Location, Lights, Action, Art

Location, Lights, Action, Art

When The Color Purple came to visit

By Lu Huntley   •   Illustration by Gary Palmer

It begins with a surprise phone call.

In early January 1985, Bill Arnold, appointed by Gov. Jim Hunt as North Carolina’s first film commissioner, called my father, H. Harry Huntley, seeking permission to bring a guest to his Black Angus cattle farm in rural Anson County. The 650-acre property west of Rockingham on the other side of the Great Pee Dee River featured a double-pile, Greek Revival house with a two-story porch, circa 1835, known as the James Charles Bennett plantation house. Used by my father for storage after he purchased the land in the 1960s, the house was unoccupied, with no electricity or running water.

The guest that day was Kokayi Ampah, Steven Spielberg’s location manager. Later that month, an entourage of 14, including Spielberg, came to visit the farm to walk the land and see the house that would become the location for the movie made from Alice Walker’s third novel, The Color Purple, for which she won both the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Everything about this meeting was as secretive as a spy thriller.

My mother, Bettie, and my father played host to the Hollywood executives in a primitive cabin we call The Buddy House, a part of the property that remains in the family to this day. (My father sold the farm in the 1990s to a couple from Tennessee who completely renovated the James Bennett house and use it as their private residence.) Negotiations securing the use of the farm as the locale for the movie take place inside this rustic, cozy house, warmed by the rebricked double fireplace.

While The Buddy House never appears in the film, it played a vital role, becoming Spielberg’s command center. Once home to a schoolmaster in the late 1800s, it got its name from Buddy Teal, who lived there sometime before my father acquired the property. When Hollywood and crew take over, the primitive house becomes Mission Control. Spielberg has six additional phone lines installed. The dailies are viewed there, and a sizable catering outfit pitches its tent next to it for the actors and crew to take their meals. It’s a happening.

In that hot, muggy summer of ’85, the Black Angus farm is transformed. Epistolary novels — stories conveyed in letters — do not fit a conventional storyline, so an old carved piece of red cedar becomes a mailbox, the device that delivers the narrative in Walker’s tale as it spans 30 years in the life of Celie Johnson, played by Whoopi Goldberg. Those familiar with the movie may remember when the character of Shug Avery (Margaret Avery) retrieves mail from the mailbox at the same time a bad lightning storm blows in. Shug stops in her tracks when she discovers letters to Celie from Celie’s sister, Nettie (Akosua Busia), postmarked from Africa. Shug realizes what has been going on. Albert, or Mister (Danny Glover), has been hiding Nettie’s letters. Shug and Celie discover the cache of letters under a loose floorboard. They begin reading them and piece together the story of Nettie’s life in Africa. Soon Celie pivots toward her truth. We see on the screen the metamorphosis of an abused female bearing unimaginable hardship to a knowing woman with her own desires and dreams.

The mailbox in Spielberg’s movie has a history of its own. Danny Ondrejko was the director’s greensman — the person on a film responsible for obtaining and taking care of anything green or natural on a set. My brother, Bill Huntley, kept a workshop on the farm where he made nature-carved wood sculptures. A gnarly piece of red cedar caught Ondrejko’s eye, and he wanted to know if Bill would sell it. Bill found it in Durham in the spring of ’72 on a walk in Duke Forest. The dead cedar was rooted in the creek bank, and Bill came back with his Disston D-23 crosscut handsaw, squared it off and carried it back to Anson County, where he mounted it on a board. Rather than parting with the piece, Bill told Ondrejko he could use it, as long as he returned it. It becomes the Johnson mailbox, the central prop, in the movie.

In a YouTube special about the making of the film, Spielberg explains how the mailbox becomes its own character, supporting the plot and assisting the transitions. Once the movie wrapped, true to his word, Onkrejko returned Bill’s Duke Forest find. As a thank-you, he gives my brother the postmaster’s (the character is named Mr. Huntley) authentic Rural Free Delivery government issue leather satchel. The old mailbox and mailbag have stayed with my brother ever since. Several years ago, it was plain the bag needed a little tender loving care, so I took it to JDR Leather Works near Whispering Pines, where the satchel with its fading insignia was restored by J.D. Rymoff, a spirited Marine veteran with a love for all things leather.

The first time we see mail delivery in the film, it’s by horse and buggy. The Color Purple, as motion picture, involves fitting anything and everything into a period drama spanning the years 1909 to 1947, including transitioning from horses to horsepower.

As a side note, my grandfather William Henry Huntley’s business in Wadesboro, the county seat of Anson County, began as Huntley Livery in the late 1800s. In 1914, as automobiles became more widely available, my grandfather and some friends took the train to Detroit and drove back early models for hire or to sell. Huntley Livery morphed into Huntley Motors. The business would survive for nearly a century, run by my grandfather, my father (until he acquired the farm) and my brother.

At some point Spielberg, or someone else, learned this part of Huntley family history. Though I do not know who decided to name the postmaster Mr. Huntley, the move from livery to automobile appears in the movie. In a town scene filmed in Marshville — one county over — a brick building in the background is identified as Huntley Livery, Motors and Service. In the foreground townspeople mill about in period dress; vintage wheels debut.

In fact, being on-site on the farm during the sweltering summer, I see all manner of antique autos. I still wonder how these got all the way out there in prime condition and where the beauties may have traveled from. But if I learned anything from the experience of the farm undergoing a complete transformation from a rather large Black Angus cow-calf operation to a full scale Hollywood movie set, let’s just say Hollywood gets what it wants down to the tiniest detail. It’s no surprise some cars in this movie possess movie star status of their own.

I know Grandaddy Huntley would have been in awe of the motorcar lineup. Anyone would. And there is that unforgettable moment when Celie leans out the back of a yellow 1935 Studebaker President Roadster, points two fingers, and up close tells Mister, “Everything you done to me already done to you.”

Shug tells Celie, “Get in the car.” Then Celie leans out farther and declares, “I’m poor, I’m black, and I may even be ugly, but dear God I’m here. I’m here.” And the Studebaker stirs up dust rolling down the long dirt driveway.

Another postal delivery twist happens when I first see the movie in a Charlotte theater and recognize the bells attached to the postmaster’s horse, jingling his arrival. In a later scene when the postmaster delivers by automobile — a 1936 Ford V8 Deluxe Tudor sedan — once again the bells are affixed to the front of the vehicle to signal the post is on the way. I originally found the bells at a Raleigh flea market in the 1970s and quite purposefully placed them on the back side of The Buddy House. Where the bells have ended up, who knows? They are now merely part of Buddy House lore.

The sequel to The Color Purple, will be in theaters this year. The original, nominated for 11 Oscars, left behind a stretch of road near Jones Creek now officially named Hollywood Road, a masterpiece of filmmaking and some rich family memories, bringing to mind a favorite Alice Walker quote: “Expect nothing; live frugally on surprise.”  PS

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

The Creators of N.C.

The Creators of N.C.

The Adventurous Child

Illustrator Jesse White’s major minors

By Wiley Cash

Photographs By Mallory Cash


When former teacher Jesse White discovered that her young students’ personalities and identities weren’t reflected in the teaching materials she was provided, she decided to take their education into her own hands, literally: She drew all of her classroom materials by hand in an effort to bring their lives more into her classroom. White, who is now a full-time illustrator, hoped her efforts conveyed how much she valued and believed in each child and how they saw themselves represented in the world. This conviction to portray the world as children see themselves in it comes from her own childhood outside Siler City, where she grew up with her mother, Gwen Overturf, and her father, Eddie White, on 10 acres of land along the Rocky River.

“Childhood is a primary inspiration for me,” she says on a bright afternoon at her home in Durham. “I’m someone who loves nostalgia and likes thinking about ways that we can reconnect with our childhood or just the child inside of us. And so that’s what I do all day; I go back to little Jesse, who was spending a lot of time in the woods with my mom and by myself exploring the rocks near our house, coming up with games, ideas and secret missions that I would go on. My primary inspiration is my childhood and the time that I spent outside in nature.”

Jesse was home-schooled until second grade and spent a lot of time accompanying her mother to various jobs where she worked in landscaping and at a goat dairy. She was left free to explore.

“I would spend a ton of time with the dog and the goats, and go wandering off into the woods.”

When her mother began teaching at the former Community Independent School, Jesse followed. And then she was off to public school for middle and high school.

“I’ve had a pretty big range of educational experiences. Looking back on it, even though there were some difficult transitions, I wouldn’t trade, it for sure. I value a lot of what I picked up and learned at each of those different types of schools,” she says.

But she felt different from other kids. After years of learning to milk goats, roaming the woods and developing elaborate games on her own, how could she not? As an artist, she was more intent on drawing the natural world than superheroes or Barbies.

“I was drawing stuff that my classmates had never really seen before,” she says. “So maybe that’s where that difference showed up.”

Jesse gained inspiration not only from the woods around her, but also from her parents, both of whom were arts-oriented. Her mother, Gwen, had a background in graphic design and experience in education. Although Eddie, her father, had a background in graphic design as well, he designed and built houses for much of her childhood. When she was in middle school, he shifted away from construction and became a full-time artist, creating large-scale metal sculptures and installations, including one for the Hilton Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

It was in college at UNC-Chapel Hill that Jesse first considered pursuing a career in arts education.

“It was this wonderful answer to what had been missing for me,” she says. “I enjoyed making art, but I was like, ‘Man, this is missing a social aspect somehow. What can I be doing to use this to engage people and help them reflect on their own identities and their own lives and their own learning?’ And so art education blew my mind in that way. I could not only make art, but I could facilitate learning through art.”


Fresh out of graduate school, the first time she stepped into her own classroom, Jesse admits to having “life altering lessons” that she planned to present to her students. She quickly found that having a class of 25 to 32 kids was as much about function as it was creativity. But she absolutely loved it. “It was one of the most exciting and rewarding things that I’ve ever done,” she says, and by her second year she had learned how to balance the practical demands of curriculum and classroom management with her creative ideas on how to engage students.

After four years in the classroom, she decided to go out on her own and pursue a full-time career as an illustrator. Once she focused on her own art, she recalled the power of creating the materials that represented who her students knew themselves to be and the ways in which she once saw herself as a young girl who thrived in the outdoors. The results were illustration after illustration of young girls exploring natural landscapes, much like Jesse had.

“I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this,” she says, smiling, “but I just don’t draw kids inside very much.”

A quick perusal of her website or Instagram page reveals this to be true. In one illustration, a little girl in a rainslicker peers over the bow of a storm-tossed ship, the tentacles of a sea monster snaking below her. In another, a girl sits comfortably atop a rock and pours a cup of tea, a blue snake encircling her neck.

Jesse’s work also reveals a lack of adult characters, something others — including the editors of her forthcoming book, Brave Like Fireweed, which she both wrote and illustrated — have brought to her attention.

“‘We can’t have these kids just wandering by themselves out in the middle of nowhere without any adult supervision,’” she says, paraphrasing her editors. “I totally get that. But a huge focus and motivation for my artwork is to show kids as the capable and intelligent and independent beings that they are, and that doesn’t always require having an adult presence in order to be like that.”

People might also wonder where all the boys are because Jesse’s main characters are primarily young girls. “I’ve always found it to be incredibly important to include girls in my work who are outside, playing, exploring, adventuring, just because that’s not something that they’re always allowed or encouraged to do,” she says. “It’s something that I was allowed and encouraged to do, and that became a really important part of who I am.”

Studies examining children’s books of the past 60 years show that not only have boys been better represented than girls, but girls have also been portrayed as more emotional and less likely to engage in adventurous exploration.

Viewing Jesse’s work, it’s not hard to imagine these girls leaping from the page and striking out for places as yet undiscovered. And it’s not hard to imagine young Jesse doing the same. She still is. PS

Wiley Cash is the Alumni Author-in-Residence at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. His new novel, When Ghosts Come Home, is available wherever books are sold.

Pleasures of Life Dept.

Pleasures of Life Dept.

A Community Treasure

The Ruth Pauley Lecture Series

By Bob Hughes and Larry Allen

Ruth Pauley was a tall, slender woman who walked with a cane. Her thick gray wavy hair sat atop a face that exuded confidence and commitment. She possessed a disarming smile, one with a hint of irony in it, and displayed it often.

A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Pauley graduated from Elmira College in New York before receiving a master’s degree in social work from Case Western Reserve University. She began her career with local social service agencies in Ohio before serving in Italy and Greece with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, followed by the Social Security Administration in Washington, D.C., as an international consultant, and then with the Boston regional office of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare as consultant to the New England region before bringing her energy to the Sandhills in 1978.

The lecture series that bears her name is well known in our community, though Pauley herself passed away before the series truly began. It was established in 1988 in her honor, two years after she and her friends — a committee working with the local chapter of the American Association of University Women and Sandhills Community College — had persuaded Dr. Raymond Stone, then president of Sandhills Community College, to host six lectures on nuclear disarmament, a cause to which Pauley was deeply committed.

Dr. Stone was unsure if the venture would succeed, but Pauley and her friends were persuasive and formidable advocates. Among them, they knew many high level individuals in government and the private sector, and had already identified speakers to address the complexities of the issue. It turned out that Stone’s misgivings were misplaced. All six of the lectures were standing-room-only affairs held in Kennedy Hall, room 134, at the time the largest room on campus. Pauley sat on the front row each evening wearing a large peace sign necklace, which she wore at all times.

Her health was declining even as the nuclear disarmament lectures proceeded. After she passed away at the age of 77, her closest friend, Eunice Minton, spearheaded the effort to establish an ongoing lecture series in her honor. Bylaws were written and approved by a board of directors made up of rotating volunteers from the community at large and its four sponsoring organizations: the League of Women Voters; the American Association of University Women; the Moore County School System; and, Sandhills Community College.

Mindful of its mission to “achieve a steady increase in the participation of local schools, personnel and students” in the study of state, national and world issues, on the day of a Ruth Pauley lecture the board arranges a visit by the speaker to one of the area high schools to meet with and address the assembled students. In conjunction with Sandhills Community College the board created the Lyceum Scholar program, providing opportunities for students and teachers to interact personally with some of the most intriguing thinkers of our time. Two students from each of the five area high schools (the Ruth Pauley Lyceum Scholars) are chosen to meet the speaker, enjoy a complimentary pre-lecture dinner with the speaker, and be introduced to the audience at the lecture. Following graduation, the Lyceum Scholar is eligible for a $200 books-and-tuition scholarship through the college’s foundation.

Over the years the series has benefited from several endowments promoting discussion of environmental (Agnes O’Connell Buckley memorial lecture), mental health (Lee and Ellen Airs lecture) and journalism/media (Sam Ragan lecture) issues. These, along with other endowed lectures (the Carl B. Munro lecture and the Lottie Sue Williamson memorial lecture) have enabled the Ruth Pauley Lecture Series to offer a rich and varied tapestry of contemporary thought. In addition to the support of its sponsoring organizations and endowments, the series also relies on the generous support of community donors. With an all-volunteer board of directors and the help of Sandhills Community College, less than 3 percent of revenue is used for administrative expenses. The balance goes almost entirely for honoraria and speaker travel.

Stimulating and entertaining — from Maya Angelou, Sandra Day O’Connor, Newt Gingrich, Jane Goodall, Julian Bond and Jack Nicklaus to Diane Rehm, Leon Panetta, Patty Duke, Branford Marsalis, General Hugh Shelton, Len Elmore, Charles Grice “Lefty” Driesell and The People’s Pharmacy hosts, Joe and Terry Graedon — past speakers have encompassed the full spectrum of human experience.

Coming up this season:

September 21, 2023: “Discourse and Politics in Contemporary America” with Frank Bruni, noted New York Times op-ed columnist and Duke University professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy.

October 19, 2023: “Climate Change and the North Carolina Coast” with Dr. Reide Corbett, dean of Integrated Coastal Programs and professor in the Department of Coastal Studies at East Carolina University.

November 9, 2023: “The Mandela-DeKlerk “Miracle” — South Africa’s Transition from Apartheid to Democracy” with William E. Lucas, retired senior Foreign Service officer, U.S. Department of State.

March 21, 2024: “America and the Right to Possess Firearms: The Past, Present and Future of the Second Amendment” with Joseph Blocher, Duke University professor of law and co-director of the Center for Firearms Law.

April 24, 2024: “The Solar System and Beyond: Artemis, Webb and Inspiring the Next Generation of NASA Explorers” with Anne E. Weiss, Ph.D., NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars Education specialist and team lead at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

All lectures are free, open to the public, and held in the Bradshaw Performing Arts Center in Owens Auditorium on the Sandhills Community College campus. Unless otherwise noted they begin at 7 p.m., are preceded by a cash bar in the auditorium lobby, and are followed by a question and answer session and reception.  PS

For more information and to see a more complete list of past speakers, visit www.ruthpauley.org.

Originally from San Francisco, Bob Hughes and his family settled in Pinehurst in 1996 after a 20-year career in law in Aspen, Colorado. A faithful attendee at Ruth Pauley Lectures, he was appointed to the board as a community member at large in 2021. Larry Allen is a retired Sandhills Community College employee who served in both administrative and instructional positions from 1980-2014. He remains a lifetime member of the Ruth Pauley Lecture Series Board.

Four Seasons of Harmony

Four Seasons of Harmony

Strolling through the Gardens at Sunny Mount

By Claudia Watson     Photographs by Laura L. Gingerich


The experience of walking through the Gardens at Sunny Mount is like taking a tour of a stunning plant-filled archipelago. Set into the native landscape of pines and wiregrass, Kyle and Mary Sonnenberg’s garden is filled with surprises and a spirit of experimentation. The couple moved to the nearly 7-acre property off a rutted road in McDeed’s Creek in 2016 with the lifetime dream of building a garden without limits.

Kyle’s interest in gardening began as a young boy working alongside his father, mainly doing yard work. Still, he says, it was enough to get him interested.

“When Mary and I married, we had a little house in Texas with a little garden that was mostly vegetables because we had so much sun,” he says, recalling how he enjoyed the connection of taking a tiny seed, nurturing it and watching it grow.

Over the years of his career in city management, they frequently moved to homes with conventional-size lots — small canvases for Kyle’s creative style. But the lack of space didn’t stop him from carefully considering a plant’s texture, form and color when creating their outdoor oasis.

“Now our home sits in the middle of the property and has lots of windows, so the garden needs to look good each season. I work very hard to find plants that bloom each season, so there is always color,” he says. “I gravitate toward the unusual and exotic, and I push the climatic zones.”

Freed from the constraints of an established landscape and rule book, Kyle eagerly began to revive their property. First, he took on the entry by creating circular driveways and paths, and transplanting wiregrass.

“It was a laborious project that included two managed controlled burns to remove brush and deadwood,” he explains. “Suddenly there was an abundance of green. The wiregrass popped back. Then, I found dwarf huckleberry (Gaylussacia dumosa), goat’s rue (Galega officinali), and a small native dwarf iris (Iris verna). It was an education. I understand why the burns are necessary for the preservation and restoration of the longleaf forests.”


Fortunately, they also inherited an arc of mature magnolias, hollies (Ilex) and wax myrtles (Morella cerifera) at the side and the rear of the lot, planted by the previous owners. These provide a privacy screen and a dense green backdrop for the unfolding kaleidoscope of color.

As each season unfolds, the garden gradually changes character, shifting from summer’s vibrancy to autumn’s fiery shades of orange and yellow and cooler tones of blue to winter’s delicately faceted silhouettes and spring’s colorful exuberance.

“I love so many plants, especially perennials and shrubs, but as nice as it is to have the repetition of plants and swathes of the same plant and color, I wanted this garden to be different. I use as many different plants as possible — so it’s a bit of everything, wild, exotic and colorful. And the best way to experience it is to stroll through it,” he says, gesturing the way.

The property’s meandering paths encourage exploration of the garden rooms focused on an item or plant theme. Three-dimensional art and tropical-looking plants are the focus of the front garden. There, a metal unicyclist with a glass head announces the garden’s entrance. Giant metal insects prowl the mixed beds of perennials and exotic shrubs. Sabal palms and ornamental Chinese dwarf bananas (Musella lasiocarpa) are considered winter hardy in our 7B planting zone and are grown for their bold-textured foliage. The yellow flowers look like an unworldly lotus. You’ll get a banana only if you’re lucky.

Pretty Copper Canyon daisies (Tagetes lemmonii), discovered on a mountain in Arizona, brighten the garden in late fall with a profusion of golden flowers. A firecracker vine (Manettia cirdifolia) climbs through the branches of a sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana). It bursts with orange and red blossoms that look like miniature firecrackers in the fall.

A garden bench near the home’s entrance is paired with the unlikely — an old, galvanized bathtub. Discovered in a warehouse in Asheville, it serves as an aspiring cocktail table. Unsuitable for setting a tipple, it provides plenty of conversation since it’s a home for native carnivorous pitcher plants and Venus fly traps that eat insects. It also includes terrestrial orchids and rain lilies (Zephyranthes candida) with tiny white star-shaped flowers and upright grass-like foliage that add structure.


It’s a relaxed garden. The areas around the home are framed with broadleaf evergreen and deciduous shrubs, native grasses and flowering perennials, creating a sense of enclosure. And Kyle gives plants space to develop and do their own thing. 

His enthusiasm for shrubs is evident, though he does not care for conifers. “They grow those up North, but I’ve been in the South for a long time and am used to these camellias,” he says, adding that deer damage is taking a toll. “I may need to change my ways and try some conifers that taste bad to deer or have unpleasant needles.”

The entrance to the rear gardens features a trough garden — named for the old stone troughs used to feed and water horses — discarded by farmers with the advent of modern plumbing. Now rare, Kyle discovered a cache of look-alike troughs made of soapstone that served as chemistry lab sinks.

Trough gardening is an ideal way to manage collections of plants that have specialized cultural requirements, such as succulents and cacti. His 10 troughs display a cactus garden where stunning dwarf Korean firs (Abies Koreana), with dark green needles and silvery white undersides, mingle with dianthus and yellow cacti.

Ground covers and flowers spill down the berm on the winding path, creating a seamless landscape.

“It’s my homage to Chanticleer Garden,” he remarks, referring to a public garden outside Philadelphia that serves as his garden muse. His eyes survey the large garden anchored by an aging flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). The tree sat alone in the landscape in its younger life, but is now the centerpiece of the garden’s pond. 

Clumps of Stokes asters (Stokesia laevis), rudbeckia, phlox, columbine and the crested white roof iris (Iris tectorum ‘Alba’) thrive on the sunny side of the berm and far from the tree’s canopy. 


The shady area under the dogwood is home to shallow-rooted plants that thrive in either part or full shade. Here, hostas, hellebores, ferns, Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum), toad lilies (Tricyrtis hirta), lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), and the tiny crested iris (Iris cristata) grow together. Low-growing ajuga and green and gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) glue the planting together. All were planted in the tree’s native soil and amended with a small amount of compost to accommodate, not bury, the tree’s roots, creating a healthy environment for all.

The pond is the work of noted landscape architect Vince Zucchino and a sparkling expression of gardening. Carefully placed boulders edge the 3,000-gallon pond and mature plantings tumble over the margins, blurring the water’s edge, making it a place Mary likes to dangle her feet on a hot summer’s day.

An essential design feature is the waterfall. “I didn’t want a gushing waterfall, but one that was weeping and makes ripples in the water,” explains Kyle.

Dragonflies and little aquatic beetles skim the water’s surface, and an abundance of bird life converges on the area guarded by a stone fawn purchased on a trip to the Toronto Botanical Gardens. Calla lilies (Zantedeschia sp.), turtlehead (Chelone spp.), white spider lilies (Hymenocallis latifolia), sedges and pickerel rush (Pontederia cordata) grow in the boggy area of the pond where fish take cover.

Kyle removes the tropical water lilies (Nymphaeaceae) in late autumn and overwinters them. “I put them in buckets with water and stick them in a cool closet, and they return each year.”

Dry gardens surround the pond where the sunlight is intense, and the soil is dry. It’s planted with drought-resistant plants — including cactus, sedums, agave, yucca and Engelmann’s daisy (Engelmannia peristenia), a long-stalked perennial with yellow-petaled flowers and fuzzy green leaves.

Kyle’s secret weapon is a 24-foot potting bench he made several years ago and tucked to the side of the dry garden area. 

“I buy plants small and grow them up in pots. It takes time, but they are less expensive, and they get acclimated and have well-established root systems before they are planted,” he says. “I bring the orchids out for the summer and all the plants I bought that I haven’t planted yet. I didn’t realize how handy it would be until I built it.”


At the highest and sunniest location on the property, The Mount, a small lawn with a working sundial flanks an extensive fruit and vegetable garden. Eighteen raised beds offer blackberries, raspberries and a variety of annual vegetables. Espaliered apples and pears line one side; nearby, blueberry, mulberry, native persimmon and pawpaw trees appreciate the sun.

On one side of the lawn is a patio and a crevice garden. It’s a rock gardening style that uses flat stones pushed vertically into the soil from the top. The vertical stones are closely spaced, leaving deep, narrow soil channels for planting xeric plants. “It looks like a mountain range if viewed from the far side of the lawn,” says Kyle.

He does all the garden work and says it takes planning, endurance and patience. “At times, it would be helpful to have a gardener to assist, not a landscape maintenance person, but someone who gardens and knows about plant care,” he says. “I’ve learned my ambitions are greater than I have time to devote to them, at least as far as this garden goes.”

A red metal windmill clanks in the soft breeze above multiple perennial beds as we talk. The effect is magical in the late summer, and it’s a breathtaking place to linger with colors that clash, contrast and harmonize — constantly moving the eye around. It’s a pollinators’ haven with penstemon, coreopsis, echinacea, hemerocallis, salvia, crinum and a lovely scented Thérèse Bugnet pink rose. 

“We often sit out here later in the day when the sky is clear, and we can smell the flowers and hear the hummingbirds as they whiz by,” he says. “It’s peaceful and makes us feel far away from everything.”

The years of work offer moments of harmony. The unexpected diversity of the Gardens at Sunny Mount is a living version of a painter’s palette and perfect for an autumnal stroll through a horticultural paradise.  PS

Claudia Watson is a longtime contributor to PineStraw and The Pilot and finds joy each day, often in the garden.

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

A Royal Pain

All the fashion and feuds fit to print

By Deborah Salomon

Enough already!

In the late 18th century, Colonists waged an eight-year war to gain independence from an English king and his government. Now we seem to be creeping back into the fold. The Sussexes get more internet ink than the Trumps and the Bidens combined. Most reports are no more than yesterday’s news rehashed, sporting a sexy headline suggesting scandal, bankruptcy, feuds and divorce, dressed up in designer outfits with ridiculous hats.

No report is too old or too petty. In late July, this headline surfaced: “Biden Snubs the Sussexes.” Seems Meghan and Harry asked Joe for a ride back home on Air Force One after the queen’s funeral, which took place last September. Joe declined, fearing the wrath of King Charles III.

What nerve! Obviously, Markle’s mark is all over a move that would have cemented her status stateside. Instead, the same week, reports of a teary duchess accompanied the headline “Meghan Struggling in Hollywood.”

In desperation for something more au courant, the scandalmongers have dug up dirt on Prince Edward-the-Meek, the one who as a young man shunned princehood for the entertainment industry. Eventually, Mummy lured him back, married him off to a respectable woman and dispatched him to open hospitals.

Currently, dominating daily briefings are Princess Kate’s fashion choices and the neo-normalcy enjoyed by her children, as though every 10-year-old wearing a tailored-to-measure blazer sits in the royal box at Wimbledon.

But I guess that makes better reading than Charles evicting his naughty brother Andrew from a royal residence because bro’s BFF was the late Jeffrey Epstein. Do I remember reading that pre-scandal, Andrew was known to be Mummy’s favorite?

Well, Charles settled that score.

What really sticks in my craw is King Charles’ oft-reported desire to scale down the monarchy, maybe save a few hundred thousand pounds by deflating the pomp. He might start with the royal wardrobes, where designers are named for every thread worn by Camilla/Meghan/Kate. Then he could fire the scribe who keeps tabs on what was worn where, by each, since when appearing together royal wives must be color-and-style coordinated. Should they clash, heads roll. When in Scotland, tartans and cashmere required. Cleavage must be kept under wraps. Nobody leaves the castle bare-legged. I can’t imagine the adorable children in mismatched shorts and Popsicle-stained Ts, let alone scuffed sneakers (which Brits call plimsolls).

Ah, yes . . . the Brits have a zippy word for everything. This ancient Duke University English major is certain Will Shakespeare would have dubbed Meghan a vixen. Her motives were visible out of the gate: Not on the Hollywood A-list, she parlayed a confused, saddened, rebellious prince into a ticket to ride . . . on the royal train, private jets and a gold-encrusted carriage. She parlayed well. Remember, she’s an actress, unafraid to flout the queen’s rule governing public displays of affection by constantly gripping Harry’s hand. She squirreled away every actual and perceived slight to be regurgitated for Oprah. Then, tearfully, she convinced Harry to leave the only life he’s known for her turf, along with their two adorable red-haired babies.

Harry, in her thrall, wrote a book that inflamed the family he purports to “love.” And now this antithesis of a Montecito surfin’ dude claims to be “happy.” I watched Harry: The Interview with British journalist Tom Bradby. Harry did not look happy. He looked angry, defensive, cornered. Their moneymaking schemes are crumbling. She wants a bigger, “safer” house. Bigger, that is, than their current nine-bedroom, 16-bathroom, $14 million pad. He just wants a boys’ night out with Daddy and Will.

The tabloid press whispers splitsville.

I miss the queen. She was a class act.

I can’t believe I’ve fallen into the trap. I devour daily bulletins on royal rumblings, gloat over the ones that prove my conclusions. At least the Sussexes deflect attention from all that ails the world.

Yada yada yada, as Seinfeld would say. This soap opera is far from curtains.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She can be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

A Touch of Glass

A Touch of Glass

The embrace of new minimalism

By Deborah Salomon

Photographs by John Gessner


There it stands, beyond contemporary, a stark union of planes and angles. A symphony by Stravinsky. A guitar by Picasso. A figure by Giacometti. Might this be a Tibetan temple? A modern art gallery? The home of a Japanese diplomat?

No, no and definitely not, says Neal Jarest — although he admits people stop, stare and ask questions about his stunning residence in Forest Creek, itself an enclave of diverse architectural styles.

Linear, geometric, composed in black and gray, concrete, metal and glass, this is exactly what Neal and Tanda Jarest wanted — a complete turnaround after years in a 5,200-square-foot, two-kitchen family home bordering Lake Pinehurst, which Tanda describes as “red, green and golfy.”


Their motive, however, was familiar. “We wanted to downsize,” Tanda explains. The move offered the opportunity for a unique architectural statement: 3,200 indoor square feet, another 2,000 square feet with a roof overhang. “We wanted outdoor living space, where we could cook and eat around the pool,” she says.

Most furnishings are understated. No kitsch in the kitchen. Cabinets there, in the master bedroom and elsewhere are topped with white countertops, all bare, conveying serenity.

The Jarests call their residence 109 Porte, meaning “gate” in Portuguese, French or Italian. They cite Frank Lloyd Wright as inspiration. But only their architect, Doug Byce, summons the correct words: “An interpretation of Prairie Style . . . married to the ground with long, low, horizontal lines . . . asymmetrically anchored to the Great Room core . . . a massive hip roof floating on a clerestory ribbon window . . . an 18-foot stacked stone chimney surrounded by glass walls. Monochromatic exterior colors anchor the home to the ground . . . and allow it to become a shadow among native longleaf pines,” he writes.


Add pivoting doors, polished concrete and walnut floors, and floating ceiling fixtures of the Saturn genre to complete the effect. Visible beyond those half-inch, double-paned glass walls in the great room are a 30-feet by 16-feet pool, hot tub and bocce ball court surrounded by man-made turf, where grandchildren frolic.

“I love to come home from work, have a glass of wine and jump in the pool,” Tanda says. Work is “opulence” itself, the name of the business the Jarests own in downtown Southern Pines offering the world’s finest Egyptian cotton linens, Duxiana beds and residential accoutrements fit for a pharaoh, with sister boutiques in Raleigh and Florida.


Neal, from Rhode Island, and Tanda, from Georgia, arrived at Fort Bragg in 1996. She opened Opulence in 1997 in a remodeled gas station. Neal retired from the Army in 2005 and joined her in the business. They played golf at Forest Creek, made friends there — a logical choice for their project. Byce was the architect for Duxiana stores worldwide, with a passion for residential design. He stayed with them for a time, absorbed their tastes and requirements, both structural and decorative: clean lines, no moldings or trim, door sills, or thresholds. They agreed on a floor plan embracing a master suite wing with door opening out to the pool, and a guest wing with two bedrooms, a bathroom and sitting room, with glass door closing off the area but not the light. They broke ground in 2020 on a level, 1-acre site on a quiet cul-de-sac. Move-in date: February 2022.



Innovations begin just inside the massive front door, where a control room monitors all systems. Down a hallway, the sunken kitchen/dining/great room, with its soaring chimney and 30-foot ceiling, informs visitors that this house pushes boundaries. Once accustomed to the vastness, eyes are drawn to the custom-made dining table, where a vertical slice of native pine, ragged edges intact, is embedded in a black base, creating a 3-D effect that begs touching. Two utility pantries and a laundry room (with a shark-sized goldfish painting) service the kitchen, although Neal cooks most evening meals, burgers to paella, on the Big Green Egg charcoal grill on the veranda.

Two architectural details of the master suite set it apart: a long, narrow window over the built-in drawers overlooks the great room, while the wall separating bed from bathroom ends a foot shy of the ceiling. Automatic blinds provide privacy.


Black, gray, sandy beige and white, integral to contemporary interior design, require relief. The Jarests enjoy traveling to sunny environs — Portugal, the Caribbean. In Mexico Tanda discovered Otomi, a native art form that provides splashes of color. These handcrafted embroidery panels depict stylized plants and animals against a neutral cotton background. Tall vertical panels framed in walnut to match the floor overlook the hallway, great room and kitchen. Tanda created other bright spots with paintings by local artist Jessie Mackay. In the master bedroom a trompe l’oeil rendition of a gently draped sheet once hung in Opulence. Portraits of landmark buildings in Germany and elsewhere echo their trips abroad. Not above a touch of whimsy, Tanda lines an open shelf with straw hats and includes skulls — the trademark of Hispanic Day of the Dead celebrations — on throw pillows. Area rugs, few but custom-made in traditional patterns, are carryovers from the Pinehurst house.


Throughout the building/furnishing process, husband and wife concurred on most decisions, though Neal concedes, “Tanda has her lanes and I have mine.” When the workout room off a three-bay garage proved a tight squeeze, instead of making do, Neal enlarged it. His décor contributions include a leather sofa in orange, his favorite color, also from their previous home, and a chaise covered in shearling. “That’s from my father’s house,” he says. “I can remember sitting on it with him when I was a little boy.”

Our tastes have developed over time,” Neal says. “This is where they are now.”

Viewed from any angle this house and its grounds represent a leap from the past into the Jarests’ present — and a stunning personal “gate” into the future.  PS



A Little Misdirection

A lake by any other name isn’t always as clear

By Bill Fields

Photograph © The Tichnor Brothers Collection, Boston Public Library

Our next-door neighbor, Dom Scali, was a good man: World War II veteran (European theater), father of a boy and a girl who were my pals. A native New Yorker and a butcher, for years after moving to Southern Pines — where he ran the Mid Pines Golf Club locker room from fall through spring — Dom went north with his family in the summer and worked in his old trade on Fire Island.

Dom drove an Oldsmobile Delta 88, dark green with a white top, a first-class car that made the parade of bargain, well-used models in our driveway feel like junkers. One late summer day around 1970, though, I discovered Dom’s sense of direction wasn’t as good as his sense of style.

We didn’t have school because of a teacher workday, and the Scali family kindly invited me to join them on a day trip to White Lake in Bladen County. This was a big deal because White Lake was to freshwater bodies of water what a Delta 88 was to sedans.

White Lake is one of many Carolina bays, oval depressions in the Coastal Plain. There were many theories about how the bays were formed, from the impact of meteorites to the spawning of giant fish. Experts eventually agreed that when the ocean receded, waves created pools of standing water shaped in elliptical forms by wind from a constant direction (northwest to southeast).

Many of the Carolina bays were the color of strong tea, but the water in the 1,200-acre White Lake was so clear it was as if it had come from a bathroom faucet. You could walk in up to your shoulders and still see your feet on the smooth, white sand bottom — you didn’t have to worry about stepping on something icky. I never saw anything that compared to the pristine water of White Lake until a few years later on a trip to the Florida panhandle and a visit to Wakulla Springs, which was so crystal clear the manatees could spot one another from a football field away.

I never rode a glass-bottom boat at White Lake, but there was a pier, concession stands and carnival rides. Away from shore, expert waterskiers performed tricks. It was about half as far from home as the Atlantic Ocean, but nearly as much fun as our annual vacation to the beach. In flip-flops, bathing suit, T-shirt and carrying a beach towel, I eagerly piled into the back seat with Donnie and Karen for the 75-mile drive southeast to White Lake. Dom was behind the wheel with wife Rose riding shotgun.

We were counting license plates and otherwise entertaining ourselves. After a while, the chatter in the front seat led to a stop at a gas station. We spent dimes on Cokes from the drink machine. I saw Mr. Scali speaking to the attendant. “It won’t be long now,” he said when getting back behind the wheel.

In fact, it wasn’t too long until we found ourselves on a commercial strip and saw signs for . . . Spring Lake. We had spent most of the morning heading toward the pawn shops and military surplus stores of the town near Fort Bragg. Mr. Scali had maneuvered us to the wrong “lake.”

I sat quietly. Dom’s wife and children were capably critiquing what had happened.

“We’ll get there,” Mr. Scali said after everyone had calmed down.

And we did, a long time after we should have. As we rolled into the parking lot in late afternoon, we saw families packing up their stuff to head home.

We had a swim; the White Lake water as clean and the bottom as smooth as I remembered from my previous trip. We weren’t there long enough to worry about getting sunburned. Before we knew it, we were knocking the sand off our flip-flops and getting into the Olds for the ride home — a journey that fortunately didn’t include any wrong turns or detours to Spring Lake.

Our stories of the day lasted longer than that roundabout ride to White Lake and were always told with a smile.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

Omnivorous Reader

Omnivorous Reader

Portrait of a Rock Icon

The good, the bad and the ugly

By Stephen E. Smith

When organizing the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, the promoter phoned Chuck Berry to invite him to perform, explaining that the acts were donating their fees to charity. Berry replied, “Chuck Berry has only one charity and that’s Chuck Berry.” End of discussion.

That was Chuck Berry at his most generous, and readers of RJ Smith’s Chuck Berry: An American Life will likely be taken aback by the unsavory details of the life of the man who gave us “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Back in the U.S.A.,” “Reelin’ and Rockin’,” “School Days,” “You Never Can Tell” and “Johnny B. Goode,” rock ’n’ roll classics that pop culture will not willingly let die.

Smith’s biography has been widely lauded in print, online and over the airways, and his study of Berry’s life is as close to a complete examination available to the public. Court records offer even more objectionable details. This much is certain: The more you read about Chuck Berry’s lifestyle, the less likely you are to ever listen to “Maybellene” with a sense of nostalgia.

Berry grew up in a solid middle-class St. Louis family. He wasn’t a blues guy who spent his youth picking cotton and banging on a catalog guitar. He did, however, suffer discrimination early in his life, and Smith devotes the opening chapters of the biography detailing the effects of Jim Crow on Berry’s formative years.

Berry’s trouble began when he was convicted of armed robbery as a teenager and spent almost three years in juvenile detention. When he was released, he drifted into music, became an early master of the new electric guitar, and created an original sound by combining country music with boogie-woogie.

We can argue about who invented the concept of “rock star,” but certainly Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis could lay claim to the term. Berry’s shtick was to sing with impeccable diction while blasting glib rapid-fire lyrics that teenagers could instantly comprehend and dance to. This straightforward blueprint for early rock ’n’ roll attracted Black audiences in the early ’50s. By the mid-’50s Berry’s fanbase was integrated. In the 1960s, he was playing to almost entirely white crowds, at which point his performance was simply called “rock.”

The bulk of Smith’s biography is taken up with the upsetting stories that accompany Berry’s hundreds of performances. His business plan was straightforward. Berry would sign a contract with a promoter who was responsible for supplying the backup band and amplification equipment. He’d arrive in a Cadillac, also supplied by the promoter, minutes before he was to take the stage. There’d be no rehearsal, no interaction with the band, and he’d demand payment in cash before performing. Berry would count the moola, play for the designated amount of time, duckwalk for the audience’s edification, and bang out the hits for which he was best known. Then he’d exit the stage. If there was an encore, he’d demand additional cash. When the concert was over, he’d pack up his guitar and make a clean getaway.

Generally, the audience loved it, dancing, cheering and having a fine time. Berry made money, the promoter usually made money, and the audience left satisfied. The late Rick Nelson summed it up best in his hit “Garden Party”: “Someone opened the closet door and out stepped Johnny B. Good,/playing guitar like ringing a bell, and looking like he should.” Ray Kroc would have been proud — Berry cooked up musical cheeseburgers, each one a tasty clone of its predecessor. Consistency was the key.

All of which was fine and dandy with American audiences. But there was one overawing problem: Chuck Berry. He was irascible, mercurial, essentially unknowable, and had an affinity for trouble. After serving his time in juvie and achieving fame as a rock ’n’ roller, he began traveling the county with a 14-year-old Native American girl he claimed was his assistant. The cops weren’t buying it and nailed Berry for violating the Mann Act — transporting an underage female across state lines for immoral purposes. He spent two more years in prison. Then the IRS began tracking the cash Berry received for his performances and nailed him for income tax evasion, and late in his career he was busted for installing covert cameras in the restrooms of a restaurant he owned, an act of voyeurism that gave rise to an investigation that uncovered a trove of pornographic material in which Chuck Berry was the star. 

As Berry’s antisocial behavior was becoming common knowledge, he was being roundly honored by the American public. On Whittier Street in St. Louis, the National Register of Historic Places listed his home as a monument, and after his release from prison for violating the Mann Act, NASA blasted gold-plated recordings of Berry’s “Johnny B. Good” into interstellar space aboard Voyagers 1 and 2. (Voyager 1 is now 14.1 billion miles from Earth, a far distance from the prison cells Berry occupied in the ’60s and ’70s.) His IRS indictment was greeted with a universal shrug, and his voyeurism conviction was likewise ignored by the press. Chuck Berry went right on performing and raking in the big bucks, playing out the string until the bitter end.

Smith has included all the facts: the good, of which there’s little enough; the bad; and the ugly, of which there’s plenty. Two questions remain. First, who was Chuck Berry? Did anyone truly know the man? Berry explained his sense of self in an interview: “This is a materialistic, physical world. And you can’t really KNOW anybody else, man, because you can’t even really know yourself. And if you can’t know yourself then sure as hell no one else can. Nobody’s been with you as long as you and you still don’t know yourself real well.”

The second question is more complex, encompassing the American penchant for revering individuals, whether rich, talented or charismatic, who are given to violating legal and social norms. Are we willing to accept outrageous behavior from unrepentant religious leaders, corrupt politicians and wayward rock ’n’ roll stars because they’ve somehow made themselves infamous? Apparently so. After all, nothing is quite as American as hypocrisy. PS

Stephen E. Smith’s latest book, Beguiled by the Frailties of Those Who Precede Us, is available from Kelsay Books, Amazon and Local bookstores.

In the Spirit

In the Spirit

Cognac, Pisco and Applejack

Here’s the story ’bout a spirit named Brandy

By Tony Cross

The other day I was watching Anders Erickson on YouTube, and he was demonstrating how to make the brandy crusta — a classic cocktail that I haven’t whipped up in almost a decade. It got me thinking about the different types of brandy that have been sitting, untouched, in my cabinet. Let’s discuss.

First, what is brandy? Simply put, it’s a spirit distilled from fruit. Cognac, for example, is produced in the Cognac region of France. There are six sub-regions, or appellations, where the grapes are grown. The grapes are fermented after being picked and then double-distilled in copper pots. The “eau de vie” is then aged in oak barrels. Cognac is classified in three different categories: VS (Very Special/Superior), aged for at least two years in oak casks; VSOP (Very Special/Superior Old Pale), aged for at least four years in oak casks; and XO (Extra Old), aged for at least six years in oak casks.

Pisco, another type of brandy, is native to parts of South America, Peru in particular, and is made by the distillation of grape juices and musts (the pulp and skins of crushed grapes). There was a time, long ago, when pisco was the only spirit you could get in the western United States. In Meehan’s Bartender Manual, bartender and author Jim Meehan explains: “Pisco Punch became legendary thanks to Scottish barman Duncan Nicol, who purchased San Francisco’s historic Bank Exchange Saloon — with its house punch recipe — in 1893 and kept it a secret, despite fanfare and public prying, until his dying day in 1926.” Some speculate that Nicol’s secret ingredient wasn’t just the gum arabic, it was cocaine. Meehan says, that might “explain why he permitted only two portions per patron.”

Another type of brandy, this one native to the United States, is apple brandy. An argument can be made that apple brandy has just as much claim to be America’s spirit as bourbon whiskey. Laird & Company, originally based in New Jersey, has been making brandy since the 1700s. Laird’s bonded apple brandy adheres to the same set of standards required for bonded whiskey, yielding a rich, deeply aged, spicy spirit. In addition to apple brandy, there is applejack. This spirit is traditionally produced by freezing distillation, known as “jacking.” Modern applejack is usually a combination of apple brandy and a neutral grain spirit (a 30 percent to 70 percent ratio). France has its own version of apple brandy, called Calvados. Produced in the Calvados region of France, it’s defined by production and aging regulations similar to those for cognac and Armagnac. It tends to have a crisp apple flavor with loads of barnyard funk.

In his YouTube video, Erikson says he never thought much about the brandy crusta because he felt it was more about the presentation than the ingredients in the cocktail itself. That resonated with me. I remembered making the cocktail and thinking that the whole thing was kind of silly. It’s one of the only cocktails that you garnish before you prepare the drink. The copious amounts of sugar crusted on the rim (hence the name) was kind of a turn-off for me. Erikson confessed that if it wasn’t for this cocktail, he would have never tasted the drink that turned him on to bartending — the Sidecar. (Another classic cocktail with links to the brandy crusta.) The lesson I learned is to respect all of the classics — even if it’s not your thing. So, without further ado, here’s Anders Erickson’s recipe:


Brandy Crusta

Take a large lemon and (with a Y-peeler or other peeler) peel around the entire fruit. Cut the lemon in half. Rim a coupe glass with the open half of sliced lemon; dip the rimmed coupe in sugar (don’t skimp). Carefully curl the long lemon peel all along the inside of the glass.

2 ounces Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac

1/4 ounce Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao

1/4 ounce Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

1/4 ounce semi-rich simple syrup (1 1/2:1 sugar/water)

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

2-4 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker, add ice, and shake hard for 15 seconds. Double strain into coupe glass.  PS

Tony Cross owns and operates Reverie Cocktails, a cocktail delivery service that delivers kegged cocktails for businesses to pour on tap — but once a bartender, always a bartender.

Sporting Life

Sporting Life

A Sentimental Mood

Riding the wave of memories

By Tom Bryant

“Things,” the Old Man said, “certainly ain’t like they used to be. It’s the penalty we pay for getting wise. About the time a man decides what he likes or don’t like, either he can’t find it, can’t afford it , or can’t handle it.”

—Robert Ruark from The Old Man and The Boy

I was feeling a bit nostalgic the other day, sitting around the house, not doing much of anything. Linda, my bride, was visiting a couple of her longtime friends in Burlington, so I was sort of at loose ends. To have something to do and to get my mind off yard work, which I really needed to do, I decided to ride down to the little farm I lease for hunting to see if the doves were flying.

The weather was unsettled, threatening thunderstorms later in the day, so I was in no hurry to get to the farm. As I drove by the location of our old high school, I made an impromptu turn into the drive that led to the little rise where the ancient halls of learning once stood.

The night before, realizing  that our high school class reunion was coming up, I pulled out my aged annual from 1959, The Timekeeper, and flipped through the well-worn pages. So I was in just the right sentimental mood to look around the location that had shaped so many young lives, mine included.

Of course the high school was long gone, having been demolished in the ’60s when consolidation of schools became the touchstone of the new education system; but the elementary school, gymnasium and auditorium were still there, although vacant and desolate.

There were a couple of Aberdeen police officers standing around a K-9 pickup truck, and I remembered reading in The Pilot that they were using the school for training purposes. The other buildings were locked and battened down tight. I eased by the officers, waved and continued out the far drive. On the way, I noticed that the shop building, where Mr. Farrior tried to teach us how to use an electric saw without losing several important digits, was still hanging on the side of the hill. It seemed to be in remarkably good shape.

Where have all the years gone, I wondered, as I drove down the little road that led to the old football and baseball fields. We had a good year in football in 1958, our first year playing 11-man football. Up till then we had competed in six-man ball, almost another sport entirely. In ’58, out of 10 games, we won five. Our losses were close with the exception of our game with archrival Southern Pines, 26 points for them, zip for us.

When I pulled up beside the embankment of the vacant sports fields, I paused, got out of the Cruiser, leaned against it and looked out over the green acres that meant so much to so many budding young athletes. The football field and the baseball diamond were adjacent, efficiently utilizing the space as only our head coach, Hugh Bowman, could do. Now the fields were smaller. The tree line had crept in over the expanse where we used to play, and I couldn’t recognize where the two fields used to be. I understand that the small grassland expanse remaining is used for soccer.

Later, Robbie Farrell, the longtime mayor of Aberdeen, told me by phone that Aberdeen has big plans for the gym and the auditorium that the city purchased from the school system, but the old elementary school and the fields behind it would be sold to developers who would probably use the space for housing, closely supervised by the zoning and planning folks of the city.

Robbie also graduated from Aberdeen High School and has been a prodigious supporter of anything Aberdeen, probably the reason he has been the unopposed mayor for so long. It was a pleasure talking to him and reminiscing about the old days.

There have been several reunions of the class of ’59 since that momentous day when we walked confidently out of those small halls of learning into the real world. At one of those get-togethers, a good friend and I wondered why high school remembrances mean so much when other events, probably much more influential in our lives, didn’t seem to be as important.

“Tommy, I think it’s because in those days, especially at our small Aberdeen school, we were almost like family,” he said. “We knew each other, we knew all of the faults and qualities of each and every one, real or perceived, and it was a pivotal time in our lives. Those days, like them or not, meant something.”

So here we go. Another, perhaps the last, reunion for the class of ’59 because so many of our group have already crossed the river, a trip we will all make. But I keep remembering the closing to a column I wrote about one of our reunions over 20 years ago:

“In the late ’50s, the country seemed to pause and take a break from the horrors of the ’30s, ’40s and early ’50s. The Depression was over, World War II and the Korean War had just ended. It was as if we were riding the crest of a huge wave, not knowing when or where it would break. Around the bend were the ’60s and flower children, drugs you couldn’t buy in a drugstore, the Cold War, and a heated one by the name of Vietnam. But in the summer of 1959, I was cruising in a 1957 Chevy with all the windows rolled down and the radio turned up to The Tams and beach music. I had just graduated from Aberdeen High and was ready to take on the world.”

It has been a while since that day in 1959, cruising in the Chevy, nothing any more important on my mind than college and playing baseball. A lot of water has flowed under that proverbial bridge, and there have been some bumps in life’s road along the way; but all in all, as we get closer to the end of the trip, it has been a good ride.  PS

Tom Bryant, a Southern Pines resident, is a lifelong outdoorsman and PineStraw’s Sporting Life columnist.