Tiny Love Stories

Tiny Love Stories

Design by Keith Borshak

The assignment was simple. Well, maybe not so simple. Write a love story in 100 words or less. As the old saying (often attributed to Mark Twain, because if we don’t know where stuff comes from, we always attribute it to Twain) goes, “I apologize for the length of this letter. If I’d had more time it would have been shorter.” The story could be about a significant other, or not. It could be fact or fancy. It just had to be short. As it turns out, wonderful things come in small packages.         Jim Moriarty


It happened on a frigid winter morning, probably sometime around 1965. I was 12. My father was an early riser who loved to cook breakfast. I was too. One morning I wandered out to the kitchen, where he was stirring some kind of white goop in a saucepan.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s called SOS.”

“What’s that?”

“In the Army we called it shit on a shingle. It got me through the war. See if you like it.”

He brought me a plate with the white goop on toast.

I’d never tasted anything so wonderful in my life.

Still haven’t.        — Jim Dodson


She floated through a series of ports over the years, stitched together by a singular guiding thread. A short stretch in her life when she taught piano coincided with a suspended moment in mine when I was in need of a teacher. Shy, stubborn, a fish out of water, piano was my solace. Pat took me in, a boy of 7, sensed a spark and painted a vista of my life in music, as if peering back nostalgically from some future shore. When the time came, she untethered me and set my sail. She loved me. And I loved her.       — David Michael Wolff


He reaches a raisiny hand for hers, squeezes the knotted fingers. The wheelchairs are too far apart for kissing. Second best will have to do. She’s different than six decades ago but still the same. He smiles a golden retriever grin at the blue sky, sunny day. Hibiscuses spill onto the patio. A breeze whistles by. “Oooh.” He winces, like the chill took a bite. Concern lines his forehead. “Is it warm?” He raises a crooked pointer at her bare, bony arms. The words aren’t quite right — but close — momentarily resurfaced from tired gray matter by the habit of love.       — Jenna Biter


In 1999 I was a flight attendant. Returning from Stuttgart, I told a fellow flight attendant about a dream I’d had the night before. In it, I met my husband, who had dark hair, dark eyes and was of foreign descent. We looked all through the plane before take-off but didn’t see him. Before landing, as I was changing my shoes, a man walked up and said, “Excuse me, would you ladies happen to have a lint brush?” The man from my dream was standing right before me. Black hair, brown eyes, of Greek descent. We married 10 months later.       — Cherry Amanatidis


I see Mom’s footprints in the sand, her arches so high only the impression of her toes, the ball of her foot and the heel appear. Her feet turn out at a 5 degree angle, as though she wants to go somewhere else — left? Right? I see her sun-kissed and windswept walking away from me, alone, kicking at sea foam, crouching to admire a shell. She is getting smaller and smaller until she’s a dot on the horizon, and then I see her reappear through wavy heat, returning, defined, getting larger and larger, until she is here with me again.       — Marilyn Barrett


I was recovering from knee replacement surgery and had been sleeping in a recliner in the den. One early morning, just as dawn was starting to gather in the East, Evelyn got up and for some reason came out to check on me. My eyes were closed and she thought I was sleeping. Very gently she tousled my hair and stroked my arm. It felt like I was being touched by an angel. Nearly 56 years into “us” she is still my girlfriend.       — John Dempsey


Early in our relationship, Lisa came with me on a Scottish golf trip — a big stretch for a relatively new player. I got wind of a golf tournament we could play in while there. Lisa was game, provided we would be playing together. “No problem,” I said. Upon arriving, we discovered (to my chagrin) she was on her own, paired with three excellent female players. Had Lisa refused to play and ditched me forever, I wouldn’t have blamed her. Instead she played — as good-natured, endearing and romantic a round of golf as ever there was.       — Bill Case


She watched him from the chair that he placed by the window so that she could “keep an eye on” him. Watch him shovel the snow from the front steps. The kids, he told her, were “coming for the occasion.” What occasion? Was it her birthday? She would ask him later.

“No, my sweet darling, it’s not your birthday yet,” he smiled as he came to her chair side. “It’s the luckiest day of my life, 50 years ago today we said I do.”

Tenderly he cradled her face in his cool hands and kissed her. “Forever, I do.”        — Neville Beamer


“I was there,” Myra said.

I was there,” I said.

That was our last phone call. Feeling the crush of being a first-year med student, Myra was unsure about the relationship with “my favorite sportswriter,” her label on a balloon bouquet I received at the paper.

We talked after she got out of class. I waited at one door of Stone Hall. She waited at another. Each of us left not knowing the other had shown up.

I carried the frustration of that missed connection for 17 years, to another door in another city. When I arrived, Myra was waiting.       — Bill Fields


It was July 3, 2020. Despite COVID cancellations, restrictions and military orders, I had convinced my fiancé to keep our original wedding date. Four days before, he agreed. We secured vendors, rings and cake. The venue? Our apartment.

More than 75 screens with our loved ones’ faces joined our officiant and musicians on Zoom. Two friends used roaming and static cameras to capture it all. I walked down the aisle in our kitchen. We shared our vows in the living room and had our first dance in the dining room. Hope and love found a way. It was virtually perfect.       — Lorelei Colbert


Jackson’s a chocolate Lab. I’ve always wanted a dog, but he’s more for Wylie. We stand under the willow with the water running out the hose, Jackson, Wylie and me. Dandelions cover the lawn: a yellow rebellion.

When Wylie was 4, a pit bull took a tiny chunk of his left cheek.

Wylie turns the bottle of soap upside down and squeezes. You can rub it in, I tell him. It’ll feel good. Wylie’s hand hovers above the river of shampoo, hesitant, and Jackson sits on the wet grass, covered in strawberry-scented soap, straight, still, waiting for my son’s hand.        — Katrina Denza



Having gone on without any rehearsal to cover an actress who had to be out that night, I was shattered from stress. I was dating a fella who said to come “home” to his place after the show.

I rang the doorbell and collapsed into his arms.  He led me to the bedroom, where he had a robe and a hot bubble bath all drawn for me. He settled me in and came back with two glasses of Champagne. He perched on the tub, handed me a glass and said, “Now, tell me everything.”

Why would I not marry him?        — Joyce Reehling


There is a Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by joining together the cracks with gold. It is a reminder to celebrate flaws and missteps in life. Last year every single aspect of my life turned to a misstep. Then slowly, one day at a time, the cracks began to fill with gold. The cracks were filled by little surprises and unexpected moments. Things I would have never conjured up myself. Now I welcome the flaws and missteps because we need to be cracked open! That’s how the light gets in.        — Brady Gallagher


He was 96, drifting in and out of awareness, in a hospital bed in the downstairs of the home he built with his own big hands, the home where I asked him almost 50 years before if I could marry his daughter. She and I were leaving in the morning. As her brother and sisters watched, she took one of those hands in both of hers and, knowing she would never see him alive again, squeezed it softly and said, “I love you, Daddy,” and my heart broke, for her, for him, for us.        — Jim Moriarty


We met in Chapel Hill, on a drizzly Wednesday morning. I tried to postpone, thinking a few more months could do us both good, but you wouldn’t wait. I imagine we were both scared — I certainly was. You were tiny, but that first cry was strong and clear. Every day since then, little girl, I’ve loved you more. Your fearlessness, your voice that has learned to speak and sing and say Mama. I had explored before, across mountains and deserts, combat zones and tourist traps. Now, my favorite adventure is rocking chairs and read-alouds and rainy days with you.        — Amberly Weber


On break from Howard University, I went to a Pinecrest basketball game, where I saw the most beautiful woman in the world. Her cocoa skin, her million-dollar smile, her almond-shaped eyes made time stand still. One of my brother’s friends said, “Don’t waste your time, she won’t give you the time of day!” Not only did she give me her time but she gave me her unconditional love, her hand in marriage, and two wonderful sons. If I could live my life all over again, I would try to find her sooner so I could love her longer.        — Mitchell G. Capel


I was hosting that morning. I wasn’t supposed to be. Usually I served in the evenings. But not today.

The restaurant was empty that morning. It wasn’t supposed to be. Usually Saturday mornings saw lines out the door. But not today.

I saw him when he entered. The man of my dreams. We chatted. I had his server bring him a birthday treat. As he left, I hastily wrote my number on a piece of receipt paper. 

That was 2011.

One day, it might sink in that I get to spend my whole life with this man. But not today.        — Cara Mathis


Not all things begin at the end, but our love story does. After one has their heart shattered into a million tiny pieces, the kind that are so delicate and scatter, like a glass ornament that fell on a hard floor, you don’t ever expect to recover. In a way you don’t. But, if you take two people who suffer the same grief and put them together — much like a punchline — what you end up with is a hopeful and beautiful beginning. You have unbreakable, insane and unexpected love. This I know.        — Beth MacDonald


He’s been gone more than four decades, a victim to that three-packs-a-day habit that snared so many in the mid-1900s. But I loved everything about my dad, Thomas Aiken Pace. He introduced me to Tar Heel sports, Dizzy Dean, Sonny Jurgensen, Frederick Forsyth, a cold Falstaff, a marinated steak, the curveball and a Stingray bicycle. On rainy days, he’d drive me on my paper route, and I think he knew full well I was sneaking looks inside the Playboy magazines in his drugstore. And from this most gentle man I learned there was no good reason to ever raise your voice.        — Lee Pace


I make a big deal of birthdays. Ryan is a Leo, so his comes first between the two of us. “It’s just another day,” he’d say. Naturally, I ignored that for his 23rd and made it my mission to make it the best birthday ever. Giddy was the only way to describe him that day. That’s the smile I hold on to. He repaid the sentiment on my 21st. It’s still the best one. In two more years I’ll catch up to his age, 25, and when I blow out my candles I’ll wish for him.        — Emilee Phillips


We got home from a night at the neighbors. The house was glowing with warm light as we hurried to escape the cold. The dog needed to go out, so I lingered as you went inside. New lights came on and you appeared in the kitchen window in full pajamas and favorite robe. I watched as you danced your funny little dance in the light of the open refrigerator. The dog and I soon returned inside to hear there was no music playing at all. You saw my face and asked me, as you often do, “Why are you smiling?”        — Anthony Parks



1971, London, Soho, lunchtime. I see a large rubber plant walking toward me with attractive, female undercarriage. As it got closer, I recognized its carrier – none other than the beautiful girl in the office I fancied from afar. I asked her if she had had lunch. Two minutes later we were sitting down in an Indian restaurant talking away over the poppadoms like we’d known each other all our lives.  Three months, and quite a few curries later, we were engaged. We just got back from London celebrating our 50th. The Indian is still there. Rubber plant, not so much.        — Tony Rothwell


The curtain rises (if there is one). The stage is set for a love affair unlike any other. The performers rehearsed for this moment when they use their energy and passion to act their hearts out. Tonight’s audience doesn’t care how good you were last night! Something special happens: an electric connection between performer and audience. For well-trained and well-prepared actors, craft and technique disappear. We’re living the performance together. Our love affair transcends time and space. Thriving, flourishing, and changing every night, every matinee . . . everywhere there’s a stage and an audience. Surrender. Let love change us.        — Morgan Sills


You still sport that boyish grin, the same one you used when, after a lovely dinner and seemingly endless tour of Raleigh Christmas lights, you plucked up the courage to ask if I’d “bear your children.” High school, college, Greek parties, Crazy Zacks, and Jimmy V wins. We danced to beach music with sand between our toes, and “With This Ring” still means forever. Sometimes 44 years feels like a lifetime ago until that grin brings me back to our first kiss — stolen while gathering Spanish moss for a Christmas float, when I was 17 and you were 18.        — Kathryn Talton


He was leaning in for a kiss. Should I turn away? I had a boyfriend, after all. Sort of. Everything was happening in slow motion. I’d had a crush on Alan since the day we met, almost three years earlier. As friends, we’d watched each other bend for relationships that never seemed to fit. But love wasn’t supposed to be simple, was it? Being with Alan never seemed like an option. His lips were so close mine were buzzing. Now we were living 300 miles apart. This wasn’t exactly convenient. Yes, it’s what I wanted, but — contact.        — Ashley Walshe


Poem February 2023

The Eagles Have Landed

America’s bird is on the rebound

By Susan Campbell

Anyone who has had the good fortune to spot a bald eagle, whether soaring overhead or perched along a waterway, cannot help but be awed by their handsome appearance. This large raptor is not only our national symbol but the only eagle found solely in North America.

Benjamin Franklin supposedly lobbied for the wild turkey, the only endemic bird species to the United States, to be our national bird. But Congress decided on the bald eagle in 1782, as a result of its perceived fierce demeanor. In actuality, bald eagles are mainly carrion eaters but will attack wounded mammals, birds and aquatic animals as well. They are very opportunistic and will also snatch prey from crows if they get the chance.

During the first half of the 20th century, eagles were erroneously persecuted by raptor hunters, often by ranchers who were attempting to protect their investments. They were also affected by metal toxicity as a result of feeding on game containing lead shot. Additionally, during the period of broad-scale DDT application, as most people know, the toxin accumulated in carnivores at the top of the food chain. And, as was the case in several bird species, it caused eggshell thinning such that eagle eggs broke long before they could hatch.

Bald eagles were declared an endangered species in 1967. Following the ban on DDT and the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, their numbers began to rebound. On June 28, 2007, the species was declared recovered. Here in North Carolina they are being closely monitored by state biologists. Although the number of nests and young has been increasing, they are still considered threatened here.

In the Sandhills, there are year-round sightings of individuals, most commonly on larger lakes such as Lake Surf (Woodlake) or Lake Pinehurst. At least one pair has been nesting in Moore County for a few years now: in (wait for it) Eagle Springs. Farther north, they can be frequently spotted around Falls or Jordan Lake in the Triangle or Lake Townsend in Greensboro.

In mid-winter, birdwatchers and endangered species biologists are on the lookout for eagle nests. Bald eagle pairs return to their breeding territories and lay eggs ahead of most other raptors (the exception being great horned owls, which begin breeding activities a bit earlier). Their sizable platforms of dead branches and large sticks may or may not be easy to spot. Eagle nests, if they are reused from year to year, will be gradually enlarged but not massive affairs. Newer nests can be well concealed in the top of a live evergreen or large snag.

Eagle young, who typically fledge in April, take three to four years to mature. They will not successfully attract a mate until they have a fully white head and tail. Should you see an adult in the weeks ahead, keep an eye out for a second bird. A pair of adults may mean there is a nest somewhere nearby. If you suspect that you have found a nest, definitely give me a holler!  PS

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.



Painted Ponies Running Wild — Again

They may not be Misty’s foal, Stormy, but you’re sure to fall in love with more than one of Broad Street’s very own wild horses. These 14 painted beauties will be decorating the town of Southern Pines until early April to capture the imagination of the horse-crazy among us. The event culminates in a live online auction of the ponies on Saturday, April 15, with proceeds benefiting the Carolina Horse Park Foundation. Last year’s herd brought in over $125,000. Info: www.carolinahorsepark.com.

Mike Howell

Think Tank Thoughts

The James E. Holshouser Jr. Speaker Series will host Mike Howell, director of the Heritage Oversight Project, for “An Afternoon with the Heritage Foundation,” from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 5, at BPAC’s Owens Auditorium, 3395 Airport Road, Pinehurst. The event features updates from a leading conservative public policy think tank, including a presentation on the border situation between the U.S. and Mexico. For information and tickets, go to www.ticketmesandhills.com.


Southern Gothic in the Sandhills

On Wednesday, Feb. 22, Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities writer-in-residence Valerie Nieman will read from her latest novel, In the Lonely Backwater, a gripping and graceful mystery in the Southern gothic tradition released in May 2022. When Maggie becomes a prime suspect in the prom-night murder of her cousin, we learn she has secrets not even a detective can unravel. Admission is free at the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, 555 E. Connecticut Ave., Southern Pines. Reading begins at 5:30 p.m. For information, go to www.weymouthcenter.org.


No Strings Attached

Get in the Valentine’s spirit with music that’s good for the heart and soul. On Thursday, Feb. 2, at 7:30 p.m., the North Carolina Symphony will perform Felix Mendelssohn’s String Symphony No. 7 at Robert E. Lee Auditorium, 250 Voit Gilmore Road, Southern Pines. It’s one of 12 string symphonies Mendelssohn wrote between the ages of 12 and 14. Busy boy. For more information, go to www.ncsymphony.com.


The Four Freshmen

You don’t need a trip down Route 66 to find The Four Freshmen: Just grab a seat at BPAC’s Owens Auditorium, 3395 Airport Road, Pinehurst, at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 3, when the group that has recorded over 75 albums, 70 top-selling singles and received six Grammy nominations performs live on stage. The integrity of the sound created by the “original guys” (the group was formed in 1948) has been meticulously maintained, with a modern twist of elegance to the time-honored sound that The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson once called his favorite band to watch live. For more information and tickets, go to www.ticketmesandhills.com.


An Affair to Remember

Just in time for the paperback release, University of North Carolina Wilmington creative writing professor and author Nina de Gramont will talk about her book The Christie Affair on Wednesday, Feb. 15, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., at The Country Bookshop, 140 N.W. Broad St., Southern Pines. For information and tickets, go to www.ticketmesandhills.com.


Heart and Soul

Vocalist Clint Holmes headlines the Heart of Carolina Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Gregg Gelb at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, at BPAC’s Owens Auditorium, 3395 Airport Road, Pinehurst. Holmes’ 40-year career has taken him from the top of the charts to an Emmy award for his own TV show and from a Grammy nomination to headlining in Las Vegas. For information and tickets, go to www.ticketmesandhills.com.


Learning about the Lumbee Tribe

The first of three parts in the spring lecture series “Lumbee Life, Lore & Legacy” features Harvey Godwin Jr. discussing “The Background and Local History of the Lumbee Tribe” at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 19, at the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, 555 E. Connecticut Ave., Southern Pines. Cost is $15 for members and $20 for non-members. For information, go to www.weymouthcenter.org.

Tea Leaf Astrologer

Tea Leaf Astrologer


(January 20 – February 18)

You’ve heard the tale of the two wolves, right? The good wolf and the bad wolf at battle within each of us? The one you feed is the one who wins. This wisdom is particularly applicable for you this month, Water Bearer. Although your wolves may have different names — visionary and fool, perhaps — the message is the same. Which animal will you feed?

Tea leaf “fortunes” for the rest of you:

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

It’s time to shake some dust.

Aries (March 21 – April 19) 

Rainbows and sunshine, baby.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20) 

Say it with flowers.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

Probiotics with the assist. 

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

You can’t rush your own spring.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

The cake is not done.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22) 

Just use what you’ve got. 

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

Trust your inner compass. 

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

Don’t forget to claim your prize.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

Sometimes the shortcut isn’t a shortcut. 

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Shake it and start over.  PS

Zora Stellanova has been divining with tea leaves since Game of Thrones’ Starbucks cup mishap of 2019. While she’s not exactly a medium, she’s far from average. She lives in the N.C. foothills with her Sphynx cat, Lyla. 

In the Spirit

In the Spirit

Manhattan Variations

Subtle twists, refined tastes

By Tony Cross

While I was at work last week, I saw a bottle of vermouth that I enjoy and immediately realized that it had been a minute or so since I’ve made and enjoyed a Manhattan. I vowed to make myself one that night.

It was getting a little late by the time I was heading home, and I remembered I was out of Grand Marnier. A quick detour to the local ABC store aaannnddd . . . they’re closed. “Damn it!” I pouted, furious that I had literally missed the window by five minutes. I’ve done that maybe twice in my life. When I got home I went to my cabinet to get a bottle of rye and a bottle of Angostura bitters. As I was reaching for the bitters, my hand was drawn to a small bottle of Angostura cocoa bitters. “This could be good,” I thought. I grabbed the bitters, retrieved my vermouth from the fridge, and away I went whipping up the cocktail. It was so good I’ve been making one every night since.

Those of you who know how to make a Manhattan might wonder why the hell I would need an orange liqueur — it’s not even an ingredient in the drink. And you would be right. Until you try it. I’ll explain. But first, let’s KFC this thing and look at the original recipe.



2 ounces whiskey (bourbon or rye)

1 ounce sweet vermouth

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Bourbon or rye will do, just make sure that the proof is 90 or above. It truly does make a better Manhattan. As far as vermouth goes, my go-to is always Carpano Antica, but other vermouths such as Cocchi, Cinzano, Dolin, etc., will do. As always, make sure your vermouth has been refrigerated after opening. Vermouth that has been sitting in your liquor cabinet is trash — throw it out. The bitters, in my opinion, must be Angostura. There are other aromatic bitters available if you’d like to switch it up, and there is nothing wrong with that, though I still think Angostura reigns supreme. When you are using bitters, make sure that the dashes are not drops. Don’t be scared to give that bottle a shake.

Now, the orange liqueur. When I first got into mixing drinks, I followed Dushan Zaric from Employee’s Only in New York City. His cocktail book was my Bible. In it, he has a recipe for a Manhattan that goes something like this:

Manhattan (Employee’s Only version)

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey

1 3/4 ounces sweet vermouth

1/2 ounce Grand Marnier

3 dashes Angostura bitters

Right off the bat you’ll notice that there is more vermouth in this version of a Manhattan. Back in the 1800s in legendary bartender Jerry Thomas’ day, this was a vermouth cocktail and it did have orange curaçao. The folks at EO like to honor the cocktail and make it the way it was done 150 years ago. Truth be told, I would do a 2:1 ratio of rye and vermouth but keep the Grand Marnier at 1/2 ounce. It is delicious and a must-try for any whiskey fan.

The next variation was created by bartender Todd Smith when he worked at Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco in 2005. By swapping out the sweet vermouth with amaro (an Italian liqueur), the drink leans more toward the bitter end.

Black Manhattan

2 ounces rye whiskey

1 ounce Amaro Averna

1 dash Angostura bitters

1 dash orange bitters

Last but not least, my latest nightly treat. There’s nothing to it, just the addition of cocoa bitters. I did, however, play around with the specs a little. For instance, I always use a rye when making Manhattans, but it just so happened I had a bottle of Old Scout straight bourbon whiskey that had been gifted to me, so on my second night of making Chocolate Manhattans, I gave it a shot. The Old Scout is a whopping 121 proof (yikes!), but the sweet vermouth takes the edge off and the cocoa bitters makes the cocktail come together. If you don’t have a high proof bourbon, a 90 proof (or higher) rye whiskey will most definitely do. As for garnishes, I usually use a lemon peel — expressing its oils over the cocktail — but, as luck would have it, I purchased and opened a bottle of Luxardo Maraschino cherries and hot damn, does it make that last sip taste like dessert! Cherries, chocolate . . . am I still talking about a grown-up cocktail? You betcha.

As with all of these Manhattan cocktails, the setup and execution are the same: Make sure your drinking coupe is cold. Add all liquid ingredients into a chilled stirring vessel. Use good ice (if possible) and stir until the cocktail is cold and enough water is diluted, then strain your cocktail into the cold coupe.

Chocolate Manhattan

2 ounces Old Scout 6-year straight bourbon whiskey 

1 ounce Carpano Antica vermouth

2 dashes Angostura Cocoa bitters

1 dash Angostura bitters  PS

Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

Simple Life

Simple Life

Where Does the Light Go?

Reflections on a beloved friend’s passing — and growing older

By Jim Dodson

In an early time, according to the late Irish bard and spiritual thinker John O’Donohue, Medieval mystics loved to pose the beguiling question: Where does the light go when the candle is blown out?

I couldn’t help but think of this conundrum one recent Saturday morning as I sat in a pew of the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Atlanta, having taken a redeye flight from Los Angeles in order to attend a dear friend’s funeral service.

Celetta Randolph Jones — Randy  as she was affectionately known by hundreds, if not thousands of people — was one of my oldest and closest friends. She walked into my life in 1977 at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution two days after I arrived at the oldest Sunday magazine in the nation. Editor Andy Sparks believed we needed to meet because we were both single, students of American history and Randy knew the city like the back of her most elegant hand.

I’d just turned 24, a wide-eyed bumpkin from North Carolina. Randy was almost 30, the sophisticated media officer of The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. I think perhaps Editor Sparks believed sparks might fly between us, which they did. Just not the kind he envisioned.

We discovered instead a friendship for the ages. During my nearly seven years in Atlanta, Randy became my frequent dinner companion during which no subject was out of bounds — God, politics, my literary ambitions and her string of colorful boyfriends who could never keep up with her.

By the time my career carried me off to New England, Randy had started her own public relations firm and was quickly becoming a megastar representing the likes of Coca-Cola, British Airways and dozens of other A-list regional and international clients. Despite the distance, our friendship only deepened and grew. When my daughter, Maggie, was born in 1989, Randy, who never married, was delighted to become my daughter’s godmother. She came to New England and North Carolina many times for holidays and family occasions, and I never failed to stay with her whenever I passed through Atlanta. She truly was one of the great lights — and gifts — of my life.

It was lovely to learn from the words of remembrance from her adoring brothers, Harry and Powell Jones, that “Aunt Randy” actually had a dozen or more godchildren she faithfully lavished attention and wisdom upon over the decades, even after a freakish illness destroyed her immune system and forced her to sell her thriving company. She moved to a high rise apartment in Atlanta’s Four Seasons Hotel where she became a tireless fundraiser for Emory University Hospital, The Woodruff Arts Center, her church and many other charities. According to brother Harry, everyone in the building, from the hotel doorman to her neighbor, Charles Barkley, considered Randy their best friend. Her generosity to friends and strangers alike knew no bounds.

I saw Randy a month or so before she passed away. She was frail but mentally vibrant and connected to people as ever, wanting to hear about my latest book project and her goddaughter’s life in L.A. We sat together for almost two hours. When I got up to go and bent to kiss her cheek, she remarked, with her wonderful, sultry, deep Georgia accent, “We have traveled pretty far together, haven’t we?”

“And we’re not done,” I replied. “You helped light the way.”

She patted my hand. “Don’t worry. That light will never go out.”

I think she knew we would never see each other again in this world. But had no doubt whatsoever about the next.

So where does the light go when the flame is blown out?  I’ll leave that debate to the Medieval mystics and take my friend Randy at her word that the light will never go out.

The passing of one you love, however, inevitably calls up thoughts of your own brief mortality.

This month, with not a lot of fanfare, I reach my Biblically proscribed threescore years and ten, a phrase popularized by Psalm 90, which was read at Randy’s service. Seventy was considered a ripe old life in ancient times.

Fortunately, I have two best buddies — Patrick and Joe — who are also reaching 70 around the same time I am: Joe in January, Patrick in March. At our regular luncheons of the Stuffed Potato Philosophy & Adventure Club, we often talk about how pleased we are to be “older” dudes who are still working at jobs we love and appreciating life more than ever. True, body parts don’t work as fluidly as they once did, but it’s amazing what we never worry about anymore, including death, taxes, career ups and downs, and the inevitability of growing older. This spring, Patrick and I plan to celebrate 58 years of playing golf together in America and Britain by setting off for a final roving match across Ireland, Scotland and England for perpetual bragging rights. Our legs may grow weary, but, I assure you, not our spirits.

A recent study shows that we are not alone, revealing that the vast majority of older Americans are as happy — and busy — as they have ever been in American society. As anti-ageism activist Ashton Applewhite recently pointed out in her outstanding TED Talk, older people tend to become more optimistic as they age, worry far less than younger folks, and really only have two things to be concerned about — that someday the people you love will die, and that parts of your body will eventually quit working. Fear of death doesn’t even make the list. Remaining open to new adventures and connected to people turns out to be a path for a long and meaningful life. Applewhite calls it the U-Curve of Happiness.

Was it simply the hand of sweet synchronicity that I happened to hear her inspiring TED Talk on the radio during the long drive home to North Carolina following Randy’s memorial service, or maybe something only a mystic could explain?

I’ll probably never know. But in the meantime, I’ll happily follow the flame wherever it leads next. PS

Jim Dodson can be reached at jwdauthor@gmail.com.



Eau d’Adventure

A little spritz goes a long way

By: Emilee Phillips

They say smells are the strongest links to memory. A whiff of something can transport you instantly through the years. Perfumes are like people, each complex and unique. One may sing a melancholy song but you can’t help but love her voice. Another might wrap you up in a big hug and hold you there no matter how long it’s been. A third can pull you into a hallway you haven’t dared walk down in years.

A new year is a chance to try on new versions of yourself as simply as changing your scent. You can have a signature perfume, or you can have the world at your door with the touch of an atomizer. I could smell like a girl who spends her days arranging flowers, drinking afternoon tea and wearing a pearl necklace. Or I could have a sultry scent and create mystery in the air as if, just walking past, it is possible to imagine being inside a luxurious yacht.

And I adore fragrance bottles. While many may be ornate, uniquely shaped vessels with ridiculous names on their labels, they’re my prized little possessions.

I have a round glass bottle of Chanel I got my senior year of high school. I use it sparingly, mostly on special occasions. Every pink spritz takes me back to seeing the world as an adult for the first time. Back to prom, my cap and gown, and first dates.

I have a bottle that’s yellow and cylindrical and reminds me of a trip I took to Ohio one winter, my white boots in the snow and my cousin, Maddy. We walked all around Cleveland, shivering with coffees in hand, finding unique storefronts and taking dramatic photos we dubbed “album covers.” A whiff brings us back together again.

People associate red roses with Valentine’s Day, as do I, though I prefer the look of peonies or carnations. Still, I opt for rose-scented spray on the 14th. Once, on my way out for dinner, I sprayed so much of it my coat held onto the scent deep into spring. My date rolled the car windows down, terrified, I suppose, that no automobile air freshener could ever put it right.

I secretly love walking through department stores with beauty bars and fragrance counters. The haze that hangs between the door and the shoe department is a fog bank I welcome. Even though most perfumes are overpriced and overly pungent, I enjoy over-sampling them all, sniffing test papers until my nose can no longer distinguish patchouli from pine.

I even keep a small gold metal bottle my mother bought in Paris back in the ’80s. It’s never been opened. She wanted to save it for a special occasion. Maybe one day I’ll test it out and cross my fingers that it doesn’t smell terrible. Maybe we’ll even wear it out together to create an aromatic memory all our own.  PS

Emilee Phillips is PineStraw’s director of social media and digital content.

To the Manor Reborn

To the Manor Reborn

A historic hotel transformed

By Deborah Salomon

Photographs by John Gessner

Historical Photographs from The Tufts Archives


To be memorable, a Christmas pudding needs soaking in brandy. Likewise, a sojourn at Pinehurst’s famed golf courses benefits from après golf immersion: lodgings, décor, potables, camaraderie with fellow-sojourners ready to rehash the day’s round from deeply upholstered chairs at inns where history comes alive via photographs and memorabilia.

The Manor — a luxury lodge, clubby without being uber-masculine, with a staff imbued with Southern hospitality — is part of this culture. It’s fair to say that, before its massive redo, The Manor had aged to the point it was considered little more than “overflow” lodging for the larger resort. Now it’s an attraction all its own.


Tucked behind The Pine Crest Inn and almost completely reimaged, The Manor suits groups who require gathering space as well as couples and weekend golfers in search of a game. It’s just far enough from the village center to claim quiet yet close enough to walk to virtually everything, including the wildly successful Pinehurst Brewery just down the hill. It’s intimate enough — 43 rooms — to feel homey yet part of the Pinehurst Resort family giving guests access to pool, spa and all hotel amenities.

And, like her cousin inns Magnolia and Holly, The Manor is steeped in history.


By the early 1900s Pinehurst was gaining popularity as a winter resort, accessible by rail, boasting mild temperatures and upper-crust guests who rented cottages for “the season” or stopped at a hotel. These facilities required staff, and staff required affordable lodgings. In 1899 the Tufts family announced, “A fine new hotel, The Lexington, for employees of the village is being erected.” Here, a single room in the four-story walk-up cost from $17 to $28 monthly; a double, some with bath, $32 to $40. Tufts hired New England hotelier Emma Bliss — also the force behind The Pine Crest Inn — to manage the project. Emma, who is often compared to the Unsinkable Molly Brown, had loftier ideas. In 1922 she applied for a loan to raze, rebuild and gentrify The Lexington. Bankers, aghast at this cheeky woman, finally relented. The Manor opened in 1923 with a sprinkler system, private bathrooms and steam heat. The Pinehurst Outlook described it as “luxuriously furnished, catering to an exclusive clientele with an elevator, also a phone in each room.”

Build it and they will come. “Mrs. H. Guggenheim of New York City has arrived for a week,” the Outlook society page announced.


Over the years, The Manor has changed ownership and undergone several renovations. Nothing compares to the last one, begun in 2019, when the building was stripped down to its studs, space reallocated, spa bathrooms installed along with décor based, surprisingly, on blue — a soothing smoky shade midway between UNC Tar Heel pastel and Duke Blue Devil electric. Playing off the blue is a sandy-beige plaid fabric, hereafter dubbed Manor tartan, that appears in both public and guest rooms. Miles of moldings, tray ceilings, multiple columns and a graceful staircase divide the lobby into conversation areas, one with a built-in Scrabble board. Another, The Marketplace, stocks breakfast sandwiches sent over from the hotel kitchen, snacks and beverages.

The frontal exterior, however, remains mostly intact with its circular drive, porte-cochère, and foundation trimmed with Kellarstone, a rough surfaced-material touted for endurance.

The North & South bar anchors the lobby, boasting more than 100 bourbons, whiskeys, craft cocktails plus beer from neighboring Pinehurst Brewing Co., with charcuterie boards to temper absorption. Look up and you’ll see an illustration (circa 1920) of Donald Ross’ first four courses. Look out and you’ll find decks outfitted with fire pits for chilly evenings.


COVID interrupted its introduction, but by mid-January The Manor opened, drop-dead gorgeous, still informal enough to raise Mrs. Guggenheim’s eyebrows.

No matter how comfy the sofas are or how many oversized TVs tuned to sports channels hang from the walls, nothing makes a better first impression than the enthusiastic welcome of Kathy Capel, front desk manager, problem solver, sympathizer, advice giver. Her knowledge of the area becomes crucial during junior competitions, when families arrive from around the globe. After 36 years, first at The Carolina Hotel, then The Manor, Capel’s laugh and twinkle have made her popular with locals and repeat guests alike.

Oh, the tales Capel could tell were she not so discreet. The hands she’s shaken include Sidney Poitier (“He was so handsome.”), Dean Smith, Bobby Knight, Oprah Winfrey, Roy Williams and her buddy Arnold Palmer, whose photograph, with father Deacon Palmer, hangs over the front desk.

Palmer could have stayed anywhere, but The King chose The Manor. “He always had suite 401. He would sit on the porch for hours and sign autographs,” Capel recalls. When Palmer passed away in 2016, “I cried like a baby,” says Capel. “But his daughter came down last year to see our pictures of him.”

In the 1980s central air conditioning, then warmer winters extended the “season,” attracting a clientele seeking a more contemporary setting. In April 2020, the resort’s owner, Bob Dedman Jr., told Business North Carolina magazine: “We’ve always gone back, tried to be more authentic, restore the character of Pinehurst but at the same time, contemporize so that its legacy will last. Part of it is looking backward but another part is always looking forward.”

It means rocking chairs on the porch, craft beers on tap, Wi-Fi, and Kathy Capel calling out “Welcome to The Manor” from her forever position at the front desk.  PS



February knows you’re weary.

She can tell by the longing in your eyes, the ache in your chest and shoulders, how you carry the cold like a burden.

On these frost-cloaked mornings, you dream of soft earth and tender blossoms, spring peepers and swallowtails, songbirds and sunny afternoons.

February knows. She cannot give you what she does not have. And yet, she offers hope.

At dawn, the frigid air nips your face and lungs, stuns you with its jarring presence. It’s hard, at first, to see beyond the dense clouds of your own breath. This is where you start: Breathe into the mystery. Let the formless take form. Watch your own warmth shape the world around you.

As the pink sky slowly brightens, two silhouettes appear in the glittering distance.

A pair of rabbits.

Something about their gentle presence softens the very landscape, softens your edges and your gaze. Weeks from now, their quiet stirrings will have conjured the first of many quivering litters. Something deep within you stirs.

February offers contrast.

Suddenly, you notice early crocus, jewel-like petals drenched with more color than you’ve seen in months. For now, this luscious purple is enough.

But there’s more.

When the first golden daffodil emerges from the frozen earth, a sunbeam lights upon your face. You close your eyes, basking in this subtle warmth, this fleeting glimpse of what’s to come.

The cold becomes quiet. As you walk the icy bridge between the harsh clutch of winter and the tender kiss of spring, you carry yourself differently. Hope is gleaming in your eyes, glittering on the horizon, tucked inside your chest like a sacred gift.


Bridge Between Seasons

The ancient Celts looked to the Wheel of the Year to celebrate and honor nature’s cycles, drawing wisdom from the turning of each season. Imbolc (observed on Feb. 1) marks the midpoint between the winter solstice (Yule) and the spring equinox (Ostara). In other words: Imbolc is a bridge between death and rebirth. Also known as Candlemas or Brigid’s (pronounced Breed’s) Day, this festival honors the return of the sun and celebrates the Celtic fertility goddess Brigid.

The days are growing longer. The sun, stronger. The earth opens to a quickening rhythm.

Soon, the seeds from last year’s harvest will be sown. As spring awakens within and around us, the great wheel turns and turns.


While it is February one can taste the full joys of anticipation. Spring stands at the gate with her finger on the latch.   — Patience Strong


Crocus Pocus

Perhaps you know that saffron, the complex and costly spice, comes from the red stigmas of the autumn-blooming saffron crocus (C. sativus), not the snow crocuses you see now, bursting through the frozen earth. And yet, these winter-blooming beauties offer something of even greater value: the ineffable promise of spring.

Plant your own corms this fall. They’ll need full sun, moist but well-drained soil and a quiet winter to unlock their incomparable magic.  PS

Monarchs of the Forest


The wonder of champion trees

Story and Photographs by Todd Pusser

This and above photograph: Gary Williamson and National Champion Tulip Poplar in Chesapeake, VA


It was a tip from a local hunter that first alerted Gary Williamson to the presence of the tree. Standing near the edge of a plowed field, just across the North Carolina line in Chesapeake, Virginia, the tulip poplar dwarfs all other trees nearby. Well over 100 feet tall and 32 feet in circumference, it is the largest of its kind anywhere in the United States.

The tree, while alive and healthy, is hollow on the inside, making it impossible to accurately age. Tulip poplars can live for several hundred years, and it is likely this giant was alive long before the United States declared its independence from Great Britain. Once, while leading a field trip of big tree enthusiasts, Williamson managed to crowd 15 people inside the tree at one time with room to spare. The tree is a survivor, having lived through droughts, wars, hurricanes, and the unrelenting pressure of the saw blade.

Mankind has long been fascinated by trees, especially large trees. The fascination reached a fever pitch in the early 1800s when explorers, searching for gold in California, reported the first encounters with coastal redwoods and giant sequoias, those blue whales of the plant kingdom. Reaching heights of over 350 feet, with diameters well north of 19 feet, these gargantuan trees are the largest living organisms on Earth. It has been estimated that one particular giant sequoia, appropriately nicknamed “The President,” holds over 2 billion leaves among its branches.

National Champion Darlington Oak Tree in Edgecomb County, NC


When Europeans first colonized America, they set about the task of felling the continent’s vast virgin forests with axes and handsaws, using the wood to make houses, barns, ship hulls and railroad ties. The advent of steam-powered logging machinery, followed later by gas-powered chainsaws, served to increase the efficiency of logging, and by the mid-20th century, virtually no acre of forest in the United States remained untouched by the saw blade.

Around this time, in the early 1940s, the American Forestry Association (now called American Forests) created The National Register of Champion Trees to encourage members of the general public to find, document and preserve the largest remaining specimens of this continent’s (approximately) 750 species of trees.  The program (www.americanforests.org) created a unique scoring system to help determine if a tree qualifies as a champion.

The formula is straightforward: Take the circumference of the tree (in inches) at breast height, add the height of the tree (in feet), and then add one-quarter of the average crown spread (in feet) for a total point score. The program is active in all 50 states as well as American territories like Puerto Rico. Each state maintains its own list of the largest trees found within its borders, crowning them state champions. If a state champion tree proves exceptionally large, it may qualify for the Register as a national champion.

Anyone can nominate a tree for the National Register. There is no need to be a botanist, forester or professional arborist. All it takes is a keen eye and a sense of curiosity for the natural world. 

Few people have nominated as many champion trees to the National Register as Virginia natives Gary Williamson and Byron Carmean. For the past four decades, both men (each in their mid-70s) have traversed the backwoods of North Carolina and Virginia, searching for superlative trees. Most weekends will find them kayaking rivers, walking floodplain forests, driving remote backroads, and searching old cemeteries and estates for the next champion.

State Champion Flowering Dogwood in cemetary in Clinton, NC


In that time, the pair have nominated some truly extraordinary trees. Among them are North Carolina’s largest tree, a rotund bald cypress (with a total score of 558 points) growing along the Roanoke River in Martin County; the national champion Darlington oak tree (which stands alone in a farmer’s field near Rocky Mount); the national champion silky camellia, whose broad, fragrant flowers brighten up the springtime forest in Merchants Millpond State Park; a state champion Hercules club (an unusual looking tree covered in large thorns) in the town of Duck in the Outer Banks, and a state champ Shumard Oak growing along the nutrient rich soils of the Deep River. Over 142 feet tall, with an average crown spread of 110 feet, the oak can easily be seen on Google Earth.

I recently joined Williamson on a cool winter’s day to see and photograph the national champ tulip poplar growing in Chesapeake. Bearing similarities to European poplars and having white, tulip-shaped flowers gives the tree its common name. However, the tulip poplar is in no way related to poplars or tulips. Instead, it’s a member of the magnolia family and is the tallest hardwood tree in North America.

Taking pictures of a champion tree is inherently difficult. There is simply no way to sufficiently capture the essence of “bigness,” that wow factor, within a two-dimensional frame. No matter what lens is used or at which angle you shoot, the resulting image will inevitably diminish the size of the tree. Nevertheless, I persisted for well over an hour, posing Williamson at various positions around its trunk and even inside the tree. 

Finally, as the sun was sinking below the horizon, I stopped taking photos and simply stood at the base of the living monarch, staring up toward its immense crown. Running my hands over its furrowed bark, I thought of what the forests looked like at the time my ancestors first set foot on this continent. Here, standing before me, was a shining example of that bygone era and one of the true wonders of the natural world.  PS

Naturalist and photographer Todd Pusser grew up in Eagle Springs. He works to document the extraordinary diversity of life both near and far. His images can be found at www.ToddPusser.com.