Art at Heart

Art at Heart

An invitation to Sandhills artists to get creative never goes unanswered. Here are a few special valentines from their imaginations.

A native of Dunkirk, New York, Jodi Ohl is a bestselling author and award-winning mixed media artist known for the distinctive texture and bold color combinations of her often whimsical or abstract compositions. She now resides in Aberdeen, N.C.

The sister team of Dominique Wilbur and Natalia Voitek curate elegant fine art stationary, bespoke calligraphy and art in their shop Thoughtfully Yours in Pinehurst, N.C., where the New Jersey natives now live.

Cara Mathis is a self-taught pen-and-ink line artist drawn to vintage illustrations and architectural sketch work. A resident of Pinehurst, N.C., she teaches plein air drawing through the Parks and Recreation department.

Before retiring to her home studio in Whispering Pines, Denise Baker taught art at Sandhills Community College for 25 years. She continues the labor-intensive art of printmaking, including creating valentines every year for her family and friends.

Captivated by the elegance of horses and the serene beauty of the natural world, Larissa Ann grew up in Pennsylvania and now lives in Vass with her husband and rescue dog. Last year she was the artist-in-residence at the Carolina International CCI & Horse Trial.

Julie Borshak is a native of Moore County. Her unique designs utilize vintage North Carolina-made furniture that is deconstructed and reimaged along with custom-designed stamping and hand stitching.

A Walk on the Beach

A Walk on the Beach

Fiction by Daniel Wallace   

We went out in the morning for one last walk together on the beach. I took his hand to steady him, to steady both of us, really. Knees are the first to go, they say, but the rest was not far behind. It was early, almost no one was there, and if you turned away from the rickety beach houses and sad hotels you could pretend you were on a deserted island.

“Isaac,” I said, jostling his hand to get his attention. “Do you remember you told me once that when you were a kid you always wanted to live on a deserted island because you thought that meant it was just chockfull of desserts?”

The sun was rising behind a sheet of thin clouds, but a ray slipped through and made our morning shadows. Even his face — the dried crevassed creases like a rain-starved plain — brightened into a darkness.

“Remember, honey?”

He was looking down at his bare feet for some reason, but I knew he had heard me and was thinking about it, trying so hard. There was always a lag now between a question and an answer, like the delay on a long-distance call. For 50 years he was the sharpest tack I ever knew. Now he needed me just to find his shoes in the morning, to explain to him the subtle differences between a fork and a spoon, to double-lock the doors at bedtime so he couldn’t escape into the night. It had become too much for me. Rather, he had become too much for me.

“I don’t remember that,” he said.

“It was nothing,” I said, giving his hand a little squeeze. “Just funny is all.”

“It does sound like something a kid would say, though.” He looked at me and smiled, friendly but guarded, as if we’d been talking just for the last few minutes instead of the last 50 years. “And I was never a good speller. I let other people do the spelling for me.”

“You hired the best spellers in the business.”

“That’s right.”

Now a laugh from him, and a laugh from me. I wanted to tell him how happy it made me that he’d kept his sense of humor, but then he would ask what I meant. Tell me about the things I’ve lost. So I didn’t say anything and just listened to our laughter carried away by the wind.

The water lapped at our ankles and so I led us a little ways away from the surf for more solid ground. Everything in the world conspired to knock you over.

He kept staring at his feet. They looked like blue-veined sea creatures, the kind that lived miles beneath the water, the kind that sometimes washed ashore and made you wonder how such a thing could ever even be in the world. And why.

“I could live in this town,” he said, “if it weren’t for the earthquakes and fires and floods, and pestilences.”

“You do live here, silly.”

“Well, then, wish me luck!”

“Oh, you’ve always been lucky.”

He snuck a shy glance at me. Tentative, searching.

“And you. You live here too?”

“I do,” I said.

“But we don’t live together.”

“No. Not anymore. Not like we used to. But I’ll be there so often you’ll think we did.”

He nodded, as if this were an acceptable answer.

We kept walking, and he looked down again and for some reason it irritated me.

“Why in the world do you keep looking at your feet?”

“My feet?” No pause this time. His fog was lifting. “Ha! I’m not looking at my feet. I’m looking for a shark’s tooth. I’ve been hoping to find a shark’s tooth every time I come to the beach for, I don’t know, 65 years? But I never have.”

“Oh.” I didn’t know that, for some reason. “Another regret?”

“No, no,” he said. “No. I’m glad I’ve never found one. Hoping is better. You know, because when you do find it — presto-change-o! — you’re hopeless.”

“Then you just have to hope for other things.”

“Like what?”

He was right. The list of things to hope for was getting shorter, almost every day.

A woman in an unfortunate bathing suit, a sunburned man with a beach chair on his back, two boys running into the surf screaming like Maori warriors attacking the whole ocean, a jogger and her snow-white poodle. Life was coming back to life. We had not walked far, but I didn’t know how much farther we should. Going out was the easy part, but then we’d have to go back and that was so much harder. My hip was throbbing already. I wish we had a limo following behind us at just a bit of a distance so that we could get into it when we wanted to. With a limo driver named Norman. That was something to hope for, I suppose.

“I don’t think there’s a God,” he said out of nowhere, “but if there were all I would want from him or her is just a little direction. Hints. Like, Warm, warmer, warmer – you’re burning up! Or, say you’re about to quit your job and he says, Cold! Cold! Just that, a couple of words. That would be nice, right?”

“That would be ideal,” I said.

He stopped and turned to me and took both of my hands in his, and if you were looking at us from a distance you’d swear this old man was about to propose.

“That place looks like an elementary school with a shitty cafeteria,” he said.

“I tried to get you a room in the Taj Mahal, but they were full up.”

“Don’t be a bitch,” he said. “Don’t be a real bitch.”

He loved that word now. I don’t know why. I had to just let it go.

“Do you have a cigarette?”

“Cold,” I said, shaking my head. “Really cold. You quit in 1995.”

“I never quit, I just stopped. I have pursued second-hand smoke for years.”

He winked at me. This man. We kept walking. I untwined my fingers from his to brush the hair from my face and it freaked him out, and he pulled my arm down until he found my hand again and held it like a vise.

“Marriage vows should be different than they are, I was thinking,” he said. His voice rose a bit and shook. “Not until death do us part. Just until the other loses his mind. Only then may you leave.”

These moments of perfect clarity, of understanding, they astonished me and made me sadder than almost anything else.

“I am not leaving you.”

“One of us is leaving the other. And it’s not me.”

No, I thought, a thought that was truer than I wanted it to be: It’s you, it’s definitely you. I didn’t say it. But there were so many things I couldn’t say anymore. I listened to the static of the frosted, frothy waves instead. He stopped and turned to the horizon, where there was nothing to see except the place where everything disappeared.

“I want a Viking funeral. Set me on a wooden raft, float me out to sea.”

“But you’re not dying, Richard. Not. Dying.” Sometimes he drove me insane. “You were a kind of Viking, though. Brave, strong, a good breadwinner, but also plundering and burning stuff down.”

“Plundering,” he said, and shook his head, as if it were a riddle he couldn’t figure out. “Are you sure? I don’t remember any plundering, Sara. Not a bit of it. I’m sorry.”

And then just like that we found ourselves stuck calf-deep in the stealthy rising tide. We couldn’t move for a second. He gripped my hand and he looked at me with such helplessness, his eyes as scared and wild as a child’s. Then the ocean disappeared, and we were free. 

I felt the sun starting to burn. It was time. I led him back to the dunes where we’d left his shoes, but they weren’t there. I scanned the beach. All the dunes looked the same now, graves for ancient mariners with the sea oats waving in the wind.

“I can’t find your shoes,” I said.

“You can’t find my shoes? That’s new.”

“It’s just, I thought they were right here. But maybe they’re up the beach a little.”

“Maybe,” he said. “Maybe not.”

His eyes were swimming, all the maybes and maybe-nots bouncing around in his brain.

“I guess this means we can’t go now,” he said, grinning at me like a little boy, my lifelong conspirator, my partner in crime.

But that’s not what it meant. I saw them down the way.  PS

Daniel Wallace is the author of six novels. His memoir, This Isn’t Going to End Well, was published by Algonquin Books in April, 2023. He is the J. Ross MacDonald Distinguished Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, his alma mater.

Second Chance Manse

Second Chance Manse

Rebirth of a historic landmark

By Deborah Salomon

Color Photography by John Gessner

Black & White Photography by Caroline Deese

 

Young family. Old house. The result: spectacular.

Consider this — the mansion was a wreck, with broken windows and busted walls, its 6,000 square feet strewn with trash and dusty furnishings. The most recent inhabitants were squatters, human and critter.

Creepy. A deep, dark money pit. Most house-hobbyists would run, not walk, in the other direction.

Not Abby and Trey Brothers, she from Mount Airy, he from Albemarle. Abby, a nurse, and Trey, military personnel, were living in Baltimore, preparing a move.

“It was sheer coincidence,” Abby recalls. “I was looking on Zillow for places near Fort Bragg (now Liberty). I found Cameron and zoomed out to Moore County. This was the first house listed. It was the ugliest pretty house I’d ever seen.”

Trey continues: “I saw her face light up, and I knew it was all over.”

That face lights up still at the memory. “It was the same feeling as when I knew I wanted to marry Trey,” says Abby. “You just know.”

That was 2017. Since then, they have begun to fill the six bedrooms with the arrival of William, 3, and Eloise, 8 months.

But first, a job as much period restoration as renovation, which sets this historic property apart from those with classic exteriors and magazine interiors. Its rooms have the ability to propel you back in time — but the trip is made in air-conditioned comfort.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in what became Aberdeen, Page was the name that opened doors. Allison Francis (Frank) Page, one of 10 children, saw the Sandhills as a source of naval supplies, mostly logging and turpentine. He bought land, diversified into railroads and commercial buildings, prospered, and in addition to establishing the town of Aberdeen, he and wife Catherine produced eight offspring. Several gained prominence in government, clergy and banking.

Frank Page died in 1899, after building homes for most of his children on Page Hill. Fourteen years after her father’s death, daughter Frances Page Wilder and her husband, lawyer Thomas Wilder, commissioned popular architect J.M. McMichael, who had designed the local Methodist church, to build a brick homestead outside the compound for their family of nine.

The Great Depression changed everything. The unoccupied house stood vacant for decades, smothered by vines and shrubs. Had it been clapboard rather than brick, story over.

A developer saw the house, which he christened Willow Oak Manor, as a venue for weddings. His plans proved financially impractical. The house appeared doomed.

However, beyond the shambles its aura captivated Abby and Trey. Their plan: obtain a Fannie Mae government loan and do the work themselves. Abby had helped her dad on mission trips, and Trey gained experience working construction. How-to videos and YouTube provided the rest.

“Whatever required a permit we let the contractor do,” Abby says. Which left ripping out 60 tons of plaster in the summer heat. And so much more.

Moving day, after nine months of sweat equity, came in May 2019.

At the outset, they decided to leave the layout mostly intact and keep flooring, paneling, door and window frames dark and wall colors quiet — pale olive, khaki, beige, ochre, grey.

Fronting the house, a porch with veranda proportions previews the spaciousness within, enhanced by tall windows and 12-foot ceilings.

Opposite the front door, the split staircase ornately carved and illuminated by a Phantom of the Opera-worthy chandelier elicits gasps, immediately delivering ancestral elegance, as does the triple-wide entrance hall with a parlor on one side and a study equipped with bookcases — previously kitchen cupboards — on the other.

In the parlor, a settee found in the house suggests the affluent 1920s, as do a massive wardrobe and side tables in the foyer, several dressers and the dining room buffet. Other furnishings lean modern-comfy, practical for a family raising children.

Unfortunately, chimneys had to be capped off. “We had an issue with bats,” Trey says.

Antiquity earns a bye in the main-floor master suite, where an adjoining sunporch has been converted to a spa bathroom; the glass wall wraps around a long bench facing three shower heads.

Upstairs, each child has a bed-playroom the size of master suites elsewhere. Narrow stairs lead to what was a sleeping porch, now a sitting room. Also on the third level is a small maid’s room and bath with original tub, sink and a stairway that leads directly to the kitchen, perfect for guests desiring privacy.

Ah, the kitchen, no place for old-timey anything. “I knew what I wanted — big, the open concept,” Abby says. It required removing walls to create one room from three. Now, the dining room, dominated by her grandmother’s table, is part of the kitchen. Another wall was added, creating a laundry room and pantry. New floors were required but no pricy granite, soapstone or marble countertops. Instead, Trey poured 3,000 pounds of concrete, creating a sturdy textured surface.

Outside, what was once overgrown brush has been cleared for a kiddie playground. A porte-cochère recalls times when guests arrived in elegant motor cars, long before the manor’s neighbors included businesses and tract housing.

Funny how life turns out. Abby grew up in what she calls a little brick rancher. “I never wanted to live in another brick house,” she says. Trey shared a bathroom with three sisters. Now, he has four choices. With grit and determination, Abby and Trey Brothers rescued a landmark from the wrecking ball.

Besides, Trey adds, “The house is a good conversation piece.” Like the time Abby found the initials MFP scrawled on a wall.

“A lady and her granddaughter rang the bell. She said she had lived here. I asked her if she knew who MFP was,” Abby explains.

“That’s me, Mary Frances Poe!” the lady exclaimed. “I stayed in the back bedroom.”

Mission accomplished, except for one detail. So far, Abby notes, no ghosts.  PS

A Day at the Races

A Day at the Races

Horsing around and around and around

By Jenna Biter

Photographs by Tim Sayer

It’s a brisk winter morning. A cloudless blue sky hangs over Pinehurst. Happy sunshine beams down, tricking villagers into leaving their coats inside while they shuffle out to fetch the paper. Just down Beulah Hill Road, in the shadow of Pinehurst’s famed golf courses, horse trainers at the harness track know better. They climb into jackets, pull on gloves and hike up neck gaiters, then slide into their two-wheeled jog carts behind the rears of standardbred horses.

From dawn until a little before noon, sometimes a little after, the trainers rotate through the barns filled with horses, driving them around and around the tracks at the historic harness racing training facility.

Roland “Polie” Mallar and his second trainer, Billy Cole, are two of them. Both men drive laps in red carts, reclined with their legs straight out and gloved hands ready at the lines.

Ruddy, wind-whipped cheeks sneak out from beneath a neck warmer. Mallar is ahead, wearing a relaxed but stony look of concentration, track pants and a faded ball cap. He’s never been one for protective headgear. Following closely behind, Cole sports the same composed stare, but out from under a cream helmet and with a shield of black facial scruff.

Mallar grew up in Maine in the shadow of his grandfather — the original Roland nicknamed Polie — who trained harness racers. When Polie the younger was still in high school, he already owned horses and ran them in summer fairs.

Cole, on the other hand, grew up in Wagram, where he still lives, and knew nothing about horses until 1985. That changed when a friend who worked at the harness track offered to teach him, hoping to fill a job opening at the training ground.

“I’ve been here ever since,” Cole says.

Right: Roland “Polie” Mallar

 

“Here” is the Pinehurst Harness Track, the oldest continuously operating horse track in North Carolina. It was built as an amenity for resort guests in 1915, converted to a winter training center for breaking standardbreds in the late 1920s, and bought by the village of Pinehurst in 1992 so the proving ground wouldn’t be steamrolled and developed into something more commercial but far less utilitarian and picturesque.

That same year, the equestrian training center was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

For the past seven or eight years, Cole has worked at the harness track with Mallar, owner of the eponymous Polie Mallar Stable, who has been wintering horses at the facility for something around three decades.

“We were here one year, and then we went to Florida one year,” Mallar says, remembering a brief stint at Spring Garden Ranch, a 148-acre training track half an hour from a different, faster kind of racetrack — the Daytona International Speedway.

“I liked it here in Pinehurst better,” he adds, despite, or maybe even because of, the smaller sprawl and harsher winter weather.

The Moore County training center sits on 111 acres and has three tracks. The first is a half-mile clay oval surrounded by a second oval, a 5/8-mile sand border good for strengthening a horse’s leg muscles. Tucked down a short dirt road, the third track is a 1-mile clay loop used for going fast and qualifying for big harness races up north.

There are no palm trees trackside in Pinehurst, a good thing in Mallar’s view. Pinehurst’s winter chill is a training aid.

“When you leave here to go north and race in the spring, you’re not going into 75- or 80-degree weather,” Mallar says. North American harness races run in four-season regions like the Midwest and Northeast and are also popular in Canada.

Tracy Cormier, owner of the Pinehurst Track Restaurant, a legendary local institution serving breakfast and lunch in the unassuming white-block building looking out at the track, was married to Quebecois horseman Real “CoCo” Cormier.

“He started when he was a kid in Canada,” Cormier says of her late husband of 36 years. “He just loved horses. It was a big French Canadian group of guys, very famous drivers, and they just kept it going.

“Then he came to Pinehurst and just loved it.”

At first, CoCo spent summers at big-purse races in New York and winters training in Pinehurst at the harness track. Then in the ’90s, he, Tracy and their daughter, Danielle, permanently moved to the Sandhills. That’s when the Cormiers bought the restaurant.

For 27 years, Tracy has run the more-than-a-century-old eatery that attracts mostly golfers visiting from across the country and around the globe in search of a good meal and a little local color. After snarfing down a stack of famous blueberry pancakes and draining a mug of black coffee, diners pay in cash, then leave to play golf. Outside, they’re greeted by the clomp clomp clomping of hooves.

That rhythmic sound is how Scott Freeman, the harness track’s superintendent, or “Track Man,” has been diagnosing surface conditions and prescribing daily maintenance during his five years on the job.

“The racetrack talks to me,” Freeman says. “If horses are going by and it sounds like they’re knocking on the door, the surface is too hard. That hurts bone. If they go by and it sounds like a washing machine, that means the surface is too loose. That hurts soft tissue. It causes a horse to strain more.

“So it’s a fine balance,” he adds. “What it’s got to sound like is a kitten wearing sneakers.”

Year after year, between October and May, trainers like Mallar, second trainers like Cole, and grooms and groundskeepers hurry in and out of barns, helping to prepare young horses for their racing debut.

Left: Billy Cole, Right: Tracy Cormier

There’s a quiet busyness to it all. People dressed in sun-faded knock-arounds are always moving something — water buckets, hoses, bags of feed — to somewhere while others brush down sweaty-backed horses after their morning miles. A russet-colored farm dog wanders out of one barn and into another, probably off on his morning rounds. An oddly welcoming smell of manure pervades the entire scene.

Not all the horses who train at Pinehurst are yearlings (horses between the ages of 1 and 2 years old) but most are. Here in the slow and easy South, the babies can acclimate to distractions — tractors, observers and other plucky young horses — one at a time.

“Right now, it’s mostly teaching them manners,” Mallar says. “It’s teaching them to go straight. You got to teach them to go straight before you can teach them to go fast.”

This year, Mallar has 13 horses to train, all of which are standardbreds, the only breed that competes in North American harness racing. The breed’s lineage traces back to a thoroughbred stallion named Messenger who was imported to Philadelphia from England in 1788. Descendants of Messenger’s great-great-grandson Hambletonian 10 dominate the breed. To this day, standardbreds still resemble thoroughbreds, although they are longer, lower and sturdier.

“Some of these top thoroughbreds, they race four or five times a year, and they think that’s a lot,” Mallar says. Some standardbreds can race every week. Thoroughbreds race full tilt, at a gallop with a jockey on their backs, while standardbreds race at a trot or pace, pulling drivers behind them in speedy carts called sulkies.

Trotters move like other horse breeds, with a diagonal gait. Their opposite front and hind legs strike the ground simultaneously. Pacers can trot, but when pushed for speed in second gear, they shift into a lateral gait. Their same-side legs move in tandem: front right with back right and front left with back left. Standardbred horses are among only a handful of animals, including giraffes and camels, that naturally pace.

Regardless of their preferred gait, standardbred yearlings require a solid winter of training to be race-ready come springtime.

“When the horses first get here, most of them, they’ve never had a harness on. They’ve never had a bridle on,” Cole says. “First thing I usually do, I just start brushing them down, let them get used to me.”

Right: Scott Freeman

 

The trainers slowly introduce young horses to harness and bridle, leg loops called hopples, to help them keep gait, and the jog cart. At that point, they drive each horse around the track daily. Between Mallar and Cole, they exercise all 13 horses throughout a morning, 3 to 3 1/2 miles each.

On this winter morning, a velvety, chocolate-colored horse from Mallar’s barn tosses its head and darts in the other direction when it comes face-to-face with a tractor grating the 1/2-mile clay track. Quietly Cole, still recumbent in the jog cart, flicks his steady, experienced hands and somehow transfers his composure down the lines. He pulls the horse into the central grass field, then turns it back to face its fear.

“Most of the time, if they are scared of the tractor, I get them out and around it to get used to it,” Cole says. “Sooner or later that tractor is going to be out there and coming, and you’ll have nowhere to go and be in trouble.” The next time around, Cole’s horse makes a successful lap, even when faced with the big, scary John Deere.

“Once I get a foundation under them, I’d say anywhere between 100 and 250 jog miles, then I’ll start rushing them up a little bit for something like an 1/8th of a mile, teaching them how to step,” Mallar says. “Then we’ll have them pass each other, get them used to other horses moving around.

“I won’t really start putting a watch on them until I get to times between 2:40 and 2:45,” he says. “Then I’ll start dropping them.”

After roughly half a year of training, the now-2-year-olds run in the Spring Matinee, the harness track’s annual exhibition races that introduce the horses to competition in front of a crowd before they ship north to gambling hotspots, such as the Poconos, Yonkers and harness racing’s mecca, the Meadowlands, in New Jersey.

If owners and trainers are lucky, their horses will relish the competition, just like Mallar’s 4-year-old Ken Hanover, who set a track record in the Little Brown Jug in Delaware, Ohio, last year, one of harness racing’s Triple Crown events. That’s because good things come around at the harness track . . . and around, and around.  PS

Jenna Biter is a writer and military wife in the Sandhills. She can be reached at jennabiter@protonmail.com.

Poem February 2024

Poem February 2024

Onward

Here we are again

on the back porch.

Bluebirds eating mealworms

from the feeder

while the brown-chested

nuthatch takes its time

with the sunflower seeds.

Lili, the pup, is at my feet,

and the sun, my God,

this sun feels so good

on a February afternoon.

There’s coffee and a friend’s

new book of poetry.

Can you hear the saxophone

from the jazz man practicing next door?

A sparrow flies over

lands a foot away

on the edge of the table,

looks at me, as if to say

what more do you want?

    — Steve Cushman

Steve Cushman is the author of three novels, including Portisville, winner of the 2004 Novello Literary Award. His poetry collection, How Birds Fly, won the 2018 Lena Shull Book Award and his latest volume, The Last Time, was published by Unicorn Press in 2023.

Poem January 2024

Poem January 2024

ADVENTURE

Because she was fast in her way

And he followed her suit,

They launched horizon’s fruitful gaze

To fortify their fruit.

In short parlance, ahead of him,

She was a gushing bride

Until gray moods turned dark to bend

Their rivers for her tide.

They never had one dissension.

He lived his love the same

Beyond single thought’s contention. 

Her body chemistry!

A drinking fountain salutes thirst,

Instant bubble, wet lips.

Then comes what earthly love holds first,

Her muscles fell to slips.

So he slept and woke up alone,

For she was processioned

In Smithfield Manor Nursing Home,

Tenacity, a test.

His eye-lids open every morn.

The bones to him creak rise.

The sun’s obeying crown adorns

Remembrances, her sighs.

    — Shelby Stephenson

Shelby Stephenson was North Carolina’s poet laureate from 2014-16. His most recent volume of poetry is Praises.

Sister Act

Sister Act

Reimagining an eclectic cottage

By Deborah Salomon 

Photographs by John Gessner

Local residences can be relatively easy to classify: Federalist, antebellum, Georgian, ranch, contemporary farmhouse, mid-century modern, Frank Lloyd Wright-ish.

This one — tucked behind tall greenery in the heart of Weymouth — isn’t, unless “surprising, refreshing and personal” is the category. Clad in pecky cypress painted off-white, the cottage stretches longitudinally like a ranch, has bedroom suites anchoring each end in the contemporary mode, and multiple bay windows common to New England saltboxes enhanced by stained glass panels displaying geometric and bird motifs.

Add this shocker: a cathedral ceiling with flying buttresses rising over the sitting/dining area. Built in 1929, a year of financial havoc in the U.S., one legend identifies the builder as a shipmaker from Boston with the buttresses a reminder of the ribs supporting his boats.

Those buttresses are original, not so a covered backyard patio for grilling, eating and watching TV while drying off by the fire after emerging from the 42-inch deep, rectangular plunge pool, with a submerged seating ledge and water kept at 100 degrees year-round.

“We all jumped in at Thanksgiving,” says Cathy, who with her sister, Mary, reimaged this cottage.

Their story is as singular as the results.

Cathy and Mary, a year apart, grew up sharing a room in a Pittsburgh family of eight children — three girls, five boys. Mary became a nurse anesthetist at a women’s hospital. Cathy worked in the wholesale bakery industry. Each married, remained in Pittsburgh and had children, who grew up and moved away. In 2014, the sisters, now single, retired and decided they could live more economically together — but not in Pittsburgh. Too cold.

They heard good things about North Carolina’s retirement havens. Asheville was their first foray. Still too cold. Pinehurst, with a temperate climate and aura aplenty, offered the solution.

“We drove down for a week and hooked up with an agent, just to look around,” Mary says. Seven Lakes seemed promising, or maybe a carriage house in horse country. Then they discovered the charm of downtown Southern Pines, the shops, bistros, railroad station and the interesting people populating them.

Better check availability in Weymouth.

What they discovered seemed almost made-to-order. The walls and ceilings in the living /dining space were wood-paneled and, after moving in, the sisters found the stained wood too dark and painted the walls — themselves — a soft white. The dark wood cabinetry and a natural brick backsplash in the modest but adequate kitchen became creamy vanilla with a pure white island top over a black lacquer base. Cathy cooks. Mary shops and cleans up. A breakfast table for two suggests a Victorian tearoom.

“I don’t want all that granite,” says Cathy. “It’s casual, like, ‘Come on over and let’s share.’”

The sisters’ most formidable challenge was space, given the possibility of visiting children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews and friends — golfers and otherwise. Fortunately the elongated footprint on a prime Weymouth acre allowed them to convert the attached two-car garage into living space with a workroom and a laundry. A new garage was added.

“Over the years we have always attacked projects,’’ Cathy says. In high school she was more interested in mechanical drawing than cooking and sewing. “You just learn that if something doesn’t work, you do it over.”

Furniture is a mixture of hers and hers, with some delightful juxtapositions. In the small TV den a gray wide-wale corduroy sectional overlooks a frilly little bureau painted bright yellow. A dresser in the guest room is made of sanded metal. Nurse Mary explains that before built-in units, hospital rooms attended by nurses in starched white caps were furnished in metal, usually painted white, now antique shop finds.

 

“We each brought furniture. We didn’t buy new,” Cathy says. Even their area rugs made the trip. The familiar pieces take on fresh life placed in the spacious, airy rooms. And surprises lurk around each corner: A bathroom wall of glass bricks adds retro chic. Rather than reupholster “throne” and other chairs, they discovered a paint for fabric that dries to a nubby texture. An elongated window frames a tall, pruned crape myrtle, its gnarled, spotted trunk and branches resembling a giraffe. A huge Chinese soup tureen sits ready to serve the emperor. They point proudly to an antique transom; their mother’s desk; Granddaddy’s cigar cabinet; Granny’s enormous hope chest; and a framed wedding quilt sewn from silk ties and kept under glass.

The sisters concede that not everyone could pull off this living arrangement. At first, their other siblings’ reaction was, “How dare you leave us!” Cathy recalls. Now, they do family Thanksgiving, and their twin brothers show up for golf. After 10 years the sisters have made friends through pickleball, golf and community activities. Cathy’s latest project: watercolors.

“We live a very simple life,” Cathy says. “We’re content to sit out back or go into town. Both of us worked hard. Now it’s time to relax, to entertain ourselves.”  PS

Cowboy Junket

Cowboy Junket

Selling books like snake oil

Or

If you want it done right, do it yourself

By Stephen E. Smith

Nancy Rawlinson was a first-grader at Millington Elementary School in New Jersey when she happened upon an intriguing book in the school library. She flipped through the pages and immediately fell in love with the illustrations of horses. The book may have been The Blind Colt or Stolen Pony or Wild Horses of the Red Desert — she has forgotten the title — but she knew what she liked, and that the artist was Glen Rounds. “I was in love with horses at the time,” she recalls, “and I read Glen Rounds’ books over and over again.”

In 1991 Rawlinson moved to Southern Pines and eventually opened Eye Candy Gallery & Framing on Broad Street, but she never had an opportunity to meet the writer and illustrator whose books had brought her so much pleasure in her childhood. Rounds (the appellation assigned to Glen by his many friends) lived almost half his life in Southern Pines, and he was affectionately acknowledged by acquaintances and neighbors as “the literary man about town.” Decked out in his weathered jeans and cowboy vest, he was the craggy, gray-bearded bohemian wandering among the business-clad locals and Yankee snowbirds — a mid-morning regular at the local post office, where he’d buttonhole friends and strangers and regale them with humorous, wisdom-laced tall tales, droll shaggy-dog stories, and the occasional off-color witticism.

If Rounds was a raconteur extraordinaire, he was, first and foremost, an artist/illustrator. He illustrated over 100 books. He studied painting and drawing at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Art Student League of New York, and was close friends with Jackson Pollock and Thomas Hart Benton. (Rounds and Pollock were models for Benton’s painting The Ballad of the Jealous Lover of Lone Green Valley.) And he worked with dogged determination to see that the public could enjoy his talents. When Rounds published a new children’s book, it would garner a mention in Time or Newsweek, and 20 years after his death, his artwork lives on in his books and on the walls of homes and businesses in Southern Pines — and across the country.

Of all the stories Rounds shared with friends and strangers, there’s one that seldom, if ever, got told: the true story “that needed telling.” Shortly before he died in 2002 at the age of 96, Rounds informed friends that he had a new book underway, the story of the “1938 Trip West.” He never completed the book, but his extensive notes were passed down to his daughter-in-law, Victoria Rounds, and contained within the extensive scribblings are at least four synopses that retell the tale in fits and starts. The Gospel according to Rounds goes as follows:

During the spring and summer of 1938, Rounds was carrying on an “acrimonious” correspondence with Vernon Ives, the publisher and editor of Holiday House, concerning Holiday House’s lackadaisical sales efforts. The publisher had a few independent salesmen who carried Holiday House books as a sideline and they circulated a catalog, but there was no sales coverage west of the Mississippi.

“I had spent some time with folks selling snake oil, Indian remedies and the like,” Rounds writes. “And argued that if they wanted to sell books they should have somebody on the road stirring things up. In the end it came to a case of ‘put up or shut up.’ If I thought books could be sold like snake oil, why didn’t I go on the road myself and show them how it should be done?”

And that’s exactly what Rounds intended to do. He and Margaret Olmsted had married in June 1938, and they were living in Myrtle Beach, where they paid $10 a month in rent. In their spare time, they fixed up a 1937 Studebaker woody station wagon with bunks built over lockers that contained their camping equipment — a bucket, a pan, a coffeepot, blankets, clothes, a Coleman stove, a small icebox, and a canvas to throw over the back of the Studebaker at night.

On September 1, 1938, they loaded a box of Holiday House books into the Studebaker and headed west from Sanford, camping that night in a “nameless field between Knoxville and Nashville.” There were no motels in those days, but they occasionally pulled into a campground or hotel to wash clothes and shower; otherwise, they quit driving each day at sunset and made the best of their surroundings. Once they camped near a city dump, and on another evening, a constable directed them to park behind the town bandstand. “Nice little park,” Rounds recalled. “Just after supper people started drifting into the park. It was band concert night, and while they waited for the concert to start the townspeople inspected and commented on our outfit.”

But Rounds and Margaret weren’t there for the music, and they weren’t on a sightseeing trip. They had compiled a card file listing every elementary school, library, branch library, librarian and bookstore on their route. Margaret had a library science degree from the University of North Carolina and had worked for the New York Public Library System, so she had credibility with the school librarians and teachers. “We were looking for people who dealt in books,” Rounds writes. “Anybody that ever looked like they might buy or sell books got the treatment. We stopped at every small branch library or school, showed books, told a story or drew some pictures and went on, leaving Holiday House catalogs behind.”

And so it went through Kansas City, Omaha, Sioux City, Rapid City, Denver, Boulder, Provo, Logan, Boise, Spokane, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Portland, Salem, Medford, Sacramento, San Francisco, Fresno, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Sierra Blanca, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth, where they put on a “big show” for National Book Week. From there they hit Shreveport, Vicksburg, Montgomery, Atlanta, Greenville, and back to Sanford, arriving on Thanksgiving eve after three months on the road and “tired as hell!”

“We not only showed the Holiday House books but we sold them on commission,” Rounds writes. “Whether we sold enough to pay our gas and expenses, I don’t remember. But by the time we got home a hell of a lot of people had heard about Holiday House books. For years after that, stories about our unconventional selling methods drifted around the country whenever bookstore people and librarians met.”

In the synopses Rounds produced late in life — probably in the late ’80s and early- to mid-’90s, judging by the used computer paper repurposed as cost-effective stationery — the story lacks the details of meetings and confabs Rounds and Margaret experienced. But those moments aren’t lost. As Rounds traveled the country and pitched Holiday House books, he regularly wrote to Vernon Ives, producing 24 lengthy handwritten letters detailing most of his encounters with teachers, administrators, bookstore folk and “anyone interested in books.” Ives saved and returned the letters to Rounds, who arranged them chronologically in a spiral notebook that also contains photographs, maps, two traffic tickets, two typhoid inoculation certificates, and Rounds’ meticulous financial calculations (the Studebaker got about 22 mpg in a great loop from Sanford, North Carolina to the West Coast and back to Sierra Blanca, Texas, a distance of 8,633 miles).

More than an illustrator and writer, Rounds was a keen observer of his fellow human beings — he had a caustic word or two to say about everyone he encountered — and he was especially sharp-eyed when observing the animals he drew. Former North Carolina Poet Laureate Shelby Stephenson once accompanied Rounds on an expedition to observe a family of beavers. “Glen just sat there for two hours and never said a word; never moved,” Stephenson recalled. “He was perfectly still, staring intently at the beavers, never missing a movement they made.” If he wrangled you into a storytelling marathon at the post office or in his side yard on Ridge Street, he’d stare directly into your eyes as his story leisurely unraveled. If your mind happened to wander, he’d notice immediately. “Do you want to hear this story or not?” he’d ask. Of course, you wanted to hear it. There was no escape.

This innate ability to study and narrate is apparent in a beautifully crafted excerpt from a letter written to Ives shortly before the 1938 odyssey. Rounds had been observing those who labored in tobacco production, “one of the last of the really personal industries,” and highlights of the brief passage stand as an example of literary archaeology:

“From the time they go out in the spring with leaf mounds to fill the seed beds, the setting out, which is done by hand, the hoeing, the worming, down to the beginning of ‘priming’ (picking the bottom leaves as they ripen), and the sitting up night and day with the fires in the curing barns, it is all handwork of the hottest kind for the whole family. After it’s cured, the whole family gets busy, usually on the front porch, and goes over it leaf by leaf, grading it before tying it into ‘hands’ for market. The night before market they start coming into the warehouse to get a good position on the floor so as to get a light that will set off the color and texture to the best advantage. They’re proud of their work. Sat all afternoon a while back with an old-timer while he watched his fires. After I’d deserted my cigarettes for a healthy chaw of his Honey-twist, taken with a fine shaving of Black Maria to give it body and color to spit a more satisfying brown, we sat and spit promiscuously round about for a while, exchanged views on horse breeding, and the lack of enterprise and self-reliance in the younger generation and one thing and another . . .” and so forth for two single-spaced typewritten pages.

The 24 letters written to Ives don’t contain the same level of detail as his tobacco observations — there wasn’t enough time to include more than initial impressions — but Rounds’ sharp eye picked up every human shortcoming and attribute, every nuance.

On Sept.12, he wrote from Denver: “Enclosed an order from Dibamels (sic), Rapid City. Think if we can get him started he should move my books. Did some horse trading to get the order, but think it worth it, even if I had to take merchandise for 3 Ol’ Pauls and 3 L.C. Denver Dry Goods no soap. Books too high. Kendrik Bellamy was nice dept, but in basement, Mrs. Cook very nice and liked books but has trouble moving good books. However, may order later.”

On Sept. 15 he wrote from Salt Lake City: “Library (two old maids) no soap. No children librarian. Printed Page, nice shop, typical university bookshop. Trying to start juvenile dept but knows nothing and cares less. N.G. (no good) . . . Snow and sleet in the passes. Ranger stopping cars . . . camping in ballpark . . . Utah Office supply already ordered Baker Taylor, cheap stuff, won’t see sample. High school library — Miss Robinson liked books and checked a number. No money for about 60 days but . . . Ferner Junior High School, Miss Sinor — tough old gal. Doesn’t like small type. Won’t order what she hasn’t seen . . .” And so it goes for seven handwritten pages, passing judgment on the people, libraries and schools in one lengthy intensive missive.

Even more detailed letters follow from Spokane, Seattle and Raywood, where Rounds reports that all the bookstores had gone out of business during the Great Depression. Books are a tough sell, especially during hard times, but Rounds and Margaret remained undeterred by the occasional rejection and were much buoyed by small successes, as in San Diego on Oct. 24: “City Schools, Miss Morgan — They hadn’t seen our books but had heard so much they finally ordered most of the old titles for review. However, they arrived too late to get on this year’s list, L.C. and Ol’ Paul got raves from their reviewers. And most of the others seemed slated for the list also. She should be on list for books ON APPROVAL as soon as they are published . . .”

In Seattle, Rounds and Margaret made 12 stops and in Denver another 11, talking up Holiday House and pitching Rounds’ books while visiting public libraries, a university bookstore, the state department of education, a school library association and a book department in a general merchandise store, etc. — all of which he reported on at length. But Rounds’ letters weren’t all business. While working a bookstore in San Leon, Texas, he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to describe a fetching female clerk: “She was like a mare in heat every time she sidled close and continually ran her palms of her hands over the front of her tight sweater, down the belly and back around her buttocks. You know the gesture? It is used with the flexing of all the trunk and thigh muscles. Don’t get me wrong — I just report what I see. She’ll make a fine type if I write a book.”

If there was rejection and indifference, there was just enough good news to keep Rounds buoyant. On Nov. 19 he wrote to Ives, alluding to himself in the third person: “Rounds at his best when before an admiring audience of children whose number will be considerably swelled by the attendance of a group of storytelling teachers or some damn thing, who have a special invitation. Immediately after Rounds is worn out, there will be an autograph party in the book department.”

And so it went, stop after stop, for three relentless months, each encounter explicated in the lengthy handwritten letters to Ives. If Rounds and Margaret encountered more failure than success, they never wavered, never despaired. They kept at it, day in and day out, until they pulled into Sanford, exhausted.

Small successes, what he thought of as a “little victory for art,” continued to fuel Rounds’ enthusiasm for the remainder of his long life. He frequently visited classes full of elementary school students, encouraging their art and following up by sending the students postcards with his trademark hound dog Ol’ Boomer, tail curved skyward, prancing into the mystical ether. He never tired of entertaining, never grew weary of inspiring a classroom full of blossoming talent.

If Rounds was the author and illustrator of the books, Margaret Olmsted was remarkable in her own right. Glen Rounds was born in a sod house near the badlands of South Dakota and traveled in a covered wagon to Montana, where he grew up on a ranch. Margaret came from money. Her family owned their own railway car, and she’d graduated from the University of North Carolina. Nevertheless, she endured three months of camping across the country and chatting up librarians, schoolteachers and classrooms full of rowdy children, all without complaint. She was one of the founding members of The Country Bookshop and the Given Memorial Library, and her considerable influence lives on in those Sandhills institutions — and in Rounds’ success as a writer and illustrator.

What were the results of the 1938 trip? In a time when writers didn’t often appear at bookstores to sign and sell books, Rounds was ever present, signing his name, telling his stories and promoting Holiday House. Vernon Ives profited from the documentation Rounds supplied concerning likely outlets and agreeable bookstore owners, information that would hold the publisher in good stead for decades to come. And most importantly, Rounds made himself famous in the world of children’s literature. His books still line bookstore and library shelves and continue to delight young readers.

Not long after his passing, an ad hoc committee of Rounds’ friends convened to consider placing a lifelike statue of the old raconteur in front of the post office, a monument not unlike the one of the rock ’n’ roll dude “standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona . . .” but it soon became apparent that such a tribute could never adequately convey Rounds’ charisma and rakish charm. The stories were gone, lost for good, and now Rounds exists only in the memory of his many admirers. 

It’s doubtful that Glen Rounds ever visited an elementary school in Millington, New Jersey — a village so obscure that it seems hardly to exist on the map — but when first-grader Nancy Rawlinson fell in love with Rounds’ drawings of horses, the book had not found its place on the library shelf by accident. Glen and Margaret Rounds had, by virtue of their hard work, tenacity and unwavering faith, willed it there.  PS

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of seven books of poetry and prose. He’s the recipient of the Poetry Northwest Young Poet’s Prize, the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for poetry and four North Carolina Press Awards.

The Adventuresome Chef

The Adventuresome Chef

Warren Lewis makes art in stupid cold places

By Jenna Biter

Sunlight streamed through the coffee shop blinds. Water droplets were condensing on the plastic to-go cup holding an iced mocha latte sitting neglected at the center of a four-top.

Warren Lewis was preoccupied. He wasn’t sipping, he was leading a whip-fast expedition to distant destinations, most of which he classified as “stupid cold places,” many of which were home to magnificent sharp-toothed beasts.

Foxes and walruses, bears and wolves chased each other off the silvery face of Lewis’ MacBook, forever frozen in his photographs but indelibly alive in his mind.

“When the bears come by, the wolves take off,” says Lewis, describing life in the closely watched, middle-of-nowhere border zone between Finland and Russia. Two autumns ago, Lewis traveled to the arctic hinterland on a special permit with a photography tour of four. “We didn’t see a wolverine,” he says, “but if a wolverine had come along, the bears would’ve taken off because wolverines have no sense of humor.”

Lewis readjusts his glasses, then clicks from one image of gray wolves to the next. The frame displays an astonishing blond wolf Lewis identifies as the pack’s alpha. “I saw him one day just for minutes, and that was it,” he says, still in awe more than a year later. The wolf stares from the screen with soft golden eyes that can harden cruelly in an instant.

It was restlessness, fate and the heart of an explorer that landed Lewis and his camera in that frostbitten taiga forest. “I always had to do things with my hands,” he explains, holding them up and open. In the 1970s, a camera came along to occupy his fidgety fingers. At the time, Lewis’ father had taken to photography as a newly divorced, middle-aged man in search of a hobby. Before long, the teenager had a Pentax Spotmatic camera of his own. A week into this new love affair, the kid developed his first photograph with a Willoughby-Peerless darkroom kit in the basement of his childhood home on Long Island, New York.

“The first image I ever developed was of a tree in front of the house,” says Lewis wryly, “because that was the first picture I took.”

He didn’t stick around the house for long. Dad had given him a camera, and with it, the license for a shy teenager to expand and explore his world.

“I never would have gone to a football game by myself,” Lewis says, “but all of a sudden, I had a press pass, and I’m on the sideline.”

Lewis scrolls through his photos, rediscovering Finland with each image frozen in time. Its pied crows are silly, intelligent, and permanently dressed in the full feather of tuxedo. Its ravens are less baroque; nevertheless, they seek attention. Their purply plumes blur more than Lewis would like. The bold birds don’t even flee a brown bear. Then again, neither does Lewis. One lumbered so near his blind he could smell the animal’s breath.

“He’s either going to eat me, or he’s not,” Lewis says with the nonchalance of someone sitting safely in a coffee shop. “I’m thinking, OK, well, I’ve got my camera, and I’ve got a lens I can use like a bat to whack him. I’ll aim for the nose. At the same time, I’m thinking, OK, what’s my aperture? What’s my shutter speed? Is it in focus? Get the eyes in focus.

Lewis chose not to pursue photography professionally after graduating from high school. Instead, he studied engineering.

“I took a job peeling vegetables because I didn’t belong in engineering,” says Lewis, owner and chef of the eponymous Chef Warren’s, Southern Pines’ beloved turn-of-the-century-style bistro. “It wasn’t tactile enough for me. It just doesn’t suit the way my brain works — which is at 1,000 miles per hour — so I became a chef. And I met my wife that way.”

Lewis was working as a sous chef in a New York hotel when Marianne walked in. “We’ve been together ever since,” he says. That was 35 years ago. Since then, he’s worked kitchens up and down the East Coast and around the globe, from Australia to a few days at an Indian restaurant in Malaysia.

“If you’ve got a set of knives,” says Lewis, “you can work anywhere.”

In 1995, “anywhere” became the Sandhills, and three years later, the Lewises opened Chef Warren’s, whose walls display his original prints.

“You need something besides what you do,” Lewis says, parsing the balance between food and photos. “You need to have something else to focus on.”

He dives back into the laptop screen, reliving a staring contest in a Polish forest. “This is one of my favorites! So, I’m sitting in a hide, and this goshawk is sitting there,” he says, pointing to a dappled bird of prey perched on a mossy log. “A red squirrel is bouncing around doing red squirrelly things. I’m thinking, ‘Finger on the triggerget ready to go.’ All of a sudden, they stare at each other.” Lewis holds his breath. The Eurasian red squirrel fluffs its tail and perks its fiery ears. “Then they turn and walk away.”

He spares an extra beat to admire the magic of a perfect moment forever accessible via the time machine of photography.

“Before, the photos never drilled into my soul,” Lewis says, preferring the solitary process of the art to the company of finished prints. That was until 2015, when he watched Kingdom of the Ice Bear, a seven-minute web documentary featuring nature photographer Joshua Holko’s journey to polar bear backcountry.

“Marianne was upstairs making dinner. It was noodles and sauce — super delicious dinner. She makes great tomato sauce,” Lewis says in an aside. “I shout to her, ‘Hey, there’s this photographer out of Australia that is doing this tour to the North Pole. Can I go?’”

“Sure, dinner’s almost ready,” Marianne answered.

Just like that, Lewis departed North Carolina the following July and landed, four flights later, on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago far into the Arctic Ocean, near the top of the world. From there, Lewis, Holko and a dozen or so other adventuring photographers boarded a former lighthouse tender called the MS Origo. For three-and-a-half weeks, the explorers endured dive-bombs from overprotective Arctic terns and the putrid odor of hordes of walruses. They tallied a staggering 17 polar bear sightings on Kong Karls Land, the choicest hibernation destination in the far North.

The mug of one of those 17 is immortalized on the patrons’ right as they enter Chef Warren’s restaurant. The bear feels close. “The correct response is too close,” Lewis says, confessing that the bear was only a room’s length away.

“So here’s the gig. I’m going to die, right?” Lewis asks dryly as he eyes the way-too-close closeup of the magnificent sharp-toothed beast. “This is the way to do it. I want a good story, right? I want my son, Ben, to have a great story. ‘How did your dad die?’ ‘Oh, he got eaten by a polar bear.’ Now that’s a great story.”

Lewis grins and clicks on, very much alive.

He breezes through dozens of images of European bison, another pack of gray wolves, and an Arctic fox curled up tightly to warm itself on a frigid day. An hour after setting out for far-flung locales, he’s satisfied. Lewis powers down his whirlwind expedition. Having returned to that four-top in a coffeeshop, he takes a sip of his warm and watery latte.

Jenna Biter is a writer and military wife in the Sandhills. She can be reached at jennabiter@protonmail.com. Explore Chef Warren Lewis’s photography at warrenhenrylewis.com.

Poem December 2023

Poem December 2023

Snowbird

The Latin teacher finally did retire. Her balcony now bends toward the sea. She is in a high-rise looking down at birds. Gulls scream and fly north to the next resort. All that’s left now are pigeons on the patio. They scavenge through the purpling decorative cabbage. She hasn’t seen a pelican yet, just the same birds she came here to get away from. They look like feathered cataracts in a kale eyeball. She sees a buried Titan with umbrella pectorals. It struggles to emerge from beneath the sodden November sand, beaten down by so many tenacious dog walkers. He has his eye on her. 

— Maura Way

Maura Way’s second collection of poetry, Mummery, was published by Press 53.