Golftown Journal

Golftown Journal

Three of a Kind

Keeping Pinehurst in good hands

By Lee Pace

Photographs by John Gessner


Think of it: Trump Pinehurst. JW Marriott Pinehurst Resort. Omni Pinehurst. Imagine checking your brokerage account for HLT and wondering if the Hilton chain stock got a nice bump during the weeks Pinehurst was hosting the U.S. Open. Oh, what could have been — and thankfully has not.

Consider this: Pinehurst (the resort and club) is 128 years old. It has had three owners. Three. In a golf industry expected to crest $41 billion by 2025 and with mergers and acquisitions flying like golf balls on Maniac Hill, Pinehurst has remained safely ensconced in private hands, never having to make its quarterly nut.

Certainly, it’s not all been peaches and cream, particularly those two years in the early 1980s when a consortium of banks was in charge after Diamondhead defaulted on its loans. Depressions and recessions generated some heartburn.

Trivia question: What do soda fountains, shipping containers and country club management have in common? Those were the arenas in which entrepreneurs that would eventually own Pinehurst generated their fortunes. James Tufts, Malcom McLean and Robert Dedman Sr. each grew from modest means to fabulous business success. 

Tufts was born in 1835, grew up in the Boston suburb of Charlestown, and at age 15 was apprenticed in an apothecary shop. He established his own shop by age 21 and soon expanded to five stores. He recognized the soda fountain was a key part of what would become the modern drugstore, with customers not only buying medicine but also the drinks and ice cream concoctions from the Italian marble and silver-plated foundation apparatus.

When he was 27, Tufts developed and began manufacturing and selling the successful Arctic Soda machines through his new venture, the Arctic Soda Fountain Company. And since parts of his popular fountains were silver-plated, that led him to manufacture an extensive line of silver-plated pitchers, dishes and table accessories. Many of these items, including an Arctic Soda machine, are on display at the Tufts Archives in Pinehurst. 

He became the first president of the American Soda Fountain Company through a merger in 1891, and with his wealth and business success secure, he turned his focus to other pursuits and philanthropy. The concept that became Pinehurst was the result of him wanting to create a resort in the southern United States for those like him of frail health to escape the bitter New England winters. 

Golf was not part of the original vision that opened in late 1895, but it came to his attention in 1897 that guests were hitting small rubber balls with wooden sticks around the dairy fields and, in the process, aggravating the cows. Tufts built nine holes as a lark in 1898, enlisting the help of Dr. D. LeRoy Culver, a Southern Pines physician who was an avid golfer, had played in England and Scotland, and understood the gist of what a course should look like. “A nine-hole golf course has been laid out after the famous St. Andrews, near Edinburgh, Scotland,” The Pinehurst Outlook reported in February 1898.

And the dominoes started falling. 

Tufts died in 1902 of heart disease, and the evolution of Pinehurst remained in the hands of his son Leonard and three grandsons. In the late 1960s, the aging of that third generation, the specter of inheritance taxes and the need to spend millions of dollars to upfit what was an aging resort in a time of rapid growth of the golf industry led the Tuftses to sell the resort and club. They found a buyer in a man who grew up 30 miles away and had just collected $160 million for selling a company that had revolutionized the shipping industry. 

Malcom McLean grew up on a farm near Maxton, graduated from high school and went directly into business for himself, purchasing a used pickup truck for $120 with savings from his gas-pumping job. He and two of his six siblings — sister Clara and brother Jim — then opened McLean Trucking Company, expanding their fleet and hauling crops from farm to market, and empty tobacco barrels from market back to farm.

Another early job during these mid-1930s formative days of what would become the second largest trucking firm in the country was in Pinehurst. McLean had the account of Pinehurst Inc. to haul guests’ luggage from the train station in Southern Pines to the hotels in Pinehurst.

Frustrated in 1937 by having to wait days at a New Jersey dock to unload his cargo of cotton onto a ship bound for Istanbul, McLean groused “there must be a better way” than loading a ship with cargo piece by piece. The idea fomented for two decades until he acted on his instincts in 1956 — that of designing cargo containers that could be easily separated from the truck bed and then neatly stacked on a ship designed to haul hundreds of containers at a time. He bought a fleet of old tankers, converted them to cargo ships and was off on his next venture, one that would revolutionize the shipping industry.

The eventual sale of Sea-Land Service Inc. to R.J. Reynolds in 1969 made the McLeans multi-millionaires. One of McLean’s sidelines was the resort and residential development concern that he named the Diamondhead Corporation, and that had projects underway in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. He remembered Pinehurst fondly from his luggage hauling days and eventually bought the resort from the Tuftses on Dec. 31, 1970, for the price of $9.2 million.

Diamondhead expanded the golf offering, building course No. 6 in the mid-1970s, creating the new World Golf Hall of Fame, and getting Pinehurst No. 2 back on the PGA Tour from 1973-82. It also embarked on an aggressive home-building expansion, with one ill-conceived and hideous idea to build condominiums within the No. 2 course that was thankfully thwarted by a lawsuit. In time, the company lost the resort to bankruptcy proceedings, opening the door for Dedman to step in in 1984. 

Dedman was a self-made billionaire who worked his way from the farmland of Arkansas to law school and on to creating a business that owned and operated country, athletic and city clubs around the world. He was working as in-house counsel for Dallas oilman H.L. Hunt in the mid-1950s when he perceived an opportunity to spread the country club concept beyond the 1 percent of elite citizens. He saw hundreds of thousands of potential homebuyers and members amid the masses of people now working, earning a good living and raising families in the post-war ’50s.

Dedman soon learned of the inefficiencies inherent in the operation of clubs, most of which are governed by committees of members. They are experts in their chosen fields — doctoring or lawyering, for example — but limited in their expertise of club business. One of his favorite sayings was, “For God so loved the world that he didn’t send a committee to save it.” He brought systems and procedures to running his clubs. By bundling its buying power across dozens of clubs, his company found significant savings in purchases from fertilizer for golf courses to food for dining rooms.

Club Corporation of America eventually would own and operate more than 200 clubs total and have assets of more than $1.6 billion. Dedman died in 2002, and his son, Robert Jr., took over. The Dedman family sold its interests in what had become ClubCorp in 2006 but kept Pinehurst. 

“Where would this place be if not for Robert Dedman?” Jim Hyler mused during his 2010-11 tenure as president of the USGA. “He might have been the one man in golf at the time who could pull it off. He literally saved the place.”

“The Dedmans are the ‘anti-Wall Street,’” added Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director from 2011-21. “They don’t think about the next quarter. They think long term. You cannot put a value on that. We simply don’t have another relationship like the one we have with Pinehurst. They genuinely care about the game of golf, preserving and protecting the game.”

Tufts to McLean to Dedman. Interesting to ponder over the next year as the new Golf House Pinehurst opens and Pinehurst No. 2 plays host to its fourth men’s national championship.  PS

Chapel Hill based writer Lee Pace has written extensively about Pinehurst since the late 1980s and has authored a half dozen books on Sandhills area golf. Write him at and follow him @leepacetweet. 



Letter to Charlotte

By LuEllen Huntley

She’s cute the last time we shop for groceries, wearing pressed jeans with a sparkle button jean jacket, exactly hemmed. Hair washed, set and combed the way she likes it. After putting almost everything on her “list” into our cart, she needs a restroom break. When she comes out, she’s forgotten it all. I show her our cart, nearly full. She wants to start over with all the things on the list. This is how it goes, sooner or later. Our grocery shopping together ends this day. I take over writing down the grocery items on her notepad at home, but a time comes when even the list doesn’t matter anymore.

Three years before our last shopping trip, during a daily visit, she says, “I’ve written a birthday letter for Charlotte’s second birthday.” Charlotte is her first great-grandchild. She has four grown children, four adult grandchildren, and by the time she writes her letter to Charlotte, three great-grandchildren. She has seen pictures of her two great-grandsons, but Charlotte is the only one she’s held in her arms. She occupies her mind that day. “I want you to keep this and give it to Charlotte’s parents when she’s 11,” she says.

Her mind has not yet betrayed her, but it will. Sooner than we dare to think. She looks me in the eye when giving directives, as she always does. Her commanding codes, spoken and unspoken, reflect her resolve, an attribute refined from teaching elementary school. Her handwriting on the envelope — meticulous as ever — betrays what I know. She’s written this over and over again for perfection.

I’m charmed by my mother’s unquestioning trust in me as her courier. Although it’s been a gradual shift, our roles as mother and daughter have reversed. And here she is, having completed an assignment she has given herself, sharing wisdom with her great-granddaughter, and honoring me to be the messenger. It’s a sacred trust. My father, her high school sweetheart, passed away seven months before and she’s carrying on. In private, I know she suffers. We all do.

In August 2022, eight years after my mother writes her letter and more than two years after she, herself, has passed away, I send it to Charlotte’s parents. It’s her 10th birthday. It’s written on two notebook pages, front and back. Her voice is in every line. She tells Charlotte she knows what it’s like to be young and to want to be admired but to understand that she already is. Walk proudly, she says, and that when hard times come faith will see her through, just as it did her.

On August 21, 2023, Charlotte will be 11. When she reads the letter from her great-grandmother, her brown eyes will grow wide. Written in the past, it’s delivered in the present to the future, from an old soul to a young one. Ink on paper. A list for life.  PS

LuEllen Huntley, associate professor emerita in the UNCW Department of English, lives in Pinehurst. She is originally from Wadesboro, in Anson County.



An Inconvenient Truth

Join David Joy as he discusses Those We Thought We Knew, his compelling new novel of a community whose dark underbelly is suddenly revealed, on Friday, Aug. 4, at The Country Bookshop, 140 N.W. Broad St., Southern Pines. Joy’s honors include winning the 2020 Dashiell Hammett Award for When These Mountains Burn and the 2018 Southern Book Prize for The Weight of This World. In addition, he was an Edgar Award finalist for best first novel for Where All Light Tends to Go. He’s also the author of Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman’s Journey. The event is free, but space is limited. Go to to reserve yours.

If You Can Dodge a Wrench

Create your own underdog story at a fun day of dodgeball and fundraising for the CARE Group programs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 26, at the old Aberdeen Elementary School Gym, 305 Elm St., Aberdeen. The cost is $150 for a team of six plus one substitute player and $5 for a Fan in the Stands pass. Unfortunately Patches O’Hoolihan can’t make it. There will be food trucks, drinks, raffles, contests and prizes. For more information visit

Pinky Finger Up

Spend the day cruising the Seagrove countryside, sampling teas and pastries, as you discover handmade pottery on Saturday, Aug. 12, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Drink iced tea from Carriage House Tea, sample the pastries from the Table Farmhouse Bakery and Holly Hill Farm, then try homemade treats while stopping at Blue Hen Pottery, Dean & Martin Pottery, Eck McCanless Pottery, From the Ground Up, Red Hare Pottery and Thomas Pottery. It all takes place on N.C. Pottery Highway 705, Seagrove.

First Friday

And when you’re finished listening to David Joy, walk down the block — or up the block, depending on if you’re right side up or upside down — to hear Caitlin Krisko and The Broadcast perform from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Aug. 4, on the First Bank Stage at Sunrise Square, 250 N.W. Broad St., Southern Pines. All the usual rules apply. Leave Cujo at home. There will be beer on tap and food trucks to feed your inner Homer Simpson. For information call (910) 420-2549 or go to

Live After Five

The hits keep on happening when Heads Up Penny performs from 5:15 p.m. to 9 p.m. at The Village Arboretum, 375 Magnolia Road, Pinehurst, on Friday, Aug. 11. Bring lawn chairs, blankets and the unbridled will to dance barefoot in the park. There will be children’s activities and food trucks. Beer, wine and additional beverages will be available for purchase. Picnic baskets are A-OK, but outside alcoholic beverages are not permitted. Julia Golden is the opening act. For more information call (910) 295-3642 or go to

Editor’s Note

Editor’s Note

In celebration of one of life’s perfect pairings — a beach and a book — PineStraw has produced its summer reading issue every August for over a decade. In that span our contributors have included Frances Mayes, Daniel Wallace, Etaf Rum, Ron Rash, Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton, Bland Simpson, David Payne, Lee Zacharias, Celia Rivenbark, Michael Parker, Nan Graham, Terri Kirby Erickson, Shelby Stephenson, Fred Chappell, Anthony S. Abbott, Wiley Cash, Ruth Moose, Sam Barbee, Virginia Holman, and Jill McCorkle, to name a few. This year our page-turners are by Valerie Nieman, Brendan Slocumb and Stephen E. Smith and run the gamut from fantasy to thriller to memoir.

And every August we strive to find a cover that celebrates both reading and readers. This year we’re fortunate to be able to feature the work of California artist Michael Stilkey on our cover. The piece is one of Stilkey’s “book sculptures” entitled Self Portrait as Horse, Part Two. In a style reminiscent of German expressionism, Stilkey uses a mix of paint, lacquer, ink and pencil to capture his melancholic, whimsical characters painted on stacks of books, many of which are destined for the recycling bin. Stilkey told the L.A. Times, “Books are dying. There are so many that go to the garbage. It’s crazy. If I can paint on them, I’m giving them a second chance.” His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and around the world including the United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, Philippines, Hong Kong and Beijing, China. When the curator of the Rice University Gallery randomly saw his work in a Los Angeles gallery, she flew him to Houston where he created his first large book sculpture. It went viral. “Then I went on a world tour for the next, I don’t know, 15 years,” says Stilkey. “Right place, right idea, right timing. It all aligned.”

In 2018, Stilkey was invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland as a cultural leader where he created a book installation entitled Down to Earth consisting of nearly 8,000 books, standing 27 feet tall and 20 feet wide depicting people from diverse walks of life floating on the music of a pianist. In 2019 at the Starfield Library in South Korea he created his largest piece, a three-sided sculpture made of roughly 15,000 discarded books.

If you want to see more of Stilkey’s artwork, visit his website at In the meantime, stick your toes in the sand and enjoy another August reading issue of PineStraw.

— Jim Moriarty



Fiction by Valerie Nieman Illustration by Jenn Hales

Andi hadn’t been startled awake for several nights, ever since the contractor fixed that foundation problem, but now she sat straight up in bed. Something was wrong. The house, her new home in a new city, remained quiet, all that groaning and cracking having been eliminated by the repairs. It was that other silence — no hum of cars passing on the street, no sounds of a city waking up. And, she realized as she stared into total darkness, no streetlight glow filtering around the blinds.

For a while, she heard nothing. Gradually, light began to show and she heard a chorus of shrieks and whistles — birds? She got up, shuffled to the back door and opened it on a bright dawn, cornfields stretching flat and green in every direction. The rows came right to her steps, tassels waving well above her head. Blackbirds wheeled in huge flocks.

Her house had moved. And she had moved with it.

Even as she tried to make sense of it, speculating that this looked like Iowa — must be, maybe, everyday, common Iowa — nothing to be afraid of, the rest of her brain was rabbiting around the bonkers impossibility of her situation.

She had loved the cottage from the moment the realtor opened the door, but, after moving in, she came to realize there was an uneasiness about it. Day and night, floors creaked and popped without the weight of a footstep. When she reached to put something in a high cupboard, the top of it did not line up with the ceiling. Everything was slightly off one way or another, but that’s the way old houses were. They settled year by year, in a long, uneven conversation with the ground.

She didn’t miss her previous home. It wasn’t that, at all. When her ex abruptly went away (for good this time), and shortly after so did her job, she’d decided she needed something smaller to meet her changed circumstances. Something older, solid, with its own history.

Stay, or go. It hadn’t been a difficult choice. Her former home had no longer felt like home. It just felt like him, his house, cold all the time.

Three different construction dates — 1921, 1927, 1928 — were listed variously on deeds, descriptions and reports. It made no sense. A house was completed or not in a certain year. The cedar-shake cottage had been moved sometime in the 1970s and new sections had been added, a porch, a deck. Extensions that almost seemed to buttress the square main building, pushing out on three sides.

Andi had become fascinated by the idea of house-moving. It wasn’t unusual, of course; houses were moved out of the path of development all the time. Even lighthouses were raised up on rollers and carried inland, away from the encroaching sea. She remembered reading about a town in Minnesota that was hauled away from mining damage by horses and tractors and a steam engine. Elsewhere in North Carolina, the former village of Avalon had been moved when its mill burned down, the little houses incorporated into the neighboring textile town of Mayodan.

History was like that, for a house or a person — gaps in the record, mysteries.

The recommended contractor came within a week — the benefit of a small town, Andi supposed — and rang the doorbell with his ball cap off, gripped in his hands like he was entering a church.

“Miss Andrea?”


“Miss Andi. I am pleased to meet you.” He paused and glanced inside. “What were you needing done?”

“I’d like you to look at the foundation.” It sounded too — something — to say she heard strange noises. “I understand the house was moved. Is it well supported? The home inspector didn’t mention anything.”

“Well, you are spot on about the move. I remember when they did it. Quite the show, with traffic held up and all. They put an office building where it used to be.” He kept talking as she led him back to the utility room and the trap door to the crawl space, wondering if a man that old (he had only a fringe of white hair around a polished dome) was agile enough to get around under the joists. But she needn’t have worried — he was quickly out of sight, banging around beneath the floor, and it wasn’t long until he came up out of the hole.

“Found your problem.” He turned off his flashlight, dusted off his hands. “The main support beam, a steel beam at that, has been cut in two.”

“What?” That sounded terrifying, as if the house might bend at the center like a cardboard box and fold itself flat.

“Yep. Might have been part of moving it, I don’t know.”

“Is it dangerous?”

“No, no, there’s plenty of support pillars. Just . . . strange.”

She hadn’t been able get the vision of a collapse out of her mind. “Can you put it back together?”

“I can do that, sure. Have to come back with some tools, bolts and such. And good steel.”

And so it was done.

Two mornings after the cornfields appeared, she awoke to the mooing of cows.

She hadn’t ventured into the tall corn, featureless as a sea. Now she looked out on new fields that rolled away over little hills, fields bounded by hedges instead of fences. Brown and white cows. She looked out of windows on each side of the house. Far away she could see a steeple and what appeared to be a castle.


The house did not move on a regular schedule. It stayed in the same place for days, even weeks, then she would hear the wind moaning from a new corner of the eaves and look outside to see — what was that?

She was cautious. When the house set down in a populated area, no one seemed to notice. People apparently could not see the house, but once she stepped off the porch, they could see her. The first time she’d tried, somewhere under a hot, pale sky, black-haired children clamored at her and she ran back inside. They stood for a moment, wide-eyed, letting the stones drop from their hands, and fled.

Did she appear suddenly, popping into view? Was she floating in a bubble like Glinda? No way to tell.

The movement of the house in space and time became wider and wilder. One day she might look out on a Japanese seaside town with little boats and a pagoda, and a couple days later, she’d be in the United States, far to the north, in a logging town at the edge of a redwood forest. The house, severed from a permanent base, had no utilities, but Andi did have a large supply of candles. And a rain barrel that had been strapped to one of the additions.

I am resourceful, she thought. I am doing fine.

Turn and turn and turn again.

The days were long and the nights longer in the wandering house. She missed her friends, especially Nicole, a coworker who had stayed close through both the divorce and her early (forced) retirement from their employer. Nicole had always teased her for overly careful preparation, cautious decision-making. What would she say about this?

Andi even sort of missed her ex. He had been a familiar problem, at least.

She learned how to gather food in exotic places, covering her foreignness with a long, hooded cloak, a souvenir of her role in a college Shakespeare production. Where there was a store, a souk, a market cross, she waited and watched, moving in when the crowds had thinned and the leavings were cheap. The smell of cooked meat made her ravenous.

She could barter jewelry and small items to merchants. Gestures were pretty much universal. As her hair grew unruly and her scrupulously kept-up color faded to salt-and-pepper, with her head down and a hand upturned, she could sometimes gather alms from passersby. No need to speak. Maybe she couldn’t any longer.

Andi fell asleep with the house settled someplace that was high and cold and empty, a steppe. She woke to find it beside a long lake clasped by dark-forested mountains. Well down the shore was a cluster of thatch-roofed cottages.

Hunger drove her to the village and, as she looked for someplace to get food, she was relieved to realize the people were speaking a sort of English. It wasn’t market day, but a house displayed a bush over the door. That meant beer was available, she remembered from a long-ago advertising class.

She nodded to the woman inside, dressed in a bodice and full skirts, her hair covered.

“Beer,” she ventured.

The woman, stout as one of her casks, looked oddly at her.

“Ale?” Andi mimed drinking.

The woman responded by shaking a bucket at her.

Ah. Medieval takeout. She had no pitcher, bucket, anything with which to carry the beer away.

Andi put her hand on a pottery pitcher and indicated that she would buy it. She produced a piece of jewelry she’d brought to trade, an alloy ring decorated with the figure of a nude dancing woman.

The woman backed away, eyes wide, and whispered something that sounded like “elf.” Or “help.”

A man came from outside and she pointed to the ring where it lay. He picked it up and turned it in his dirt-caked fingers, squinted at her, and then spoke to the woman, who hustled off to get someone, a priest, a soldier, someone that Andi didn’t think she should meet.

She gathered up the skirts of her cloak and ran.

The house didn’t move that night, or the next, or the next. She wished it would.

Andi did not go back to the village, fearing people who feared her. Andi imagined the townspeople might think she was something supernatural, in league with the Devil. She also considered that maybe the stylized figure of a naked woman on the ring had offended them. People went past the house, on their way to fields or driving herds of sheep along, without even a glance.

Then a man as dark as a devil stopped right in front, turned and stared into the window.

“I spy a lass, through the window,” he said.

She hid behind the curtain.

“There thou be, though how this house came hither I dinnae ken.” The man began to walk away, and she thought he’d gone until he emerged from the other side, having circled the house. He stepped up onto the porch and came to the door.

“How can you see this house?” she asked, almost whispering into the gap between the old door and the frame.

“Metal calls to me, shaped in some cantrip-time.”

Andi opened the door but stood behind the screen as though that bit of protection would be sufficient to keep out this brawny man. A blacksmith, she realized, his skin and clothing darkened by the smoke of the forge.

“The house moves,” she confided. “It was cut apart underneath and then, when it was fixed, it began moving.”

He cocked his head as he listened, the way a dog turns its head as it tries to tune in its person’s unfamiliar words. “The house is magiked.”

She nodded.

“Gie me leave then to see?”

Andi opened the flimsy door and stood back. The whiff of fire and charcoal came with him. He looked around the room, bemused (What did he make of the black slab of the television, photographs on the wall?) then followed her to the access. Like the old contractor, he moved with the assurance of someone who dealt with problems all the time, physical problems that could be addressed with tools and skill.

He was quickly back up, head and shoulders out of the trap door. He tried to explain the situation, and now she was the one who couldn’t put all the words together. However, she came to understand that he had found the steel beam bridged by the contractor’s plates and bolts.

“Can you fix it?”

“Fixt? Your house is scarcely that,” he said, a smile opening his sooty face. “I’ve a gift from the Fair Folk to forge steel that will nae break nor blunt at the bite. Aye, I can do this task. A wandering heart can be put aright, house or lass alike.”

He heaved himself out of the crawl space. She pulled back, away from his seared hands and leather apron.

“If you do, if you fix — unmend — it, what will happen?”

“The heart was cut in twain to end the wandering. If I take away the clampar, ’twill rest again.”

She thought about the various recorded dates of the house’s construction. Had it skipped from year to year, somehow, appearing and disappearing until it was tamed?

“But where? Where will it be?”

“Why, here, lass! I canna make it skip the sea from one shore to another like a stane from the hand of the giant Benandonner,” he said, laughing. “Here this house stays, and thou with it, or else be ever a-wandering like Will-o’-the-wisp.”

She looked out at the dense forests and the long silvery lake. She was aware of the interest in his merry eyes. And the able heft of the man. Solid, he was.

“My folk will thee like. There’s much eerie hereabouts, m’self not least, though we’ve never seen a lass sa conveyed.”

He offered his fire-marked hand.

“Andi,” she said, as she took it.  PS

A former professor at NC A&T State University and editor for the Greensboro News & Record, Valerie Nieman lives and writes in Rockingham County. Her novel, In the Lonely Backwater, won the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for 2022.

Don’t Let Them Eat Cake

Don’t Let Them Eat Cake

Fiction by Brendan Slocumb     Illustration by Mariano Santillan

He smelled like the cake factory: frosting, the yeasty stench of batter and butter, but more than anything else, sugar. Baked sugar, tangy and sweet, that coated the back of his tongue and the inside of his eyelashes. Leaving the factory at the end of the shift, he could feel the sugar aroma around him like a coat or a fog, always moving with him. Of course, his friends started calling him Bon Bon. He’d hated the nickname, but by now it had hung on him so long that he didn’t mind it.

He ordered another beer and checked his watch. His buddy, Tig, was late, as usual. Meet me at the bar at 6:30 and DONT BE LATE, Tig had texted him. SERIOUS!!!

Now it was 6:49, and he’d finished the first beer and ordered a second. Why Bon Bon had believed Tig that this time actually was urgent, Bon Bon didn’t know. He’d shown up in his work clothes without changing back into his street clothes, the King Arthur Brand cake flour misting up from his pant legs every time he shifted on the bar stool. 

“You makin’ me hungry, buddy,” Alan, the bartender, told him for the third time. “What do you think of carrot cake? You a big fan?”

“I figured you for a chocolate cake man,” Bon Bon said. “That was your wife in the shop the other day, wasn’t it? She bought the 14-inch and the 18-inch. Double chocolate.”

“Wife loves them,” Alan said, buffing the bar and looking away. His A-shirt, with dozens of stains on it — bourbons, whiskeys, wines — barely covered his paunch. Seemed like Alan loved those chocolate cakes, too.

Bon Bon nodded politely, tried to squeeze out a smile and looked again at the door.

“You must get sick of cakes,” Alan said. “All them sweets. That vanilla confetti cake is my favorite.”

“Never touch the stuff,” Bon Bon said. “I only eat salty stuff. You got more of these?” He pushed the empty dish that had contained pretzels and peanuts towards Alan. The first few months at the factory, Bon Bon had eaten so many pastries that he became nauseated by the sight of anything with sugar in it. 

He looked at the clock. It was 6:54. If Tig didn’t show by 7, Bon Bon was out of there. Home, out of the sugar-stenched clothes and into the shower. He imagined hot water sluicing over him, the powdered sugar circling the drain and disappearing. He fumbled in his pocket for his wallet, looking for a ten, when a familiar voice said behind him, “You stink like the inside of a fat woman’s purse, you know that?”

Tig. Of course. “What?” Bon Bon asked him. “What does the inside of someone’s purse smell like? And where were you?”

“They keep cake in them,” Tig said. “The ladies.”

“Nobody keeps cake in their purse,” Bon Bon told him. “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard you say.” And he’d heard Tig say plenty of stupid things over the years.

“Come on, let’s go.” Tig was already heading toward the door.

“Go where?” Bon Bon said. “Why did you want to meet here? Now we’re leaving? What’s going on?” Bon Bon grabbed a handful of the peanut-pretzel snack from the newly replenished dish, thanked Alan with a wave and trotted to keep up with Tig, who was already outside

By the time Bon Bon caught up with Tig, he was almost to his car, a beat-up dark green Chevy Malibu, whose passenger door had gotten side-swiped years ago and was missing the side mirror and most of the chrome trim. Tig was what Bon Bon’s mother referred to as “a character.” Overalls, sleeveless shirt, dirt-and-oil-coated John Deere trucker cap, Reebok tennis shoes so faded and stained with oil and dirt that their color would forever be a mystery. 

“Get in,” Tig said.

“Where are we going? When will we be back? I can’t just leave my car — ”

“GET IN,” Tig said, almost an order this time.

Bon Bon never knew why he got in the car that night. Maybe because he’d done other stupid things with Tig in the past and this was just par for the course. You wouldn’t believe what Tig just did, Bon Bon imagined texting his friends later tonight. It would be fodder for conversation for days to come.

The car stunk of cigarette smoke and chaw. A spit cup sloshed in the dashboard console. Bon Bon shoved McDonald’s wrappers, Entenmann’s boxes, Dunkin’ bags and miscellaneous trash off the seat, and got in. Before he could even buckle his seat belt, Tig spun the tires and headed out of the parking lot toward the highway.

“What’s this about?” Bon Bon repeated, swallowing the last of the pretzels.

Tig smiled. Drove for a minute, enjoying the power. Then, dramatically, he said, “I’m about to make us rich.”

“No,” Bon Bon said.


“OK,” Bon Bon said. “Let me out. Turn around. Stop this piece-of-crap and let me out. I told you before. I’m not getting involved in any of your messed-up money-making — ”

“It’s guaranteed cash and you’re already in it,” Tig said without missing a beat.

“Stop the car. I mean it.” 

“Too late. You’re going to thank me in about 12 hours.” 

“What the hell are you talking about? Twelve hours? What did you do? What are we doing?”

“I just made you 23K. I get 27K, you get 23K.” 

“For what?” Bon Bon asked. Frustration and fury boiled in his gut the way it often did when he had to deal with Tig. “You just handing me 23K for sitting here?”

“For coming with me, yeah,” Tig said, darting a glance at him. Bon Bon couldn’t decipher it. “All you gotta do is drive when I get sleepy.” The highway spooled out before them, the endless ripple of white lines bisecting the night. Few cars were out this late, and all seemed to be going in the other direction.

“Hell no. I don’t know what kind of craziness you’re getting into, but I’m out. I gotta work in the morning. Turn around. Take me back to my car.”

Tig laughed. “Bro, they won’t miss you at that cookie house. Besides, in 12 hours, you’ll have enough money to quit that job and do something that doesn’t leave you smelling like a giant cupcake. Lose that dumbass nickname. Grown man named Bon Bon. I’m doing you a favor.”

“Screw you. Dammit, I knew I should have just gone home.” 

The car banked around a wide curve, then through a series of up-and-down humps in the road. If you drove fast enough, it was like riding a roller coaster. For an instant, you could lose your stomach as you crested the rise.

On the descent, a thump came from the trunk.  

“What was that?” Bon Bon looked in the back seat, stacked neatly with big square boxes: Macbook Air, read several. UN3481, read others, with the logos of a battery and a flame. They were all laptop computers. The back-seat floor was the usual sea of fast-food wrappers, napkins and trash. Nothing moved.

The thump came again, as if whatever was back there shifted back to its original position.

“What’s going on?” Bon Bon asked. He couldn’t hide the note of nervousness now in his voice. “What’s in the back seat? Is that stuff stolen? You raid an Apple Store or something?” He tried to imagine how many laptops would be worth $50,000. There’d have to be at least twenty-five, maybe more.

“Nothing. Don’t worry about it.” The car was going faster now, well over 80 mph. 

“I knew it. I freakin’ knew it. What did you do? I’m not dealing in stolen goods, Tig. Stop the car.”

Tig groped in the driver side door. Bon Bon thought at first that Tig was looking for his wallet or maybe a soda bottle. But after a moment Tig retrieved a small triangular object that seemed to absorb the dim lights from the dashboard before it resolved itself into a gun. It glittered as if alive. Tig gripped the handle and then the muzzle was pointing, impossibly, at Bon Bon himself. 

“T, what the . . . ” 

“Just shut up,” Tig said. “I’m doing you a favor. Nobody is getting hurt. We walk away with more money than either of us has ever seen.”

Bon Bon had only seen Tig this erratic once before. It ended with Carl Simmons walking with a permanent limp and Tig spending three years in prison for aggravated assault. Bon Bon stared at the dark muzzle of the gun. His mouth had gone dry, the pretzel crumbs turned to gooey dust on his tongue. He wiped his hands on his pants and could feel the flour and sugar coating his palms. He wanted to scream. Instead he took a deep breath, looked out the window into the dark, trying to ignore the feel of the gun staring at him. “OK man, just tell me where you got all these computers from. And what we’re going to do with them.” 

“The less you know the better,” Tig told him. “Get some rest. You’ll take over in six hours. We gotta make the drop by 8 a.m.” 

Bon Bon had heard that Tig had gotten into some shady business while he was in prison. This whole scenario was making more sense. Tig, and now Bon Bon, were driving stolen electronics over state lines. He wondered if $23,000 was worth getting caught. If the police pulled them over —

Tig turned on the radio with an aggressive punch of his forefinger. Kellie Pickler’s “Red High Heels” deafened them. Bon Bon turned down the volume.

 Over the next two hours, Bon Bon sat in silence, thinking. Tig couldn’t be reasoned with, that was pretty clear. Bon Bon could wait till Tig fell asleep and turn the car around, but what would happen when Tig woke up? Bon Bon glanced down at the gun again, resting lazily on Tig’s thigh, and looked out the window. He could grab his phone and try putting it on mute and dialing 911, but the phone’s light would turn on and Tig would see it for sure. Bon Bon’s palms felt chalky from the mixture of sweat and cake flour dust. The damp, sugary smell from his trousers made him want to retch. 

“Hey,” he said when lights from the next exit glimmered on the horizon. Signs for gas, food, lodging. “I didn’t get dinner when I was sitting there waiting for you, and I’m starving. Do we need gas?” He pretended to stretch and stifle a yawn.

Tig kept his eyes on the road, but his grip tightened for an instant on the gun, then relaxed again. “OK,” he said after a minute. “I am, too. All right. I’ll pump the gas and you get us some food.” Tig took the exit too fast, the car almost on the berm before he overcorrected. Again came the thump from the trunk. “And don’t try anything, man. I’d hate to kill you, you hear me?”

The gas station was a half-mile down the road, its fluorescent lights bright and disorienting. No cars were parked at the pumps. A single beat-up Honda sat tucked against the building. Bon Bon had been hoping for a late-night police cruiser, an RV, anything.

After the car had come to a halt, Bon Bon got out, making sure his movements were slow and casual. He could run in, tell the attendant to call the cops, who could be here in minutes. He glanced over at Tig, who was staring hard at him. He looked away, pulled open the glass door. He could feel Tig’s eyes on him, even in the snack aisle. 

He picked up several bags of  Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, hot chili and roasted lime Takis, jalapeño Kettle potato chips, and honey barbecue and hot mustard pretzels. Then went to the refrigerators on the wall and pulled out four bottles of Pepsi.

At the cash register, Tig’s gaze brushed his shoulders as Bon Bon paid and the clerk stuffed everything in a plastic sack. Again and again, he contemplated saying something but then imagined Tig leveling the gun at them, the bullets spider-webbing the glass.

The door behind them jingled, and Bon Bon jumped. “You almost done, man?” Tig called in.

“Yeah,” Bon Bon said. The clerk put a handful of change on the counter, and Bon Bon swiped it into his palm. “You owe me 18 bucks,” he told Tig as he brushed past him out the door, out into the cool night and the waiting car.

“Oh you’ll get that and more soon, buddy.” Bon Bon could hear the relief in Tig’s voice. “You feel like driving now?”

“Yeah, I can take over,” Bon Bon said. “You eat up. Did you check on the trunk? On whatever fell over back there?”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s fine,” Tig said. 

Bon Bon pulled out of the parking lot as Tig tore open the purple bag of Takis, stuffing a handful into his mouth. “Damn these are good. You want some?” 

Bon Bon shook his head. “In a sec.” He took a sip of Pepsi.

“These things are spicy,” Tig said, playing on the word spicy. “Whooo-eee.” He cracked open his Pepsi and drained half of the bottle. Bon Bon took a sip of his.

Tig didn’t tell him where they were going, just directed him once to turn south, toward the highway running to the coast. Tig broke into the potato chips and Bon Bon munched on pretzels. They passed city after city, and a rest stop in three miles.

“I’m thirsty,” Tig said when he was halfway through the Honey Barbecue Pretzels. “These pretzels are making me thirsty.”

Seinfeld,” Bon Bon told him without looking over. He checked the rearview mirror. The boxes sat primly on the backseat, giving away nothing.


Seinfeld,” Bon Bon said. “That was a running joke on Seinfeld.” The rest area illuminated the road. “Remember, George said it about 200 times during that show?” They passed the entrance, kept going.

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. You got more to drink?” Tig said. 

“There ain’t no more. We drank it all.” 

“That ain’t funny,” Tig said. “I’m seriously thirsty. We gotta stop.”

“OK,” Bon Bon told him. “Next place we see. I need to take a piss, too,” he added.

They passed a sign. “Next Rest Area: 28 Miles.”

“Damn,” Bon Bon said. “Another half-hour.”

“We can make it,” Tig said, staring out at the darkness. But after another 10 minutes he said, “I really gotta go.”

“So do I,” Bon Bon said. “Bad. I’m going to pull over.”

He eased the Chevy onto the shoulder, put on his flashers. “What the hell you think you doin’?” Tig said, spraying pretzel crumbs onto Bon Bon’s shirt. 

“What? You want me to piss myself in the driver’s seat? I didn’t shower after work because somebody wanted me to meet them at 6:30. So now I smell like cupcakes and if I piss myself I’ll smell a lot worse. That is not a good combination. So you’ve got a choice. Either stop yapping in my face and let me pee, or you can drive the rest of the way in a wet seat.” 

He hoped Tig would be too preoccupied to suggest that he pee in the Pepsi bottle. Tig was. 

“Whatever. Don’t do nothin’ stupid.” Tig got out of the car, slammed the door. Again the thump from the trunk, and then another. 

The car’s headlights beamed into the nondescript grass as Bon Bon climbed out, went around the front of the car. As he reached the berm, he stumbled, tripped, and fell. Then got up, close now to Tig.

“Clumsy idiot,” Tig said, laughing, transferring the gun from his right hand to his left, unzipping. “Next rest stop we’re gonna get something to drink. I’m really thirsty. We got how many miles? 15 or — ”

Wham. The rock that Bon Bon had just picked up struck Tig perfectly, right on the temple. Tig dropped, soundless, so quickly that Bon Bon thought for a second that he was pretending. 

But he wasn’t. A moment later he groaned, reaching for his scalp. Bon Bon lunged for the gun, grabbed it and sprinted back to the car.

In a moment, cinders flew and he was back on the highway, heart in his throat, going 70, 80, 90 miles an hour.

After a couple of miles he slowed slightly, pulse still pounding. The thump from the trunk came again. Bon Bon pulled over, popped the trunk, went around back.

Inside, a young boy lay wedged against tires and fabric, his hands and feet bound with zip ties. His eyes were bigger than any eyes Bon Bon had ever seen, with such terror and misery that Bon Bon couldn’t speak for a moment as he loosened the gag. The boy struggled away, a panicked bird.

“Hey, it’s OK,” Bon Bon said. “That piece of garbage can’t hurt you.”

He looked in the front seat for a knife, scissors, anything to cut the ties, but could find nothing. So he carried the boy to the front seat, tried to make him comfortable.  

“I’m taking you to the police,” Bon Bon told him as he adjusted the seat belt. “The bad man won’t hurt you anymore, OK?” He tried to sound as calm and nonthreatening as he could. 

“You smell like a cupcake,” he told Bon Bon accusingly, voice rough.

Bon Bon laughed. “Story of my life,” he said. “I get that a lot.”

The little boy eyed the bag of pretzels, tucked in between the seats. “Can I have some?”

Bon Bon reached past him for the pretzels, fed him a couple at a time.

“These are making me thirsty, “ he said.”

“Do you like Seinfeld, kid?” Bon Bon said as he pulled out his phone and dialed 911.  PS

Brendan Nicholaus Slocumb is a graduate of UNC Greensboro with a degree in music education. He is the author of The Violin Conspiracy and Symphony of Secrets. He is currently working on his third novel.



Something in the Water

Diving with sand tiger sharks off the North Carolina coast

Story and Photographs by Todd Pusser

For nearly five minutes, I have been hovering motionlessly off the bow of the Hyde, some 60 feet below the ocean’s surface, staring out into the smoky, blue-gray water. Built in 1945 during the final days of World War II, the Hyde was one of the few ocean dredges outfitted with bullet-resistant steel and large guns. Once it was decommissioned, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries intentionally sunk the ship 18 miles off the coast of Wilmington in 1988 to provide recreational opportunities for fisherman and scuba divers. The Hyde now rests upright on a vast, flat, sandy bottom and is a haven for marine life.

Exhaling into my regulator, I spy a large, dark shape, near the edge of my vision, approaching through a dense school of baitfish. On it swims, ever closer, revealing more of its distinctive features. I note the golden-brown sheen of its skin, sprinkled here and there with black spots. An arched back tapers from a wide dorsal fin down to a narrow snout. On the underside of that snout is a mouth filled with large exposed recurved teeth; an imposing maul that makes the species extremely popular attractions in zoos and aquariums.

Raising my camera up to my face mask, I frame the sand tiger shark in my viewfinder and press the shutter. The shark, 8 feet long, swims closer still, mouth slightly agape. Finally, an arm’s length away, the sand tiger veers to my right and swims slowly by, completely ignoring me. With a few gentle thrusts of its tail, the shark disappears into the blue.

Since the dawn of civilization, humans have been fascinated by sharks. Their likeness features on Phoenician pottery dating back to 3,000 B.C. Aristotle wrote about them, as did Pliny the Elder, of ancient Rome. Many cultures even viewed sharks as deities. However, fascination soon gave way to fear. A vase, discovered in 725 B.C. in Ischia, Italy, depicts a shark-like fish attacking a man. The fear of being eaten alive has persisted through the centuries, eventually culminating in the 1975 movie Jaws. So strong is this fear, it is without parallel, even in a world filled with nuclear weapons and mass shootings.

Sharks have been in existence for a very long time, swimming ocean waters some 200 million years before the dinosaurs walked the Earth. Over 540 species of sharks are currently recognized by scientists. With each passing year, new species are continually being described.

In his 2003 book Sharks, Rays, and Skates of the Carolinas, the late marine biologist Frank Schwartz of the University of North Carolina Marine Sciences Institute, in Morehead City, documented 56 species of sharks swimming our state’s waters. Of the sand tiger shark, he wrote, “Common year-round in the Carolinas, especially July-November in shallow shelf waters.” Their presence in the shallow waters off North Carolina has made the state a mecca for recreational scuba divers and underwater photographers. Believe it or not, people willing to pay good money, flock here from all over the world for the chance to swim with these predators in the wild. North Carolina is one of just a handful of spots anywhere on the planet where divers can safely observe large sharks in their natural environment without the need for metal cages or the use of bait in the water.

Despite their docile demeanor, sand tiger sharks, like all large predators, are capable of inflicting a serious bite, and should be treated with respect. Consider, as well, an interesting tidbit about their unusual reproductive biology. Female sand tiger sharks possess two uteri. Within each of these uteri, the largest embryo consumes all its siblings and any unfertilized eggs that the female produces. Talk about sibling rivalry. With no competition for food, the embryos grow to a large size for the duration of their mother’s 10-month pregnancy. Born headfirst, the pair are over a meter in length (among the largest of all sharks at birth) and come equipped with a mouth of fully functional teeth.

With air running low in my scuba tank, I swim over to the anchor line and begin my slow ascent toward the dive boat drifting overhead. Glancing down, I count at least 20 large sand tigers circling the Hyde, a testament that the moratorium on fishing for large shark species within United States waters is working. Due to the fact that female sand tiger sharks only give birth to two pups at a time, every three years, the species is especially vulnerable to overfishing.

Off to my side, a sand tiger shark, high up in the water column, turns and slowly heads in my direction. The shark casts a curious eye as it swims by just a few feet away. This time, instead of raising my camera, I stop my ascent, and simply watch, fully enjoying the moment.  PS

Naturalist and photographer Todd Pusser grew up in Eagle Springs. He works to document the extraordinary diversity of life both near and far. His images can be found at

The Omnivorous Reader

The Omnivorous Reader

Heavy Mettle

Three mothers of tenacity appear in a debut novel

By Anne Blythe

Mother’s Day has come and gone this year, but Sara Johnson Allen’s Down Here We Come Up offers a unique and complicated tribute to the grit of motherhood, not the roses and candy of a Hallmark holiday. This debut novel from a writer with Raleigh roots shows the depths to which three mothers will go for their children despite the blunders and foibles that accompany the rough-and-tumble lives that bring them all together under one roof in a “creaking, rotting bungalow” outside Wilmington.

In rich, vivid, sparkling prose, Allen’s page-turner explores tough topics: socioeconomic divides; the realities of immigration often skirted in today’s hot-button debate; the shadow economies of the illegal drug trade, and human and weapons trafficking.

Kate Jessup is the protagonist. She’s in her mid-20s, “movie-star beautiful,” and the wistful mother of a daughter whose soft skin she could still smell even after spending only 48 hours with her before handing the newborn over to a Boston couple in a “closed adoption.”

Kate’s a twin who is almost as street smart as her brother, Luke, is book smart. They’re the children of a sassy single mother, Jackie Jessup, who showed her twins how to live by hook or crook as they grew up near Wilmington. They learned early in life that “there was a thing’s market value, the perceived value, the true value, the if-the-buyer-was-drunk value.”

Jackie, readers find out pretty quickly, “could con people into anything because she saw ahead of everyone else by several moves,” Allen writes. “In a different set of circumstances, Jackie might have been a great chess player, someone who could beat the fast strategies of the men playing outside the Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square where Kate later followed her twin brother Luke when he received enough merit and need-based scholarships plus loan money that it didn’t matter he had no actual money.”

Settled near Harvard Square with her professor-boyfriend in a multi-million-dollar Victorian home he’d purchased from his father for a dollar, Kate gets a call from Jackie that shakes her out of the aristocratic world she had joined.

“Mama, I’m at work. What do you want?” Kate asked while ducking down between the rows of plants she loved to tend in the greenhouse where she worked.

“ . . . Look, I need something,” Jackie said between drags on a Kool 100.

Jackie wanted Kate to “get someone’s children,” and to entice her daughter, she added: “I have something you want.” Kate had been emotionally hollow when she left the South and her mother to be near her brother in New England. Most of all, she wanted to know where the daughter she’d given up for adoption was. Though she tried to tamp down those questions, they were never far from the surface.

Against her brother’s advice, she had even gone to the home where she thought the adoptive parents lived, just to get a glimpse of the life she had brought into the world. But there was no sign of the couple or a little girl who would, by then, be close to 8 years old.

Jackie’s phone call, and the chance that her mother might truly know where her daughter was, leads Kate back to the house where she grew up. She leaves Boston, taking her boyfriend’s Audi without his permission or even telling him she was going. Memories of a life she thought she had left behind flooded back.

“She knew driving south would be like letting poison seep into the well,” Allen writes. “She could taste it, bitter and sharp on the sides of her tongue, the menthol smoke, the chemical air freshener, a variety of aftershaves of strangers in their house, all of it.”

Once home, Kate found her mother deathly ill, “a skeletal, yellow-grey version of herself.” The bungalow was filled with people she didn’t know, travelers from south of the U.S. border who were there because of Maribel Reyes, a former teacher and mother of three who fled Mexico to build a better life for her family.

Maribel had moved into the Jessup home, taking on a daughter-like caregiver role for Jackie. More than that, she had created a safe house for migrant workers who made stops in southeastern North Carolina as they carved new paths in a foreign and sometimes unwelcoming land.

Maribel, Kate and Jessie may have converged in this place from different circumstances for an array of reasons but they shared a powerful bond. They were mothers who knew too well the pangs of being separated from their children. Each was willing to go to great lengths to narrow that distance, often bending the rules to achieve that greater purpose.

As the women plot the trip to get Maribel’s children out of Mexico and across the Bridge of the Americas from Cuidad Juarez into El Paso, Texas, Allen shows her deftness at describing places. You can almost feel the hot weather of the inner coastal communities. “Kate knew heat,” Allen writes. “She knew it up and down like the motion of a paper fan in a closed-window church. Blot-a-cloth-against-your-sweaty-forehead heat. Waving-up-from-the-asphalt-like-a-mirage heat. Wet heat.”

You can visualize what the coastal community looked like before the new housing developments cropped up on old farmland and forever altered the landscape. The sounds and smells of the changes hang heavily in the air — new languages among the rural Southern accents, the chilaquiles and memelas served in kitchens where biscuits once were the main fare.

Amid all the calculating, heartbreaking and serpentine storylines of survival are moments of triumph, jubilation and humor. Allen has her readers cheering for her characters, rallying for them to forgive themselves and others and longing for new beginnings.

“Follow anything back to the beginning, and you will find a mother,” Jackie says at one point.

From start to finish, Allen will make her readers think about motherhood, how to define it, and the joys, messiness and sacrifices that come with the job.

Author Alena Dillon describes Allen’s first novel as “a literary mic drop.” Let’s hope it’s not the end of a performance, but the first of more stories to come. She’s off to a great start.  PS

Anne Blythe has been a reporter in North Carolina for more than three decades covering city halls, higher education, the courts, crime, hurricanes, ice storms, droughts, floods, college sports, health care and many wonderful characters who make this state such an interesting place.

Doing It Their Way

Doing It Their Way

Creating a little jewel box

By Deborah Salomon Photographs by John Gessner


Homes fall into categories: fixer-upper, starter, family, dream, downsized, retirement. In the 20-some years Mike Jones and his wife, Annie Hallinan, have lived in Southern Pines, two homes have added a category: ours. Defying trends, periods, heirlooms and High Point, they plot a floor plan, hang paintings and arrange furniture their way.

This method fits a couple that has traveled the world on larks or for business while employed by AT&T/Verizon. Annie is a petite Scottish lass who, as a cheeky 17-year-old, left home to find adventure, first in London, then New York. Mike, known as a pilot who flies his Cessna to the beach for the day, takes children for a ride or delivers rescued dogs to forever homes, grew up in Connecticut. They discovered Moore County on a 50th birthday jaunt, a look-see after rejecting Myrtle Beach, California and Arizona.

“Pinehurst fit like a beautiful jacket,” Mike recalls. The Moore County airport sealed the deal.

While he was playing golf, Annie — retired on a buyout — bought a house at Talamore, which soon proved too small. So she replaced it with a 7,000-square-foot Italianate villa, once a mail-order orchid nursery, possibly the only residence anywhere with a kitchen door opening directly into the greenhouse.

Lemon basil, anyone?

Chimbly, named for the industrial chimney rising over an outbuilding, became a Knollwood showcase. From there Annie wrote children’s books, and Mike, when not aloft, managed his family’s industrial cleaning products business. After a decade, encapsulating seemed wise, hopefully in the neighborhood they loved.

“We wanted a little jewel box,” Annie says. How about directly across the street?

When its elderly resident vacated this adorable 2,000-square-foot cottage, Mike and Annie pounced. Never mind that it needed everything. For them, this was a plus, an invitation to create, indulge. Who cares if the contractor recommended demolition, then starting fresh?


“Nooo,” Annie insisted. “That would destroy the history, the character.” Instead . . .

“Let’s reallocate space.”

Start by moving the front door and ripping out the kitchen, which made room for an airy vestibule where a wood-paneled archway raises the ceiling and a huge lopsided compass covers the floor. Referencing Mike’s navigational prowess, the “N” arrow points true north, although the vestibule does not. A small rear porch was enclosed, fireplace and leather massage chair added. Now they had somewhere to eat dinner, read, watch storms roll in over the golf course and, Mike adds, “Enjoy each other.”

Let’s build: Annie and Mike named their project The Wee House for good reasons, tiny bedrooms being one. Solution: Convert the front-facing double garage into a master suite and L-angle a new garage which, with the circular drive and mature dogwood tree, channels a European courtyard. Then, add a deck across the back, loaded with flowerpots and a fountain. But don’t mess with the cream-colored shakes and blue roof, since they hint at imagination within.

Let’s cook: Mike does the honors, superbly. “When he’s gone I eat cereal,” Annie admits. The couple entertains often, most recently a party celebrating Mike’s newly minted doctorate in business administration, at 72. His open, flow-through kitchen centers the entire house. He chose bright navy cupboards; a painting over the sink; blue granite countertops uncluttered by appliances; a range placement that allows him to converse with guests while sautéing; the Rolls-Royce of French-door refrigerators; a steam oven for high-rise muffins, yeast breads and his signature salmon en croute; and a “canapé counter” for cocktail party tidbits. Here, like elsewhere, the ceiling fixture masquerades as suspended sculpture.


Let’s be practical: All the systems — heat, AC, plumbing, electrical, needed replacing. Doors were widened and bathrooms, including the shower, made wheelchair accessible just in case. A corner of the yard was fenced for three elderly rescue dogs, should walks become difficult. Annie and Mike each have an office; his, in the basement, hers in a small former bedroom, where Wee House’s only TV is located. Here, they start each day with coffee and the news.

Let’s have fun: Annie calls their quirky little touches “Easter eggs.” There’s Mike’s teddy bear collection, used during Angel Flights, sitting on a ceiling shelf; a second dishwasher in the laundry room/butler’s pantry; a suspended metal rod “toasting bar” running down the center of the dining room table, to clink glasses during dinner party toasts; shelves built to display Annie’s shoe collection; bathroom washbasins hand painted, in the Chinese mode, with serpents and other fanciful motifs, to complement similar wallpaper. But the premier egg has to be the bar Mike contrived from a hall closet opposite the living room, centered on a portrait of a Mexican woman. The walls, countertops, appliances, floor — are all black illuminated by flickering clear Christmas-tree lights. Here, Mike stores his single-malt Scotch.

Let’s gather: Only the living room retains some resemblance of the original layout. A stone chimney rises from the wood-burning hearth to the cathedral ceiling. Opposite it, light streams through 14-foot windows with wood-framed panes. Furnishings are comfortable, sparse, not to detract from the art. “I’d rather have art than furniture,” Annie says.


Let’s keep it simple: Clutter is not permitted at Wee House. Annie shudders at the mention. Before vacating Chimbly, she selected which furniture would cross the road, then invited friends to a giveaway. Habitat carted off the rest. “I call it Spartan, spare, no froufrou,” Mike adds. Most of their beloved, often huge, paintings survived the cut, including a nearly life-sized reclining female nude. Some pieces have animal themes, others suggest Modigliani or Chagall. Mike’s favorite is a tabletop-sized carving depicting a woman hugging her dog.

Renovations took more than a year, with Annie and Mike dropping in often. No thought was given to resale of this two-bedroom gem with a small living room but panoramic view of Mid Pines’ 12th fairway — and a kitchen positioned for cooking in the round. “We use every room, every day. We surround ourselves with things that make us happy,” Annie explains, including people, animals, art . . . and each other.  PS

Almanac August 2023

Almanac August 2023

August slows us down. Speeds us up. Goes by a host of honest names. Call it “Epoch of Purple Coneflowers” or “Dawn of the Swamp Rose Mallow” or “Rudbeckia in C Major.”

In the garden, call it “abundance.”

Call it “too many tomatoes” or “fresh salsa for days” or “winter marinara.”

Call it sweet corn tossed with butter. Pickled chili peppers. Green beans sizzling in the skillet. Call up the neighbors to share the harvest.

The bees seem to know these days are numbered. The butterflies, too. They sip warm nectar long and slow as if to become it. As if the beauty might swallow them whole.

It’s the beginning of the end. Summer’s swan song. The firefly’s last dance.

Perhaps you call it bittersweet, the way the golden light begins to soften. How the cicada still sings. How it’s all so subtle.

Black snake basks in candied light. As the season fades, the crickets play their hearts out. Beautyberries bear whorls of purple fruit. The gray squirrel bears her second litter.

It’s the beginning of something new.

By month’s end, the hives are fat with honey. The spring fawns have lost their spots. The crickets perform late summer’s opus.

“Rudbeckia in C Minor” swells into the balmy evening.

As the earliest apples ripen, something in the air will shift. You’ll want to name it “joy” or “sorrow” — maybe even “respite.” Call it what you’d like: gift, heartache or threshold. August is all of it. 


Going Moony

Those who garden by the moon’s phases should know that two full moons will grace us with their brilliance this month — on the first and last day. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, this age-old planting practice is based on the idea that the gravitational pull of the moon “affects the moisture in the soil” just as it causes the tides to swell and recede.

Ever tried it? Annual flowers and above-ground crops (as in your fall greens) should be sown into the earth during the waxing phase of the moon. In other words, from the new moon (August 16) until the blue moon (August 31). Flowering bulbs (think spider lily and sternbergia) and below-ground crops (beets, radishes and rutabaga) are said to thrive when planted during the moon’s waning phase, beginning the day after it is full (in this case, August 2) until the day before it is new again.

If those full moons happen to look just a bit bigger and brighter this month, it’s because they are, in fact, supermoons — as close to the Earth as they can get. 

August of another summer, and once again I am drinking the sun and the lilies again are spread across the water.      — Mary Oliver


The Bees Knees

Among the native wildflowers sure to dazzle pollinators and nature lovers alike, behold the blooming swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), found thriving in moist soil and full sun, especially alongside creeks and ponds. Irresistible to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, this showy perennial is known for its sizable pink and white flowers. Fragrant and funnel-shaped, these five-petaled wonders open at night, revealing a vibrant red or purple center with a riot of yellow stamens. Long bloom this late summer beauty! PS