MORGANTON, N.C. (Sept. 8, 2019) – The first time I noticed an open seed pod on our crapemyrtle, I thought it was some kind of wooden flower. It was just an empty shell. But it was beautiful.
To be completely honest, I had never looked so closely at that tree before—or at any other plant, for that matter. Until I started taking so many photos of our flowers with my cell phone, I had never seen their stems, leaves and even blossoms in such detail, except in a Georgia O’Keeffe floral painting.
I guess that’s one reason I like flowers so much—because of our abiding love for the work of O’Keeffe, our favorite visual artist. Like the particular types of music and literature I’ve come to prefer, O’Keeffe’s style of painting is deceptively simple. It is line, shape and shade of light.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Sept. 4, 2019) – There’s nothing gracious about a minor-league baseball fan who thinks he’s getting stiffed at the concession stand. But then, the weather here is still too hot and humid, the crapemyrtle in our front yard is covered in hard little balls that are splitting wide open to expel their seed, and some of us hardball lovers are about to explode, too, if we don’t get some relief.
It’s early September, and Crawdad season is drawing to a close. Of course, I’m not referring to the little buggers I used to catch in the creek down at the Park with Granddad, the freshwater crustaceans that he said would pinch me and then hold on tight until lightning flashed and thunder clapped. The Park—and that’s all it was ever called by my family—was heaven on Earth when I was a child. It was a picnic area that my grandfather built in a wooded hollow on his farm in the Hopewell community near Morganton. A good-sized creek with a sandy beach in one spot wound like an S through the beech-shaded grounds. When a family reunion or church social was held there, everyone came.
No, I’m talking now about the Hickory Crawdads, our area’s Class A South Atlantic League baseball team. The ‘Dads made the playoffs this season, but win or lose, the 2019 campaign is as good as over, with no fewer than two games and no more than eight games comprising the Sally League post-season for our team. If the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise, the whole kit and caboodle will end no later than September 14th, about the time some of the Major League pennant races really heat up.
BOONE, N.C. (Aug. 28, 2019) – Forget about Where the Lilies Bloom and Where the Crawdads Sing. When the crapemyrtles stop blooming on Morehead Street, summer is almost over.
Here in North Carolina, there are two Morehead Streets that are both important to Timberley and me. Our preferred Morehead Street—the one I’m writing about today—is where Timberley grew up in Morganton and where we set up true house-keeping as newlyweds about 35 years ago. That rambling, two-story house, where her grandparents had lived for a time before us, was across the street from her smaller, more humble homeplace, where her father lived alone then. The proximity made visits easy either way.
The other Morehead Street—this one in Charlotte’s historic Dilworth neighborhood—has been our reluctant home away from home since the spring of 2017 when Timberley was diagnosed with a rare bladder cancer and referred to Levine Cancer Institute at the Carolinas Medical Center, now called Atrium Health, on East Morehead Street. There she underwent cancer surgery and three separate but related hospitalizations before the end of that summer. We still return to Levine every 4-6 months for tests.
I called Charlotte our reluctant home, but we are forever grateful for the life-saving care we got there and for the support we now receive from our doctor, physician’s assistant, nurses and other healthcare personnel—even the ladies in the CMC cafeteria and the gentlemen who work in the parking garages—who have made the time we’ve spent there bearable and the time we can spend anywhere else possible.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Aug. 25, 2019) – No one can tell me there’s anything better to eat than a plate of pinto beans sprinkled with diced onion, a steaming slice of cornbread topped with a thick pat of melting butter, and a large, cold glass of whole milk. Collard greens are optional. No dessert is necessary.
And that’s the God’s honest truth. Right? If you don’t believe me, then you ain’t from around here, and you probably don’t like those crusty little slabs of heaven called fried livermush, either, but that’s OK. Tar Heels from the Piedmont are too polite to push good vittles on folks who don’t know no better.
So what foods feed your soul? (Even though that is a rhetorical question, feel free to post your answer in the comments below.)
BOONE, N.C. (Aug. 22, 2019) – It’s easy to reel off the names of people whom we have hated or who have hurt us. Those folks are hard to forget. It’s often much harder to acknowledge the loved ones who have affected us in positive ways. The explanation is complicated.
That was the object lesson our pastor, Dana McKim, assigned to congregants a couple of Sundays ago at First United Methodist Church in Morganton. “Who do you hate?” Dana asked to begin his sermon. And later, “Who loves you?” instead of the more obvious “Who do you love?” Along with those first two questions, he offered suggestions of people or groups that might fall into either category.
They weren’t rhetorical questions, not really. He did want us to list—in our heads at least, not out loud—the objects of our antipathy and, on the flip side of that record, the names of those people who have let us know in some way that we are objects of their affection. Remember, love isn’t always obvious to the loved, nor is it always requited.
BOONE, N.C. (Aug. 20, 2019) – Right now I’m sitting in the lobby of the Reich College of Education at Appalachian State University, and I’m wondering why I don’t know beans—or, rather, about growing beans. The rabbits keep getting them at both of our houses, in town and in the country.
Henry D. Thoreau, a hoer with a heart of gold and the humor of iron pyrite, wrote in Walden; or, Life in the Woods: “I am determined to know beans.” And in the two years, two months and two days of his experiment in living deliberately at Walden Pond in the mid-1840s, he did learn much about growing beans, but mainly that it was a lot of hard work just to feed the rabbits, woodchucks and other rodents.
BOONE, N.C. (Aug. 18, 2019) — Thrift always reminds me of the woman who made me want to tell stories—thrift the flower, not the prudent use of money.
If she were alive today, Grandmother Duckworth would get a laugh out of that sentence, not because I’m giving her credit for inspiring me to be a writer, but because, in her country way of saying things, “telling stories” meant you were telling lies.
One summer when I lived with her, she asked me more than once if I was “telling [her] a story” about where I’d been or whom I’d been with after I’d gotten home late from work. “Honest, Grandmother,” I’d say, “I wasn’t with anybody. I stopped at Western Piedmont to shoot some basketball—by myself.”
MORGANTON, N.C. (Aug. 16, 2019) – When the preacher prompted me to promise, “For richer or poorer,” almost 37 years ago, he wasn’t kidding.
Ever since we retired three years ago, we’ve been cutting back on just about everything, learning to do without many of the things we had taken for granted during our working lives when regular paychecks were coming in.
It used to be that I didn’t even bother balancing our checkbook; I just glanced at the account balance whenever I hit the ATM for cash. If that balance was within a few hundred dollars of what I thought it should be, I wasn’t worried.
Right now, some of you are horrified. How could I have been so blasé about our personal finances? Others of you are asking, “What’s a checkbook? And how do you balance it?”
Well, now I balance our checkbook (a rectangular, pocket-sized, plastic- or leather-covered pad of printed bank forms that are filled out by an authorized account holder and traded for goods or services in lieu of cash). When the monthly bank statement arrives in the mail—yes, the old-fashioned way, not on a smartphone app—I go over it in detail to make sure everything agrees, at least to the dollar.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Aug. 14, 2019) – In all likelihood, this will be the last book-length manuscript that I write—that is, if I manage to finish it by the end of next summer, my goal. Based on all the times I’ve tried to start this thing over the past three years but have been waylaid—or, even worse, laid low—by this and that, don’t be surprised if I get hit by a bread truck between now and, say, Labor Day 2020.
Why a bread truck? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I spent the first years of my adulthood in Valdese, where the boxy orange delivery trucks of Waldensian Bakeries were flashier than all those damn brown Buicks and metallic-blue Fords favored by bakery employees. That shiny Sunbeam fleet with the cute, blond-haired, gluten-glorifying girl on their side panels must have made a big impression on me. But if bread bothers you, substitute milk or beer or whatever else you can tolerate being loaded into a truck and delivered over the road, that could then run over a guy with my kind of luck. Man can live and die by many things other than bread alone.
We all know it’s coming. Sooner or later, a mass shooting will come to our town — to our school, our college, our worship center, our movie theater, our concert venue, our park, our store, our workplace.
And there’s nothing we can do to stop it.
Guns. Violence. Hate. Mental illness. Video games. Movies. Television. The Internet. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. The President. The Congress. The Judiciary. The Fourth Estate. We, the People. We, the Tired, the Poor, the Huddled Masses, the Homeless, the Wretched Refuse of Teeming Shores throughout our nation’s storied past. Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness. The Second Amendment. Laws. Weapons of Mass Destruction.
And, lest I forget, thoughts and prayers. I didn’t bother to capitalize those two words, even though What We Think and What We Say — whether to our God or to our Neighbor in the broadest senses of both words — are fundamentally more important than anything in the previous paragraph’s long list of nouns.