Weeks ago, before what felt like endless days of rain, two flats of tomato plants mysteriously landed on your porch (how’d they get there?), and so you planted them deep in the sunniest patches of your garden.

A Cherokee Purple here; two Lemon Boys there; a Park’s Whopper by the lush trough of sweet and purple basil; and sundry grapes and cherries scattered about in various pots and planters.

Now, the earliest fruits are ripening, and each new tomato is simply miraculous. One catches the sun, drawing you near — an heirloom cherry among a small cluster of green and yellow fruits. You hold it gently between your thumb and forefinger, can almost feel the life force pulsing inside. Days from now, that tomato will be ready for harvest. Patience, the garden whispers, and you know it’s true: Nature never rushes.

On the other side of the yard, where the Cherokee Purple is soaking up the earliest rays of light, you admire how strong and healthy the plant looks — how fully supported. The advice you were given echoes back like a dream: plant deep; don’t be afraid to bury a few of the leaves; the stem will sprout new roots.

Plump fruit heavy on the vine, you contemplate, is the gardener’s crystal sphere. It tells of the future, yes (tomato pies and homemade salsas). But it also tells of the past — the sunlight and rain; the good fortune; the “invisible” strength, growth, and magic that took root beneath the surface.

Patience, you whisper, reminding yourself that you, too, have much to offer, even if you can’t yet see it. Sunshine or rain, there is wisdom taking root. Be generous with yourself. Allow whatever space, care and time you require. 

The cicadas have mastered this art form. Seventeen years underground, and here they are, screaming out in glorious ecstasy. Not a moment too late or too soon.

Homegrown Gourmet

If you find yourself with two pounds of homegrown tomatoes, and none of the following ingredients make you shudder (flour, mayonnaise, milk, cheese and butter), do yourself a favor and look up Laurie Colwin’s Tomato Pie. Summer supper seasoned with scallions and chopped basil, and can you say leftovers?

A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins. — Laurie Colwin

The Goddess Tree

On more than one occasion, I have gasped at the crape myrtle’s likeness to a Greek goddess. The smoothness of its multicolored bark. How its trunk and slender branches seem to embody such poise and grace.

Now through September, the crape myrtle blooms, its bright pink flowers fragrant in the thick, summer air.

Although its English name derived from its myrtle-like leaves and crinkled, tissue-like petals, this ornamental tree is native to China, where its name means “hundred days of red.”

While the crape myrtle is not a true myrtle, the myrtle is known as the flower of the gods, and is specifically associated with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.

Makes perfect sense to me.

The summer night is like a perfection of thought. — Wallace Stevens

The Grand Emergence

If you happened to hear — or are still hearing — the deafening hum of the million-plus “Brood IX” cicadas predicted to emerge in our state per acre after 17 years underground, then you have witnessed one of the fullest, most jubilant expressions of life on Earth.

Sometimes we forget how miraculous it is just to be here. And how wild. 

This dreamy month of summer, when the Earth is pulsing, buzzing, screaming with life in all directions, we remember. Ripe peaches and wild blackberries. Cornsilk and crickets. Butterfly weed and hummingbird mint.

It’s all a gift. 

The garden is ripe for harvest, and everything we need is here. Our only requirement, from time to time, is to celebrate our great fortune.

Happy Fourth of July, friends.  PS

Golftown Journal

Jordan (Golf) Rules

The Last Dance on the first tee

By Lee Pace

Lew Ferguson opened the golf shop at Pinehurst No. 7 early one morning in June 1990 and exchanged pleasantries with the day’s first golfer to check in. The young man was waiting on the rest of his group to arrive, so he took the chair beside the counter in the golf shop and buried his head in his USA Today.

Another golfer walked in moments later and checked in with Ferguson. The man took note of the guy reading the newspaper, got a quick glimpse of his face and the long legs protruding from the chair. He mouthed in a whisper to Ferguson:

“Is that Michael Jordan?”

The man in the chair overheard the question. He dropped his newspaper to reveal his face.

“Yes,” said Michael Jordan, who then went back to reading his paper without another word. Sadly, what Jordan was reading was an account of his Chicago Bulls team having lost in the NBA Eastern Conference finals to the Detroit Pistons — less than 12 hours earlier.

Ferguson loves telling stories like these. The former head pro at No. 7 and later the director of golf at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club has a bunch of them where Jordan, his love of golf and the Pinehurst golf scene collide.

“The Bulls lost, their season was over, and Michael drove all night long and came straight to No. 7,” Ferguson says. “He rolls into the gate in a black Porche 911 with North Carolina plates and the number 23. I have to say, he was pretty sporty.”

Jordan’s life was dissected to the nth degree recently through the 10-part ESPN documentary The Last Dance. Cursory details of his passion for golf were presented, but the film hardly scratched the surface. With Pinehurst perched within reach of Jordan’s hometown of Wilmington and college headquarters in Chapel Hill, and with his former coach, Dean Smith, himself an avid golfer having many connections in the Sandhills, it’s easy to understand how Jordan found a deep presence in Pinehurst that exists today.

Ferguson made Smith’s acquaintance in the early 1980s when he was working at the Country Club of North Carolina under longtime pro Buck Adams. Smith would visit CCNC often to take lessons from Adams and play the club’s 36 holes. Ferguson had moved to No. 7 when he took a call from Smith one May afternoon in the late 1980s.

“Lew, I need a favor,” Smith said. “Michael needs a place to hide and play golf. Can you help?”

Ferguson secured tee times for Jordan and his entourage, and they would play dawn to dusk, sometimes with Smith joining the competition. Jordan became so enamored with No. 7 that a few years later, he listed it as his favorite course in an American Express commercial. Jordan occasionally ventured over to the main Pinehurst clubhouse for golf on No. 2, particularly when a large group of basketball coaches and players on the NBA and collegiate levels convened in an annual summer outing run by Smith and Doug Moe. Larry Brown, Julius Erving, Bill Raftery, Jerry West, Dave Gavitt and Billy Cunningham were among the regulars in the 1990s.

Brown and Moe were a fixture partnership, and Brown wryly remembers them playing Smith and Jordan at CCNC one year. There was some home construction underway next to one particular tee, and Brown recalls the workers taking respectful note of who was playing.

“When Coach and Michael stepped up to hit, everything got quiet,” Brown says. “You could hear a pin drop. They hit their shots, and then it was our turn. The commotion started right up. Doug and I hit with the hammers and saws going full blast.”

Brown remembers another time he and Jerry West were playing Jordan and Roy Williams, the coach who first recruited Jordan to Carolina in the early 1980s and took over leadership duties of the outing when Smith retired and later quit playing golf.

“Jerry was a really good golfer,” Brown says. “He was probably the best we ever had in our group. Jerry the whole time was trying to pump me up. Oh, man, that was an important match. Boy, was he competitive. All of us were, really. The golf course became a natural extension of the competitive nature that had served us all so well on the basketball court.”

It begs the question, who won the match?

“I remember, but I’ll keep that in the family,” Brown says.

Through the mid-1990s, Jordan visited Peggy Kirk Bell at Pine Needles, Adams at CCNC and Ferguson at Pinehurst until March 1997, when he made the discovery of a new private club on Meyer Farm Drive just northeast of the village. An early Forest Creek Golf Club member named Roy Mashburn was friends with Jordan and invited him to the club with the Tom Fazio-designed course that opened in 1996. Mashburn called Chuck Cordell, the club’s director of marketing and broker-in-charge, and asked him to play with them.

At the time, there few homes built and hardly anyone around. The course was a perfect green, having been over-seeded through the winter, and Fazio’s genius of routing the course through the rolling hills, pine forests and lakes left an indelible mark on Jordan.

“We had not even finished the front nine and Michael’s asking about joining and buying property,” Cordell says. “He said he only owned a house in Chicago and one at Hilton Head that he was fixing to sell. This was a perfect escape for him.”

That was a Wednesday. On Friday, Jordan was back at Forest Creek and looking at a blueprint of lots just opened along the 16th hole of what would be known as the South Course when the second 18, the North Course, opened in 2005. Cordell showed Jordan three lots and said, “One of these would work.”

“I’ll just take all three,” said Jordan.

“I thought he was kidding,” Cordell says. “But he was dead serious. So I said, ‘Well, you want to ride out and I’ll show them to you?’

“He gets that big ol’ smile of his and says, ‘How about we just go play golf and you show them from the golf course?’”

Cordell has seen Jordan break 70 on the Forest Creek South course from the back tees. Over many rounds with Jordan in various locales over more than two decades, he’s learned there are several constants on the golf course: You always play the tips. You always play for money — “whatever makes you nervous,” Jordan likes to say. And you always have to listen to his incessant chatter.

“The only thing that Michael did better than basketball was talking,” says Williams, who after returning to UNC as head coach in 2003, joined Jordan on the Forest Creek membership roster. “You’d better be on his team or he’d talk you to death. He could hit it a long way — sideways every now and then — and he had a nice touch. But you’d better be able to stand up to the lip.”

Jordan did in fact close on buying those lots and still owns the property today, though he’s never built a house on them. When he’s visited Forest Creek over the years — often bringing fellow pro sports and entertainment figures like Mario Lemieux, John Elway, Charles Barkley, Ahmad Rashad and Jack Wagner with him — he’ll stay in one of the club villas or a private home available for a short-term occupancy.

“I’ve always been delighted to see Michael come for a visit, and I’ve been delighted to see him go,” Cordell says with a laugh. “I was a dead puppy after three days. He’s up at 6 a.m. wanting to shoot pool. Then it’s 36 or 54 holes of golf. Then dinner, some wine and poker or more pool — until the wee hours. Then a little sleep and do it all over again.”

Sounds like Michael Jordan is Exhibit A of the golf nuts Pinehurst has been hosting for more than a century.  PS

Lee Pace has written about Pinehurst for more than three decades from his home in Chapel Hill. One of his forthcoming projects is a 25-year anniversary of Forest Creek, due out in 2021.

Fiberglass is Forever

Not just another roadside attraction

By John Wolfe     Photographs by Andrew Sherman

There is a man in Columbus County who creates dinosaurs in his backyard. He also builds bulldogs, painting some in tidy Marine Corps dress blues, and lighthouses as tall as an NBA player. Giant flamingos wearing bow ties and top hats watch him work, as kaleidoscopic cows, horses and zebras graze in the fields around him. A centaur points toward a pond where oversized herons hunt for giant, glittering fish heads. Gargantuan golf balls are teed up beside polar bears. A whale that can’t swim breaches in the distance. A Jolly Green Giant, undoubtedly responsible for the massive tomatoes and colossal watermelons growing nearby, startles a glass-eyed Pegasus; it rears up on its hind legs, wings flapping. Overlooking the whole tableaux is a 50-foot tall woman — a Uniroyal Gal, to be precise — wearing a cowboy hat.

No, it’s not a fever dream. This is Grahamland, an 8-acre fiberglass menagerie on the side of U.S. 74-76, halfway between Lake Waccamaw and Wilmington. If you’ve ever driven that stretch of road, you’ve seen it. It’s impossible to miss, even at 70 miles an hour. The sculptures stare out at the highway, imploring you to pull over for a closer look, and many people do. Fiberglass artist Hubert Graham might get 20 visitors from across the state, country and world on a good day. Some people buy a sculpture — all of Graham’s work is for sale — but everybody asks the same question: Where on Earth did all this stuff come from?

It began with one lighthouse 25 years ago. Back then, Graham worked for the power company, and came home one day to find his front door kicked in and some belongings gone. The house was surrounded by woods then, hidden from the highway, so Graham cleared the land and, with the help of two friends, welded together a metal lighthouse with a security light on top. Pretty soon all his neighbors wanted one, too, but a hailstorm two years later left the original badly dented and sent Graham in search of a more durable material. He found a man named Bill Sharp, who built lighthouses from fiberglass up in Rocky Mount. Sharp was a roamer, far more interested in chasing women than in building lighthouses, but he taught Graham to “glass” and ended up selling him his molds when he retired.

Graham eventually left the power company and got a job at Southport Boat Works, building fishing boats and further developing his fluency with fiberglass. When that company went under they offered him the contents of their warehouse for one dollar, on the condition that he clear it out in 40 days. So he hired some former co-workers to help, and ended up with 200,000 gallons of resin and 300,000 pounds of fiberglass — the raw materials for Grahamland.

Fiberglass resin has a shelf life. The next few months were a frenzy of activity for Graham, building as much as he could before his resin kicked off. Every afternoon he would wax and gel the molds for whatever he was building (his sculptures are pieced together from molds, which he makes — half horse heads, sides of cows, legs for bulldogs), and in the morning his hired help would come in and roll the glass while he went to work at Corning. That afternoon, once it had cured, he would pop out all the pieces and do it all over again. After a year, he had used up all the resin, and had a yard full of fiberglass puzzle pieces of sculptures, waiting for assembly.

To build a horse takes seven days. Graham never works on one thing at a time; while he’s putting a horse together, he might be making horns for a bull or fins for a dolphin, too. His work shed has benches full of petrified paintbrushes, scraps of glass and angle grinders; rolls of fiberglass cloth and 55-gallon drums of resin line the walls. Everything is covered in fine itchy white dust, and the chemical-sweet smell of uncured resin, like some strange synthetic fruit gone far too ripe, hangs in the air. The floor is a textured mosaic of hardened resin drops, splattered with paint and glitter. Here is where the Frankenstein-like job of assembling the jumble of molded parts into a recognizable creature takes place. The seams are glassed from the inside to hide them, which means Graham must contortion himself up inside each dusty, hot, cramped animal and smooth on layers of glass and pungent resin. The stomach goes on last

Once the glass has cured, the real work begins: sanding. The ancient Greek Gods may well have punished Sisyphus by giving him a sander and some fiberglass instead of a boulder to roll up a hill; the work is loud and endless, and the dust is like itching powder that gets everywhere. Graham estimates it takes him 18 to 20 hours to sand smooth just one horse, during which time he wears through 30 discs of sandpaper. Amazingly, he works in short sleeves. “I’ll get too hot otherwise,” he says. “The less you sweat, the better off you are.” Then comes the paint, and the end result is something that will outlast almost anything else people can create. Wood may rot and metal may rust, but fiberglass is forever.

Like all artists, Graham is a dreamer, and had big plans for Grahamland. He envisioned a theme park where people could come to escape everyday life, complete with a mini-golf course (where people could putt-putt into giant fiberglass animal heads, naturally) and a restaurant topped by one of his signature giant lighthouses. Then Hurricane Florence came swirling up from the sea, and Grahamland was completely underwater. Animated by the furious flood, the sculptures scattered into the surrounding woods, some making it a half-mile away. Seven-foot-tall pink flamingos floated past grizzly bears treading water; a fleet of fiberglass hot dogs sailed on the storm-tossed waves. The Big Uniroyal Gal lost most of her clothing to the jealous fingers of the wind (fear not — she’s decent again). When the waters receded, Graham hopped in his tractor and shepherded his animals back home, but there is still a bathtub ring halfway up the side of his house.

Then the coronavirus came, and Grahamland’s gates closed again. He found himself, as many of us did during the quarantine, with more time on his hands than he’d ever had before, and found himself enjoying it. He finally has time to spend with his girlfriend. Before, he admits, their relationship suffered: “I wasn’t paying her any more attention than the man in the moon. I was too busy doing fiberglass stuff.”

But the recent death of his father put things in perspective for him. His father worked all his life, putting in 39 years with International Paper, acquiring a big house filled with things, but in the end, Graham says, he never got to enjoy it. “It’s so sad. You work all your life, you gain all this material stuff, and what do you got? When you die, all that stuff stays here . . . At the end of your life, were you happy? Happiness means more than anything else. Happiness, together with someone to share your life with, that means more than anything in this whole wide world.”

Three disasters in a row have left him burned out, and Graham is pushing 60. A quarter-century of hard work hasn’t gotten easier with age, and with no apprentice who could continue it, he’s not sure what the future holds for Grahamland. But he’s created something unique, something remarkable. Something durable enough to survive storms and plagues. Something that makes people smile when they drive past. Maybe that’s enough.

Will he build more? Graham chuckles. “I don’t know if I want to be up in another bull’s ass or not.”  PS

John Wolfe enjoys life as a writer and mariner on the North Carolina coast. More of his work can be found online at


TRUST BUT VERIFY: As our communities deal with the challenges presented by the novel coronavirus, please be aware that events may have been postponed, rescheduled or existed only in our dreams. Check before attending.

Troubadour Series

The Contenders, the duo of Josh Day and Jay Nash, will kick off the Bradshaw Performing Arts Center Troubadour Series with a concert at Owens Auditorium, 3395 Airport Road, Pinehurst, from 7:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 11. Their latest album, Laughing with the Reckless, is a testament to the experiences of their life on the road. Opening for The Contenders will be singer/songwriter Aaron Burdett. Tickets are available at

Sculpture Race

Celebrate art and human innovation by building a dynamic sculpture in the North Carolina Museum of Art’s Art in Motion Sculpture Race. The only requirement is that your creation be inspired by a work of art from the museum’s collection. There will be a Sculpture Race Webinar on July 8 at 7 p.m. to inspire and inform. Digital submissions are due by July 21. The virtual exhibition and awards ceremony will be July 31. For further information visit

Let the Live Games Begin

The NHL could be returning to the world of live sports as early as the end of July with the beginning of the 24-team 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After canceling what remained of the regular season, players were allowed to return to voluntary training in small groups in June. Phase 3 of the league’s plan — formal training camps — was set to begin in the first part of July. Meaningful hockey (Phase 4) would be close behind, possibly by the end of the month. The PGA Tour and live tournament golf returned in June at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, but without spectators. From July 16-19 the mini-roars and golf claps will return for the first time after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine gave the green light for up to 8,000 spectators at the Memorial Tournament in Columbus, Ohio. Can the Super Bowl be far behind?

Getting Fresh on the 4th

There’s something for everyone at the farmers market on the Village Green in Pinehurst from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 4. There will be fruits, vegetables, flowers, cheese, meats, breads, desserts, handmade soaps, pottery, woodcrafts, wine, beer, cider, coffee and a partridge in a pear tree.

Walk on the Wild Side

The Southern Pines Business Association will host its annual sidewalk sale on Saturday, July 18. Broad Street businesses will have merchandise on sale displayed outside stores. Normal business hours and social distancing apply. For information call (910) 315-6508.

Magic Carpet Ride

The Imagine Youth Theater will present its musical production of Aladdin Jr. on Thursday and Friday evenings, July 23-24, at 7 p.m. at the Hannah Marie Bradshaw Activities Center at The O’Neal School, 3300 Airport Road, Pinehurst. For information call (910) 420-1025 or go to

Sporting Life

Beach Daze

When only O.D. and The Pad would do

By Tom Bryant

I grew up in the ’s, and I believe the lifestyles during those wonderful times will never be seen again. World War II was over, with the slight exception of the police action in Korea. (Folks involved in that so-called police action would strongly disagree with the terminology — to them it was a war.) After that, the country settled into a cycle of prosperity not seen by the general population in a very long time.

In my own house, Dad was the single provider. Mom never worked outside the home. Raising four children was her full-time job. We had one car, and it was a family car, a 1957 Chevrolet station wagon, built to haul about anything. We weren’t poor, middle class maybe, but a long way from being rich. From the age of 13, I worked at one job or another every summer. Service stations, food stores, and finally Dad let me work at the ice plant, where he was manager. As a teenager, I earned my own spending money and helped with my college finances as well. But in the summer of 1959, I was a brand new graduate of those bastioned halls of higher learning at Aberdeen High School, and I was ready to celebrate.

College was right around the corner. In my mind, I had just graduated and was not real excited about becoming a freshman again. I had a pocketful of money I’d been saving, and two weeks of vacation before I had to report to Dad for summer work. There was for me only one destination during that off time, and that was the beach. Not just any beach but Ocean Drive Beach — better known as O.D. — and The Pad, better known as The Pad.

In our short time as teenagers, The Pad had become a tradition for several of my good friends and classmates, and graduation had added an extra emphasis on the importance of heading east. O.D. was calling.

Clifton and Graham, friends and also recent graduates of old AHS, were already there, supposedly on a scouting mission to find a place for us to stay for a few days, cheap. I was to meet them at The Pad at 3 o’clock Monday to begin our celebration.

The Pad was located on the corner of a street dead-ending at the ocean, right across from The Pavilion, an attraction in its own right. Home to games, carnival-type rides and snack bars, it also had a concrete dance floor and jukebox.

Both The Pad and The Pavilion were opened in 1955 and were mainstays at Ocean Drive Beach for fun and frolic. Structurally, The Pad wasn’t much, just a shed covering the bar and its sand floor and a square deck for dancing. I honestly can’t remember if the dance floor was wood or concrete. Behind the bar, washtubs were full of ice and cans of beer. In those days Pabst Blue Ribbon, PBR, was the most prevalent, and the wall surrounding the entire building was lined with empty beer cans. It was rumored that the wall was erected to hide dancers doing the shag, a six-count rhythm created by bands and music performed by groups like The Drifters.

All in all, The Pad and The Pavilion were the place to see and be seen, especially if you were young and in a party mood. As Harold Bessent, manager of The Pad for its last 10 years, said, “It became a sort of Mecca.”

Right on time, Graham and Cliff came sauntering out of the white sunshine glare of the beach into the cool shade. Chuck Berry was blasting “Johnny Be Good” from the jukebox, I was leaning against the bar talking to the on-duty afternoon bartender.

“Hey, Bryant, where’s your car? We didn’t see it outside. Didn’t make it down here?” Cliff was constantly chiding me about the car Dad had given me for graduation. Especially after he heard that it had two flat tires on the way home from the estate sale where Dad bought it. The old car, a 1940 Chevrolet Deluxe, served me well over the next several years.

“It’s parked around the corner. New tires,” I laughed. “Ready to go. What have you deadheads been doing? I hope you’ve found us a place to sleep. Cheap.”

“You won’t believe it,” Graham said. “Larry,” pointing to the bartender, “put us on to the Just-A-Mere-Guest-House, not two blocks from here. We left the car there and walked back. We booked us a room for three days, the only room they had available.”

That vacation week when we celebrated our graduation at The Pad and Ocean Drive Beach was one that we’ll never forget. We had a grand time. And at reunions ever after, it would always come up, “Do you remember that week at The Pad when Blue . . . ”

The Pad was torn down in 1994, not meeting the town’s requirements for safety and other things. The memories that old bar created for hundreds of young folks just beginning life after high school, would never be forgotten.

The ‘50s and that restful, peaceful time were over. The unknown future lay on the horizon. There was the Cold War with Russia, the hot war in Vietnam, the technological race against other countries, and even perhaps against ourselves. I realize that when remembering the past, a person has a tendency to forget the bad stuff and just remember the good. My mother always said, “If you think the good old days were that good, try using an outdoor toilet when it’s 14 degrees outside.”

As a matter of fact, I think The Pad had outside bathrooms, and if I remember correctly, they were just a little better than what Mom was talking about. The difference, and a good thing for us, it wasn’t 14 degrees.  PS

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

In the Spirit

In the Mix

Pierre Ferrand 1840 shines

By Tony Cross

My introduction to cognac happened in the late summer of 2003. I had my first “front of the house” job at an intimate, independent French restaurant. It was small, and so was the staff; I was one of two servers. The owner, Raymond, was the chef, and his partner, Alan, was the sous-chef. Raymond’s wife, Ginette, ran everything up front. I began working there after they had been established for 13 years.

La Terrace was one of a kind. Usually on Saturday evenings, after all of the guests had retired to their homes, and the closing duties were finished, Raymond and Alan would sit at one of the two large round tables in the dining room, enjoying a snifter of Rémy Martin cognac. I remember Raymond explaining to me how cognac is a digestif, a beverage (usually alcoholic) that helps you digest your food. He let me try it, and I’m sure I just shrugged it off. “What do you know? American punk.”

It was a mild rebuke, meant in the nicest way possible. Really. And he was right — all I cared about at the time was drinks, girls, and rock ’n’ roll. Maybe not much has changed.

These days you can find a much wider variety of brandy on the shelves. Brandy is any spirit that’s distilled from juice. Pisco, armagnac and cognac are a few examples. Cognac is produced in the Cognac region of France, and there are six regions, or appellations, where the grapes are grown. The grapes are fermented after being picked and then double distilled in copper pots. The “eau de vie” is then aged in oak barrels.

Cognac is classified in three different categories:

VS (Very Special/Superior): Aged for at least two years in oak casks.

VSOP (Very Special/Superior Old Pale): Aged for at least four years in oak casks.

XO (Extra Old): Aged for at least six years in oak casks.

I’m not an aficionado by any means, so I’m not going to go down a list of cognacs and the differences/similarities in them. I will, however, recommend a great cognac for mixing cocktails. Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac is one of the most accessible and versatile cognacs on the market. At 90 proof, it’s great in mixed drinks. It has more of a backbone than Hennessey or Rémy. And don’t get me wrong, I love Rémy Martin.

I became aware of Pierre Ferrand five or six years ago, when I picked up Death & Company: Modern Classic Cocktails, by David Kaplan, Nick Fauchald and Alex Day (still one of the best cocktail books ever put into print IMO). “The Sazerac cocktail was originally made with cognac, until the European phylloxera epidemic in the late 1800s wiped out grape production and bartenders switched to rye,” they write, and go on to suggest using the 1840. One of the finest appellations in Cognac is Grande Champagne, and that’s where the Ferrand estate is located. Ferrand only produces Grand Champagne cognacs (which basically means they only use grapes grown from the soils of that appellation).

If you’re not into making cocktails, you can definitely enjoy this neat. I do. I purchased a bottle the other week, and as you’ll see in the picture above, what’s missing was enjoyed straight. It’s velvety and rich. I picked up notes of pear, lemon and spice; it has a pretty long finish. I don’t think this cognac was designed to be enjoyed neat, but it holds up quite nicely. The place it really shines is in cocktails, like the Sazerac. Some bartenders do equal parts cognac and rye — that’s probably my favorite build. I’ll leave you with the classic Sidecar cocktail recipe from the Death & Co. book.


2 ounces Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac

1/2 ounce Cointreau

3/4 ounce lemon juice

1/4 ounce cane sugar simple syrup

Garnish: 1 orange twist

Shake all ingredients with ice, then strain into a coupe. Garnish with the orange twist.  PS

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

The Omnivorous Reader

Going Viral

Shedding light on dark days

By Stephen E. Smith

In the mid-’s, Richard Preston’s nonfiction The Hot Zone was a bestseller. Based on a 1989 outbreak of an Ebola-like strain of virus in Reston, Virginia, the horrors depicted in Preston’s book kept this reviewer awake at night. Even though the sickness was confined to monkeys imported for research purposes, it took an Army medical team clad in spacesuits to exterminate the infected primates.

With ample time to contemplate the predicament in which we now find ourselves, I did what reviewers do: I read, albeit belatedly, other books about pandemics. I downloaded Catharine Arnold’s Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts from the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History, Sara Shah’s Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, Alfred Crosby’s America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918, and David Quammen’s Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (there are umpteen other equally enlightening volumes I haven’t had time to pursue), and I discovered in each book a blueprint for the COVID-19 pandemic — disturbingly precise roadmaps for events over which we might have managed a modicum of control on a worldwide, national and personal level had we taken to heart what history and science has to teach us.

If you’re interested in understanding the COVID-19 pandemic, Quammen’s 2016 Spillover is by far the most informative — and the scariest — study. He focuses on zoonotic diseases such as Ebola, AIDS, rabies, influenza and West Nile, infections that sicken animals and jump to humans. COVID-19, although not identified when Spillover was written, is a zoonotic that has escalated into a pandemic via human-to-human transmission, and Quammen makes it possible for the layman to comprehend the viral dynamic at work. He explains in straightforward terms how global travel and exploding world populations make it possible for a virus such as COVID-19 to spread rapidly. We tend to view the spread of such a virus as an independent misfortune that happened to us (how else would a nonscientist see it?), but “That’s a passive, almost stoical way of viewing them,” he writes. “It’s also the wrong way,” making us susceptible to anecdotal testimony and false cures that might be harmful.

Quammen says that emerging diseases are the result of two forms of crisis on the planet — ecological and medical. “Human-caused ecological pressures and disruption are bringing animal pathogens ever more into contact with human populations, while human technology and behavior are spreading pathogens ever more widely,” Quammen writes. Logging, road building, slash-and-burn agriculture, the consumption of wild animals, mineral extraction, urban settlement, chemical pollution, nutrient runoff into oceans — most of what we call “civilizing” incursions upon the natural world — destroy the ecosystem. This destruction releases viruses, bacteria, fungi, protists and other parasites embedded in natural relationships that limit their geographical range. “When the trees fall and the native animals are slaughtered, the native germs fly like dust from a demolished warehouse.”

In 2012 Quammen asked this straightforward question, “Will the Next Big One be caused by a virus? Will the Next Big One come out of the rain forest or a market in China? Will the Next Big One kill 30 or 40 million people?”

If we can’t predict the next pandemic, says Quammen, we can remain vigilant, we can monitor worldwide transmission, and take precautions. Argue as we may about how and why we got here, the fact remains we find ourselves in a frightening moment whose ramifications must be faced head on. Spillover allows the reader to do just that.

As thorough and graphic as the above-mentioned volumes are, they don’t truly immerse the reader in the personal misery visited upon the Spanish flu generation or on those of us suffering the most extreme ravages of COVID-19. But there are books of fiction — doses of focused reality — that do just that, books I’d read 50 years ago.

The first is Katherine Anne Porter’s 1939 Pale Horse, Pale Rider, a collection of three “short novels.” Told in the third person, the title story lulls the reader into the complacency of daily life — until the influenza sweeps up and almost kills the youthful protagonist. Porter’s description is worth reading in full, but here’s a sample:

“Pain returned, a terrible compelling pain running through her veins like heavy fire, the stench of corruption filled her nostrils, the sweetish sickening smell of rotting flesh and pus; she opened her eyes and saw pale light through a coarse white cloth over her face, knew that the smell of death was in her own body, and struggled to lift her hand.”

Porter suffered bouts of influenza at least three times in her life, so she writes from an acuity borne of experience, and she’s careful to impress upon the reader that we are all cursed with the conviction that nothing terrible can happen to us . . . until it happens.

If Porter captures the suffering endured by a victim of the pandemic, North Carolina’s Thomas Wolfe wrenches the reader’s soul when conveying the agony of watching a loved one die from the Spanish flu in Look Homeward, Angel. With Wolfe, the reader is always in danger of being consumed by his excessive wordiness, but it’s that verbosity that’s effective in conveying a terrible reality. Again, the writer’s words are worth reading in full, but here’s an excerpt:

“The rattling in the wasted body, which seemed for hours to have given over to death all of life that is worth saving, had now ceased. The body appeared to grow rigid before them. . . But suddenly, marvelously, as if his resurrection and rebirth had come upon him, Ben drew upon the air in a long and powerful respiration; his gray eyes opened. . . casting the fierce sword of his glance with utter and final comprehension upon the room haunted with its gray pageantry of cheap loves and dull consciences and on all those uncertain mummers of waste and confusion fading now from the bright window of his eyes, he passed instantly, scornfully and unafraid, as he had lived, into the shades of death.”

Books about death and disease don’t make for cheerful reading, but understanding the pandemic is better than succumbing to its ravages or losing a loved one to COVID-19. Wear a mask, wash your hands, social distance — and read wisely. 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.

Story of a House

Whole in One

Everything a golfing family needs under one roof

By Deborah Salomon     Photographs by John Gessner

Color this scene serene. Jana Van Paris, a lovely blonde wearing white pants, white shoes, a white shirt covered by an oatmeal sweater, sits back against a dining room chair upholstered in the same shades. The entire house — except for her husband, Todd’s, navy blue office/study — is painted a soft, glare-free white, the exterior bricks, French vanilla. Other furnishings, for the most part, continue gradations of this neutral mode.

“For me, white and neutrals represent peaceful, relaxing calm,” Jana says.

Color, when it appears in crewel and Oriental rugs or upholstery, tends toward muted blues and dusty apricots. After an elongated black and white checkerboard foyer, floors are dark-stained hardwood in stunning contrast to the white.

This sets the scene for comfortable formality.

How many families sit down to weeknight meals on a mirror-topped dining room table that reflects a crystal chandelier worthy of a ballroom?

In contrast, this serene mode is regularly interrupted by the happy noise of teenage boys — lots of them — who spill out of the rec room that has a putting green built into the carpet. Because golf is the overriding operative in this home on 5 acres, facing the sixth green of the Cardinal Course at the Country Club of North Carolina. Todd and Jana play. Their son Jackson, 16, trails a string of national titles after his name. His golf buddies from around the U.S. and abroad stay in a bunk room over the garage.

In parts and whole, this house exists to satisfy the particular needs of one family. Yet unlike other golf palaces in gated communities, modesty rules: no trophy case, no framed photos with luminaries, although, Jana admits, plenty are in storage.

Jana grew up in a different environment, on a cattle, cotton and soybean farm in Alabama, which her family has operated for five generations. She was restless. “I wanted to see what was out there,” she says, and took a degree in business. Her position with an international pharmaceuticals firm included travel.

“That’s how I met Todd, through business.”

Until 2017 the Van Paris family lived in a Chicago suburb, with a vacation home in Pinehurst. Chicago weather isn’t conducive to year-round golf. Besides, “We wanted out of the corporate world,” Jana says. “All the stars were aligned.”

But their Pinehurst pied-à-terre wasn’t big enough for the projected lifestyle, which included entertaining locals for an evening and out-of-town golfers for longer. Something about this elongated red brick house with green shutters, built according to 1985 luxury standards, appealed to Jana. It needed a makeover but not a complete renovation.

“The setting was beautiful and it had good bones. I could envision it meeting our needs.”

Most important, the house overlooked the golf course.

First to go were the red bricks and green shutters. They doubled the size of the terrace, which now stretches the length of living room, dining room and kitchen, with distinct areas for cooking, eating or just relaxing. A wall of huge black-rimmed glass squares was installed between living room and terrace, with doors opening out through dining room and kitchen, creating a nice flow for entertaining. The wall between formal dining room and kitchen became an archway framing the kitchen remodel, visible to diners, with footed furniture-style cabinetry . . . in white. Instead of a breakfast nook, space at the end of the kitchen became a small sitting room.

“Todd loves to cook,” Jana says. “He eats what he grows. We needed a kitchen big enough for everybody to hang out.”

When Jackson and his friends descend, there’s always the counter bar, with stools, also that big table with comfy barrel chairs on the terrace.

The double garage was finished off as a playroom with grasscloth walls, TV, a watercolor of Pinehurst No. 8 and ping-pong table. Jana explains that golfers, especially juniors, love ping-pong. That conversion meant building another attached garage with the bunk room over it, accessed by a full-sized staircase.

Although the house serves family living well, formality prevails, especially in the living room, with its grand piano. Potted orchids, Todd’s favorite, are everywhere. In the center, a multi-colored carpet over a neutral one. Cream upholstery does not detract from the focus: A series of black and white intaglio prints — a technique popularized during the 15th century — hangs over the sofa. A contemporary painting, suspended from the ceiling, appears to float through the drapes. Small benches rather than many chairs enable guests to form conversation groups.

Art, obviously, speaks to Jana and Todd. “Art is creative, like music. I like different kinds,” says Jana, who plays her piano regularly. “When we traveled, we would pick up a piece that represented the trip, or an event.” They collect what they like, whether from a popular or lesser-known artist. “I want to own the original,” says Jana.

After reading about the Spanish modernist Alvar (Àlvar Suñol Munoz-Ramos) they sought a painting, now in the dining room. “We won’t purchase a piece to store in a closet somewhere. We’ll find a spot for it.”

Amid the serenity of neutrals — which extends to the bedrooms — Jana found a spot for whimsy: powder room wallpapers.

“I like surprises, too.”

Year-round golf at their doorstep, copious indoor-outdoor space for entertaining, a kitchen garden, home offices, private quarters for their teenage son and friends — color that successful.

“We like the way the house lives,” Jana says. After Chicago, they especially appreciate the quiet.

“We were sitting on the patio watching TV . . . and we both said, ‘Don’t you just love it here?’”  PS


July Books


Utopia Avenue, by David Mitchell

Utopia Avenue is the strangest British band you’ve never heard of. Emerging from London’s psychedelic scene in 1967, and fronted by folk singer Elf Holloway, blues bassist Dean Moss and guitar virtuoso Jasper de Zoet, Utopia Avenue embarked on a meteoric journey from the seedy clubs of SoHo, a TV debut on Top of the Pops, the cusp of chart success, glory in Amsterdam, prison in Rome, and a fateful American sojourn in the Chelsea Hotel, Laurel Canyon and San Francisco during the autumn of ‘68. Mitchell’s kaleidoscopic novel tells the unexpurgated story of Utopia Avenue’s turbulent life and times; of fame’s Faustian pact and stardom’s wobbly ladder; of the families we choose and the ones we don’t; of voices in the head, and the truths and lies they whisper; of music, madness and idealism. Can we really change the world, or does the world change us?

The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue

In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have come down with the terrible new flu are quarantined together. Into Julia’s regimented world step two outsiders: doctor Kathleen Lynn, a rumored rebel on the run from the police; and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney. In the darkness and intensity of this tiny ward these women change each other’s lives in unexpected ways. They lose patients to this baffling pandemic, but they also shepherd new life into a fearful world. With tireless tenderness and humanity, caregivers and mothers alike somehow do their impossible work.

Crossings, by Alex Landragin

There are two ways to approach this novel — read it straight through in a traditional manner, a tale told in three novellas; or skip around the entire work using the key given in the prologue. Either way, Crossings is a deliciously clever literary treat of love, suspense and historical fiction, combined with the paranormal ability of two separated lovers searching for one another throughout centuries and continents.

Hieroglyphics, by Jill McCorkle

The brilliance of Jill McCorkle is that her novels read as if you are enjoying a marvelous cup of coffee and conversation with a very dear friend. Hieroglyphics is told from the point of view of four people. Lil and Frank, an elderly couple from Boston recently moved to Southern Pines, North Carolina, are forever bound by the grief of having lost a parent tragically at a very young age. Shelley is a young mother fighting her past while raising her troubled child, Harvey, whose dark and vivid imaginings provide daily challenges. Above all, Hieroglyphics is about memories and remembering, loss of love and loved ones, preserving the past and what remains after we are gone. Written with poignancy and wry honesty, this is the work of a master at the top of her game.

The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel

Inspired by a true story, this historical novel centers around Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian who, as a graduate student in 1942, fled Paris to a small mountain town where she forged papers to help Jewish children escape to Switzerland. Determined to find a way to keep track of the children’s real identities, she and a forger, Rémy, entered them in code in an 18th century religious text, one of many books looted by the Nazis during the war. When she sees a photograph containing the priceless volume, Eva knows only she holds the answers but it means revisiting old memories.


Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, by Francis Fukuyama

The New York Times bestselling author of The Origins of Political Order offers a provocative examination of modern identity politics: its origins, its effects, and what it means for domestic and international affairs of state. In 2014, Fukuyama wrote that American institutions were in decay, as the state was progressively captured by powerful interest groups. Two years later, his predictions were borne out by the rise to power of a series of political outsiders whose economic nationalism and authoritarian tendencies threatened to destabilize the international order. The universal recognition on which liberal democracy is based has been increasingly challenged by narrower forms of recognition based on nation, religion, sect, race, ethnicity, or gender, which have resulted in anti-immigrant populism, the upsurge of politicized Islam, the fractious “identity liberalism” of college campuses, and the emergence of white nationalism. Identity is an urgent and necessary book — a sharp warning that unless we forge a universal understanding of human dignity, we will doom ourselves to continuing conflict.

The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America, by Nicholas Buccola

On February 18, 1965, an overflowing crowd packed the Cambridge Union in Cambridge, England, to witness a historic televised debate between James Baldwin, the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement, and William F. Buckley Jr., a fierce critic of the movement and America’s most influential conservative intellectual. The topic was “The American dream is at the expense of the American Negro,” and no one who has seen the debate can soon forget it. Nicholas Buccola’s The Fire Is Upon Us is the first book to tell the full story of the event, the radically different paths that led Baldwin and Buckley to it, and how the debate and the decades-long clash between the men illuminates the racial divide that haunts America today.


Together We Grow, by Susan Vaught

On a rainy, stormy night, the fox family is at first sent away from the crowded barn, but when the duck opens the door and invites them in, they are gracious and thankful. A sweet, lyrical story that reminds us, there’s always room to be kind to those in need. (Ages 3-5.)

Vinny Gets a Job, by Terry Brodner

When Vinny learns jobs are places to get food and toys, he decides he must have a job of his own. After hilarious, unsuccessful stints at his neighborhood Italian restaurant, flower shop and natural history museum, Vinny’s owner reminds him that he already has a very important job — to be a good dog. Laugh out loud fun for story time or any time. (Ages 3-6.)

Ronan the Librarian,
by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie

After discovering an unusual cache in his plunder, Ronan the Barbarian becomes Ronan the Librarian! With a little coercing and some pretty fantastic modeling, Ronan convinces his fellow pillagers that books can indeed be the greatest treasure. (Ages 4-6.)

The Elephant’s Girl,
by Celesta Rimington

Lex and Fisher are zoo kids. They both live in a Nebraska zoo — Fisher with his parents and Lex with her . . . well, with her Roger. After a tornado blew Lex into the zoo as a baby, she was protected by Nyah, an elephant, and then grew up in the care of Roger, the zoo’s train driver. Now, a strange new wind is blowing. It threatens everything important to Lex, and Nyah may just be the key to it all. Fans of Three Times Lucky, Circus Mirandus and Savvy will not be able to put down this clever, fun mystery about a girl, a friend, an elephant and a very special kind of family. (Ages 8-12.)  PS

Compiled by Kimberly Daniels Taws and  Angie Tally

Character Study

Knives Out

The artisan of Aberdeen

By Jenna Biter

“I’m more of a Japanese maple freak than a bonsai freak, but I can show you,” Joe Marotta says matter-of-factly but somehow merrily, too. He walks through the kitchen and opens the door to the backyard. Trees, 20 or 30, and plants line a bricked walkway, each in a pot of specific size and color, and some with accompanying stands.

“Do you make these?” I motion at the wooden stands.

“Yup,” he says with a grin. Japanese maples of assorted cultivars fill a majority of the pots, and beyond they fill the backyard. Bihou has yellow bark; Shirazz has salmon pink leaves; Radiant has iridescent bark and, when it matures, it will have iridescent leaves, too. “I have about 55 Japanese maples on the property,” he says. Hanna Matoi, a weeping cultivar, is his favorite.

The bonsai are the first stop and, ultimately, the last one on our circular tour of the backyard. A pergola covered in greenery, a wooden swing and raised garden beds planted with tomatoes, onions and eggplant absorb the space between the trees. With his back toward me, he fiddles with a bonsai before heading toward the garage.

“You could just take a small tree or plant and put it in a pot and then it’s a tree in a pot,” he says. “But, if you start trimming them and trying to shape them — that’s the art of bonsai.” He turns, catches my eye and laughs a round laugh. “I’m new to that, too.”

Too. He’s alluding to his other craft, knife making, a skill he’s been honing about as long as he’s been pruning bonsai. In his garage, Joe stands over 26 knives-to-be. It’s where our conversation started nearly an hour ago.

“I was born and raised on a horse farm in Michigan, and we had racehorses,” he says, standing at a worktable in this garage-turned-workshop. With a state-of-the-art table saw, planer, anvil and the works living comfortably in the spaces meant for Fords and Chevys, it probably hasn’t been a garage for some time.

“The other family business, it was a construction business,” he says. “I went the racehorse route, and I became a horseshoer.” For 35 years, two in the Sandhills, he shod horses, before trying his hand at construction, trimming houses for his cousin.

“And, there was a piece of molding or something I put up, and I said, ‘This just doesn’t look good to me; it doesn’t look right.’” His cousin told him to do whatever he needed to do to make it look right. It’s the mantra he’s carried through to the art of bonsai, blacksmithing, woodworking and the nexus of the latter two, knife-making. The warmth of his voice advertises the delight that comes from the discipline of mastery, the joy of knowledge.

“Do you want to hear the rest of the story?” he asks. “In 2017, I was diagnosed with lymphoma, and, halfway through my treatments, they discovered I had kidney cancer.” He pauses. “In January of the next year, after I got my chemo treatments for lymphoma, and I had a good prognosis, they took my right kidney out. Then, after that, they said, ‘As of right now, you’re cancer-free,’ and so far I have been.”

Joe shrugs. “Well, in the meantime, I didn’t have any business, and I wasn’t feeling good enough to do anything, so I decided I would start making knives from horseshoe rasps.”

He holds up a large, metal file. “This is called a big foot,” he says, waving the farrier rasp. “Normally, they’re about 14- to-16 inches. ’Bout halfway through my shoeing career, I switched to these because you get more leverage. Less stress. You don’t work as hard.”

He imitates the filing of a horseshoe in midair. “What I do is I’ll lay them out like this,” he says, setting down the repurposed rasp before grabbing a template to demonstrate how he cuts out the knives. “Because this is so coarse and sharp,” Joe says as he lightly runs his fingers over the nubs on the file, “I knock down the rasp bed.”

Then comes the shaping of the knife on a homemade grinder. Not only does he make the knives, he makes the machinery to make the knives. He flicks on a switch. “You sit there and grind and grind and grind,” he booms over the mechanical humming. Chhhhh, chhhhh, chhhhh . . . the metal and the grinder’s belt meet in a spray of sparks. “Dunk it in water in case it gets hot,” he says and plunges the knife into a bucket.

“The trickiest part is getting the bevel right. When you look down at the knife, you want the taper to be symmetrical,” he says. “After you grind about a hundred knives you get pretty good at it.” He adds modestly, “I’m still not great at it.”

The process courses ahead in almost perpetual motion. Handles-in-progress lay out in a variety of colorful, unfamiliar woods. “I try to use all exotic hardwoods. This is bocote, this is wenge. This is also bocote, but it’s long grain . . . redheart . . . leopardwood,” he lists off the names as he points.

Even the garage-turned-workshop doesn’t have the space for a production line that includes making leather or wooden sheaths — the latter called sayas — to accompany his cutlery, so the process spills into the house. His wife, Cheryl, says, “He wants my sewing room, but he’s not getting it.”

Joe pretends to ignore her but can’t contain a smirk as he explains how he makes the sheaths. “I cut a template out. Stain it and stamp it,” he says, cruising through the process. “Sew this, then put a welt in there, and, now, I just got to sew that together, stain it, finish it and then that’s the sheath.” He walks over to his homemade saddle pony to demonstrate saddle stitching.

Knife-making, machining, leather-making. “How do you have time for all these hobbies?” I ask.

“Ever since I got sick, and I had cancer, all I got is time,” Joe says. For the discipline of mastery, for the joy of knowledge.

“He also does bonsai,” someone chirps from the corner of the room.

“I’m more of a Japanese maple freak than a bonsai freak, but I can show you,” he says matter-of-factly, but somehow merrily, too.  PS

Jenna Biter is a fashion designer, entrepreneur and military wife in the Sandhills. She can be reached at Marotta Custom Knives are available online at