Mark Twain and Me

A fascinating seat at the table

By Gayvin Powers

As far as American writers go, Mark Twain is as iconic as Halley’s comet. That’s why I jumped faster than Huckleberry Finn onto a river raft when given the opportunity to have dinner with this immortal being.

Now, I know that Mark Twain isn’t immortal. However, he certainly has been eternal for over a century due to his writing and for 63 years after that, thanks to Hal Holbrook, who created the touring show “Mark Twain Tonight!” before he hung up his white suit for good in 2017.

When I was an aspiring writer in my 20s and madly in love, my boyfriend was putting on “Mark Twain Tonight!” at Stanford University. From the moment Hal sauntered across the stage, I didn’t see him, I saw Twain. I was captivated as Twain came back to life with his white handlebar mustache and stylistic speech, monologuing about subjects of race and equality.

After the performance, a private dining table was set for us with a single yellow rose on it.

“Like my grandfather’s roses,” I thought, waiting for Hal to de-Twain himself. Throughout my life, my grandfather gave me roses from his garden when they were in season. When Hal arrived, he was looking like himself again and accompanied by a bald man with a serious face.

They were clearly not expecting company. Our first interactions could be described as excited on my part, and reserved and guarded on theirs.

Hal’s eyes looked tired, and I couldn’t blame him. He’d just given his Tony award-winning performance under the hot lights for two hours. The most relaxing thing he did on stage was sit in a winged back chair and smoke a cigar — he probably wanted more of that and a glass of whiskey. Instead, he got a plucky Gen-X-er who looked like apple pie but was more like a Red Bull.

I introduced myself. Hal was courteous while the short man grumbled his name.

“That’s my manager,” Hal said. They were quite a pair: Hal was tall with mischievous, curious eyes, and his manager was like a stout boxer.

The four of us ate steak and potatoes while Hal and I talked between bites. I wondered if he had been to the Clifford Powers’ grandchild training academy because every time I asked him a question, he asked one back. Growing up, I was accustomed to talking with my grandfather, which was more like an interview. Hal was just shy of achieving this level of interrogation.

“You enjoyed the show?” he asked me.

“It was amazing! How did you come up with the idea to perform Mark Twain?” I asked. He took a bite, letting the question hang in the air. “Did you write it too?” I added.

“Do your parents live near here?” he replied.

“No. My mother passed away a few years ago,” I said, fluttering my eyelashes to force the tears back down. “And I’m closer with my grandfather than my dad.”

“I was an actor,” he said, giving me the version that one gives a youngster. “I wanted to act. Making the show let me to do that.”

I found out later that Hal had invented his celebrated performance out of necessity. He was out of work, his wife had postpartum depression, his parents were gone, and he was alone. Prior to “Mark Twain Tonight!” he had never read any of Twain’s books. His manager recommended he create the one-man show, and Hal did it to feed his family.

Later he asked, “Did you know, Mark Twain created the Angel Fish and Aquarium Club for girls after his wife and daughter died?”

I had no idea. Hal clearly admired Twain. He shared how Samuel Clemens, Twain’s real name, went on tour when his fortune ran dry — even though he hated touring.

“So, both of you were on the road, leading similar lives,” I said.

“In a way.”

With the last of the crème brûlée devoured, Hal said, “You should take the rose.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I think you should have it.” He looked puzzled. “Then you can take it home to your wife, and she’ll know that you thought of her while you were on the road.”

As if seeing me for the first time, his eyes softened as he said, “Why, thank you. I’ll do that.”

He put the flower in his lapel.

“Gayvin, what do you want to do?” Hal asked me.

“I want to be a writer.”

“Then you need to write. Write your own material. Don’t wait for someone else.”

With that, he gave me a hug goodbye, and for a brief moment I felt like one of Twain’s Angel Fish.  PS

Gayvin Powers is author of The Adventure of Iona Fay series and writing coach at Soul Sisters Write. She can be reached at


Simple Life

The Reluctant Pilgrim

By Jim Dodson

Two decades ago, on the eve of the new millennium, the acclaimed Cambridge biologist Rupert Sheldrake was asked what single change in human behavior could make a better world.

Every tourist, he replied, should become a pilgrim.

Sheldrake earned the distinction of being the “world’s most controversial scientist” because he rejected the conventional belief that nature and the universe can only be explained by scientific data. 

His journey from atheism to an ever-expanding spiritual awareness and eventual embrace of his Christian heritage produced several fine books on the subject along the way, but it began with his simple curiosity about the common spiritual practices of the world’s religious traditions, highlighted by pilgrimages that awakened and expanded his own evolving views of human consciousness. 

What Sheldrake was getting at, I think, was that a tourist travels the world in search of new experiences that provide superficial pleasure or delight, a material quest, if you will, that looks outward rather than probing inward.

A pilgrim, on the other hand, travels over unknown territory with an open mind and spirit willing to face any physical obstacle that arises, stepping out of the daily routine to deepen one’s awareness of a divine presence and the journey within. Pilgrimages are as old  and varied as the world’s many religions, personal journeys that mean different things to every pilgrim. 

Two decades ago, I took my dying father on a journey back to England and Scotland to play the golf courses where he learned to play the game as a lonely airman just before D-Day. Ours wasn’t a conventional spiritual pilgrimage, I suppose, though in retrospect I see it as something akin. For 10 days we traveled and talked about his life and mine, leaving nothing unspoken between us, ushering his long journey to a beautiful close and enriching mine in ways I’m still counting up today.

A couple of years later, in the midst of an unexpected divorce, my young daughter, Maggie, and our elderly golden retriever spent an entire summer camping and fly-fishing our way to the fabled trout streams of the West. Like a couple of modern-day pilgrims from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales — or maybe a Hope-and-Crosby road movie — we went in search of new meaning and old rivers, lost the dog briefly in Yellowstone, blew up the truck in Oklahoma, saw soul-stirring countryside and met a host of colorful characters who made us laugh and cry, creating a bond my daughter and I share to this day.

When Maggie’s little brother, Jack, asked to have his own mythic adventure, we took off the summer before 9/11 hoping to see every wonder of the Classical World. Owing to events in a suddenly unraveling planet, age-old conflicts in the Middle East, China and Africa, we only got as far as the island of Crete before turning for home. But traveling together through the ruins of a mythological world — following the footsteps of Homer and Herodotus, Marcus Aurelius and Aristotle — brought us both a deeper understanding of how we got here. Today, my son works as a documentary journalist in the Middle East, still trying to make sense of its age-old conflicts.

As it happens, I wrote books about these family adventures, which in my mind perfectly fit the definition of a spiritual pilgrimage, a journey over unknown ground that mystically leaves the traveler changed for the better.   

Last August, my wife and I joined 30 other pilgrims from our Episcopal Church for a more traditional spiritual walk along the Via Francigena — the ancient pathway linking Canterbury to Rome. In Medieval times, Christian pilgrims traveled the long road to pay homage to the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul before catching ships to the Holy Land. 

I’ll confess, at first I was hesitant to go — a reluctant pilgrim who prefers to walk alone — or with only one or two others on such travels.

In a sense, my wife and I reversed this ancient tradition by making our first trip to the Holy Land weeks before our Tuscan walk to attend my son Jack’s wedding to a lovely Palestinian gal he met in graduate school at Columbia University.  The wedding festivities lasted several nights in Old Jaffa, the ancient port town next to Tel Aviv, where legend holds that Saint Peter received his vision to take Christianity to the gentiles of the Levant.

For the father of the groom, perhaps the most moving moment of this life-changing journey came on the morning of the ceremony when my wife, daughter and her fiancé Nathanial went for a swim on the beautiful beach that links the modern city of Tel Aviv to the ancient one of Jaffa. Afterward, following Arab tradition, I walked to the Char family patriarch’s house to ask permission for his beautiful granddaughter to marry my son. Tannous, 77, smiled and gave his blessing and we shared an embrace as both familiess applauded and music broke out.

An hour or so later, the wedding took place at a stunning basilica on the bluffs over the Mediterranean Sea. The rooftop celebration went on well after midnight beneath a full summer moon, prompting my own bride and me to slip away and stand on Jaffa’s famous Bridge of Wishes, where we quietly renewed our own wedding vows — for it was our wedding anniversary, too.  As we walked home to bed through Jaffa’s moonlit streets, I suddenly remembered that I’d left my watch on the beach where we swam that afternoon.

True, it was only an inexpensive Timex Expedition watch, one of half a dozen Expeditions I’ve owned — and lost — over the decades. But in this instance, it seemed like a metaphor for our travel through time and space.

The last full day of this family pilgrimage was spent following a scholar from Hebrew University through the familiar and rarely explored corners of Old Jerusalem, whose famous public spaces — the Wailing Wall, the Via Delorosa, the Church of the Sepulcher, the Dome of the Rock — were jammed with tourists throwing down money on “holy” relics and cheap souvenirs while young Israeli guards kept watch with Uzis in hand, a stunning contrast that made these famous pilgrimage sites feel oddly oppressive.

It was only in the much quieter Armenian and Christian sectors of the old city, where tourists rarely venture and the churches are spectacular, airy and cool, that I found myself breathing easier and wondering why the so-called holy sites had felt anything but.

An answer of sorts revealed itself weeks later when we set off on foot with our fellow pilgrims on the Via Francigena, an 80-mile walk through the stunning countryside and soulful hill towns of Tuscany.

On our first day out, we walked 18 miles through lush vineyards and olive orchards — sampling ripening grapes and recently cured olives as we went — traversing a forest where the annual wild boar hunt had just begun. Owing to my dodgy knees, I volunteered to be a sweeper bringing up the rear of the group, a pattern I repeated all week. This allowed me to walk at my own pace, get to know other pilgrims who took their turn bringing up the rear, and travel at my leisure, frequently by myself for hours at a time, entirely off the clock of the world and my lost Expedition watch — as our group leader Greg liked to say — off the hamster wheel of our lives.

At the end of each grueling hike, I enjoyed getting to know my fellow travelers over pasta and good red wine, rowdy fellowship and swapping tales of blistered feet and the day’s ah-ha! moments.  The excellent gelato cured a lot of what ailed my aching feet and muscles.

For this pilgrim, however, it was the quiet hours of walking alone or with my wife that I came to savor most, following a stony trail traveled by untold thousands before us across the ages, through deep forests or over sweeping hilltops where distant villages and Medieval abbeys — our destination each day — sat like painted kingdoms in a Medici fresco.

My only real concern was the fabled Tuscan heat of late summer. But after walking for two days in the heat, something rather marvelous happened.

I emerged from a deep glen where I’d stopped to look at chestnut trees and wild mushrooms to find Wendy waiting for me on a rise in the stony road, just as a thunderstorm broke and a cooling rain fell. Over the hill, we came upon idle orchards and an abandoned farmhouse being reclaimed by the wild. 

We sheltered there for a while, soaking in the glorious rain, looking at the vacant rooms, wondering about the people who once called this beautiful ruin a home half a century ago or just last year.

Unexpectedly, I found this to be the most moving moment of the entire pilgrimage, a reminder of our own brief walk through the storms of life and a changing universe. Wendy was kind enough to take a photograph of it.

The rain mercifully followed us to Siena and Rome, where the skies cleared, the sun bobbed out, the heat returned and the summer tourists swarmed over the Vatican and its celebrated museums.

I bailed out halfway on the official Vatican tour, feeling as oppressed by the grandeur of  monumental Rome as the holy relics of Old Jerusalem, concluding I must either be a poor excuse for a Christian pilgrim or a true country mouse.

Back home, I had a friend who is a gifted artist secretly paint the abandoned farmhouse, and gave it to my wife for Christmas.

She loved the painting but joked that it was really for me. I couldn’t disagree, pointing out that I also gave myself a new Expedition watch for our next pilgrimage.  PS

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at

Golftown Journal

In the Loop

No Pinehurst but plenty of character

By Lee Pace

Had the producers of the new film Loopers: The Caddie’s Long Walk been able to get to Pinehurst to interview some of the men who have toted golf bags on the venerable No. 2 course, they could have heard Thomas Trinchitella speak of working for former President George H.W. Bush for two days in 2003, or carrying for Tiger Woods for two rounds prior to the 2005 U.S. Open.

“This was the week before the Open,” Trinchitella, who has been caddying at Pinehurst since 2001 and is one of 18 members of the Pinehurst Caddie Hall of Fame, would have told them. “Tiger gave (regular caddie) Steve Williams the week off. We go off at 7 a.m. and the fog’s so thick I can’t tell where the flag is on the first green. I knew it was middle or back. So I give him the back yardage.

“I’m sweating walking up to the green. We get there and I see his ball 20 feet left of the flag. It was the right yardage, just left. That just determines whether he’s going to believe what you say or whether you’re just the bag-toter. He just went by my yardage the rest of the day. It was a great experience. He talked about anything and everything. Couldn’t have been nicer.”

Had they gotten to Willie McRae before his death in October 2018, McRae could have regaled them with stories of 75 years of caddying and strolling the fairways with five presidents, baseball great Mickey Mantle, basketball icon Michael Jordan, and golf hall of famers Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead. He could have shared some of his favorite one-liners, like the one when a putt had a chance to fall but veered off at the end.

“That was a mother-in-law. It looked good leaving,” McRae liked to say to guffaws all around.

Alas, the producers made it to Scotland and Ireland, to Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes and Augusta National. But not to Pinehurst, where men carrying golf bags have been part of the landscape since the late 1880s.

“It would have been great to get to Pinehurst,” says Ward Clayton, one of the producers. “But in the end, we could only get to so many people. There are so many great stories about caddies all over the country.”

The Loopers documentary opened in early 2019 and by early summer had been seen in 30 states across the country and in the United Kingdom. The one-hour, 20-minute film will be out on DVD in late August and is available for golf clubs to rent for private showings. Actor and comedian Bill Murray, who starred in the 1980 movie Caddyshack and caddied as a boy in Illinois, narrates the lively film that traces the history of the caddie and his evolution through centuries of the game.

“What a great tribute to a profession that is so important to the game of golf,” Pinehurst President Tom Pashley told a group of resort caddies after a showing in June at the Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines. “We absolutely recognize how important the four or five hours you spend with a player is to their overall experience at Pinehurst. We celebrate the tradition of the player-caddie relationship.”

The film is the union of ideas and passions from two golfers from opposite sides of the country.

Jim Packer had spent 25 years making movies in Hollywood (Jersey Boys, Winter’s Tale of recent note) and in his spare time playing golf at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles and developing a close relationship with his regular caddie.

Clayton, a native of Durham who has spent his career in golf journalism and public relations, developed a reservoir of stories about old-time Augusta caddies and the Masters Tournament when he was sports editor of The Augusta Chronicle from 1991-2000. He turned those tales of colorful characters with nicknames like Iron Man, Pappy, Cemetery and Stovepipe into a 2004 book, Men on the Bag: The Caddies of Augusta National.

Packer thought there was a story to tell, that caddies had never been properly saluted in a quality, full-length documentary. Reading Clayton’s book helped further develop the idea.

“Jim always thought that caddies got the short straw — what they do, how they deal with people in guiding them around the golf course and interacting with them psychologically — he felt that story needed more depth and could be told,” Clayton says. “The intention of this was not only for the people that are golfers, but for people who are outside of golf, to understand what role the caddie has and what they do. If you think of any sport, it’s the only one where you have somebody standing right beside you when you hit your shot.”

They hired a team of directors, cameramen, writers and editors to produce the film, Packer as executive producer and Clayton a producer.

“The essential message of the film is this: If you’ve never played a round of golf with a caddie, you’re missing out,” says Clayton, today a PR and communications consultant in Jacksonville, Florida. “I don’t know what percentage of golfers have ever played with a caddie. I was 17 or 18 when I first had a caddie. I was with some friends from Durham in Pinehurst and we got on No. 2 and took caddies. It was an awesome experience.”

The film tells the story of loopers at esteemed clubs like St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Prestwick in Scotland, and Ballybunion and Lahinch in Ireland. It tells of Arnold Palmer’s relationship with Augusta caddie Nathaniel “Iron Man” Avery and interviews Fuzzy Zoeller about how he won the 1979 Masters playing at Augusta for the first time with the help of a local caddie named Jariah “Jerry” Beard.

It explores Ben Crenshaw’s relationship with Augusta caddie Carl Jackson, Nick Faldo’s with Fanny Sunesson and Tom Watson’s with Bruce Edwards. Other professional caddies interviewed include Williams (Woods’ former caddie), Pete Bender (Greg Norman and others) and Michael Greller (Jordan Spieth).

The movie traces the evolution of the Evans Scholars Program, in which high school caddies can earn college scholarships, and ferrets out lesser-known tales like that of Greg Puga, who grew up in East Los Angeles, learned to caddie at Bel-Air, and rode the passion he developed for golf into eventually qualifying as an amateur to play in the Masters.

Clayton says one of the most gratifying elements of working on the film was taking the sad tale of a long-deceased Augusta caddie and doing him a good turn.

“Iron Man” Avery caddied for Palmer at Augusta until the late 1960s and was on the bag for all four of Palmer’s Masters wins (1958, ‘60, ‘62, 64). But in later years, Avery had a difficult life, died in 1985 at the age of 46, and was buried in Augusta in an unmarked grave. Through the process of making the film, Clayton was able to find a donor who contributed funds to have a grave marker produced and placed on Avery’s grave. 

“For 37 years his grave went unmarked,” Clayton says. “Now it has a headstone with his name and lists his Masters wins with Arnold Palmer. It’s the coolest thing.”

The film makes a concerted effort to challenge the old saw that a caddie’s job is to “Show up, shut up and keep up.” Michael Collins, a former PGA Tour caddie now an ESPN reporter, says, “If that’s all a player sees in his caddie, he’s not winning today.” By probing under the surface of the relationships of top professionals and their caddies, the message comes across loudly that the caddie is so much more at the top level of the game — part psychologist, friend, servant, conversationalist and swing coach.

Of course, it’s a little more basic on the one-off resort level like Pinehurst.

“That’s the old standard, right?” says Trinchitella of that simplistic definition of a caddie’s job. “It’s not a bad policy until you figure out what your player wants. The first thing you do is help them relax and feel comfortable. On No. 2, everyone’s nervous on the first tee. First, it’s a famous golf course. And second, you’ve got someone else watching your golf game. A lot of people aren’t used to that if they’re a 20 or 25 handicapper.

“You just try to get them to relax. There’s nothing I haven’t seen and nowhere I haven’t been.”  PS

Lee Pace has written about the Pinehurst golf scene for more than 30 years. For more information on the movie and its availability in theaters, go to Clubs and golf associations can set up private showings by clicking 

The Kitchen Garden

Sandhills Melon

Slice it any way you like

By Jan Leitschuh

When the heat is on, the kitchen is the last place you want to be, unless it’s rummaging in the refrigerator. Luckily for the Sandhills, the melon bonanza of July — starting with the first local watermelons on Independence Day -— continues on through the first few weeks of August. So don’t delay if you haven’t gotten your summer Sandhills melon on.

Sandhills melons are dessert in a rind. Breakfast too. Crisp. Juicy. Cool and sweet. And healthy. What’s not to devour?

On a hot and thirsty day, they are hydrating with their high water content — up to 90 percent, making for a juicy and sweet texture. Blended with a little mint or basil, it’s the ultimate healthy electrolyte sports drink, refreshing after mowing the lawn.

The Sandhills grows melons quite well. Apparently, this viny fruit enjoys our “light land,” that is, the sandy soils, which don’t hold certain nutrients that promote vine growth at the expense of fruit. The sand helps concentrate flavor instead of growing rampant greenery. Wholesale buyers are said to pour in from other areas because of the delectable sweetness of our Sandhills melons.

Melon versatility is another mark in their favor. A simple slice enhances any meal as a colorful and healthy sideshow. Melon can be eaten as dessert in combo with other fruits, or with prosciutto as a light meal. Melon bits can be added to salads, blended into cold summer soups, as fruit slurry added to boozy cocktails, as drinks and juices, as sorbets and granitas. Where does something so tasty get off being healthy? Melons contain folate, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin A, copper, iron, phosphorus and manganese.

Melons are members of the Cucurbitaceae family, which makes them the sweeter relatives of squashes and juicy cucumbers. Although often grouped together, most sweet melons fall into two broad categories: watermelons and muskmelons. You may have heard folks referring to cantaloupes as muskmelons — all cantaloupes are muskmelons, but not all muskmelons are cantaloupes.

Another benefit of buying local melons comes from the way they are harvested. Not having to ship them long distances, a Sandhills grower can let the melon linger to ripe perfection, at which point it “slips” from the vine. Slip-ripe melon should be eaten within a day or two because they are . . . wait for it . . . ripe. Peak melon here has a flavor that is next to impossible to sample out of season. Dive in! They won’t hold. And slip-ripe Sandhills melons deserve to be eaten at their peak. This is one of the supreme benefits of local food — the taste of a fully mature melon.

Although melons are refreshing when served chilled, refrigeration does diminish their flavor, so serving at room temperature is ideal. Or try grilling them: Cooking concentrates their sugars even further. I have even dried melons in a dehydrator for healthy hiking snacks — you don’t end up with much volume but, wow, what a zing of flavor.

In choosing a good melon, first look at the stem scar. A smooth, hollowed scar indicates that the melon was harvested slip-ripe. If a piece of the stem remains, it may have been harvested too early.

For thinner-skinned melons, press very gently on the bottom of the melon, opposite the stem end. If the skin is easy to depress, the melon is ideal for eating.

That wonderful melon fragrance is another clue. A sweet, musky aroma, produced by enzymes that generate more than 200 different fruit esters, also signals ripeness.

Inspect the outside. Does it have any bruising, cracks, moldy patches or soft spots? If there is, pass it by. You should always inspect the melon’s skin, or rind, before you do anything else, because if there are any imperfections on the outside of the melon, there is likely something wrong with the inside as well.

While you’re inspecting your melon, make sure you pick it up and test how heavy it is. If you notice the melon is larger and heavier than expected, it’s a good melon to choose.

The thump test really is “A Thing.” Take the palm of your hand and tap the melon a few times on its skin. If you notice a sound that is very hollow in nature, your melon has promise.

Some common types you’ll find in area markets and farm stands are:

• Cantaloupes. Common, and the most nutrient-rich of our Sandhills melons. The exterior has a rough “netting” atop its creamy rind. The rich, pale orange flesh has a light and sweet flavor, and it can grow from less than one pound to several pounds in weight. Cantaloupes are high in Vitamin A and numerous antioxidants. These netted melons are easy to digest, contribute to vision and eye health, and have a high beta-carotene content, which is great for knocking out free radicals. A sun-warmed, slip-ripe cantaloupe just begs to be paired with prosciutto. Or blend chunks with frozen mango or orange juice. A splash of Grand Mariner liqueur would not be out of place.

• Honeydews. The green counterpart to cantaloupes, pale green honeydews and peach-colored cantaloupes are often paired together in salads. Honeydews have a higher sugar content than either watermelons or Sandhills cantaloupes. As a honeydew ripens, its rind develops a sticky, velvety feel and turns from green to creamy pale green. The honeydew melon usually grows in a round or oval shape, with a very smooth rind, weighing from a pound to several pounds. Honeydew is popular as a dessert ingredient, but I love to juice it for drinks and frozen ices. Blend chunks of honeydew with mint, lime and a little sweetener, then freeze, beating periodically to reduce the ice crystals. Non-alcoholic honeydew mojitos, practically. Scoop the frozen crystals as snow cones for the kids, or serve as a palette cleanser if you want to go all “Downton Abbey.” Another tangy option is to combine honeydew chunks with lime and basil and do the same. Serve as a sorbet, or add rum, triple sec, tequila or a spirit of choice for a grown-up porch-sittin’ sipper.

• Watermelons. Everybody eats these thick-rind fruits. There are almost 50 varieties of watermelon. They taste similar but vary in size, flesh color (mostly pink or red but also yellow, white and orange), and are seedless or seeded. The most popular red-fleshed varieties are rich in the useful antioxidant lycopene. It carries the highest lycopene per serving of any fruit or vegetable. Watermelon can be sliced and chunked, pickled, candied, fermented, injected with one’s favorite spirits or made into a syrup, and its spit seeds have provided children with amusement for generations. The newer “icebox” varieties are handy if you are not feeding a picnic crowd. They tend to be smaller, and virtually seedless. Still, watermelon takes up room in the fridge, so if you are short on space, cut it into chunks and discard the heavy rind. Fresh watermelon chunked in a spinach salad with feta cheese is a cool summer classic. A ripe watermelon has dull, not shiny, skin, and the lighter colored part of the rind, where the melon rested on the ground, should be yellow or creamy, not green or white. A light tap to the rind should produce a hollow sound.

• Sprite melons. Here is the answer to big melons. This little personal-sized melon is perfect for a small treat. It’s about the size of a baseball or softball. Serve half for breakfast with some berries or a prune in the center. The sprite melon looks like a tiny cantaloupe, complete with a round shape and seeds on the inside. The skin of the sprite melon is ivory in color, and it develops brown markings when it ripens. The flavor is delicious. To me, it has a subtle pear flavor in with its melon-ness. A sprite is up to 35 percent sweeter than any other type of melon, so popular with fruit lovers. This is a true dessert melon.

• Canary melon. Named for its bright yellow rind, that yellow skin is as bright as a canary bird. This oval-shaped melon has a hard skin and a pale flesh, and weighs a pound or three. I’m very fond of canary melons, and grab them whenever I find them. The cream-colored flesh has a mild, sweet, slightly tangy flavor and a texture similar to a pear. Originally from Persia, canary melons pair well with citrus and herbs, such as basil and cilantro, and are good for making sorbets and granitas.

• Korean melon. You might find these small cuties around the Sandhills, although they are not common. Snag one if you see them. Another smaller, personal-sized variety, this little elongated yellow-and-white striped melon is cheerful. Korean melon is smaller than the other melons. It has white color flesh and unique flavor. It’s mildly sweet, juicy and is delicious when eaten in a salad. Its small size is perfect for those just wanting a melon “taste,” but don’t want to deal with a larger melon. The flavor is between a honeydew and a cucumber. In fact, it makes an interesting salad sliced with cucumbers and dressed in balsamic vinegar. The sweetness is lower than other western melon varieties but very juicy — 90 percent water — and refreshing.

• Crenshaw. You can sometimes find these around the Sandhills markets. Again, grab them when you find them, as they probably won’t make a reappearance. It’s a hybrid type of melon with a sweet, juicy salmon-orange flesh. It’s ovoid in shape with greenish-yellow skin. This variety is popular, and pretty in a fruit salad.

The Sandhills melon season is brief but worthy. Grab a slip-ripe melon from a local farmer and enjoy.  PS

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


Sporting Life

An Ear to the Ground

Sometimes you can hear the past

By Tom Bryant

It was a child’s trick remembered from early days growing up in proximity to the railroad tracks. I leaned down, put my ear to one of the rails and listened. The sound was barely discernable: a thin, humming, almost-not-there pitch. If I hadn’t done it before, I wouldn’t have known what the sound represented.

I was in Pinebluff, my old stomping grounds, aimlessly riding around the area, recalling days when I was a youngster and how much fun we had camping, exploring, growing and learning. I was standing in the middle of the railroad tracks, looking south toward Addor. I left my old Bronco parked off Pinebluff Road under an ancient pine and walked north on the tracks to locate the little sand pit that used to be nestled on the east side of the railroad.

As Boy Scouts, we camped in the area many years ago. The little cut-back in the short brush to the camping spot was easy to find, and the site looked basically the same as it did when our old Scout Troop 206 used it, maybe a little smaller. To me, as an adult, everything in Pinebluff seems smaller.

On the way back to the Bronco, I remembered how to put my ear on the track to see if I could hear an approaching train, an old trick discovered by the native Americans when they were fighting the railroads and “iron horses,” as they called the black smoke-belching locomotives. I probably learned the trick from a Roy Rogers Western in the old, long-gone Aberdeen Theatre.

It worked. There was a definite hum when I placed my ear to the rail. The sound was growing louder, but I couldn’t see anything because of a slight curve in the tracks to the south. I slowly climbed the embankment that overlooked the tracks and settled down to wait and see if the noise in the rails turned into a rumbling iron horse.

The whistle of the freight train in the distance indicated it was getting close, so I performed another tradition just as we youngsters did in the old days. I hustled down the slight incline and placed a penny on the rail. Shoot, what the heck, inflation has caught up with us, so I put a quarter beside the penny and went back to my observation point.

In just a few minutes, the huge freight train rumbled around the bend, moving slowly as it labored up the slight grade toward Aberdeen. It was massive; and as always, the sight of the big engines blowing diesel smoke had not lost its magnificence to me as I watched it move on north and out of sight.

It took a while to find the flattened quarter, and I never did find the penny, probably stuck to the wheel or lodged in the underbelly of the rail car. I took one last glance up the track toward Aberdeen and hiked back to the Bronco.

A lot has changed since, as a youngster, I walked the tracks from the ice plant in Aberdeen to our home in Pinebluff, hunting along the way. I would range out in the woods on either side of the tracks like a close hunting bird dog. I was hunting for anything in season. The game bag usually leaned heavily toward squirrels, though. When I got home, I’d clean the game, and Mom would store it in the freezer until we had enough for a real wild game feast.

My attraction to trains began early, at least according to my mother. During World War II, while Dad was moving around the country being trained for the Navy, Mom and I, an infant not yet 1 year old, followed him. We would find a small apartment and stay there until he moved on to the next training camp. Like most of the rest of the country, during those war-torn years, we always traveled by train.

After the war, Dad mustered out of the Navy in Washington D.C., boarded a slow-moving passenger train and rode it home to South Carolina. I think that was his last train ride. Although he didn’t travel by train anymore, they were an integral part of his work experience. He was the superintendent of the ice plant in Aberdeen. The plant, City Products Inc., loomed over the tracks a couple of miles south of the town. Fruit and produce freight car activity was constant 24 hours a day. A platform off to the side in the middle of switching tracks could handle 50 freight cars and enabled the plant to get ice into bunkers to refrigerate products on their way north or west.

Ice plants were strategically positioned along the north-south freight train run, enabling timely icing all the way north. I can remember plants in Florida at Miami, Lakeland, Sanford and Jacksonville, and in Florence, South Carolina, and Aberdeen, North Carolina. Aberdeen was the most productive and could manufacture and store 25,000 tons of ice. The plant was built to accommodate the Seaboard Railroad’s largest switching yard near Hamlet, North Carolina. This was where trains were made up for their ultimate destination. Seventy-five trains could be assembled for points north, south and west. It was a huge operation, and the ice plant in Aberdeen played a major part in Seaboard’s shipping plans. It was so important that the railroad had a fully staffed office in the ice plant with personnel who kept up with rail cars that needed refrigeration. The Seaboard official’s office was immediately adjacent to my dad’s.

On several occasions, I accompanied my father when he called on Seaboard offices at the switching yard in Hamlet. The yard was massive and always filled with activity with yard switching engines assembling trains for their ultimate destination. Hamlet was dubbed the “Hub of the Seaboard,” with five Seaboard Air Line railroad lines leading from the town and, at its high point, 30 passenger train departures each day.

A few days after my sojourn to the railroad tracks in Pinebluff, Linda, my bride, and I made the short ride to Hamlet to visit the restored railroad depot and see the old switching yard of the Seaboard. The CSX railroad company now owns the yard and uses it for the maintenance of freight cars.

The depot is magnificent. It received the Historic Preservation of North Carolina’s 2005 Carraway Award for outstanding restoration work by public agencies. The station is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of the finest restored depots I’ve ever visited and was well worth our trip.

The switching yard is now more dedicated to maintenance, and not much was going on when we were there. I’ve even heard a rumor that CSX is slowly putting it in mothballs.

The Hamlet railroad depot? Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage service now, and only two trains come through a day.

The City Products ice plants are history. Not one left. Shortly after my return to Southern Pines, I drove down the narrow dirt road that was the only way to get to the plant by car. Nothing can be seen of the massive original structure, which was, in the past, Moore County’s largest building and you might even say Aberdeen’s skyline. All that remains is broom straw and pine trees.  PS

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

Art Here, Art There, Art Everywhere

A cozy family home doubles as a gallery for animal behaviorist

By Deborah Salomon     Photographs By John Koob Gessner

A sandy, rutted, quarter-mile driveway off Pee Dee Road ends at a white clapboard house with enough wings to take flight. Its front yard is a grass pasture sized for soccer, or football, or equestrian trials. Somewhere on the 150-acre estate are remnants of a tennis court. Yet the exterior suggests a family home, more comfy than pretentious, despite its 6,000-square-foot interior.

The sign by the front porch reads Whitehall — not for London’s government center, but because the man who built it during the development of Knollwood in the 1920s was named White, or Whitehouse.

One legend has this wealthy New Yorker losing his fortune in the 1929 stock market crash — and committing suicide.

Lacking a documented pedigree, Whitehall speaks for itself through Dr. Barbara Sherman — veterinarian, author, respected animal behavioral specialist, clinical professor at N.C. State College of Veterinary Medicine — who has occupied the house for 20 years.

From the outset, Sherman saw it as more than a sprawling residence offering both beauty and privacy. “The light, the bay windows and curved walls, the moldings, the space” suggested a gallery. She is a connoisseur and collector of sculpture,  pieces displayed on pedestals acquired during travels to galleries and showings, preferably where the artist is present.

“I am intrigued and often moved by artistic expression — not sure why, but some contemporary art speaks to me,” she says. “I feel pleasure living with it and by purchasing it, supporting the artists, learning how they found their way.”

Understandable, since “my parents collected sculpture.”

Her involvement, more likely passion, begins with the sculpture outside the front door, which she describes as an ocean stone rounded by the sand and inexorable movement of the sea, with contrasting sharp lines of the artist’s cut and the potent symbolism of the center circle, all mounted on a steel base.

“It almost seemed an altar to the miracle of nature.”

Once inside, Sherman lovingly strokes a ceramic elephant fossil displayed in the small sitting room off a foyer where a wall-mounted metal torso flanks the front door.

Now, first-time visitors know what lies beyond.

The house, purchased from the Drexel family, was once a hub for the six Drexel children and their friends. To accommodate the crowd, in addition to a huge living room, the Drexels added an even larger family room, where over the fireplace hangs a piece of geometric fiber art designed by Alexander Calder.

David Drexel was a popular Boy Scoutmaster who held events at Whitehall, recalled fondly by Scout Bob Ganis: “We would walk from Whitehall to a small pond in the woods to swim. That pond still exists as a water feature at Talamore golf course.”

Daughter Tina (Drexel) Adams remembers raising chickens and pigs: “I used to ride along in Dad’s truck delivering eggs.” She also recalls giving birth to her middle daughter there.

Sherman spent a year renovating without altering Whitehall’s character or floor plan. The rooms, like a maze, connect with each other rather than radiating from a hallway. A garage and screen porch were added, where Sherman sits and watches red-tailed hawks and deer. Original heart pine floors were refinished but not stained. Cherry cabinetry in the new kitchen channels the Arts and Crafts period. Even here a pedestal supporting a buffalo sculpture fronts a bare window, while another flat piece hangs over the sink. Large abstract paintings and landscapes, one by Evelyn Dempsey, decorate the passageway from kitchen to family dining room, delineated by an Oriental rug, one of dozens throughout the house.

The renovation included skylights and all systems, but not bathrooms tiled in that 1950s froggy green rarely seen since. “Look at the tiles, the workmanship,” Sherman says. “Before they came (in sheets), each tile was laid individually.”

Of all Whitehall’s randomly situated rooms, one stands out. Located just beyond the small sitting room, this might have been a sunroom, with tall windows on three sides and the arched ceiling. Aside from several pedestals and a carpet, its only occupant is a jointed life-sized wooden block figure reclining on the floor, titled The Pine Man, which Sherman found in Cleveland.

When art comes first, integrating furnishings can be tricky. Sherman respected no boundaries. “My mother was an interior designer” who contributed many exquisite European pieces, including an inlaid dining table, lovely enough to leave bare when in use. Just as impressive, several burled highboys and a glass-front cabinet displaying a collection of about 40 fine china demitasse cups, some rimmed in gold. They belonged to Sherman’s grandmother, who lived in Greensboro.

“Do I look like a demitasse person?” Sherman smiles, wryly.

The showpiece, however, is a table piano dated 1791 made by Sebastien Erard, an 18th century French instrument crafter who received commissions from Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. According to a music history, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Verdi, Wagner and Mendelssohn also owned Erard pianos.

For the rest, Sherman chose plain, stocky tables, sandy-neutral leather chairs and upholstered sofas that do not draw attention away from the art and antiques. “Simple, handcrafted, esthetic” were her requirements.

For years Sherman drove almost daily to Raleigh. Once home, Whitehall fulfilled her need for nature. “I love being in the woods and observing the natural world around me.” This fulfillment has been shared with the public since David Drexel approached the newly formed Sandhills Area Land Trust (SALT) to establish a conservation easement. Therefore, the Whitehall Trail, a 2-mile loop and 57 acres surrounding it, will be reserved for public use forever. The rough, often leaf-covered trail is open to walkers (with or without dogs), joggers and cyclists, but not horses.

Sherman’s daughter is grown and gone. Since retirement, she and scruffy rescue terrier Jasper don’t need 6,000 square feet on 150 acres. They are moving closer to the horses she loves and understands, and a human community of the like-minded. Perhaps Whitehall will find new purpose as a proper gallery, or an organization’s performance/educational/arts space, she muses.

“Life has changed. I want to divest myself of so many material things, have less to be responsible for, live at a different rhythm.” This applies to mowing the pasture on a ride-on, but not to her collections.

“It is remarkable that people can create such things,” she says. “I will always want to be surrounded by art and nature.”  PS

Papadaddy’s Mindfield

Summer Daze

When being outdoors was a terrifying adventure

By Clyde Edgerton

It was a hot summer day. 1951. In my memories of my seventh year, all summer days were hot ones, calling for me to go outside and get into them. There was no air conditioning yet in any home in our neighborhood, so there were no cool, enticing places except by a creek in the woods. You wouldn’t be caught dead inside a house — even looking at the little Emerson black and white TV. You couldn’t pull up a Minecraft adventure, or a video game, or a YouTube on that little machine. Life was outside.

Don Mitchell and Norris Campbell were on their bikes out in the yard. Did
I want to go see a dead snake? Of course I did.

We were off, down the dirt road we lived on — on our bicycles — a right turn into the Goodwins’ driveway, which kept going behind their house, straight ahead on through the church graveyard, onto school grounds, by the ballfield, and on to a less familiar place down behind the school. They were in the lead, we were pedaling right along.

My Roy Rogers bike (Roy was a cowboy movie star back then) had a saddlebag like a horse and a small molded head of Roy’s horse, Trigger, between the handle bars. (Bumping along on my bike, I could never have dreamed nor been persuaded that Roy Rogers would one day be unknown to most anyone alive.) Don veered slightly to the left around a large, ground- level square of cement; Norris veered right. I saw no reason to avoid it — it was about the size of a room. I didn’t notice that a deep ditch filled with growing green grass was around the perimeter of the cement.

The bike’s front wheel dropped into the ditch, the bike stopped, I kept going, my hands out in front of me. When I gained some sense of where I was, I was sitting on the cement, staring at my right hand. Where the thumb connects to the hand looked like no thumb joint I’d ever seen; the thumb was off at an angle, and a bone was pushing up from somewhere, but not breaking through the skin; it looked absurdly irregular. I screamed and started crying loudly. I have a vague sense that Don and Norris were with me all the way home, one of them pushing my bike.

My next clear memory is of my mother staring at my hand, asking me to sit on the front steps of our house, while she goes into the neighborhood to find a car so she can take me to the emergency room. My father is at work with our car. And next comes Teresa . . . oh gosh, last name escapes me. Teresa stands before me. She’s my age.

“What happened?” she asks.

“I think I broke my thumb,” I say, between sobs. I’m crying from fear as much as from pain — my thumb is deformed.

Teresa reaches out and gently takes my arm, turns it so she can get a good look. She announces: “They might have to take it off.”

Those words seared me — are still seared into my memory.

I tell the story above because it’s a story. And because it happened in my childhood — outdoors. These days, I drive through neighborhoods and I often see no children out of doors on bikes. Maybe I’m in the wrong neighborhood. Maybe I’m in the wrong town. Maybe I’m in the wrong century.

A careful parent, or a glazed-eyed teenager, might say, “You don’t get hurt when you stay inside.”

Yes, you do.  PS

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.



Low mileage, one owner, gently used

By Bill Fields

My ’66 Mustang needs a paint job, and the wheels are wobbly on my ’62 Ferrari. But compared with my ’63 Vauxhall Estate Car, whose windows are broken and back hatch is missing, the first two vehicles are looking good.

Now, I’m not really a car collector. I’m not even a real collector of these 1:64 scale miniatures that had so many of us hoping we had 49 cents in our pocket — approximately two visits from the tooth fairy — for a purchase years ago. My dozen were rescued from the corner of a closet where they had been garaged for a long time.

Lots of things shout “child of the ’60s,” but does any toy do it better than a Matchbox car?

As the advertising copy said: “For boys and girls of all ages . . . built of pressure die-cast metal by English craftsmen . . . nothing to assemble, ready to use . . . colorful nontoxic baked enamel finish, authentic in every detail.”

I’m glad I never snacked on my vehicles, just in case, but the Matchbox Series did have a lot going for it. Detroit might not have ever been usurped as a car capital if its workmanship had been as fine as that in the toys manufactured in England by Lesney Products.

Although small enough to fit in a child’s hand, some of the models consisted of more than 100 parts. They were finely assembled, with details that mirrored the real thing. Automakers on both sides of the Atlantic, happy with the publicity, shared specifications with the toy company that allowed for great authenticity in the replicas.

As a kid who loved small things — a pocket magnetic checkers set, tiny stapler, mini-football helmet pencil sharpener, miniature golf — Matchbox cars were right in my wheelhouse.

Lesney began after World War II in London, a collaboration of friends and military veterans Leslie Smith and Rodney Smith, who used syllables from each of their first names as the company moniker. Toys weren’t the focus of the die-cast business until another man, Jack Odell, joined the original partners.

The Matchbox brand sprouted from Odell’s initial Lilliputian design — a brass steamroller he built in 1952 for his daughter that met her school’s edict that students couldn’t bring toys larger than a matchbox. Odell and Leslie Smith started producing their line of vehicles in 1953, Rodney Smith having sold out to his partners two years earlier. Their first design was a miniature gilded coach for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, a hot seller that was followed by a bulldozer, fire engine and, in 1954, Lesney’s first car, an MG.

Lesney was producing more than a million vehicles a week by the early 1960s as Matchbox cars were being sold in great numbers all over the world. “We produce more Rolls-Royces in a single day,” Odell told The New York Times, “than the Rolls-Royce company has made in its entire history.”

My fanciest Matchbox model is a ’64 Lincoln Continental, sea-foam green, whose trunk was just big enough to hold a piece of candy corn. I like my oldest model, a ’61 gray and red “Bedford Tipper” truck that I probably was given before I was old enough to really bang it around, which could explain why it looks as if it just came off the lot.

I was well-equipped for emergency response, owning a ’62 ambulance, ’65 wrecker and ’66 firetruck, its removable plastic ladder on the roof and ready to rescue someone trapped on the second story. There are versions of the Dodge Wreck Truck that make them a rare and valuable collectible because of a manufacturing quirk, but mine is run-of-the-mill and a little sad, its tow hook gone. I’ll blame the snapped-off part on my nephews, who were playing with my little cars on visits to their grandparents about the time I was getting my driver’s license.

New generation, same old fun.  PS

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

2019 Summer Reading Issue


A pocketful of poets & photographers reflect on summer

Ask a poet to show you a glimpse of summer and they will not give you words on a page.

“OK,” they will tell you, tying a silk cloth over your eyes, and then they will take your hand, guide you to the end of the sidewalk, where you will leave your shoes.

The earth feels wet and cool beneath your feet, each step like a distant memory, and the more you trust the ground beneath you, the more you will notice that everything is alive. Whether or not you’ve been here before, or think you have, there is something foreign within the familiar, and the possibility of discovery ignites you.

Just beyond a swollen creek, where chorus frogs shriek in the wake of an August rain, something will demand your attention — a fragrance, perhaps. Or filtered light flickering across your face and skin. Or the sense of nearby movement. You will know when it arrives, and when it does, it will draw you closer to the source.

Before the cloth slips down below your eyes, you will feel a shift in the air. And then you will see it: a moss-laced grove, a golden field, the garden of a lover who still haunts you. The poet who led you here is gone, and in the midst of this enchanted dreamscape, you have unearthed something within yourself, a pain or a delight — an awakening that cannot be reversed.

This is the beauty of poetry. Sweet or bitter, subtle or Earth-shaking, whatever truth has been revealed reminds you of the exquisite cauldron of human emotions that you might stumble upon at any instant.

For our annual August Reading Issue, we invited a number of our favorite poets (including two Poet Laureates) to take us somewhere special with their words, matching them with a gifted photographer to illustrate their vision.

In this dreamy, golden season dripping with raw honey and memory, each moment is ripe with surprises. You’ll see. You can leave your shoes behind. You need only be open to discovery.  Ashley Wahl