63rd Annual Robbins Farmers Day

Begun in 1955 when Curtis Hussey and his cousins obtained permission to have a parade through downtown Robbins, Farmers Day festivities begin on Thursday, Aug. 2, at 6 p.m. with the 5K Run/Walk and gospel music on the depot stage. Friday from 6 to 11 p.m., dance to Bluegrass by the Hill Family of Sanford and William Willard’s Country Storm Band. On Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., enjoy carnival rides, entertainment, demonstrations and — of course— the Farmers Day Parade. The horses and wagons arrive at 11 a.m., competing for trophies in 21 categories, including best buggy, horse, mule team and donkey. Bring your lawn chairs, but please no golf carts or ATVs — they’re not allowed inside the barricades. For more information, call (910) 295-7808 or visit

Step Back in Time

You can still see the bullet holes in Colonel Philip Alston’s House in the Horseshoe, where his revolutionary band of citizen soldiers fought the Loyalists in 1781. See a re-enactment of this Revolutionary War battle at 2 p.m. on Saturday or Sunday, Aug. 4 or 5, at the 237th anniversary of the Battle at the House in the Horseshoe. From 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., you can tour the 18th century plantation house and view militia encampments and a blacksmith shop. Watch demonstrations featuring musket/artillery firings, colonial brewing, gardening and spinning/weaving. Admission is free, but parking is $5. Food trucks will be on-site. The House is located at 288 Alston House Road, Sanford. For more information, call (910) 947-2051 or visit

Seagrove Potters and Sweet Tea

Spend a lazy day in Seagrove on Saturday, Aug. 11, enjoying two of the area’s finest traditions: iced tea and pottery. Local potters will be offering iced teas and homemade treats for you to sample as you browse through their shops on this gallery crawl. Participating potters include Blue Hen Pottery, Dean & Martin Pottery, Eck McCanless Pottery, From the Ground Up, Thomas Pottery and Red Hare Pottery. Their featured wares for this special event will be pitchers and tumblers. Shops are located along N.C. 705 (the Pottery Highway) and will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pick up a pottery map at your first stop. For more information, call (336) 879-4145 or visit

Fine Arts Festival

The 38th Annual Fine Arts Festival will open on Friday, Aug. 3, at the Campbell House Galleries. The FAF, started by the Arts Council of Moore County in 1980 to showcase local artists, now features artwork from all over the country. The opening reception, from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, offers the opportunity to view the artwork, meet the artists and friends, and enjoy wine and light hors d’oeuvres. Prizes and ribbons will be awarded in painting, drawing or pastel, photography, mixed media, pottery and sculpture. The artwork will be for sale and on display at the gallery through Aug. 30. The Campbell House is located at 482 E. Connecticut Ave. in Southern Pines. For more information, call (910) 692-2787 or go to

Musicians Jam Session/Song Circle

All members of the public are invited to bring their instruments and join other musicians for an informal evening of music and song — or just come to enjoy the company and surroundings. Please bring your own beverage. This free event will be held Tuesday, Aug. 28, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Great Room at the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, 555 E. Connecticut Ave. in Southern Pines. This event is held throughout the year on the last Tuesday of each month. For more information, call (910) 692-6261 or

Bocce in the Backyard

The 11th annual Sandhills Children’s Center Backyard Bocce Bash takes place on Saturday, Aug. 18, and you are invited to join the tailgate party and play a little bocce for a good cause. This private, nonprofit organization provides much-needed day programs for children with and without special developmental needs. Register your team of four players for $100 (basic) to $350 (VIP). All proceeds benefit the children. VIP teams get a courtside tent to decorate — and a prize is awarded to the best decorated tent. Registration starts at 8:30 a.m. at the National Athletic Village, 201 Air Tool Road, Southern Pines. For more information and registration, call (910) 692-3323 or visit

Live After 5

On Friday, Aug. 10, the village of Pinehurst invites you to Tufts Memorial Park for another evening of great music and family activities. Food trucks will offer a wide variety of fare, or bring your own picnic basket — but no outside alcohol allowed. Beer, wine and other beverages will be available for purchase. The event is free, as are parking at the Village Hall and shuttle service to downtown and back. Berryfield performs from 5:15 to 5:50 p.m., and The Royal Suits from 6 to 9 p.m., performing classic rock, funk, Motown and more. The park is located at 1 Village Green Road W. For more information, call (910) 295-8656 or visit

Sandra Brown to Present New Thriller

New York Times best-selling author Sandra Brown will be at the Hannah Center at The O’Neal School on Aug. 8. Her new book, Tailspin, is a spine-tingling thriller and tantalizing romance about a daring cargo pilot, Rye Mallett, caught up in the intrigue surrounding his mysterious cargo and the alluring woman doctor who intercepts its delivery. Tickets to this event are $35, general admission, which includes a copy of the book. Tickets are available at and at The Country Bookshop. The event starts at 6:30 p.m., and doors open 30 minutes prior. The O’Neal School is located at 3300 Airport Road, Southern Pines. Info: (910) 692-3211.

Om’erica: The Yoga Fest

Hot Asana Studio is hosting a day of yoga to celebrate military veterans on Saturday, Aug. 4. Veterans, all of whom are certified yoga instructors, will teach the event’s three outdoor classes. The businesses and vendors represented are owned by and support vets. The cost is $30, which includes access to vendors and three classes. A portion of the proceeds will send one vet through training at the Hot Asana Yoga University, another portion goes to the Exalted Warrior Foundation, which facilitates yoga instruction for wounded warriors. Vendors will open at 7:30 a.m., and classes will be at 8, 9 and 10 a.m. Tickets are available at the door, but space is limited, so reservations are suggested. The Yoga Fest will be held at the Sunrise Theater Greenspace, 250 N.W. Broad St., Southern Pines. For more information and tickets, visit

Sandhills Broadway Series

The Sandhills Repertory Theatre presents Marissa McGowan and Michael Mendez in “Out of The Friend Zone,” a cabaret-style concert. Through Broadway songs, the two stars relate how they started working together, became friends, and ultimately fell in love. The concert will be at the Hannah Theater Center at The O’Neal School, 3300 Airport Road in Southern Pines. It starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19. Tickets are $32/general; $30/seniors and military; $20/students and can be purchased online at The Given Library and The Country Bookshop are selling senior and military tickets only. Tickets at the door will be $35. Proceeds will help fund arts programming in the schools and special needs arts programming in the community. For more information, call (347) 385-4207 or (910) 692-6920.


Summer’s Perfect Pairs

Taking advantage of August’s garden treasures

By Angela Sanchez

Summer is an abundant time, especially in the Sandhills. There’s an abundance of sun, heat, humidity and yummy produce. How amazing is it to eat a fresh, vine-ripened tomato in season? Heat-loving basil and oregano grow so rapidly you can’t pick them fast enough before they bolt. There’s sweet corn on the cob, lots and lots of zucchini, and yellow squash growing like weeds. Don’t forget the beautiful peaches so sweet and juicy we have to race the bugs for them. One of my personal favorites, the cucumber, is perfect this time of year, picked just before it gets too big and loses its sweetness. I love the way it protects itself from the blistering sun by hiding under its broad leaves and prickly vines.

My love of delicious, local summer produce is only equaled by my love of great wine and beer. So, naturally, I try to pair them as often and as well as possible. The following are some of my favorites, made with the goods we haul off our family farm, and using the cheeses and wines we love. They are simple and easily prepared without cooking. Let’s face it, who really wants to stand in the kitchen with an oven set at 450 or over a blistering outdoor grill when it’s already 95 and the humidity is 80 percent?

The summer tomato is one of nature’s most perfect fruits. Full of sweet, juicy flesh with a bright acidity, it needs a rich cheese like burrata, a fresh mozzarella with whole milk cream added. The rich and creamy fattiness of the cheese is a complement to the bright bite of the tomato. Slice the tomatoes and cheese thick and stack them or slice the tomato into pieces and set it alongside the burrata whole. Drizzle the best olive oil you can find over it. I suggest an herbal-infused or arbequina from Spain, with a pinch of sea salt like the solar-evaporated Sea Love Sea Salt from Wrightsville Beach. Add a crack or two of fresh ground black pepper. You can also use a flavored salt like smoked pepper or a citrus blend. The finishing touch is fresh basil and oregano cut and sprinkled to lend freshness and a peppery earthiness to the dish. Although not growing in season right now, you can toss in some of my favorite olives like the buttery green Castlevaltrano from Sicily to add a meaty richness. The accompanying wine needs to be clean, crisp and light. Gavi di Gavi of Italy has some weight and an almost oily mouthfeel along with a backbone of acidity. Some bright lemon and citrus notes make it a perfect pairing.

Zucchini can seem boring, but it can make a beautiful summer salad. Get it fresh and of the right size — at least the length of your hand and about 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter. A sharp vegetable peeler is all you need to make long slices, the more uneven the better. Lay them out on a large platter and drizzle with the same great Spanish olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and top with basil and oregano. I like thyme here also. Shave Parmigiano-Reggiano over it, the more the better. Use Italian Parmigiano, not an imitation. A cheese planer is the easiest tool but grated is another option. For a wine pairing I prefer rosé. French or Italian is always good, but for this I like a Spanish rosé with a bit more weight, like Mas Donis. It is a blend of grenache and tempranillo, rose-violet in color, fruity and herbal but clean. It holds up nicely to the richness and saltiness of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, but it’s not too heavy to overpower the delicate zucchini.

Last but not least, the cucumber cannot be denied when it is at its peak in season. You could pickle it, but why not try it with feta and a great marinade? Slice into 1/4-inch slices and toss in an olive oil marinade with garlic, salt, pepper and herbs. You can make the marinade in a jar and shake to mix. Pour it over the cucumbers and let them sit for 30 minutes to an hour. The feta should be top quality like the goat’s milk feta from Paradox Farm. It can be cut into cubes and marinated the same way, tossing them together. If you prefer, switch out the cucumbers for ripe peaches. No need to marinate them. With the cucumber and feta I prefer a light, easy drinking beer like Duck Hook from Southern Pines Brewery. With either version — cucumber or peach — a delicate and balanced sparkling wine such as 1928 Prosecco from Italy with just a hint of sweet fruit and a dry finish is just right. If you want something a bit drier, the 100 percent pinot noir, Jean-Baptiste Adam Cremant Sparkling Rosé from the Alsace region of France is yeasty and vibrant and tastes like summer, with strawberry and peach notes.

As we meander our way through August’s heat, be sure to enjoy its abundant produce and try something new while doing it. Drink well and think about keeping it light and refreshing, but stylish enough to add to the flavors of the season.  PS

Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and was lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.

Head of the Class

Waiting for something to click

By Renee Phile

I teach commas and stuff. Even through the summer. Some of my students are high-schoolers. Some are grandmas. More are in-between. Nothing thrills me more than a classroom of students who are ready — or not — to hear about where the semicolon goes or where it absolutely doesn’t belong. Nothing thrills me more than when a student asks, “Ms. Phile, could you look at this paragraph? Does it flow?” or “Hey, Ms. Phile, look at this sign I saw at the gas station. It’s missing an apostrophe. If I had a Sharpie I would have corrected it.”

Then there’s that point in the semester when all the papers, projects and tests need grading. Final exams are pending, grades are due. Everyone is exhausted and irritable, and I begin to wonder why the hell I started teaching in the first place. I spend every waking moment — at my son’s baseball games, waiting for a table at restaurants, sitting in meetings, at the stoplight — grading papers. Emails flood my inbox:

“Ms. Phile, can I have an extension on the paper?” (No way. You have known about the due date for six weeks.)

“Ms. Phile, sorry I won’t be in class today. My pigs got loose.” (True story.)

“Ms. Phile, I can’t come to class today or the rest of the week because my grandmother died.” (Hmmmm . . . that’s the third time she’s passed away. Obviously a very, very serious illness.)

“Ms. Phile, I know I haven’t done much this semester, but can I get extra credit?” (You can’t get extra credit when you didn’t get regular credit.)

“Ms. Phile, I know I didn’t turn in the past four papers, but can I turn them in still? I promise I did them.” (I can’t even reply to this one.)

“Ms. Phile, we have a beach house rented that week.” (Can I come and bring the boys?)

And my favorite how-to-endear-yourself-to-the-teacher, cringe-worthy question:

“Ms. Phile, sorry I missed class yesterday. Did I miss anything important?” (Ouch.)

At this point in the semester I’m thinking I may go back to school for something else, maybe carpentry or piano tuning or snake charming. But, the truth is the magical moments when a student lights up and “gets it” make my job amazing. The moment when a student’s writing improves; the moment when a student overcomes the fear of talking in front of others; the moment when I notice students teaching each other. Those moments keep me from getting a basket and a flute.

Let me invite you into my summer class: Research papers, which they have been working on for six weeks, are due tonight by 11:55 p.m. I walk into a room of talkative students and one, who I will call Matt, pipes up from the back row:

“Ms. Phile, what will it take for you to extend the due date until tomorrow? Money? Doughnuts? Reese’s cups? I know how you love Reese’s cups.”

“Matt, you’ve known the due date for six weeks. It’s in stone.”

An older student in the front row, who probably finished his research paper two weeks ago, rolls his eyes and mumbles under his breath, “I don’t envy your job.”

My 11 years of teaching flashed through my brain — whirlwinds, valleys, mountains, mostly mountains.

“I don’t know why not. You should,” I said.  PS

Renee Phile loves being a teacher, even if it doesn’t show at certain moments.


By Ash Alder

Remember meeting that first giant? Being dazzled beyond words by its radiance and splendor, gasping as if you’d just entered a world alive with magic beans and singing harps and ornate birds with eggs of gold? 

Or perhaps you met a field of them? Smiling sun gazers. Stilt walkers among a carnival of phlox and zinnias and late summer bloomers. Nothing says August like a host of majestic sunflowers. As they follow our blazing sun across the wispy-clouded sky, these towering beauties remind us that we, too, become that which we give our attention.

Listen for the soft thuds of the earliest apples. Notice the silent dance of the spiraling damselfly, wild raspberries, the star-crossed romance between milkweed and goldenrod.

Queen Anne’s lace adorns roadside ditches and, in the kitchen, fresh mint and watermelon smoothies await sun-kissed children still dripping from the pool. 

“Can we grow our own?” they ask, eyes still aglow from the cheerful band of sunflowers they saw at a friend’s house days ago.

Come spring, as they work the magic seeds into the cool soil, all the world will sing.

Good Clean Fun

Given optimal growing conditions (plenty of sun and space), the sunflower can grow up to 13 feet tall in as few as six months. And once summer and her birds have harvested the last of its seeds, consider using the head as a biodegradable
scrubbing pad.

I almost wish we were butterflies and lived
but three summer days — three such days with you
I could fill with more delight than fifty common
years could ever contain.  
— John Keats

Cozy with the Crickets

Sure as the summer garden yields sweet corn and sugar snap peas, the Perseid meteor shower returns. Following the new Sturgeon moon on Aug. 11, the annual show will peak on the night of Sunday, Aug. 12, until the wee hours of Monday, Aug. 13. A thin crescent moon should make for excellent viewing conditions. Cozy up with the crickets. Believe in magic. Breathe in the intoxicating perfume of this summer night.

The luxury of all summer’s sweet sensation is to be
found when one lies at length in the warm,
fragrant grass, soaked with sunshine, aware of
regions of blossoming clover and of a high
heaven filled with the hum
of innumerous bees.

— Harriet E. Prescott, The Atlantic Monthly, August 1865

Food for Thought

The dog days are still here. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the hottest days of summer coincide with the rising of Sirius, the Dog Star, beginning July 3 and ending Aug. 11.

Meantime, sit beneath the shade of a favorite tree.

Sink your teeth into a just-picked peach.

Lose yourself in a tangle of wild blackberries.

And as you watch the busy ants march along empty watermelon rinds and overripe berries, remember there is work to do.

Stake the vines.

Can or freeze excess of the harvest.

Prepare the soil for autumn plantings: purple top turnips and Chinese cabbages; Ebenezer onions and cherry belle radishes; spider lilies and autumn crocus and greens, greens, greens.

Allow yourself to enjoy it.

August creates as she slumbers, replete and satisfied.  — Joseph Wood Krutch  

August Books


The Line That Held Us, by David Joy

Fasten your seat belt for another David Joy-ride. An accidental shooting death impacts the trajectory of multiple lives in a small North Carolina mountain community — some innocent, and some not so innocent. Friendships and brotherly love run as deep as the generations of the families that call these mountains home. Joy’s unflinching and honest narrative gives grace and dignity to his characters as they seek resolution and retribution. This masterful novel proves no one can write about modern Appalachia quite like David Joy.

Vox, by Christina Dalcher

Unsettling, unnerving and completely engrossing, Vox is the story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter. Set in a radical America where women are given a limit of 100 words a day — tallied by a counter bracelet that gives a strong electrical shock to those who exceed it — half the population may no longer read, write or hold jobs. These are abilities given only to males. Dr. Jean McClellan is a wife and mother determined to reclaim her voice for herself, her daughter and every other woman.

The Secret War Diaries of Abraham Lincoln, by Paul R. Dunn

Lincoln never kept a diary but Dunn, a Pinehurst author, has written a daily account of the war from Lincoln’s perspective, including his recurring dreams. Envisioned as a four-volume work, recently released volume two joins book one to cover the war years from November 1860 to January 1863. Both are available at The Country Bookshop. For each diary entry Dunn includes “author’s notes,” providing factual references with chronological accuracy.

Sold on a Monday, by Kristina McMorris

In 1931, near Philadelphia, ambitious reporter Ellis Reed photographs the gut-wrenching sign posted beside a pair of siblings on a farmhouse porch: 2 CHILDREN FOR SALE. With the help of newspaper secretary Lily Palmer, Ellis writes an article to accompany the photo. Capturing the hardships of American families during the Great Depression, the feature story generates national attention, and Ellis’ career skyrockets. But the piece also leads to consequences more devastating than he and Lily ever imagined, risking everything they value to unravel the mystery and set things right. Inspired by a newspaper photo that stunned readers throughout the country, Sold on a Monday is a powerful novel of ambition, redemption, love and family.

Penelope Lemon: Game On! by Inman Majors

Despite the pitfalls of balancing parental duties, jobs and the vagaries of middle-aged life, Penelope pushes through one obstacle after another, trying to regain her independence after divorce. Whether fumbling through the world of online dating; coping with a bullying situation involving her son, Theo; or wrestling with the discovery of nude photos from her carefree college days that are not quite as “artistic” as she remembers, Penelope gradually emerges as a modern day heroine who navigates the inanities of life with verve and humor.

French Exit, by Patrick deWitt

Quirky, wry, darkly witty, strange and absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious, French Exit is the perfect remedy for anyone seeking a respite from the plethora of World War II historical fiction and genre thrillers. Depicting dysfunctional families at their absolute oddest, Malcom Price, his doting mother, Frances, and their cat, Little Frank, abandon New York practically penniless and scurry off to Paris, where things only get stranger. Every page leaves the reader wondering, “What in the world will they do next?”

Meet Me at the Museum, by Anne Youngson

An English woman, Tina Hopgood, and Anders Larsen, the curator of a museum in Denmark, begin a 15-month-long correspondence growing out of their mutual interest in the museum’s exhibit about the Tollund Man, the subject of Seamus Heaney’s famous poem. Fearing their days of connection are over, the letters prove otherwise as the shared interest of the two lonely people in their 60s blossoms into something more. Readers who enjoyed Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will love Meet Me at the Museum.


Small Animals: Parenting in the Age of Fear, by Kim Brooks

One cool spring morning, Kim Brooks made a split-second decision to leave her 4-year-old son in the car while she ran into a store. What happened would consume the next several years of her life and ultimately motivate her to write about the broader subject of parenthood and fear. By blending personal memoir, investigative reporting and sociological critique, Brooks offers a provocative, compelling portrait of parenthood in America and calls us to examine what we most value in our relationships with our children and one another.

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America, by Beth Macy

Using the story of the hometown she first featured in Factory Man, Macy shines a light on the forgotten people of America addicted to opioids. Lee County, Virginia, has been especially hard hit by the epidemic — 75 percent of police calls in the area are about heroin, methamphetamine, or a combination of both. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death of Americans under 50, and overdose deaths are 50 percent more likely in rural areas. Dopesick is important, tough reporting from an author who thoroughly explores America’s toughest social issues.


Secret Life of Squirrels: Back to School! by Nancy Rose

Mr. Peanuts, the super adorable star of the Secret Life of Squirrels, is off to help his friend, Ms. Rosie, get ready for the first day of school. Shopping for supplies, reviewing school rules and setting up the classroom is tons more fun when squirrels are in charge. (Ages 3-7.)

Willa of the Wood, by Robert Beatty

From the author of the popular Serafina books comes this first in a new series about Willa of the Wood, a young night spirit in the North Carolina Great Smoky Mountains. A thief who creeps into day-folks’ houses to take things they will not miss, Willa’s curiosity leaves her stranded in the day world, where she begins to question every tenet she once held sacred. (Ages 10-14.)

The 91 Story Treehouse, by Andy Griffiths

Only once in a blue moon is a series enjoyed by kids from the first through sixth grades. When that series includes a shark tank and a trampoline room . . . well, that makes it all that much better. The 91 Story Treehouse continues the saga of ridiculousness started in the 13 Story Treehouse and kids will be climbing the walls until this one hits the shelves. (Ages 8-12.)

Sea Witch, by Sarah Henning

Review by Ella Pate, 13: A perfect book for ocean lovers, Sea Witch is a phenomenal, gripping read and completely impossible to put down, locking me in until the very end. A great book about friendship, betrayal, and the never-to-forget threats of Urda, the sea. (Ages 13 and up.)

All of this is True, by Lygia Day Peñaflor

Before you pack the sunscreen, put this fast-paced, multi-tiered thriller right on top of the beach bag. This story-within-a-story with a wicked twist is sure to be one of the most talked about books of the summer. Fatima Ro’s new book, Undertow, is the hottest thing on the YA shelves, so when four prep school friends have the chance to meet her at a book signing, they feel like the luckiest superfans in the world. But as Fatima begins to write her newest story, things feel oddly familiar and terribly, terribly wrong. (Ages 14 and up.)  PS

Compiled by Kimberly Daniels Taws and Angie Tally.

Living by the Book

A cottage with a wow factor

By Deborah Salomon     Photographs by John Gessner

Tom and Katrina Denza are book people. “I even like the smell of books,” Katrina admits. They read paper-and-ink books — thousands of them. Their historic district Southern Pines cottage is designed around his collection of classics, hers of contemporary fiction. Bookshelves are everywhere, mounted over doorways and under ceilings. Books in the kitchen, the dining room, the master bedroom. Katrina can locate every title. The converted attic holds their son’s childhood books. Opposite the front door, a wall of book cubbies lit by an undulating metal lighting fixture with purple globes makes the correct first impression.

“I moved to Southern Pines because of The Country Bookshop,” Katrina, a true bibliophile, confesses.

As for the house, you can’t judge this book by its cover. The sandy-tan exterior, unremarkable except for a long balcony, melts behind a greenery screen, as does the adjacent lot Tom purchased for a garden, pond and firepot. But once inside . . . wow.

First came the Boyds, then Weymouth, then resort hotels, then winter retreats for wealthy (or sickly) urbanites, then — east of the tracks but downhill from the estates — cottages built for support staff, shopkeepers, professionals, and the less affluent who followed seeking a temperate climate with amenities.

The hotels burned down, mansions changed hands, cottages fell into disrepair. When the tide turned, Weymouth was restored as a cultural center; prominent addresses were renovated; and now, finally, many of the modest cottages have been taken apart and reassembled as small gems.

Still, the Denzas’, built in 1927, stands out in a neighborhood of surprises, first by being inconspicuous. Curb appeal wasn’t a priority. Even the porches and decks accessed by sliding glass doors enhance the interior. “I feel like I’m in a treehouse,” Katrina says.

Obviously, well-developed personalities created this repository of literature, architecture and art.

Both Tom and Katrina gravitated south from states for which nearby streets were named: she from Vermont, he from Connecticut.

Katrina: “The South is so rich with literature. I can feel it in the ground.” Here, she started writing again — a collection of stories with Europe as background and a novel set in Vermont and Carolina. Her activism includes participating in (and reporting on) the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017. A friend told her about the Writers in Residence program at Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities. “There is such creative energy in that house.” She now manages the program as well as serving on the board of directors.

Tom: “I came for the heat and Faulkner — except for that I should have gone farther south.” (William Faulkner was born and raised in Mississippi.) Tom’s travels to Spain made him long for sunshine, warmth and friendly faces. With experience in home renovation gained as a young teen from an 80-year-old Irishman who needed a helper, Tom established a flooring business. “I was young and single.”

Tom bought the cottage in 1986 — a messy, neglected warren of rooms, no air-conditioning — and moved in with the intention of gutting and renovating it himself. This he did, gradually, replacing the roof, even excavating a basement to provide the solidity he remembered from the brick home where he grew up. While tearing down walls he found tiny glass ampoules; perhaps tuberculosis patients who came for the cleansing air once lived there.

The two New Englanders met, married, moved to Midland Road and had a baby while the renovation progressed.

He aimed for something simple, contemporary, vaguely Japanese. “It sounds ridiculous, but there was no conflict,” he says, noting that he and Katrina both admire Frank Lloyd Wright. Katrina selected earth tones. “I have a sense of it, color in small doses, a touch of orange against turquoise, no primaries or pastels.” Tom cooks, therefore planned the kitchen. Katrina chose a hallway overlooking the balcony for her desk bathed in natural light. Stairs to the former attic were tucked out of sight, not to break the expanse.

Tom insisted on fine details like solid wood paneled doors with glass knobs and high-tech light switches.

The entranceway, a separate room, previews Tom’s artistry: Brazilian cherry floorboards form a geometric pattern; a shoe cabinet (Asian influence) came from a train station; Lucite chairs are from Italy; and a massive jug is from France.

There are no rugs to detract from the assortment of woods and styles Tom selected for flooring.

Although it meant structural reinforcement, he decided to move the front door and open the main floor from the dining room at one end to the living room at the other with the kitchen and section of book cubbies in between, creating an unbroken expanse of about 50 feet, 10 feet shorter than a bowling lane. This architectural trompe l’oeil makes a house with smallish rooms appear vast.

Tom and Katrina subscribe to the wabi-sabi Japanese philosophy celebrating the well-used and slightly imperfect. Angled walls and ceilings add interest, character. Scale mattered; a dining room table with Scandinavian lines was custom made of cherry wood to fit the space and seat six, no more. The table stands beside a wall of textured plaster, painted a deep nameless color. Living room furnishings are arranged the old-fashioned way, a semicircle facing the fireplace, for sitting and reading or conversation. No sound system, just a lone, medium-sized TV mounted well below eye level.

Katrina would like to live without it. “We don’t have cable, just Netflix for watching movies.”

Glass doors rimmed in black connect the master bedroom, painted a retro pale avocado, to an arrangement of planters on the deck. The Japanese tone continues with a platform bed and a bathroom in the same shade of green with startling black lacquer accents. Upstairs, Tom planned to finish the attic with a sleeping porch but decided a bedroom, also with platform bed, would be more practical, along with a play space for kids. The upstairs interior bathroom has a large paned window looking out onto the staircase, opposite a real window that brings in natural light.

“I saved an original window and thought it would work there,” Tom says.

Chef Tom’s kitchen looks more cooked-in than picture-book. No granite, no marble, no gadgets. The original tin ceiling has been treated to resemble oxidized copper, a greenish shade called verdigris. A real copper range hood complements the overhead metal.

Tin squares are echoed by square countertop tiles. On them stands Tom’s prize, an Electra brass coffee press made in Italy that resembles an appliance from Leonardo DaVinci’s kitchen notebook. Tom roasts coffee beans outside, puts them through a countertop grinder and transfers coffee to the press to extract a superior brew, one cup at a time. Imagine the aroma.

“I’m very particular,” Tom says of his cooking utensils. “I watched and learned from Chef Warren and Mark Elliott.” First lesson: The right pan and fresh herbs from his garden make a difference. Travels through France don’t hurt.

On a par with books, art beats in the heart of this home. Katrina displays works by local artists Jessie Mackay, Denise Baker, David Hewson and others. Larger paintings dominating entire walls are, for the most part, abstracts as in Carol Bechtel, who describes her work as “about how things go together or touch or separate . . . making order from chaos and calmness from tensions.”

How the Denzas acquire art speaks to their relationship. Every year, on their wedding anniversary, they visit a gallery. Each chooses a painting without consulting the other. Amazing, how many times they both chose the same one, Katrina says.

For all its history, personality and artistry, Tom describes the Denza house as simple. Simple for them means a good book, a perfect cup of coffee, intelligent art, frogs in the pond and friends within walking distance — a harmony between people and their environment. Other words, from another book, in another language call it feng shui.  PS

Last Days of the Yard King

A final summer of innocence is shelter from the storm

By Jim Dodson

That July I owned the neighborhood. Or at least my block.

It was 1968. I was 15, towing a wheezing Lawn-Boy push mower behind a well-traveled Schwinn Deluxe Racer with chrome-plated fenders and dual side baskets. My mother called me Jimmy the Yard King.

Actually, I had three jobs that summer. One was mowing half a dozen lawns in the neighborhood at a time before lawn crews were commonplace and customers could phone your parents if they didn’t like the job you did.

The second was a weekend job as an usher at the newly opened Terrace Theatre, where I was required to wear a snazzy tangerine orange, double-knit sports jacket with a black, clip-on bow tie. The jacket matched the theater’s innovative “rocking chair” seats. My job was to keep kids from violently rocking their brains out and disturbing other customers by banging their knees. This often resulted in my giving chase to truants hopped up on candy.

That summer I also had my first job teaching guitar two mornings a week at Mr. Weinstein’s music shop — for five dollars an hour, no less.

Given my combined income, my mom joked that she might have to someday ask me for a loan. I was saving up for either an Alvarez guitar or a Camaro, which ever came first.

The year 1968 has been called “The Year that Shattered America.”

Looking back, it was the year we both began to lose our innocence.

Being a son of the newspaper world, I paid close attention to the news, read the paper daily and never missed Uncle Walter on his evening broadcast.

That year, for the first time, the Tet Offensive by the Viet Cong brought the horrors of the war in Southeast Asia home to 56 million American TV sets. On my birthday that February, I saw the iconic photograph of a South Vietnamese general publically executing a Viet Cong prisoner. The picture shocked Americans, stoked the anti-war movement and turned millions of Americans against the war. One month later, the My Lai massacre that killed more than 500 civilians but wasn’t revealed and investigated for another year — all but finished off public support for the war.

That spring I taught myself how to play every song on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and started performing around town with my buddy Craig Corry who lived two doors away on Dogwood Drive. We wound up placing third in the city’s teenage talent show that next fall and made an appearance on Lee Kinard’s Good Morning Show, our first and last TV appearance.

On a breezy afternoon that April, I was playing golf with my dad when we heard that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. We watched riots break out in Detroit and the Poor People’s March on Washington, D.C. happen on TV. Commentators wondered if America was coming apart at the seams, heading for revolution in the streets.

I was more interested that the Broadway smash musical, Hair, featured live and fully naked people on stage. I couldn’t fathom it but sure wished I could see it.

On the plus side that summer that America was going to hell in a hand basket, as Mr. Huff down the street always grumbled when I showed up to collect my $8 for mowing his lawn, I took Ginny Silkworth to the Cinema Theater to see Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. It was great. I fell in love with Shakespeare and, in a way, Ginny Silkworth. She was my first date ever. We grew up attending the same church group. Unfortunately my dad had to drive us to the theater, under strict orders not to say anything embarrassing.

After the movie, Ginny, a deep thinker with a warm and horsy laugh, wondered what I planned to do with my life. I told her I planned to write books, probably travel the world, play my guitar, mow lawns and maybe move to England. She punched me on the arm and laughed adorably. Ginny and I stayed in touch for decades. She went on to become a gifted schoolteacher in Philadelphia and passed away from breast cancer many years ago. I miss her still, especially her wonderful laugh. 

Earlier that summer, Robert Kennedy was gunned down after winning the California Democratic primary. My mother really liked Bobby Kennedy. We watched his funeral train together and she actually cried. My dad was a half-hearted Nixon guy. My mom used to joke that she did her patriotic duty by cancelling out his vote in the voting booth.

By July I was deep into my lawn-mowing life, guitar-playing, trying to forget what was going on in America. I hated the usher job at the Terrace so much I handed in my elegant orange usher’s jacket in early August, blaming my family’s annual beach trip to the Hanover Seaside Club at Wrightsville Beach.

We went there every year for at least half a dozen years, though this would be the final time. I loved the Seaside’s unfancy dining room, its cool wooden floors and big porches where I could sit for hours in a real rocking chair and read. I read Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair that summer, getting hopelessly addicted to his storytelling. I also finished John LeCarré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, picturing myself mowing a lawn in some far-flung, sun-mused outpost of the British Empire, a spy in short pants, enjoying a gin and tonic with some sultry blond who looked like Tuesday Weld.

That week a family from southern Ohio was visiting the Seaside Club. A pretty girl named Sandy was reading Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, bare feet tucked up in the rocker just down the porch. We struck up a conversation and took a walk on Johnny Mercer’s Pier. Sandy told me that we humans were destroying the world, killing the oceans with our garbage and fighting an unwinnable war. She told me she was going to become an “environmental activist” like her aunt who was attending the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as a delegate from Ohio. The Seaside Club didn’t have a TV set, so there was no way to see what was happening in Chicago. We heard, however, that there were police riots and lots of injuries at the convention when Chicago’s mayor turned the police loose on Yippies and the Students for a Democratic Society who tried to crash the party.

For the rest of the week we were pretty much inseparable. Sandy was a year older and half a head taller than me. She was no Tuesday Weld but I liked her a lot. Like me, she was crazy about books and movies.

The Graduate was playing at the Crest Theater in Wrightsville Beach. She suggested we go see it. That year the Motion Picture Association of America instituted its film rating service, serving as a guideline for parents anxious about a movie’s content. I was worried about getting in. You were supposed to be at least 16 but the lady working the box office took one look at Sandy, then me, and let us in for a buck and a quarter each. Sandy didn’t care for the movie but I loved it.

The night before her family headed home to Ohio, we talked until midnight while seated on a stack of canvas rafts stacked beneath the Seaside Club. My family was staying through the Labor Day weekend, our final days there. The next night, I gigged a huge flounder in the tidal flats off Bald Head Island and wondered if I would ever hear from Sandy again. She actually wrote me a couple of times and I wrote her back. In 1974, a F5 tornado flattened her hometown of Xenia, Ohio, killing something like 100 people and leaving 10,000 homeless. I never heard from Sandy again. I like to think she’s somewhere in the world saving the planet.

Back home, with school starting, I still had a few weeks of decent lawn-mowing income to count on, plus teaching guitar for Mr. Weinstein. I knew all the dogs in the neighborhood, those which were friendly and those that weren’t. I knew the better-looking moms, too. When you’re 15 and King of Yards, you notice such things.

Looking back from half a century, life seems deceptively simpler then, so far away from the anti-war protests, the burning cities, the murder of visionary leaders, the riots, the raised fists at the summer Olympics, Nixon winning the White House, O.J. winning the Heisman.

“And stones in the road/Flew out beneath our bicycle tires. . . ” as my favorite singer Mary Chapin Carpenter remembers in her beautiful anthem to that moment in America’s life. “Worlds removed from all those fires/ As we raced each other home. . . ”

I rode my bike everywhere that summer, pretty much for the last time.

I mowed lawns, ate my first Big Mac, kissed Ginny Silkworth and had part of me awakened by a spirited girl named Sandy. I taught myself to play every song on Revolver. I went to Scout camp for the final time, did the Mile Swim twice, finished off my Life Scout award, built a nature walk at my elementary school for my Eagle project. My Yard King days came to an end.

Fifty years later, I can remember these things like they happened yesterday, and wonder what a 15-year-old in America thinks about in 2018.

History, I’ve learned, may not repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes like a Mary Chapin song.

“And the stones in the road/Leave a mark from whence they came/A thousand points of light or shame/Baby, I don’t know.”  PS

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at

August Refresh

Beat the heat for fall freshness

By Jan Leitschuh

August invites beach breezes, gauzy cover-ups, bodies of water and icy little umbrella drinks. Not skeeters, weeds, arc-welding heat and dry, sandy soil. And yet, the time for fall planning and planting is right now.

Aargh! What price homegrown flavor?

The effortless itch of delirious spring planting has yielded to the August flogging to get a move on.

After yielding its April-through-July abundance, the garden now looks pitiful and straggly. The bugs have chewed up the eggplant leafs, the zucchini has long since been felled by the stem borers. The aged tomatoes look awful, offering up the tease of two or three remaining undersized tomatoes. The basil has gone to flower, and the okra got a bit long in the tooth and is now inedible. The greens all went to seed at the end of June.

You need a weed-eater to get in there.

Who would want to wade into that? And yet . . .

Fall is a great time for growing a garden around these parts. The severe heat eases off at night and then tapers off completely in mid-October. You can water a garden and it stays watered for longer than it takes an egg timer to run out. The intense bug pressure is past. And cooler nights invite a renewed zest for life, both plant and human.

We can have another go. But first we have to steel ourselves and get out there early one morning in August. Pull out the old, non-productive plants, fork over the weeds and amend the soil with some good compost (yes, we added compost in the spring, but organic matter burns up fast in our heat).

Right now, you still have time. Until mid-month, you can put in some of your summer favorites for another round. You’ll want sets, to get a running start, as opposed to seeds. You’ll make friends with the watering hose.

Through mid-August, put in some stringless green beans for a fall supper. We can set out some yellow summer squash and zucchini plants, and avoid the worst of the pest pressures that plague them (a friend of mine plants his in 4-inch PVC rounds sliced from a pipe and says it does a good job of discouraging borers, for a time). You can still plant cukes if you do it right now. And fall tomatoes are a real treat — it feels like cheating to eat a fresh, homegrown tomato in October.

If you prefer fall crops, go ahead and try planting a row of carrots in late August. The seed is very tiny, and it only takes one hot day to destroy the germinating sprouts. So the secret is water — soak them heavily in the morning and cover the row with shade (like a board), checking daily. Once the seeds manage to sprout, uncover and water twice a day that first week (barring rain), and then taper off to whenever the soil is dry.

Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage plants will start showing up in garden centers, and not long after, collards. You can be eating well at Thanksgiving with a little action now. Put in a row or two.

From now to mid-September, you can direct-seed other fall crops, such as a variety of greens like arugula, lettuce mix, bok choy, yukina and, later in August, spinach and chard.

Lettuce, spinach and its relatives Swiss chard and beets, can be a little tricky to germinate in the heat. After all, they usually jump to life in the cold spring. To fool your seeds, sprinkle a measure of seed on a soggy paper towel and roll it up. Stick your seed roll in a bag or cup in the fridge for three days, then plant and water as usual. Your fridge tricks the seeds into germinating, just like spring. Surprise! It’s hot out! Keep the water coming until established.

Cool weather herbs like cilantro, parsley and dill can also be planted at this time.

If you want to wait until mid-September, you have a month to plant onions. It’s also the time to plant your garlic cloves tip-end up, for a nice March-April crop of green garlic and June-harvested mature heads.

Like a few flowers mixed in your vegetable plot? Mid-September is also the time to put in a row of larkspur or snapdragon for lovely spring blooms. If you sow rye or crimson clover as a winter cover crop for an organic green manure, the second half of September is prime time to do that. Their actively growing roots will help keep your soil life diverse and healthy.

Are you a fan of Sandhills strawberries, those delectable and tender red nuggets of spring’s first fruits? Prepare your soil and plant in October. Set the crowns even with the soil, not too deep. As with anything, water them well.

If you love fresh-eating, fall-feasting and homegrown picked-at-peak-ripeness produce, then you do what you gotta do in August. You tell the beach dreams to hang on, and you get out there and renew your garden, girding it for fall.

After a few mornings of healthy sweat, those little umbrella drinks taste all the sweeter.  PS

Jan Leitschuh is a local gardener, avid eater of fresh produce and co-founder of the Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative.

Chang and Eng

Legendary twins who called North Carolina home

By D. G. Martin

If I asked you to name our state’s best-known citizen, living or dead, who comes to mind?

What if I said to think of people of who lived in Mount Airy?

I bet you would say Andy Griffith. After all, his still-popular TV show was set in Mayberry, which was based on his hometown, Mount Airy.

But long before Griffith was born, long before television, two world-famous men moved to Surry County farms near Mount Airy.

They were known in America and Europe as Chang and Eng, the Siamese Twins. Still today, almost 145 years after their deaths, people all over the world know about the two brothers, joined together from their birth in Siam (now Thailand) in 1811 until their deaths near Mount Airy in 1874.

In 1978, Irving Wallace and his daughter, Amy Wallace, wrote a popular biography titled The Two: The Story of the Original Siamese Twins. The Wallaces used their great storytelling gifts to entertain readers while laying out the details of the twins’ amazing lives. After growing up in Siam, Chang and Eng came to the U.S. and were displayed throughout the country and Europe before settling in North Carolina, marrying sisters, and having more than 20 children between them. (See attached chronology.) Until recently, The Two had a virtual monopoly on the story, but two new books provide additional facts and a more modern examination of the twins’ lives and times.

The newer books are Joseph Andrew Orser’s The Lives of Chang and Eng: Siam’s Twins in Nineteenth-Century America, published in 2014 by UNC Press, and Yunte Huang’s Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History, published earlier this year by Liveright.

Though the Wallaces covered the story in great detail, they wrote for Americans of the 1970s. Our attitudes about race, immigration and the exploitation of unusual human specimens have evolved. Orser’s Chang and Eng re-examines the basic facts of the twins’ lives and challenges earlier understandings of the meaning and lessons of their experience. Using the reactions of 19th century Americans and Europeans to the twins, Chang and Eng is more than a standard biography. It becomes an examination and evaluation of social attitudes about race, ethnicity, slavery, immigration, citizenship, and the exploitation of the unusual and deformed.

Orser recounts a host of interesting facts about the twins that his readers might have forgotten or never knew. For instance, the twins, though born in Siam, were really of Chinese origin. Their father was certainly Chinese, and their mother may have been partially Chinese. So why weren’t they, and all other conjoined twins who came afterward, called Chinese Twins? It seems to have been a matter of 19th century branding. The explanation given by one of their managers, James W. Hale, was that they were “more likely to attract attention than by calling them Chinese.”

After traveling all over the U.S. and Europe, why settle in rural North Carolina? Their 1839 decision was, Orser writes, “well orchestrated: it was not spur of the moment.” In the big cities, he explains, the twins “were too closely linked to their public exhibition and their foreign origins; there was little room in the North for them to settle down to lives of quiet respectability.”

After moving first to Wilkes County and later into adjoining but separate farms in Surry County, they became U.S. citizens, acquired and managed slaves, and when the Civil War broke out, they supported the South, each of them supplying a son to serve in the Confederate Army.

The twins were joined at their chests by a relatively short band of tissue. Today a surgeon could separate them but the doctors of the time were uncertain. There could have been other reasons, as well. As one of their doctors explained, “Those boys will fetch a vast deal more money while they are together than when they are separate.” After their deaths, when the bodies were examined, some doctors concluded that one or both of the twins would not have survived an attempted separation.

In Huang’s Inseparable, the author’s personal background lends a special perspective. Like Chang and Eng, he grew up in Asia. After college at Peking University, he came to the U.S. and worked in the restaurant business in Alabama before completing his Ph.D. in poetics at SUNY-Buffalo. Living in the American South, he experienced challenges not unlike those that confronted Chang and Eng more than 150 years earlier. He sees the twins as fellow immigrants.

While taking Americans to task for their “ugly rhetoric against immigrants,” Huang wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal,Throughout American history, almost all immigrants, legal or illegal, have indeed had mountains to climb . . . But few newcomers to the U.S. have crossed more daunting barriers than Chang and Eng Bunker.”

Huang uses the twins’ lives to examine other features of American society during their lifetimes. He includes a long section describing the acrimonious relations between the twins and P.T. Barnum, the clever exhibitor of rare spectacles and weirder attractions who took advantage of Chang and Eng and the public. Huang writes that Barnum understood that the American nature was to submit to clever humbug, even when it flaunted the facts.

Huang compares Barnum to a “trickster” who is an engaging confidence man and a colorful figure ubiquitous in literature and film. He dupes others and often dupes himself as well. The trickster does not know either good or evil. He is more amoral than immoral. He is a simple confidence man.

Huang argues that in Barnum’s time, “democracy also became a game of confidence, in the double sense of the word: political representatives gain the trust of the common men and pull a con on them.”

“In nineteenth-century America,” Huang continues, “no one did it better than P. T. Barnum in turning confidence into entertainment; no one was a better trickster than the Prince of Humbugs.”

To become an expert on Chang and Eng, ideally you would want to tackle all three books, but if you can only read one, Fred Kiger, Chapel Hill’s inspirational Civil War and local history speaker, suggested in a recent lecture that you start with the Wallaces’ old standard, The Two, to get the big picture. Then you will want to read the two new books for the rich, more modern perspectives they could bring to your reading table.

Chang and Eng Chronology

May 11, 1811  Conjoined twins are born in a small fishing village in Siam (now Thailand). They are named In and Chun, which became Eng and Chang. Father is Chinese. Mother probably half-Chinese.

1824  Robert Hunter, a Scottish merchant in Siam, sees twins swimming, thinks of them as monsters with potential to attract paying customers in the U.S. and Europe, but is unable to persuade the king to allow their departure from the country.

1829  With the help of sea captain Abel Coffin, the king is persuaded to allow the twins to leave. Coffin and Hunter form a partnership and enter into an agreement with the twins’ mother to pay her $500 and to return the twins within five years.

1829  Arrive in Boston, where they are displayed to crowds. Appear in New York City and other places.

1830  Travel to England in steerage while Coffin and his wife travel in first class.

January 1831  Depart England and return to U.S. (not in steerage this time) in March and resume heavy travel and exhibition schedule.

July 1831  On vacation in Lynnfield, Mass., they are accosted by locals (including Col. Elbridge Gerry, named after the Mass. Governor who gave the Gerrymandering its name).   Twins are charged with disturbing the peace and required to pay $200 bond.

May 1832  Upon reaching 21 years, the twins declare their independence from the Coffin and take charge of their exhibition program.

1835-36  Exhibition of twins in Europe.

1839  The twins retire to Wilkes County, North Carolina, purchase a 150-acre farm in nearby Traphill, build a house, and open a general store.

1843  They become American citizens, adopt the last name Bunker, and marry local sisters. Chang wed Adelaide Yates (1823–1917), while Eng married her sister, Sarah Anne (1822–1892).

1844  Ten months later, each couple has a baby girl, beginning families with a total of more than 20 children.

1846  They move to nearby Surry County, where they build two houses about a mile apart on adjoining tracts of land. The families of each twin stay at their respective houses, while Eng and Chang take turns visiting every three days. They follow this pattern for the rest of their lives.

1849  The twins return to New York to exhibit with 5-year-old daughters, Katherine and Josephine, and find difficult competition from P.T. Barnum and his collection of exhibits such as the popular Tom Thumb. Unsuccessful, they return to N.C. after six weeks.

1853-54  Traveling with Eng’s daughter Kate and Chang’s son Christopher, their tour makes 130 stops and covers 4,700 miles.

1860  They agree to be displayed by the hated P.T. Barnum for the “insulting amount “ of $100 a week.

November 1860  Travel to California via rail crossing in Panama. After exhibiting in San Francisco and Sacramento, they depart California on Feb. 11, 1861.

1861-65  As owners of more than 30 slaves, they support the Confederacy. Two sons who serve in Confederate Army are wounded and captured. The loss of slaves and the value of Confederate assets creates a financial emergency.

Dec. 5, 1868  Under an arrangement with Barnum, twins depart for Great Britain with Kate and Chang’s daughter Nannie.

1869  Mark Twain writes a humorous story inspired by the twins, “The Personal Habits of the Siamese Twins.”

1870  On the Cunard steamer Palmyra returning from England, Chang suffers a stroke. His health declines over the next four years.

Jan. 17, 1874  At age 62, Chang dies, and within hours Eng follows. PS

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Roughing It

Objects may be closer than they appear

By Beth MacDonald

I love camping. I love the smell of fresh, early morning air. I love the quiet, the darkness easing into light, the birds beginning a morning conversation. I love the deep woods, a lake, an ocean, any place to explore. My preferred method was to pitch a tent until we bought an RV last year.

Fortunately, we have friends, Drew and Rollie, who are RV veterans. Drew’s go-to line is, “Something will always go wrong.” I hear it in the voice of Jud Crandall, the character in the movie, Pet Sematary when he says, “The ground is sour.” Drew’s right. I could write an entire book based on last summer alone. Each chapter title would be a mishap. “That Smell Is Your RV,” “You Can’t Make a U-Turn in Trenton, New Jersey,” “You Can Eat Six Muddy Kraft Singles.”

My husband, Mason, is a quick study. Learning the ins and outs of the RV, however, has challenged him. Flushing our plumbing, without fail, puts us in the category of those people — a classification, according to Rollie, that’s viewed suspiciously by the veteran RV community. No matter how diligently he tries to thoroughly complete all the steps, there is an inevitable calamity that requires a HAZMAT suit. Embarrassment ensues, and one can’t face-palm with the “plumbing gloves” on.

The camping community is full of kind and helpful people. Children speed through the parks on bikes, laughing. People stop by your campfire to say hello, pet your dogs, and talk about trucks. Soft sounds of music drift over from other campsites. The transition from tent camping to RV camping has been entirely too easy with all the comforts of home rolling along with you.

Our son is working down by the coast, so we decided to take a trip to visit him last month. I didn’t do much research on the camping resort, forgoing my due diligence and booking the site closest to him. It proved to be a desolate parking lot with the ambience of a place where you’d be murdered in your sleep. There was no shade, a swimming pool that Mason referred to as “marinade for victims,” no laughing children, no drifting music and, worst of all, no trash service.

The day we left, Mason decided to clean the toilets from the inside. He handed me this large wand, attached to a hose that, like a robotic colonoscopy, I had to insert deeply into the interior plumbing. The hose filled up with water faster than fear could fill my heart. Water did not go down, it went up. Potentially blinded by backwash, I doused myself with our daughter’s hand sanitizer. Luckily it also had glitter in it, a lovely accessory to pathogens.

Twenty minutes into our drive home from Camp Creepy, Mason started yelling.

“Oh no! NOOO!”

“What?” I began to think the RV was breaking up like the Enterprise on Star Trek.

He looked at me, eyes wide with fear.

“The trash just got sucked out! ZOOP! It’s gone!” He looked behind him in the side mirror. “OH NO! It just exploded like a hot garbage bomb on that Toyota!” Mason’s voice was cracking with frenzy.

I have an inappropriate response to stress. I laugh hysterically.

Mason pulled over. I tried to speak through the staccato breaths of laughter, tears streaming down my face.

“Is the driver OK? Is the car OK?”

“He didn’t even have time to brake! That man is going to need therapy and a car wash.”

“I’ve never even littered. I pick up trash,” our daughter said from the backseat, as if our steaming trash controversy was going to appear on her permanent record.

“Who doesn’t have trash service? This poor guy is going to be picking my trash out of his grill wondering who drinks Hamm’s beer! We are never coming back here again!” Mason was yelling from across the road as we picked up our trash shrapnel.

I texted Rollie. You’ll never guess what we did this time.

The reply came back instantly. You’re those people!  PS

Beth MacDonald is a Southern Pines suburban misadventurer that likes to make words up. She loves to travel with her family and read everything she can.