splash and rage-room sessions.

Admittedly, shoppers are no longer showing up by the busload, but, as Steve Tanger once observed, “In good times people like a bargain. In not so good times, they need a bargain.” As for me? Thanks to my dad, I enjoy bargains 24/7, just like those, now, 28,000 shoppers who follow J&R on Facebook. As for my friends and family, be careful what you wish for. I just might find it.  OH

David Claude Bailey, a contributing editor at O.Henry, was gratefully only partially named after his father, Claude Colonelue Bailey.

Pleasures of Life Dept.

Pleasures of Life Dept.

Daddy Diaries

Day #1669: a letter to my unborn son

By Josephus Thompson III

When we found out we were having a baby — a second child and a boy, at that! — we were ecstatic! The American Dream, house, kids, boy and girl, white picket fence, car and SUV, entrepreneurism and W2 combination, we were building a life and chasing the dream, but I just could not shake this feeling that something was different with this pregnancy. And I could not put my finger on it. I was happy and excited, of course I was, but there was this thing looming. Fear? Anticipation? Doubt? The feeling was not overwhelming, but there. I could not see it, but I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. It was difficult to express and I wanted it out, the weight lifted. I needed to make it tangible, so I turned to the pen and this is what spilled onto the paper:

Dear Son,

They are going to try to kill you . . .

What I meant to say is, Dear Son, this world . . .

Argh, let me start over.

Dear Son,

Your mother and I are sooooo excited —

And terrified — to bring you into this world.

They killed Keenan last week, tased him till his life phased out, and all he wanted was help. You are Black and they will always see that first, then male, then threat. I’m not sure if human or son will ever enter their minds.

But know that you are mine and I love you.

I want to tell you that you come from Wakanda, Vibranium in your DNA, but neither of those things are real. Either way, you will become a superhero, and not by choice but over time in order to survive. Learn to wear masks and allow your truth to shine through your chest like a beacon of hope.

Dear Son,

I’m afraid my suppressed fear has stifled my excitement. I’m sorry . . . It’s hard to explain and . . . your name is coming. It’s on the tip of my tongue, afraid to leap.

But when it does,

Boy, you gonna fly.

There is a runway prepared for you.

But evolution means you probably won’t need it.

And Africa, yea Africa, is in your veins and we have traveled seas and overcome, chased the setting sun daily, praying to see it rise again. And we do and so will you. You are an epic poem waiting to be written. Wobbling in the womb, you are already consuming all you need. And we, we are waiting to welcome you with open arms, to protect you from harm. And the irony is, when your sister was born, I considered buying a gun, thinking, “I have a wife and daughter to protect.” But now, having a son, and then I can’t think of one example of how that might actually save your life . . . or mine . . . in this society . . . in this society.

Dear Son, you are a magnificent masterpiece, a bundle of joy waiting to be opened, beautifully and wonderfully made. You are enough and always will be more than meets the eye. You will transform the world, and I am already so proud of you.

And, at 20 weeks, you are already kicking up dust, getting your reps in, getting your weight up. Trust me, you will need it. And I, I will teach you of Lorraine Motel Balconies and Audubon Ballrooms of African uprisings and vast kingdoms that created culture and knowledge.

Dear Son, you are a miracle.

A rising manifestation of love and peace and joy,

of purpose, power and persistence,

You are Patience personified in God’s grace.

You are a greeting,

A morning sunrise,

A reminder of revolution birthed from sheer will and necessity.

You are needed.

And we anxiously await your arrival.


Dad  OH

Josephus III

Poet, Dreamer, Husband, Father, Son

Changing the world one poem at a time

@JosephusIII on all social media platforms

The Pleasures of Life

Prayers to Santa

The night was bleak, but the Big Guy delivered — sort of

By Ashley Walshe

When you’re 5 and the sole object of your desire can only come from the mythical Dude in Red, Christmas morning is a very, very big deal.

But suppose you spent the night someplace else on Christmas Eve. Could Santa still find you? And if he couldn’t? What then?

These were all very, very real questions, none of which I’d considered until Christmas Eve, 1992, when, at the last minute, I was told we’d be spending the night at my grandparents’ house — three grueling hours away.

My pint-sized stomach was in knots. I wanted to stay strong for my younger brother, I really did. But the further we drove, the bleaker things looked. My breath grew shallow. My mind raced. I could slip into a tailspin at any moment.

Perhaps you don’t understand the gravity of my situation. I’d been waiting an entire year for Santa to bring me a Puppy Surprise. Three-hundred-and-sixty-five whole days. Have you any idea what kind of veritable agony that is for a such a small and anxious human? Each time I saw the commercial — “Surprise, surprise! Puppy Surprise! How many puppies are there inside?” — the pang of desire intensified. I ached to hold that plush toy dog and the — which would it be? — three, four or five puppies packed inside its Velcro tummy. Frankly, my life was incomplete without it.

And yet, as Christmas drew near, I began to see the light. I’d held up my end of the bargain, after all. I’d been good. Very good. I was certain that Santa would reward me. That is, until my parents threw a wrench in our Christmas.

My grandparents’ house was located nearly 200 miles away from our two-bedroom apartment. Small potatoes for a flying sleigh, you might say. But this type of detour could really screw up Santa’s route, especially so last-minute. If only I had time to send him a map.

“Can you call Santa to let him know where to find us?” I asked my mom. “Pleeeease?”

I knew she had his number. In fact, she’d once used it to rat me out for squabbling with my brother. It was a close call, but the Big Guy kept me on the Nice List when, sobbing, I repented. I dropped to my knees, vowing to forsake my naughty ways forevermore.

“He knows where to find us,” Mom replied.

“But how?” I asked. And how could she be so sure? It was Christmas Eve, after all. Had she considered that Santa was a bit preoccupied with the list-checking and whatnot? A change of address seemed like something that could easily slip through the cracks.

I felt helpless, lost and scared. And so, I did what any young Catholic child might do. I closed my eyes and prayed to Saint Nicholas.

When we pulled up to my grandparents’ house, Papaw greeted us outside with Charo, the cream-colored teacup chihuahua whose apple-shaped dome was slowly breaching my grandpa’s breast pocket.

“Merry Christmas, grandbabies,” said Papaw, eyes twinkling.

As I wrapped my little arms around his great, round belly, Charo suddenly emerged from his pocket, growling and gurgling like a tiny, adorable demon.

I loved all dogs, but that 4-pound terror was the very worst kind of puppy surprise.

She bared her teeth at me. I cried. Christmas Eve couldn’t have gotten any worse. 

I must have stayed up half the night fretting. Puppy Surprise was all I’d ever wanted, and quite possibly all I’d ever need. If Santa couldn’t find us here, what would I do? Would I have to wait another full year for my fur baby and her darling litter of three, four or five? I wasn’t sure my tiny heart could take it.

Fortunately, I worried myself into a deep and peaceful slumber. In the morning, I discovered the miracle of all Christmas miracles: Santa had come!

I woke up my brother, and the two of us sat in the dark, tails wagging. We knew better than to wake the adults before 6 a.m.

Well, perhaps you know how this story ends. I tore open my Puppy Surprise and pulled out one, two, three little bean bag pups from the mama dog’s underside. It was thrilling, but surely there were more. I dug my small hand deep into that Velcro pocket, but — surprise! — it was empty.

Rats. I’d asked Santa to stuff five puppies in there. I don’t know why he didn’t. It was really all I ever wanted.  OH

Ashley Walshe is a longtime contributor and former editor of O.Henry.

The Pleasures of Life

Turtleneck Kind of Gal

Sticking my neck out in praise of a fashion staple

By Lynne Brandon

Harry: I have just one question: What’s with all the turtlenecks? I mean it’s the middle of summer.

Erica: Well, I guess I’m just a turtleneck kind of gal.

Harry: You never get hot?

Erica: No.

Harry: Never?

Erica: Not lately.

This bit of thinly veiled flirty banter is from one of my favorite movies of all time — Something’s Gotta Give. The scene stealing dialogue is a game of mental ping-pong between playboy entrepreneur, Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson), and Erica Barry (Diane Keaton), famous and uptight playwright.

The conversation strikes a nerve and begs the question: Why do some women like wearing turtlenecks? Does it mean the wearer is uptight and neurotic? Is the look one of modesty or subtle sexiness?

And, really, why does anyone care? There seems to be no middle ground — people seem to love or hate turtlenecks.

Turtlenecks look good on almost every woman (especially those with long necks), and the garment looks equally dashing on men. The reasons for loving turtlenecks are as basic as the piece itself. It is both practical and fashionable: The neck-hugging sweater has been a classic style since entering the fashion scene in the 19th century.

To break down its merits further is easy. The staple item is a study of contrasts. Here is a garment that is simple yet alluring in an under-the-radar kind of way. It is a symbol of strength and style and, for some, rebellion.

One of the few reasons I can tolerate winter is because I get to wear my favorite black cashmere turtleneck. In the coolest months, I think there is no item that is more essential in anyone’s wardrobe, other than a coat.

Fashion history tells us that the origins of the turtleneck arose among the working class, who valued it for warmth and protection. Over time, they became a favorite with the Hollywood set. The turtleneck gradually became viewed as almost iconic for beautiful, active and independent women. Feminists — and even those who aspired to a hippie-boho lifestyle — got on board. Truly, the sweater makes a statement that is undeniable: The wearer has something to say to the world.

While many don the turtleneck, no one wears it better than the famously independent Diane Keaton, who gave it a starring role in Something’s Gotta Give. I met the trailblazing actress in 2019, and, true to form, Keaton had on her trademark black turtleneck. I also wore black for a dash of solidarity. She is as nice as she seems on the big screen, but I did not have the nerve to ask her the burning question on many fans’ minds: Why do you love turtlenecks?

But, if a turtleneck is good enough for the woman known for walking her own path, it is good enough for me. While I will not credit a piece of clothing with super powers, I definitely feel more confident and ready to face the day the moment my head pokes through a turtleneck.

And, as Keaton said, “I guess I’m just a turtleneck kind of gal.”  OH

Lynne Brandon is a Greensboro-based journalist who hopes to inspire others with stories about interesting people, places and things.

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

Baking Betty

Research, research, research

By Ruth Moose

Betty Crocker and I go back awhile, though I don’t go back as far as she goes. Betty Crocker, icon for General Mills, is 100 years old this year. One of the most recognized advertising symbols in the world, Betty has only gotten younger. Many up-to-date hairdos and wardrobe changes. She has kept up with the times. My relationship with her ended amiably enough and I have my little red spoon of confidence lapel pin to prove it.

Many years ago when I lived in Charlotte in a split-level house, carpooled in a wood-paneled station wagon and did all kinds of PTA and Boy Scout stuff, my family was a member of a very exclusive club. We were one of 500 General Mills test families across the country. I tested recipes that ended up on the backs of cereal boxes, flour packages, and General Mills products, excuse the expression, in general. I wasn’t paid but was reimbursed for the cost of recipe ingredients. I figured since I baked and cooked anyway, why not make it interesting? And I like to try new recipes.

Helen Moore, my good friend as well as neighbor, was at that time Food Editor for the Charlotte Observer. She invited me and serval other women of various ages and stations to a lunch with two home economists from General Mills. It was a lovely lunch in a nice restaurant, a real treat in the middle of the week. Good food, fun conversation and afterwards I was asked to be part of 500 families scattered across the country. The home economists explained that, though they tested recipes in their laboratory kitchens in Minneapolis, they wanted reactions from real people in real home kitchens. Where the pasta meets the road, so to speak.

During the years I tested a variety of recipes, everything from vegetable dishes (carrots cooked in frozen apple juice with fresh ginger was a good one) to cookies made with various cereals, to a whole series of recipes using wine. I saw many of these later in cookbooks. For the most part, my family was good natured about the whole thing. They were used to seeing different things on the table when they sat down to dinner.

After I tested a recipe, I filled out forms that included what I had paid for certain ingredients, whether I had them on hand, how difficult they were to find, how much they cost, and so on. Other forms asked if the instructions on the recipe were clear. Was it hard to follow? How much time did it take to make it? And there was always the question of my family’s reaction. They were the ultimate arbiters. Actual people eating real food in a home kitchen. Nothing complicated. Except the time I was sent a recipe for gumbo.

No, I did not have filé powder on hand.

No, I did not keep canned okra on my pantry shelf.

I didn’t know you could even CAN okra. And it surely didn’t sound appetizing. Breaded and fried okra is food of the gods! But okra in a can? In the South yet? Sacrilege.

So, I went in search of canned okra. In those days Amazon wasn’t even a twinkle in Jeff Bezos’ eye. Managers of the A&P, Kroger’s and Harris (before there was Teeter) laughed at me. Was I some kind of nut? Canned okra? I finally found a lonely can on the bottom shelf of a tiny exotic foods market. Exotic for North Carolina, certainly.

Then I made my first and only gumbo.

My family’s reaction, after a couple of mouthfuls, was to ask if we couldn’t go to MacDonalds.

We did, leaving plenty for the garbage disposal and a none too glowing report for Betty Crocker.

After that, whenever my sons sat down to something unfamiliar, their immediate reaction was, “Are we eating Betty Crocker?”

I probably tested recipes for Betty for six or eight years. The gumbo was the only unqualified disaster. A lot of the recipes I still make — a Wheaties cookie; many of the wine dishes, including a pot roast cooked with Burgundy.

The program was discontinued but, as a token of their appreciation, I was given a tiny version of Betty’s trademark, a small, enameled red spoon lapel pin — the Phi Beta Kappa of gumbo, I suppose — and a real conversation piece at dinner parties.  OH

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

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

The Eagle’s Gift

A wondrous sighting awakens the belief in magic

By Lindsay Moore

When I returned to my childhood home to live several years ago, I tempered my expectations. It was here I had befriended towering oak trees and written plays among the river rocks adorned with wildflowers, and where my worries had been enveloped by the pawpaws and mountain laurels. I served as protector of this sacred and magic realm. In return, it offered me an imaginative and joy-filled childhood. It was my own Terabithia, Narnia, Fangorn Forest or Hundred Acre Wood.

Regrettably, as adults we leave our mystical lands of childhood behind and the magic fades.

Waking early one brisk fall morning, I made the short trek to the steep steps made of large rocks just below my home. Without my consent and unannounced, tears fell in a steady stream as I stared out over the rippling water.

As I pondered whether to allow myself this moment of vulnerability, through my wet lashes, my eyes came upon the majesty of a winged creature. Gloriously on display as it silently soared just inches above the river’s surface, there it was — a harbinger of hope in the 7-foot wingspan of our nation’s emblem: a bald eagle. At once, I was transported back to the magic of my youth. As it made its way downstream, I wondered if it was just a figment of my imagination.

I held this moment close, fearing that if I shared it, the magic would evaporate. And my soul yearned for magic, longing to experience it once again. Not less than a month later, it happened again. This time, the sound of its calls preceded it. For such a majestic bird, it emitted surprisingly weak-sounding calls that resembled a series of high-pitched whistling or piping notes.

Throughout the winter, my interest in the bald eagle only heightened. I wondered where it lived. Did it have a companion, and, if by chance it did, was there a nest?  In my spare time, I read about eagles to better understand their behavior. I considered the eagle my friend and was certain it was mutual. In early spring, I began hiking the ridge line of the neighboring state park in hopes of catching a closer glimpse.

One evening, my eagle finally revealed itself to me, but it was not alone. In my studies I had learned that male eagles were smaller than their female counterparts and I could now discern that my eagle, in fact, was the male. Looking down, my eyes were drawn nearly 300 feet to the top of a sycamore tree situated along the river. There, I noticed an enormous nest that was easily 8 feet in diameter. With my camera and binoculars in hand, I formulated a plan to trailblaze through the woods below the very next day.

Before I could even see the nest in its entirety, I saw the white head of the female perched on top of a large branch. As I approached the edge of the tree line, my eagle arrived circling above with great prowess. I knew that he had seen me, even though my form was barely visible. As he proudly orbited, I noticed a small eaglet flapping its wings inside the nest. At once, I recognized the gift my friend was offering me. I smiled and stood in silence, extending to him my gratitude and respect.

I knew then that magic could still be elicited, regardless of age — we only need to be vulnerable enough to experience it. OH

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

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

Third Time’s the Charm

Writing life into existence

By Cassie Bustamante

We sat at our homemade paver firepit, the flames tickling the late spring sky as our tweens tossed a frisbee nearby and the dog licked any remaining bits of melted marshmallow from the grass. My husband, Chris, looked at me nervously and said, “OK, I’m going to give you what you want.”

“Right now? The kids are right over there,” I giggled, knowing exactly what he meant. After all, we’d been discussing it for months. And by discussing it, I mean I’d continued to badger him relentlessly with no plans to concede.

After our first attempt — not in front of the kids, mind you — two pink lines appeared on our pregnancy test. In awe, I showed Chris the evidence of our success. “We’ve still got it,” I gloated as we exchanged high fives.

Sadly, a week later, that new life slipped away as quickly as it had begun. I’d had two healthy pregnancies in my 20s. A miscarriage had always felt like something that happened to other people not me.

Over the next year and a half, we continued to try for a third child, with the same outcome each time. Finally, we met with a specialist to get to the root of the problem, and I was put on a new prescription. I left her office confident that the next pregnancy would be ours to keep.

That summer, while my kids volunteered at a local vacation Bible school not far from my favorite bike trail, I pedaled along the dirt path that bordered the canal, listening to a favorite podcast that featured Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, as a guest.

At that moment, if someone had suggested I could find valuable life lessons from a popular cartoonist, I probably would have laughed. But I was a desperate woman on a mission. After listening to his incredible tale of using affirmations to manifest his heart’s desires, I decided to give it a go. At this point, what did I have left to lose?

When those two pink lines teased me yet again, I practiced what I’d learned. In my mind, I pictured myself holding my newborn baby, who’d be due in early April, and imagined how he would feel, warm and snuggly against my chest. I saw Chris standing next to the hospital bed as we basked in the glow of parental love. In my journal, an entire page was filled over and over with the words, “I will hold my baby in April.”

But it wasn’t meant to be. Frustrated by my foolish desire to believe simple affirmations could work maternal magic, I permitted myself to have a major cat-5 emotional meltdown over the cruelty of the universe.

My doctor pointed out there was another route we could take, but I had reached my limit. Mentally exhausted, I made an appointment with her just so that I could thank her and feel at peace with my decision to move on. I threw myself back into creativity and running, activities that had made me who I was before grief had cast its dark shadow.

Not long afterward, during a long run with a close friend, a wave of nausea hit me as we reached the summit of a challenging hill. Assuming I was simply out of shape after taking so much time off, I brushed it off and kept moving. Back at home, I washed the salt of sweat and tears down the drain, allowing my body to cool down, but that queasiness continued.

Ironically, Chris and I hadn’t been “trying” this time around. We’d just found a moment to comfort each other in our heartache and it had led us here to the earliest stages of pregnancy again. Instead of feeling overcome with joy, I actually feared this was just going to be another baby I’d never get to hold.

As it turned out, my farewell appointment with the specialist happened to already be on the calendar. With Chris by my side, we shared the news and told her we would be going ahead with the next type of treatment blood thinners after all. She showed us how to perform my daily injections, wrote me a new prescription and sent us on our way with a due date: May 12, 2018. One day before Mother’s Day.

Nervous weeks turned into hopeful months as my stomach swelled with our growing baby boy. As I lay on the doctor’s table one afternoon in late February, watching my son kicking away on the monitor, she said, “We’re going to have to schedule you to be induced a couple weeks early. Since you’re on blood thinners, we need you to be off them for 24 hours before delivery. Let’s get you down for the end of April.”

I will hold my baby in April.

On April 27, 2018, our family was made complete. Wilder is everything we’d hoped for wrapped up into a feisty, yet adorable, sandy-haired, blue-eyed package that lets him get away with way too much.

As for me, I’m a changed woman, a believer in the power of affirmations after receiving my greatest gift from the universe. And on the days when Wilder challenges me he’s a Taurus, after all I come back to this story and give thanks for my stubborn little miracle who was meant to be mine all along.  OH

Cassie Bustamante manages O.Henry’s digital content and writes and creates our weekly digital newsletter, O.Hey.