Grand Illusions

By Laura A. W. Phillips

Decorative interior painting provided homeowners, especially during the 19th century, with a wide range of options for embellishing their houses. By employing an “ornamental painter”or perhaps giving free rein to a talented family member, a homeowner could endow a single room or an entire house with a lively and fashionable character. Decorative interior painting enlivens houses and other buildings throughout North Carolina, from the Coastal Plain through the Piedmont to the mountains. Hundreds of examples have been recorded, but these likely represent only a fraction of what once existed or, in some cases, still exists but remains undiscovered. The clientele for decorative painting spanned a broad range of economic levels. As might be expected, some clients were wealthy landowners and entrepreneurs who occupied large and impressive houses. At the same time, a surprising number were middling farmers who lived in modest vernacular dwellings. Thus, decorative painting was commissioned both by those who could afford fancy wallpapers and expensive woods and marbles and by those of lesser means who could acquire the services of a traveling painter in exchange for not much more than room and board. What all these clients had in common was that they found decorative painting to be a desirable way to adorn their homes.

North Carolina houses present a full range of decorative painting types, including freehand, wood-grained, marbled, smoked, stone-blocked, stenciled, tromp l-oeil, and scenic painting. Nearly half of the known houses with decorative painting display more than one type, as is true of the examples cited previously. In some, the painting program carries throughout the house, while in others, it is confined to a single, semi-public room, usually the parlor. A popular combination was to have doors wood-grained and mantels and baseboards marbled, which provided a luxurious though subtle and restrained character to the formal rooms. The most outstanding multiple types combined in a well-thought-out, comprehensive scheme. Painting often bore characteristics in common with architectural and furniture styles of the period in which it was created, including the Federal, Greek Revival, and late Victorian. And whatever the period, painters executed their work in a range of expressions, from the sophisticated academic work of highly trained painters to the sometimes bizarre examples of painting by artists with more limited technical skills and powerful imaginations.  PS

Excerpted from the new book Grand Illusions: Historic Decorative Interior Painting in North Carolina, by Laura A. W. Phillips. Distributed by the University of North Carolina Press


April is a procession of wonder.

Flowering redbud. Rising asparagus. Row after row of tulips and daffodils.

When the earliest strawberries arrive, childhood memories of roadside stands and pick-your-own patches follow. The first time your grandma took you strawberry picking, you’d never seen berries so plump or vivid. Two, three, four buckets later, you’re back in the car, eyes twinkling, belly full of fruit made sweeter because you picked it.

Easter conjures memories of Sunday hats and wicker baskets, and a grade-school field trip to a house down the street from the church. There, a classmate’s yard is dotted with dozens of colorful eggs — some painted, some plastic, all filled with candy — but all hearts are set on the coveted silver one, a super-sized treasure found in the low branches of a climbing tree when the sun hits the foil just right.

Maybe next year.

Or perhaps the true magic is discovering what you aren’t trying to find, like the robin’s nest in one of the hanging baskets.

In my early 20s (read, coin laundry days), on a visit home for Easter, my folks planted a basketful of plastic eggs in the backyard, each one filled with quarters.

Sometimes the great surprise is the wonder that grows with age.

Scope It Out

According to National Geographic, one of the top sky-watching events of the year will occur on Tuesday, April 23. On this dreamy spring morning, at dawn, watch as the waning gibbous moon approaches brilliant Jupiter as if they were forbidden lovers. Use binoculars if you’ve got them.

The Last Frost 

The Old Farmer’s Almanac speculates that a full moon in April brings frost. Cue the Full Pink Moon on Good Friday, April 19.  While it’s not actually pink, Algonquin tribes likely named this month’s full moon for the wild ground phlox that blooms with the arrival of spring.

Consider it a signal that it’s time to plan your summer garden.

Plant now, and enjoy fresh tomatoes and cukes right off the vine.

Devilish Alternative

My younger brother has single-handedly cleared a tray of deviled eggs at more than one Easter supper. That’s why I was particularly stunned when he told me that he was adapting a vegan diet. No more deviled eggs? Well, not exactly. But when he told me about Thug Kitchen, a vegan cookbook peppered with language that would make our granny’s draw drop, I understood. Inside: a recipe for deviled chick-pea bites. Although we can’t print that here without heavy-handed edits, check out this equally scrumptious vegan recipe from Whole Foods Market: tender roasted baby potatoes topped with spicy yolk-free filling. Brother approved.

Deviled Potatoes


12 baby potatoes (about 1 1/4 pounds)

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise

1/3 cup drained silken tofu

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut each potato in half crosswise. In a large bowl, toss potatoes with oil and place cut-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Roast until tender when pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes. Let cool.

Using a melon baller, scoop out center of each potato half. Combine potato flesh, mayonnaise, tofu, mustard, paprika, turmeric, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse just until smooth. Scoop filling into potato halves. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (and up to 2 days) before serving.

(Want to take this deviled egg alternative to the next level? Sprinkle with finely chopped fresh parsley before serving.)

If Spring came but once in a century, instead of once a year, or burst forth with the sound of an earthquake, and not in silence, what wonder and expectation there would be in all hearts to behold the miraculous change!  — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Tasty Days

A sweet trip down cola lane

By Bill Fields

Like many people, I’m trying not to drink many soft drinks these days. I have an occasional Coke Zero at a Sunday matinee. Earlier this year, while on the mend from a stomach bug, I don’t think I’ve had any ginger ale that tasted better. On a recent business trip south of the border, I sampled a Mexican soda of the variety I’ve observed in coolers, but not consumed, from my favorite neighborhood haunt that has the world’s best breakfast burritos.

These are diversions from the water norm, tap or sparkling, but it wasn’t always that way.

I saw a social media post recently about “113 Things ’60s Kids Did That Would Horrify Us Now.” OK, it wasn’t quite that many, but you get the point: We’re basically lucky to have survived childhood because we played unsupervised, rode without being seat-belted or helmeted, and walked to school alone. 

Among the things we also did was drink soft drinks, and I was among the guilty. A pie chart of my childhood beverages would be sweet — and not only because of the iced tea and orange juice that augmented all the milk I drank at supper.

Certainly, drinks were smaller back then. It didn’t make much sense to guzzle a 6 1/2-ounce Coke, because it wouldn’t last very long. A 10-ounce bottle of Pepsi seemed big. Splurging for a 12-ounce fountain drink at the drug store was an event. When quart-size colas with resealable caps started appearing on the Big Star shelves, they marked a massive step in carbonation evolution, a hint of Big Gulps to come.

I was a cola kid raised without strong allegiance to either of the behemoth bottlers. It was as if Carolina and Duke are both good schools, and Democrats and Republicans are both good people. I occasionally joined the RC Cola camp, that flavor being a favorite on comic-book runs to the Ideal Market on May Street.

For a succession of beach vacations, to the justifiable annoyance of other family members, I was obsessed with a brand called Topp Cola sold at the grocery store on Ocean Drive that was not available in the Sandhills. There are pictures of me posing on the Strand with a Topp can looking as happy as if I’d just hit for the cycle in a Little League game.

I moved on from my Topp phase, with other tastes taking its place. If Dad was in the mood for something stronger than beer during the holidays and had stocked some Collins Mixer, I pestered him until he let me have some of the bubbly lemon-juice soda. Wink was like an explosion of grapefruit flavor, and when he kept that around as a mixer I’d sneak a sip of that too.

Yoo-hoo always seemed like a poor imitation of chocolate milk, but I’d get one from a drink machine on a gas station bathroom stop. I was equally indifferent about Cheerwine, despite its North Carolina roots. It tried its hardest as a cherry soda, but if I was going that flavor route, I preferred a fountain cherry Coke or a cherry Sno-Cone.

TruAde was the best, though. Trademarked 80 years ago, the orange soft drink stood out from everything else because it was pasteurized and non-carbonated. It tasted so smooth and so good because it contained orange juice concentrate, which was the reason for the special processing. The temptation was to chug a 7-ounce bottle. But I savored every sip when I got one when Dad took me fishing at a local pond or ordered me a TruAde when he stopped for a late-afternoon beer at a tavern downtown on Connecticut Avenue and let me tag along once in a while.

Five years ago, driving through Cheraw, South Carolina, en route to Southern Pines, I stopped at a convenience store for something to drink. In the beverage cooler was a name I hadn’t seen for decades — TruAde. It felt like coming upon a Topp Cola at the beach in 1968.

This TruAde was in a 20-ounce plastic bottle, and unfortunately the packaging wasn’t the only thing that had changed from the TruAde of my youth. I drank about a fourth of it and threw the rest away, realizing I would have to be content with a sweet memory.  PS

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

Out of the Blue

Terminal Velocity

The greatest show on Earth

By Deborah Salomon

A friend asked recently, “Where do you get ideas for columns?”

I rolled my eyes and answered, “Stuff happens.”

And then more stuff happens — or stuff changes — all in plain sight, if you’re watching closely.

So, after 40-some years of column writing I watch closely, all the time: things, people, animals, weather, trends, politics, fashion, relationships and, in desperation, myself.

Certain places seethe ideas. The greenest pasture . . . airports. I am impoverished but fodder-enriched by four or five trips per year to see my grandsons, who live in Canada. A layover in New York, Detroit, Atlanta, Charlotte or Philly fills a notebook.

That’s right, paper and pen. No tablet, no laptop, no voice recorder. I get a perverse satisfaction from living unplugged for a few days, except a cell, for emergencies. And basketball scores.

That’s OK. Gadgets have changed, but not human nature, not since Egyptians painted on walls and Moses carved in stone.

I justify the airport backdrop by citing a popular 1940s radio show called “Grand Central Station,” which began, dramatically, “the crossroads of a million private lives, a gigantic stage on which are played a thousand dramas daily . . . ”

Upon entering a terminal, the first change Rip Van Winkle notices is everything. Young adults have traveled their whole lives without dressing up. No suits, no heels. They claim comfort, although the difference between sweats/tank tops/flip-flops and chinos/blazers/loafers on an hour flight escapes me. Then, particularly in big-city airports, note airline personnel who supervise boarding. They have a grand ol’ time laughing and interacting with each other, then turn a grim countenance to passengers. They read scripts explaining the boarding process so fast it sounds like Greek, which is fine by me, since the process offends by grouping passengers according to how many perks they added to the base ticket price. Do I want more leg room? Sure. Am I going to pay $25 for it? Don’t be ridiculous.

Then, since checking a bag (never say suitcase) adds another $25, most passengers make do with carry-ons, hoping for free gate check. If not, a stampede to the overhead bins dominated by, you guessed it, folks who paid $25 to board first. True, once the bins are full, airlines check a bag free to their destination, which causes major separation anxiety.

New airports are spectacular in design and amenities, reflecting contemporary demands, beginning with rest rooms. The need often originates during flight, where small, squished-together seats make getting up to use the lavatory positively gymnastic. Therefore, expect line-ups at terminal facilities, themselves a multiple choice: women, men, handicapped-accessible, family (politically correct), men with diaper changing stations, breast feeding nooks, even relief areas for service and support dogs.

About those support animals. Regulations have been abused to the point where an E*Trade TV commercial lampoons a support snake.

Snakes on a plane . . . get it?

I think passengers with bona fide support dogs (and old ladies with bad knees) should always be offered the roomy bulkhead seat at no surcharge. What great PR! Besides, think how confinement is stressing that poor comfort bunny.

Airport chapels are fading fast. Too bad — often the only oasis of quiet, perfect for a snooze.

Food. Eons ago, out of pity for the captive audience, fast-food franchises agreed not to jack up prices. That didn’t last long, although McD, Wendy’s, Burger King are still the cheapest. Others gouge: a slice of Sbarro pizza, $6.50. Pre-made sandwiches at Starbucks et al: $8-$12. Bottled water: $3. Worse yet, sit-down restaurants post menus minus prices at the entrance knowing that once seated, few customers bolt. On board, when snacks are offered, the choice will be pretzels or Biscoff cookies. Why a Belgian-made cookie that crumbles easily and oozes fat, leaving fingers slippery, I’ll never know.

Of course the biggest change is digital, electronic, whatever you call the addiction to constant communication/entertainment/information. Long ago I observed that denim and running shoes were the common denominator. Back then, passengers came to blows over the single electric outlet in a departure lounge. Now, seats are arranged around charging stations and at least 90 percent of boarding pass-holders are either earbudded, Kindling, playing a game, watching a game, sending an email, receiving a text, tweeting or conversing with someone just to look busy. I fly 2,000 miles without seeing a single discarded newspaper.

Because, in the aviation milieu, only nobodies are not glued to a screen.

One of those nobodies is me, watching the most fascinating screen of all. Real life.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a staff writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at

The House That Golf Built

The Dedman family transforms a historic home

By Deborah Salomon   •   Photographs by John Koob Gessner


The adjective pool runs dry just inside the front door of Fownes Cottage, which, at 7,000-plus square feet on a triple lot, has been a Pinehurst village landmark since 1914.

At first, the exclamation is one of surprise, since the house presents an optical conundrum. Streetside, the windswept cedar shingles on the longitudinal frontage suggests the New England coast. Then, past a low brick wall, brilliant green manicured winter grass, shrubs and patio suggest more. Yet not even that hint prepares the visitor for a first look: comfortable formality expressed in misty turquoise, cloudy white, and blue shading from Wedgwood to royal and bright navy.

Blue, blue, blue, chosen for its soothing qualities, repeated in custom carpets, luxurious drapes and floral upholstery . . .
a surfeit of perfection.

Stand in the foyer, face the staircase and turn clockwise. The most unusual greeting area has a low table and tufted banquettes. Next, a living room that stretches a mile to the family-gaming-sun room with bar; a dining salon seating 12 with elbow room aplenty. Stop there to admire the wallpaper — a diorama of greenish blue foliage and oversized birds, from the historic Gracie Chinoiserie collection. This space earns the kind of massive chandelier often seen crammed into smaller rooms. Floorboards, some original, are stained and polished strips of pine and oak. The kitchen seems odd at first, well equipped but smallish — at least the part glimpsed from the dining room. However, behind closed doors are a preparation area and butler’s pantry used by the resort chefs who prepare fine cuisine for guests and business meetings.

Fownes Cottage is both a satellite home for the family of Bob Dedman Jr., owner of Pinehurst Resort, and lodging for his guests. Golf memorabilia is everywhere, yet integrated into the formal décor. Dedman’s favorite example lines an upstairs hallway: framed pastels of the 18 holes on No. 2 by noted artist Jane E. Hixon, a Pinehurst resident. Elsewhere, trophies, photos, autographs, a scorecard signed by Donald Ross — even a battered golf bag belonging to Fownes himself. Less formal, the attic has been transformed into a girly dorm with berth beds for the teenage Dedman daughters.

In truth, like a cream-filled French pastry, its richness is better appreciated in small bites, interspersed with history.

By 1914 word of Pinehurst had reached the right ears. What started as a health resort was becoming a wealth resort, thanks to the golf links James Walker Tufts provided for exercise. Rich merchants, bankers and industrialists from Pennsylvania and points north recognized its attributes (climate, rail transportation, accommodations) as a winter destination. The homes Tufts built for long-term guests were soon joined by larger “cottages,” a misnomer unless the occupant’s primary residence is Versailles. During Prohibition, alcoholic beverages were rumored to be available. But for Henry Clay Fownes of Pittsburgh, golf was the main event.

Heaven knows, he could afford it.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1856, Fownes, with his brother, William, made a fortune in iron and manufacturing furnaces. Carnegie Steel bought them out in 1896, leaving H.C. rich, with plenty of time for other pursuits. The Fownes family had frequented Pinehurst since the early 1900s when its streets were muddy and vegetation scruffy. Now, he could build a suitable retreat described in contemporaneous accounts as a “villa” with cove ceilings, a hipped roof and dormers, seven bedrooms, multiple bathrooms and, later, a four-bay garage with a three-bedroom apartment over it. The Pinehurst Outlook of 1915 called the cottage “the real thing, costing $25,000 — a lot of money.” The florid description continues: “…a vast, rambling house, livable and inviting of some 20 rooms, with sunshine, fresh air, God’s glorious open (sic) everywhere.”

Fownes became a hands-on homeowner. Despite his wealth, in 1926 he wrote a letter complaining about a plumbing bill for valves, and a water bill for keeping the garden alive during summer months when the house was unoccupied.

Fownes’ previous project, in 1903, was developing and presiding over the world-famous Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh, designated as a National Historic Landmark. Its longitudinal shingled clubhouse foreshadows his Pinehurst retreat.

H.C. and wife Mary had one child, William, (named for H.C.’s brother), who kept the house after his father’s death in 1935. Parts of the interior were destroyed by fire in the late 1920s. The Dedmans are only the third owners.

The Dedman family of Dallas is also legendary in the world of golf resorts (ClubCorp), philanthropy, education and other endeavors. As owner of Pinehurst Resort, with the 2014 U.S. Open Championship approaching, Dedman wanted a residence here. “It was the opportunity to have a historic house and a sense of place to entertain in a more intimate setting,” he says.  “I looked at land at No. 8 but wanted something closer to the campus, where I could walk to the village and get a coffee at The Roast Office.” He decided on Fownes Cottage in 2013, which meant only a year to renovate. “We wanted a gracious, historical house, more like a home than a hotel,” furnished in antiques, but with every bell, every whistle, every fireplace and background music selection controlled remotely. This meant rearranging seven bedrooms into four suites (and an office), each with a bathroom and sitting area, creating the attic dorm and adding niceties like an upstairs coffee kitchenette with paneled refrigerator, as well as replacing all the systems and enhancing the landscaping — a huge undertaking. Most visible, therefore of prime importance, were furnishings and décor implemented by Dallas interior designer Mark Clay, fresh off 20 years with Ralph Lauren in New York.

Clay had designed interiors for Dedman family homes in Vail and the Virginia mountains, as well as their new home in Dallas. “I know what they love,” he says.

This time, Clay translated that love into an English manor rooted in local history. “It was important to Mr. Dedman that the house show respect for Pinehurst.”  At Dedman’s suggestion he scoured Moore County for photographs and magazine covers to surround with silvery frames, which complemented the pervading blue. Clay commissioned rugs in particular hues and patterns, including a wide 55-foot hallway runner, which were woven to order in Turkey. Seagrove pottery in a rainbow of blues was also created for the cottage.

“Mr. Dedman bought the dining room table,” but the antique Waterford crystal chandelier over it came from the couple’s first house, “something of sentimental value,” Clay adds.

Instead of hiding TVs in armoires, Clay found less massive antique linen press cupboards to retrofit, since the bedrooms, including the master suite, are moderately sized. Other case pieces, all in mahogany and dark woods, were shipped from the Dedman estate in Dallas or sourced in Raleigh.

Details complete this portrait of style and elegance.  Since some doors already had glass knobs, Clay replaced others with cut crystal — smooth and heavy to the touch.  Windows throughout are covered with shades fashioned from natural grass that, while admitting light, provide privacy without drawing the heavy drapes.

Clay was instructed to furnish the above-garage apartment with pieces of equal mode and quality as the cottage, lest overflow guests feel slighted.

Some of Clay’s decisions resulted from research. He insisted that the stairway arising from the foyer have natural wood handrails and painted balusters, because that’s how it was done. Besides, that staircase — perfect for a bride — may someday appear in family photos. This thought has not escaped Bob Dedman’s practical side:

“I told my daughters there’s a church across the street. We could have the reception here . . . a destination wedding. It would be so convenient.”

In the meantime, Fownes joins Mystic Cottage (village home of Fownes’ friend Leonard Tufts, built in 1899), Dornoch Cottage (built by Donald Ross in 1924) and half a dozen others representing an era when golf, and Pinehurst, were attracting, in James Walker Tufts’ words, “A refined and intelligent class of people.” People with the interest and means to build, and now renew these homes.

The circle is complete.  PS

The Collectors

Harry Houdini, Thomas Jefferson, George Lucas and Ernest Hemingway collected books. Nicole Kidman collects coins. Demi Moore favors porcelain dolls. Tom Hanks loves old typewriters. Passion comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s not about stuff. It’s about the chase

By Will Harris

Photograph by Tim Sayer

Tony Rothwell

Tony Rothwell was 14 years old when he first encountered the work of British caricaturist James Gillray in the pages of a history textbook, and was captivated by the artistic talent and political depth of the work.

“I didn’t realize how interested I was in the graphic arts, but I thought this was so wonderfully graphic and so clever, I made my own copy of it,” Rothwell says.

The print Rothwell copied was Gillray’s “The Plumb-pudding in danger,” a caricature that still appears in history books. It’s an 1805 editorial cartoon of Napoleon Bonaparte and British Prime Minister William Pitt dividing a plumb-pudding globe into metaphorical spheres of influence — a comment on the world leaders’ appetite for dominance. “Fast forward and I’m now in London, 21 or 22 years old in my first job, and it was used as an advertisement for a show of Gillray prints,” Rothwell says. “I decided that I would turn London upside down and see how many would fall out, and they started falling. In those days, they weren’t that expensive. I was lucky I got in early before anybody was seriously collecting them.”

Gillray is credited with creating and popularizing the political cartoon as a genre, and the influence of his work was felt throughout Europe. He directed his sharp wit at both political parties (depending on who was commissioning him), but Napoleon, in particular, was a focus of his derision.

Rothwell has at least 150 Gillray prints and sketches. Although he has works by the caricaturist’s contemporaries as well, Rothwell is particularly impressed with Gillray’s political wit, breadth of knowledge and raw artistic talent.

“Gillray really was the first true political caricaturist. He invented it,” Rothwell says.

Gillray lived in a turbulent and exciting time, ripe for political discourse and caricature. Britain and France were competing for influence on the world stage. King George III and Napoleon Bonaparte lent themselves to the hyperbolized visual renderings that Gillray made so popular. It was also a time when the conventional methods of consuming news left something to be desired. Gillray saw an opportunity to put his artistic skills to commercial use, and opened a shop to sell his prints.

“Newspapers were all black and white and didn’t have any pictures at all, so this is how the wealthy could entertain themselves,” Rothwell says. “It was giving them news, and it was also giving them a laugh. At the same time, it was scaring pompous people, bringing them down a notch or two.”

Gillray’s influence extended to the upper reaches of the ruling political class. “He was being read by the House of Commons, by the royal family — people who had money and influence,” Rothwell says.

There’s no true modern equivalent to Gillray’s prints. They resemble today’s political cartoons but are packed with subtle cultural symbols, allusions to Greek and Roman mythology and detailed historical context. Because Gillray’s well-heeled audience was also well educated, he was able to elevate his imagery and symbolism.

“I’m in awe of the man really, still today. I think he’s incredible. He has set the table for so many caricaturists since,” says Rothwell. Expanding his collection has gotten easier with the advent of the internet. “In the early days it was all footwork but now, eBay walks a million miles for you every day. You make time for what you love”

Photograph by Tim Sayer

Rick Smith 

A self-described “pretty serious book collector,” Rick Smith has been afflicted with a passion for books since he was a child. “I fell in love with the tactile nature of books, how well they were bound and how colorful they were, the thickness and the weight,” Smith says.

This childhood curiosity gradually developed into a full-blown obsession. Today Smith’s library contains around 1,200 books with hundreds of signed copies. Three books in the collection are autographed by former U.S. presidents: George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and Harry Truman.

Smith’s passion transformed his life in every respect, and his home is a testament to it. “My wife, Susie, said there’s room for two of us in this house but probably not for your books,’’ Smith says. He redesigned the garage of their lakeside cottage into a cozy personal library, complete with a rolling library ladder. A stained-glass lamp illuminates a massive worktable made from knotty alder wood.

Smith is particularly fond of his books related to his father’s (Richard H. Smith Sr.) service in the Navy during the Second World War. “One of the things I began to wonder about was how my father’s life was transformed by his, albeit brief, time in the service as a very young man,” Smith says. “I think he was inspired by that, and so I decided there are probably threads in this that need to come out.”

Smith’s father was a seaman first class on the aircraft carrier USS Bennington and the plane captain (crew chief) assigned to a one of the ship’s TBM Avengers — aircraft originally designed as torpedo bombers. His job was to ensure the bomber under his purview was combat ready.

In 2003 James Bradley published his best-seller Flyboys. It details the harrowing 1942 air raid of Chichi Jima by TBM Avengers. Among the pilots was 19-year-old George H.W. Bush.

Smith’s father felt a special connection to the former president through their shared experience with the TBM Avengers, so Smith bought a signed copy of Flyboys as a gift. Smith’s father brought the book to annual reunions for veterans who served on the USS Bennington, and began to collect signatures.

“They would sign them with their rank at the time, the raids they were on, and when they served,” Smith says. “And one day when he was 79, he said to me: ‘One of the signatures that I’d really like to have in this book is the president’s signature.’ And I thought, good luck with that.

“But I had a conversation with a friend and we got an entrée to send the book to Houston, and the president signed it,” Smith says. “And all of a sudden the whole notion of getting serious about collecting and deciding what to collect became important.”

Around the same time, Smith’s father gave him a diary he’d kept while aboard the carrier. “One of the threads I started to pull from this diary was first-person accounts,” Smith says. “First-person accounts for historians are gold.”

Smith refined his search to World War II and its leaders. “I’m sort of focused, but in a lot of ways it’s about the chase,” he says. “So, it’s a passion for the subject matter; it’s a passion for the physical book; it’s a passion for the search and the chase.” And there’s comfort to be found in the written histories of great world leaders.

“I think it’s so important to know our history; it helps a lot of stuff make sense, he says.” “That’s my homily for today: Read some history. It’ll help you be a better citizen, help you make better judgments, and help you sleep at night.”

Photograph by John Koob Gessner

Mitch Capel

Mitch Capel, the alter ego of Gran’daddy Junebug, has been an impactful presence in the Sandhills for decades. Capel’s unique delivery of stories and poems — some passed down through his family, others the recited works of his favorite poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar — has enabled him to touch the lives of countless young people.

A Moore County native, Capel immersed himself in North Carolina’s artistic community throughout his storytelling career and formed close relationships with several influential artists native to the state. He and his wife, Pat, have created a collection of paintings featuring artists like Ernie Barnes, Bill Pinkney and Willie Nash.

Capel is hard-pressed to pick a favorite. “They’re like children; I don’t know. If I had to pick one it’d be my wife’s work, of course. It’d be that one with the buttons,” Capel says, referring to a portrait hanging above the fireplace in his study. In it Capel is wearing his storytelling garb, an outfit smattered by colorful buttons he has collected over the years.

Hundreds of paintings adorn the walls of the Capels’ home, including several of Pat’s alongside others by Barnes and Pinkney. “My wife and I gravitate toward Ernie Barnes,” Capel says. “He’s an amazing artist. Grew up in what was called ‘The Bottom’ in Durham.”

Barnes attended North Carolina Central University, where he played football and majored in art. He played football professionally for five years before shifting his focus entirely to art. His 1970 painting The Sugar Shack was featured in the opening sequence of the Good Times television show, and was also used by Marvin Gaye as an album cover for his 1976 album, I Want You.

“I liked Ernie Barnes’ work in the beginning because of Marvin Gaye’s album cover,” Capel says. “Album covers were our artwork at the time.”

Pinkney is another artist featured prominently in the Capels’ collection. He discovered Pinkney while performing at an alternative school in Fayetteville. After seeing his work hanging in the principal’s office, he knew he had to meet him.

“I mean, he was so talented; what he did was amazing with the paintbrush, and it came so easy for him,” Capel says.

Pinkney is best known for his painting of Julian Abele, the architect who designed Duke University’s Chapel. The work currently hangs in the University’s Gothic Reading Room.

A Bill Pinkney piece titled Marbles is especially meaningful to Capel.

“I had just unpacked this board game Mancala, and I’m on the floor and I’ve got these in my hand, and I flashed back to when I was a kid playing marbles. And the phone rings and it’s Bill: ‘Mitch, I just finished this painting, you’re gonna love it, it’s called Marbles.’ I dropped everything I was doing and went over there and I bought that piece,” Capel says.

“Yeah, it’s been a wonderful journey for me.”

Photograph by Lisa Gessner

John Koob Gessner

“In this day and age, it’s like everyone wants everything right away,” says John Koob Gessner, who thinks his collection of vinyl records represents a simpler, more intentional period of musical enjoyment. “This kind of hearkens back to a time when it’s OK to slow down and enjoy something.”

Gessner grew up in a small town in New York, influenced by his parents’ musical tastes. “Oh, yes, there was a large hi-fi, not a stereo, right outside my room. At night they would play Harry Belafonte, the big bands, Glenn Miller, all that kind of stuff. And it would kind of boom through the house,” he says.

At first, acquiring records wasn’t about building a collection, it was simply the way music was enjoyed. “If you went to someone’s house, you’d bring a couple albums with you, because everyone had a hi-fi,” says Gessner. “Records were kind of how you shared music. If someone wanted to hear a song, you had to either hear it on the radio or buy the album.”

Despite MP3 downloads and music streaming, Gessner still prefers the old-school method. “People have this affinity for vinyl. It’s analog and there’s a process to it,” Gessner says. Soon enough the preferences of his parents were supplanted by his own taste. “I was listening since I was 5 or 6. As soon as I got a paper route all my money went to film and vinyl,” Gessner says of his twin pursuits of photography and records. “I’ve been collecting ever since.”

Gessner developed a close relationship with the owner of the local record store. “I would go in and they would put stuff away for me. When I had enough money, I’d go get it.” Sometimes it was as if they could read his mind, like the time he was anxious to get his hands on John Lennon’s Christmas song, pressed on a special green vinyl. “I remember coming off a bus and stading in front of the music store and looking on a rack and they were all gone, and Mr. Nagy said, ‘Ah, Mr. Gessner, I saved one out for ya.’ And I still have it.”

His collection has grown to an estimated 4,000 records, with about half on display in repurposed bookshelves in his living room. 

His musical interests created unique, career-altering opportunities. As a young photographer, Gessner shot album covers for many of the bands he listened to and saw in concert, and has kept in touch with many of them.

He continues to nourish his love for vinyl through what he calls the Vinyl Record Project. “I interview people about their experience with vinyl, and I take a portrait,” Gessner says. “They have these great wired-in memories about vinyl because you’re taking it off the rack and you’re putting it on the turntable — it’s a process.”

Photograph by John Koob Gessner

Jane and Jim Lewis

Jane and Jim Lewis are not collectors. They are self-described “accumulators.” Although they did not personally acquire the 280 unique mini liquor bottles on display in their home, they have nevertheless taken on the role as stewards of the collection.

“We’ve drug it around from place to place and displayed it, but we’ve never been collectors,” Jim says, “It’s not like we’ve been looking for them high and low for the last 50 years and we’ve worked hard and traveled the world to find them — it ain’t true.”

The mini bottles were collected by Jane’s aunt, Billie Cave, who began collecting the bottles in the late 1930s. Knowing she was passionate about collecting mini bottles, Aunt Billie’s friends acquired many of the liquor bottles as souvenirs while traveling.

“Now, back in those days her aunt didn’t travel all that much, but her friends knew about her collection and would bring her bottles,” Jim says. “People immediately assume they came off airplanes, but in fact, a lot of people got them off trains.”

While Jane and Jim shy away from the term collector, they are clearly very fond of the collection. After nearly 40 years and after each of 14 address changes, the Lewises have always unpacked the bottles for display. At their home in Pinehurst, the bottles sit on shallow shelves over a small built-in bar, a colorful centerpiece of the room, drawing the eye of visitors entering through a side door.

“The bar is here so it just made sense, and people always want to know about the bottles,” Jane says. “It’s the first thing they see.”

The bottles come in every shape and size imaginable, and the faded neon mosaic framed by the white wall is a striking mainstay of their home’s décor. A glance will not do. 

Some are easily recognizable as miniature versions of full-size liquor bottles. They tend to be more dignified and expensive Scotches, whiskeys and bourbons. Others are creative and delightfully original one-offs. Exotic liqueurs and rums seem to be the most outlandish, and the Portuguese Mobana Crème de Banana in the shape of a monkey is truly a work of art.

The bottles are all unopened, although the contents of the oldest bottles have almost completely evaporated through the ancient but intact seals. Keeping the bottles in their unopened state was no easy task in a house with two young boys. As any parent whose liquor cabinet has been raided will understand, Jane and Jim told their sons a white lie to ensure the bottles remained sealed.

“When our boys were old enough to realize what it was, we told them they were poison because they were so old,” Jane says.  “We told them: ‘Don’t you dare open one and drink it, because it will kill you!’ And you know they thought that up through college.”

The bottles have survived time, adolescent boys and a lifetime on the move. One day they’ll pass Aunt Billie’s bottles along to the next generation of stewards.

Photograph by Tim Sayer

Joe Vaughn

Joe Vaughn began collecting Native American arrowheads as a child and has indulged his passion ever since. Vaughn is the middle child in a family of five boys, and his upbringing in Northampton County, North Carolina, afforded him endless opportunities to search for the elusive artifacts.

“As kids we hunted and fished, and part of hunting and fishing is walking across fields,” Vaughn says. “We just developed an early interest in collecting a lot of old stuff, and one of the things we collected was arrowheads.”

Over the years he’s found hundreds of perfectly intact arrowheads, all from the northeastern part of North Carolina. The best examples are still sharp to the touch. Vaughn considers the most impressive item in his collection to be a Clovis point, a longer spear point with a groove running down the middle. It is one of the oldest styles found in North Carolina and dates back to around 12,000 B.C.

“It’s so rare to find these good ones, because there’s been so many plows and things stuck in the ground. It’s hard to find them anymore,” Vaughn says.

The first step in finding fertile ground for hunting arrowheads is thinking about what the landscape provided thousands of years ago. Native Americans were more likely to settle in a spot near water, animals and edible vegetation, so sandy and loamy soil and moving water are good indicators. 

“We hunted mostly on sandy fields, close to water, close to a stream, where the game is, too,” Vaughn says. “We’ve walked in thousands of fields that didn’t have anything. But when you get to one that’s got something, you know right away.”

A fruitful field may have been recently plowed and then rained on. The plowing unearths buried artifacts and the rain washes away the final layer of dirt — a lucky combination made more difficult after modern farming techniques began planting seeds with a drill.

“Normally we hunted in fields that were under cultivation. Back in the day, farmers plowed fields more often. They don’t plow them much anymore,” Vaughn says. “So, a lot of the places that we used to find arrowheads as kids are not cultivated anymore. You’re lucky if you happen to get something. Today you might go five times and find one really nice one.”

Vaughn still hunts arrowheads with his older brother, Charlie, valuing the time spent outdoors with family more than anything he could hope to find. “It’s been fun collecting these, I’ll tell you that,” Vaughn says. “Especially in the spring when the weather gets permissive, you can go out and get some exercise, enjoy the fresh air and the camaraderie.”  PS

Will Harris is serving an internship at PineStraw to complete his Business Journalism undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He works locally as a carpenter, enjoys playing tennis, sailing and spending time with his dog Bear.

Food for Thought

Greens, Eggs and Ham

The devil in the details

By Jane Lear

Something about April makes me nostalgic for — well, I’m not sure what, exactly. The first young vegetables are juicy, tender and exquisite; they are what spring tastes like. Farmers and home gardeners alike have earth-caked hands and knees. They are working hard, being patient. Waiting for the world to wake up and warm up.

As a child, my Aprils were often spent chasing after my mother, who was intent on foraging wild watercress before it flowered and then disappeared until the following year. She’d picked up the knowledge that the plant had been used both culinarily and medicinally during ancient times, and as we waded in frigid creeks and teetered on rocks midstream, she’d treat me to a homily on how brilliant the Greeks were and how exceptional watercress was. (Watercress is indeed rich in vitamins K, A, C, E and B6, as well as phosphorus, magnesium and calcium. Ounce for ounce it contains more antioxidants than broccoli.)

For Easter and other spring occasions, we might be treated to watercress soup served in my grandmother’s thinnest porcelain cups. For the most part, though, we enjoyed the peppery, pungent sprigs fresh in a salad, dressed with nothing more than salt, lemon juice and olive oil — back then, not all that easy to find down South, and thus one of my mother’s most valued condiments.

These days, I avoid wild cress unless I know for sure that the stream it comes from is pristine; instead, I go for the cultivated stuff at the supermarket. It wilts beautifully under a steak, roast chicken or seared piece of fish.

And it makes a wonderful bed for deviled, or stuffed, eggs — the quintessential springtime hors d’oeuvre. I’m crazy about them, especially those made by my longtime friend Rick Ellis. He’s a noted food stylist and culinary historian who is never afraid to serve stuffed eggs at the fanciest dinner party. “They’re always the first thing to disappear,” he said, and he’s right.

What gives Rick’s eggs their rich, round flavor is butter, and he credits Julia Child with the idea. One of the things you learn from someone like Rick (or Julia) is that simplicity doesn’t necessarily mean ease of preparation, but instead perfection and balance in a dish. That’s why it’s important, for instance, to push the cooked egg yolks through a fine-mesh sieve rather than mash them with a fork. It’s what gives the filling such great body.

Another great spring favorite is deviled ham — reason alone for serving a tender, juicy baked ham at Easter. The use of the culinary term “deviled” to mean highly seasoned with spices or condiments dates from at least the early 19th century, but the kind of deviling most Southerners come across isn’t fiery at all, but instead gets a sharp nip from Dijon mustard, often with an assist from a pinch of cayenne.

And if you spoon it onto toast points, you have lovely little canapés, which were, Rick told me, one of the first types of hors d’oeuvre served with drinks. My mind leapt immediately to Jack Benny, who once defined an hors d’oeuvre as a ham sandwich cut into 40 pieces.

Rick, however, was thinking about another icon, Fannie Farmer, and after a quick search in his library, read aloud from his 1918 edition of Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook Book, which laid out the newfangled concept of canapés. “Canapés are made by cutting bread in slices one fourth inch thick, and cutting the slices in strips . . . or circular pieces. The bread is toasted, fried in deep fat, or buttered and browned in the oven, and covered with a seasoned mixture of eggs, cheese, fish, or meat.”

As for the deviled ham, Rick found a recipe for ham sandwich spread seasoned with mustard, salt, pepper and vinegar in the original (1931) edition of The Joy of Cooking. It rightly belongs to the far older category of potted meats, of course. Two centuries ago, I would have had to pound the cooked ham (or partridge, ox tongue, hare, etc.) to a smooth paste with butter in a stone mortar, then season it with salt, pepper and perhaps mace or cayenne. Pressed into small crocks and sealed with clarified butter, my potted ham would have kept about two weeks in a cool, dry place.

No recipe re-enactments for me: I’ll take my food processor and refrigerator and be grateful, thank you. The recipe for deviled ham, which is based on Marion Cunningham’s reborn classic, The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (published in 1979), is simple and delicious. No way it’ll last two weeks.

Rick Ellis’ Stuffed Eggs

Makes 24

1 dozen large eggs

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Coarse salt and ground white pepper

Finely snipped fresh chives for garnish

1. Place the eggs in a pan large enough to hold them in 1 layer and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, and let sit 15 minutes. Drain and run under cold water until eggs are completely cool.

2. Peel the eggs and cut in half lengthwise. Remove the yolks and rub through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Add the mayo, mustard and butter, and mix until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice, cayenne, and a generous amount of salt and white pepper. Transfer the filling to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch tip (or jury-rig out of a plastic zip-top bag with a corner snipped off).

3. Pipe the filling into the egg white halves and sprinkle with chives.

Deviled Ham with Toast Points

Makes 2 cups

About 8 slices best-quality white sandwich bread

2 cups (about 1/2 pound) chopped cooked city-cured (baked) ham

1 tablespoon minced onion

2 to 3 teaspoons Dijon mustard

A small pinch cayenne

An even smaller pinch ground mace (optional)

1 tablespoon minced sweet pickle

2 tablespoons mayonnaise or unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Heat oven to broil and set rack about 6 inches from heat. Put the bread slices on a baking sheet and broil until pale golden and crisp on top, about 1 minute or so. Flip the slices and broil until pale golden on other side, about 1 minute. While bread is still hot, trim crusts and cut into triangles or strips. Once cool, the toast points will keep in an airtight container up to 1 day.

2. Purée the ham until smooth in a food processor. Scrape it into a bowl, then stir in the rest of the ingredients. Pack the deviled ham into a small crock and refrigerate, covered.  PS

Jane Lear was the senior articles editor at Gourmet and features director at Martha Stewart Living.


Ode to a Poet

Easter evokes memories of writers and friends

By Tom Allen

A dear friend died in January, a friend I never met, never conversed with, but through whose words I felt an immediate connection. Mary Oliver, a Pulitzer-prize winning poet, died of cancer at 83.

I credit Helen Byrd, my 10th grade English teacher, with my love of reading and narrative writing. But poetry eluded me, save the text of beloved hymns or the Psalms I grew up reading and hearing in the King’s English. I’m sure Psalm 23, a poetic gift from past millennia, was the first poem I ever memorized, probably around age 10. Others were as foreign as the Hebrew in which they were originally penned. I remember spitting out Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” for a college English project and occasionally thumbing through my mother’s collection from Helen Steiner Rice, the 20th century queen of inspirational iambic pentameter. (A good poem, I would learn years later, doesn’t have to rhyme, nor will the world stop turning if it doesn’t.) But poetry never connected like a good mystery, a spy-thriller, or a page-turner of a biography. Not until Mary Oliver.

“Poetry, to be understood,” Oliver once said, “must be clear. It mustn’t be fancy.” I concur. That’s probably the reason I fell in love with her writing, my first collection a gift from a clergy friend. Most of her poems were deeply spiritual, filled with images from nature, although Oliver never embraced a particular faith tradition. She wasn’t uncomfortable in a church, a temple, a sanctuary. But more often than not, her cathedrals were formed by black oaks or towering pines. Her font, a pond; incense, a patch of violets. The song of a wren was plainsong chant. Her altar was the world.

Oliver’s words were profound, yet not “fancy,” as she would say. In “Sometimes”, she offered these directives:

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

She lived by her words, looking out her back door each morning, with notepad and pencil in hand.

Like the Psalms or the words of a comforting hymn from childhood, Oliver’s “I Worried” encouraged me on more than one occasion.

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers

flow in the right direction, will the earth turn

as it was taught, and if not how shall

I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,

can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows

can do it and I am, well,


Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,

am I going to get rheumatism,

lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.

And gave it up. And took my old body

and went out into the morning,

and sang.

In going out into the world, Oliver followed her own directive — pay attention. To say she “communed with nature” was an understatement. All of life was sacred, no creature off-limits. All creatures, great and small, have lessons to teach — the bear, the loon, the turtle, humpbacks, snakes, wild geese.

She writes, in “Crows,”

In Japan, in Seattle, in Indonesia – there they were –

each one loud and hungry,

crossing a field or sitting

above the traffic . . .

they don’t envy anyone or anything . . .

Why should they?

The wind is their friend, the least tree is home.

Nor is melody, they have discovered, necessary . . .

I see them in trees, or on ledges of buildings,

as cheerful as thieves of the small job

who have been, one more night, successful –

and like all successes, it turns my thoughts to myself.

Should I have led a more simple life?

Have my ambitions been worthy?

Has the wind, for years, been talking to me as well?

The week before Easter, I will visit two cemeteries, to mourn and give thanks for family and friends who rest beneath the shade of pines and cedars. And I will pay attention. Not to years lived but to the silence and sacredness of those places, to the cardinal who graces a branch with his color or the lone, late daffodil that will not be overpowered by grey granite. I will look, and listen, and give thanks.

I can hear Mary Oliver saying to those women who came early, that first Easter, with oils and spices, to care for the body of their entombed Lord, “pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.” They were, and they did. 

And though distanced by millennia, the final couplet from one of her most popular poems, “The Summer Day,” could well be her departing words to those women, and to us:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

May Easter, and spring’s rebirth, cause us to be attentive, to ponder our stories, and to ask those questions that matter most.  PS

Tom Allen is minister of education at First Baptist Church, Southern Pines.

True South

All Pumped Up

Or just wait until the urge passes

By Susan S. Kelly

And now, a few concise words about exercising: I loathe it.

I was never on a sports team. No one wanted to double-Dutch jump rope with me as a partner. I’m so uncoordinated that I tend to fall down just putting on my underwear. In high school, while I kind of coveted the flippy kilts my field-hockey playing classmates got to wear, I preferred the passive, less-participatory exercise of wearing a weighted belt Velcroed around my waist under clothes. Worked just fine until you drank a glass of water. After study hall, we’d “walk” down the long dorm hall linoleum on our butt cheeks while listening to Cat Stevens singing “Wild World” from the Tea for the Tillerman album. An effort, in retrospect, that would have probably been a lot more effective if we’d just ceased and desisted with toast-eating contests at breakfast.

Despite years of sitting in stadiums, I never understood football until I watched Friday Night Lights on Netflix and had to figure out first downs to follow the plot. As for tennis or golf, why would anyone do anything that requires putting on sunscreen, much less sweating? I’d be perfectly content never to put on sneakers again — and I realize they’re not called sneakers anymore. In my opinion, anyone who changes the sheets on a king bed has had ample exercise for the day, what with all that walking around from one side of the bed to the other.

In defense of all this inactivity, I’d like to point out that I wear no ace bandages anywhere, have no joint, tendon, muscle, back, knee or other issues, and have no idea what an ACL or meniscus is or where they’re located; all of which I attribute to the fact that for five decades I never engaged in anything competitive or, well, physical, when you come right down to it. Just sayin’. And I do like to think that balancing on one foot while brushing my teeth counts for something. At least it beats my friend who’s figured out that she can set the treadmill speed at 3.8 before the wine starts sloshing out of the cup holder. Never mind my friend who’s eating Big Macs because the people at Weight Watchers told her she’s not fat enough to qualify.

Still, when a fitness facility opened up practically in my own backyard the year I turned 50, I decided it was Time To Get With The Program, as my father would say. Not that I would even consider walking the one-eighth mile over there when I could drive. Please. It quickly became clear that I don’t have the personality for yoga. The first time the instructor told me to quit wearing baggy tops — so she could correct my position — was the last time I went to yoga class. Besides, the whole time we were supposed to be clearing our minds or assuming the Savasana pose or whatever you’re meant to Om, I was thinking about all the things I needed to be doing and wishing the session would just end so I could get on with it. One friend’s husband wanted to go to yoga class with her, so she gave him a set of sessions for Christmas. Unfortunately, his first class became his last class, because, as is often the case with yoga, he publicly pooted. There’s no namaste for that. Somewhat similar to my sister’s issue with a chocolate power bar in her back pocket that melted and squished and looked — well, let’s just say it’s best to always wear black exercise clothes.

Beware of classes disguised as cults, in which Fitness Barbies and Kens are demoralizingly superior to you. I’m sorry, but if you have makeup on at the gym, I don’t care how long you can plank; you’ve lost all credibility. But I do like the way, in a class, the teacher will run down the quick-quick chop-chop single-syllable system checklist of to-dos or have-dones: quads, pecs, lats, delts, abs, glutes, biceps, etc. They come in handy for doing crosswords. (While sitting down.) The main argument for classes with scary titles like Pump It Up, Power Flex, yada yada, is the punch line to that old joke about why the guy keeps hitting himself on the head with a hammer: Because it feels so good when you quit.

Best, then, to stick with the treadmill, where you can multitask otherwise sedentary activities like online bridge and Netflix. At 79, a friend’s father began memorizing T. S. Eliot to pass time on the stationary bike. He’d repeatedly take a laminated card from his pocket, consult it, put it back, and pedal on. The discipline proved so popular to fellow cyclers that he formed a club with seven other men who meet three times a week to recite. In case you’re wondering, “The Waste Land” takes 40 minutes to recite.

Me, I’m reveling in a smaller triumph: The nurse who administered my flu shot asked, “Do you work out?”

“How did you know?” I returned.

“Your arm muscle,” she replied.

Score!  PS

Susan S. Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and a proud grandmother.