Creators of N.C.

Creators of N.C.

The Late Drive Home

The music of David Childers

By Wiley Cash

Photographs By Mallory Cash

One chilly evening in early March, I parked in front of WiredCoffeeEspress in Kannapolis, North Carolina. I waited in the car for a few moments, wondering if I had the right place. The coffee shop sat in a strip mall between a discount store and a supermercado, and it seemed like a surprising spot to find one of my favorite living musicians on a Tuesday night. But then I remembered that I was there to see Mount Holly native David Childers, a universally beloved songwriter who is as at home sitting in on an intimate showcase of local musicians in front of a weeknight crowd as he is performing with the Avett Brothers in the Greensboro Coliseum.

Inside I found Childers already seated on the small stage, tuning his acoustic guitar and adjusting the harmonica holder around his neck. He and two other men about his age spent the next hour-and-a-half taking turns playing original songs, each performing five or six numbers. I knew most of the songs Childers played, but I couldn’t help but be struck by their beauty and nuance, how he was able to create rich tension between two lines that revealed a complicated duality that most songwriters aren’t capable of reaching for, much less grasping.

“There are moments of greatness,” he sang during his last song of the evening, “but this ain’t one of those.”

He could’ve fooled me.

By 10 p.m. Childers and I were sitting at a table on the sidewalk in front of the coffee shop as patrons loaded into their cars and trucks to head home for the evening, but not before several of them stopped by our table to say hello. One of them offered Childers condolences on the recent passing of Malcolm Holcombe, a singer/songwriter from western North Carolina whom Childers knew for years and who recently lost a long battle with cancer. Childers had honored his friend that evening by performing one of Holcombe’s songs.

“I’m sorry we lost Malcolm,” the man said.

“Yeah,” Childers responded, “but I think Malcolm’s in a better place.” He smiled a sly smile. “We’ll probably run into him.”

Holcombe and Childers came up together in the North Carolina music scene, two literary singer/songwriters who both seemed haunted by the South, its religious iconography, its mystery, and its hardscrabble economics. Both men released their debut albums in 1999 and spent the years before and after touring incessantly, making regular jaunts across Europe.

“I couldn’t get a gig around here in Charlotte,” Childers said, referring to a time when most bars wanted cover bands, not poets with guitars singing blue collar stories about mill closures and lost souls. “I was pretty much by myself, although I would get these bands together and eventually started getting gigs. One place was Dilworth Brewing. That let me get some experience because I started late.” Childers, in his mid-60s now, was around 38 years old when he began performing publicly while he and his wife, Linda, raised a young family, all while Childers worked 50 and 60 hours a week as an attorney in Mount Holly.

In 2007 he looked around and decided that life on the road wasn’t for him, especially when he realized that by the end of November he’d only spent four weekends at home during the entire year. There were things he wanted to do in Mount Holly: spend time with his wife and kids, work in the yard, paint.

“I’d been playing overseas, and there had been some good things, but there was a lot of disappointment, a very mixed bag. And I just realized, I don’t want to be in an airplane all the time or in strange hotels or riding in buses and cars. And Charlotte was changing, North Carolina was changing. The music scene was opening up, and I was getting more of a name, so I had more opportunities. Why fly all over the place if you can stay here and make a living?

“I don’t have the wanderlust anymore,” he said. “I don’t really want to go anywhere.”

And that makes sense if you listen closely to Childers’ more recent music, almost all of which is firmly grounded in the Mount Holly soil that rests along the Catawba River dividing Gaston and Mecklenburg counties. The songs from The Next Best Thing (2013), Run Skeleton Run (2017), Melancholy Angel (2023), and especially 2020’s Interstate Lullaby play like soundtracks of mill culture, zeroing in on the hope born in the post-war years of the 1950s and the despair felt once the lifeblood of local industries began to seep away.

“It’s there in those songs,” he said. “Those two emotions — hope and despair — they give you a conflict, and that’s a good thing to have in a song.”

A young man was standing nearby, and Childers looked up and saw him.

“Hey, man,” Childers said. He shook the young guy’s hand. “I’m glad you came out. I’ve seen you play.”

The guy seemed surprised and genuinely touched, and before walking toward the parking lot he invited Childers to an upcoming show. Childers promised to try and make it.

“That boy’s a hell of a songwriter,” Childers said.

We talked for a few more minutes, and then it was time for Childers to step inside the coffee shop to pack up his gear. I asked him how long the drive home to Mount Holly would take.

“It’s about 40 minutes,” he said. He stood from his chair and stretched his back.

I apologized for keeping him so long after the show ended.

“It’s OK,” he said. “It was a good show, and it was nice to chat.”

“I hope it was worth the late drive home on dark roads,” I said.

He smiled. “Hope and despair,” he said.  PS

Wiley Cash is the executive director of Literary Arts at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the founder of This Is Working, an online community for writers.

Simple Life

Simple Life

Cadillac Joe

While some of his dogwoods are long gone, the legend lives on

By Jim Dodson

As spring broke this year, I had a startling realization.

I may be turning into Cadillac Joe.

His real name was Joe Franks. Mr. Franks and his delightful wife, Ginny, and their two boys, Joe Jr. and Chuck, lived across the street in the old neighborhood where I grew up. I was good friends with the Franks boys. My mom was one of Ginny Franks’ closest chums.

Big Joe was a highly respected lawyer in town, though that’s not what made him something of a local legend.

Every spring, the Franks family lawn burst spectacularly into bloom with luscious beds of mature azalea bushes Joe had planted and groomed. During the peak blooming stage, usually around Easter, a constant stream of cars cruised slowly past his house just to take in the impressive floral show — rather like people do at Christmastime to look at over-the-top lighting displays. And thanks to several hundred pink and white dogwood trees that bloomed along the street just as the Franks’ yard exploded in color, Dogwood Drive lived up to its name, including a magnificent Cherokee Brave (pink) and Cherokee Princess (white) that proudly stood for more than half a century.

Over the years, our street — and the Franks house in particular — found their way into numerous newspaper feature sections and a host of top gardening magazines, including a couple big spreads in Southern Living magazine.

What made the show bigger than life was that most Sunday mornings throughout spring and summer, Big Joe Franks lovingly washed or waxed his Cadillac in the Franks family driveway while playing the music of Frank Sinatra. His neighbors must have been fans of Ol’ Blue Eyes because nobody I know of ever complained. My mom even took to calling him Cadillac Joe. Looking back, I’m half convinced Cadillac Joe’s music is the reason I have a thing for Sinatra today.

“Dad sure loved that Cadillac and his azaleas,” Joe Jr. confirmed with a booming laugh when I tracked him down by phone. “And, of course, Sinatra. That was the music of his life. Waxing that Cadillac and growing those azaleas were his passions.”

Joe, the son, is something of a legend, too. He grew up to become a beloved athletic trainer and successful men’s football and women’s golf coach at Grimsley High School. The playing field at Jamieson Stadium is named for “Little Joe Franks,” as my mom called him. Today, Little Joe is semi-retired and lives in Danville, Virginia, where his wife, Dr. Tiffany McKillip Franks, is in her 14th year as president of Averett University.

“So how are your azalea bushes doing?” I asked him.

“The college has plenty of them. I don’t have my dad’s thing for growing them, but I do have a Cadillac Escalade just like Dad. And I recently picked up a second one, an ATS two-door coup. Really nice.”

I wondered if Joe had any idea how many azalea bushes his dad, who passed away in 2001, planted and groomed to perfection.

“At least 250,” Joe said, explaining how Big Joe’s favorites were red, white and pink azaleas. “If you recall,” he added, “there was a huge peach-colored one by the front porch. It was probably seven or eight feet tall.”

I remembered this bush and almost hated to inform him that the bright young college professor who owns the Franks house today is growing artichokes where Cadillac Joe worked his magic each spring.

“Yeah, by the time my mom was ready to give up the house,” Coach Joe told me, “the plants were showing their age and had probably seen their better days. I guess they just dug them up.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, pleased to inform him. “I think I might be channeling Cadillac Joe these days.”

Six years ago, my wife, Wendy, and I moved back to Dogwood Drive, purchasing an old house that sits two doors from the one where I grew up. As she got to work restoring the house’s interior, I got to work outside. To date, I’ve planted more than 30 trees in my yard, including five dogwoods, a trio of southern redbuds and several cherry trees that outrageously bloom every spring. I’ve also planted 24 azaleas and 17 hydrangeas.

A garden-loving psychologist wouldn’t be wrong in suggesting that I’m rebuilding the blooming street of my boyhood. I hail from an old Carolina clan of farmers, gardeners, preachers and storytellers, after all, and grew up hearing legends of the dogwood tree’s origin, one of which holds that long ago the dogwood was a mighty tree — like the oak — that was used to make the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Because of its role in the death of Christ, the legend goes, God both cursed and blessed the little tree. It would never again grow large enough to be used as a cross for a crucifixion. Yet it would also produce beautiful flowers in the spring, just in time for Easter, with petals shaped like a cross, clustered berries resembling a crown of thorns and specks of red that symbolized drops of blood. 

Over the half a century since I’d lived on our street, most of the dogwoods disappeared from yards. In fairness, dogwoods generally only live anywhere from 40–70 years, and the beauties I remember were probably at least already middle-aged. Even so, we count no more than 15 dogwood trees on the entire street.

For that matter, azaleas are also dramatically thin on the ground these days. Maybe they are just too finicky for casual gardeners and the new generation of busy young families that inhabit the neighborhood to keep up with, requiring annual trimming, fertilizing and mulching in order to flourish.

In truth, I was never terribly keen on planting dogwood trees and azaleas bushes until we moved back to Dogwood Drive, at which point a mysterious desire overtook me. Perhaps I am becoming Cadillac Joe 2.0?

Little Joe Franks was pleased when I mentioned this botanical phenomenon.

“That’s great,” he said. “Now all you need is an old Cadillac and the music of Sinatra!”

He may be right. For the moment at least, an aging Subaru and Mary Chapin Carpenter will have to suffice.

Maybe someday I will be remembered as the legend of Outback Jimmy.  PS

Jim Dodson can be reached at

Sporting Life

Sporting Life

The Next Adventure

And the gift of mentoring

By Tom Bryant

“The only thing crazier than a duck hunter or a mountain climber,” the Old Man repeatedly said, “is a really dedicated fisherman — a man who will fish where he knows there are no fish, just as long as he’s fishing.”    — Robert Ruark in The Old Man’s Boy Grows Older

We were all grouped around the kitchen table, more or less in a relaxed mode after a full morning of duck hunting. The kitchen table was in the duck-hunting lodge that we lease along with five corn-planted impoundments right on the Pamlico Sound and only a few miles from Lake Mattamuskeet. It was the last day of duck season.

There were seven of us, not exactly the Magnificent Seven, unless you talk to us after a successful day in the duck blind. Then you would surely think we were the most proficient duck hunters and outdoorsmen in the whole South.

This was not one of those days, unfortunately. Duck shooting had been sparse. We saw ducks, but they were working over the Pamlico and refusing to drop into our impoundments. “This ain’t exactly how I planned to end duck season,” Bubba said as he pushed back in his slat-back chair and ambled over to the refrigerator. “I’m gonna end the pain a little with a cold beer. How ’bout you guys?”

“I’ll join you,” I said. “Then I’m gonna take a nap.”

Bubba handed me a beer, “Well, maybe the fishing will be better this spring. Art, I hear you’re going down to Belize to try your hand at saltwater fly-fishing.”

“Yeah. As a matter of fact, I brought my fly rod so you could give me a couple of lessons.”

Bubba is an accomplished fly fisherman and has fished Costa Rica as well as Belize. “Well, this ain’t exactly the right kind of weather,” I said, since the wind had picked up and the temperature was dropping, “but get your rig and we’ll cast a little in the backyard.”

We all trooped out to the yard right off the miniature enclosed back porch where we kept our guns and wet waders. Art had his fly rod all put together and ready to go.

As he limbered the rod back and forth slowly, Bubba said, “Art, it’s all in the wrist.” He had tied a small weight to the line to imitate a tiny fly and commenced to let line out as he moved the rod in rhythm with the line.

A pickup truck slowly eased down the drive toward the barn camp — an old barn converted into living quarters located a couple of hundred yards behind our lodge. The guys who lease the camp are some of the finest duck hunters in the area, and they do it the hard way. They hunt on the Pamlico Sound in powerful jon boats in all kinds of weather. None of that impoundment hunting for them.

There were three of them in the group, and they have become our good friends, sharing meals, libations and hunting stories . . . some of them even true. We always look forward to their company.

The truck slowed to a stop, and we waved at the pair in the front seat. Two black Labs were in the bed of the truck, and they were watching us intently.

Art continued, with Bubba’s instructions, casting the fly out into the yard, and he was really getting the hang of stripping line off the reel when Jim Overman, sort of the ringleader of the barn camp crew, hung his head out the driver’s window and shouted, “Hey Art, I really think you’d have better luck if you got closer to the water.”

That was the way it was in those days, and it hasn’t changed much even today. We’re either hunting and thinking about fishing, or fishing and planning a hunt. The outdoor group I hang out with is never far from an open air event/outdoor entertainment.

For me, this love affair with sportfishing started at a young age and was as natural as breathing. Like so many sports in the outdoors, there’s often a driving force, most of the time an older individual or a host of friendly, experienced sportsmen. With me, it was my family. My dad, for sure, and my granddad, along with several uncles who took me under their wing and let me go with them when they were heading to the woods hunting or to the creeks and rivers fishing. I learned by watching and obeying instructions, not as a kid, but as someone really interested in learning how to do it right. They never talked down to me, but I was expected to act in a manner respecting their age.

One late summer afternoon, my dad, granddad and uncles were gathered on the long front porch of the old home place making plans for a fishing outing to Florida.

“I figure if we go down there in mid-March it won’t be too cold, and maybe we can hook on to that big bass that Tom keeps talking about,” Dad said. Uncle Tom fished the St. Johns River at Astor where Granddad had a fish camp, and he was constantly talking about the 8-pounder he pulled in after only an hour on the river.

The conversation drifted from when the best time to go would be to what kind of fishing gear to take. Meanwhile, I was sitting in the corner rocker like a bird dog on point. The more they talked, the faster I rocked, hoping against hope that they would let me go with them. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore. “Can I go?”

Dad looked over at me and said, “Son, you’ve got school and we’re gonna be gone a week or more. I don’t believe Mr. Workman would let you miss that many days.”

Mr. Workman was the principal of Aberdeen Elementary and a kind, likable man. I was sure I could convince him that I should make the trip. Convincing my folks sitting on the porch looked to be another matter entirely.

Granddad was sitting in the swing listening to all the plans and after a while, he said to the group, “Let the boy go with you, that is if he can clear it with the school folks. You can take my truck, and while you’re there, I want you to pick the remainder of the fruit on the orange trees next to the house. We never get it all when we’re there right after Christmas, and this would be a good opportunity to finish it up. Tommy could climb the trees and get the high fruit.”

Granddad had planted a small orange grove right after he bought the Florida property, and it was just beginning to produce enough fruit to share with the family.

So that’s how I got to go on my first major fishing outing with the adults. Mr. Workman said I could go, the only requirement being that I write a paper about my experiences on the river.

We had a grand time on that trip, and I often think back to my conversations with Dad and my uncles on the St. Johns. They treated me as a trusted member of the party, and I learned a lot about fishing. But more importantly, I learned the value of close family ties.  PS

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

The Omnivorous Reader

The Omnivorous Reader

Heart of a Poet

Time, place and eternity meet in Indigo Field

By Stephen E. Smith

On this sunny late-March afternoon, Marjorie Hudson occupies rarefied space: She’s standing in the footprints of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson and Thomas Wolfe, reading from her beautifully wrought first novel, Indigo Field, at the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities. Her bright eyes (they might be blue or green; the afternoon light plays tricks) stare out from a shock of white hair (she’s accurately penned the description “white-blonde hair” for a character in her novel), and she’s smiling the smile of one who’s realized her dream via pure, implacable determination. In the words of Keats, she’s surprised everyone, including herself, with “a fine excess,” writing that strikes the reader almost as a remembrance. Now all she has to do is sell her masterwork. The literary world needs to know about Indigo Field, and readers need to snatch it off bookstore shelves or download it online.

Hudson is a Midwesterner who settled in North Carolina by way of a lengthy sojourn in Washington, D.C., where she worked for a nature magazine that kept her indoors much of the time.  “We all worked such long hours we hardly got to go outside,” she says. “All it took for me to jump ship was a visit to a friend (in North Carolina), a rainbow over a farmhouse, and I was hooked. My days were full of freelance writing assignments, sunbathing in the yard, gardening, and pond swimming. Whippoorwills chanted outside my window, a sound I’d never heard before. When frogs took over the pond one night in a massive mating ritual, it was better than any nature documentary.”

Thus Indigo Field evolved into a decidedly Southern novel featuring Southern characters immersed in a regional history that emphasizes a strong sense of place. Even so, there’s no forced, ersatz Southernisms in her dialogue, no Hollywood “y’alls,” and, thank God, there’s not a subhuman Faulknerian Snopes in sight. Her characters speak authentically, and they never propagate a phony gesture. Somehow she’s acquired the ability to absorb the Southern landscape she’s adopted as home.

She came by this invaluable knowledge by happening into the perfect job. “One of the many freelance jobs I took to pay the rent was copy-editing novels at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill,” she says. “I had never read much Southern lit before, and reading the novels of Clyde Edgerton and Jill McCorkle, and the stories of Lee Abbott and Larry Brown was like going to grad school. How a novel all fit together was fascinating. How a short story was constructed was beautiful. And the language! I was learning the rhythms of speech and turns of phrase from my neighbors, my new husband, and these stories. I turned to my computer and started a story of my own.”

Hudson’s prose style is clear and concise, and she preserves a delicate balance of empathy for characters who come alive with startling authenticity. Her leapfrogging plot turns sustain the story’s energy and propel the reader ever forward. The Regal House Publishing promotional material provides an accurate precis. “In this novel of moral reckoning, the unjust outcome of a murder trial, and the chance accident that follows, result in a feud that raises the spirits of the dead, forcing enemies to become allies in order to survive.”

Good enough. But the novel’s beauty is more than fancy footwork, deft plotting and the able handling of points of view. Hudson writes with the heart of a poet. Her prose has been worked on (in the best sense) to get rid of that worked-on feeling. Take this transitional passage from Chapter 49: “This great wind rode the eye of a rogue hurricane and spun out lightning and whirlwinds like warriors of a great army. These warriors flattened all they touched, and chose what they touched with care. They touched the new homes of wealthy people and left the old derelict home of Poolesville, the farmhouses of widows, the trailer parks of the destitute, damaged but still standing. The wind brought lightning strikes so pervasive that many small fires lit rooftops, tall trees and last year’s broomsedge in Indigo Field. . . . This wind skipped from high spot to high spot, so that places that had been raised up were laid low, and places that were low and humble remained intact.”

The writing of Indigo Field took up almost 30 years of Hudson’s life — with time out to write and publish an acclaimed short story collection, Accidental Birds of the Carolinas, and a history/travelogue, Searching for Virginia Dare. “I had 450 pages (of the novel) by 1998, but I didn’t know how to end it and I knew it needed revision.” She set Indigo Field aside, finished a different novel, sent it out, got discouraged, went to graduate school, and all the while the novel kept getting longer and longer. Hudson recalls: “I kept adding layers of things I was fascinated with: parrot colonies, Nike missile sites, archeology. As it got longer and longer, unbeknown to me, New York’s acceptable novel length had gotten shorter and shorter. It was roundly rejected.”  So Hudson turned to a small press, Regal House Publishing in Raleigh. Regal reminded her of Algonquin in the old days: “Small, feisty, locally owned. I even knew one of the editors,” she says. “I submitted my 50 pages. They asked for the rest. I got the call a couple of months later. I was still revising. Cutting mostly. I had a whole new version by the time Jaynie called and said ‘Yes.’”

Indigo Field was chosen to be part of Regal’s “Sour Mash Series,” a selection of books centered on the American South’s sense of place and history. Hudson was in the place described by Flannery O’Connor: “The Southern writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet.” After living in North Carolina for almost 40 years, Hudson is a Southern writer, and she’s pretty proud of that.

She’s come a distance, a far piece, to stand before an audience at the Weymouth Center — and all the other audiences she’ll be entertaining in the months to come. She has a novel to sell. It’s demanding work, but Marjorie Hudson is surely up to the task.  PS

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



The Pinch Hitters

Now you see them, now you don’t

By Jim Moriarty

The year was 1959. I know this because my father, who was largely estranged from our family, took me to see the sensational new movie Al Capone, starring Rod Steiger. What 8-year-old kid can’t wait to see a gangster get his brains beaten in with a brick in dramatic black and white?

I was in my father’s charge that first week in May because my mother and both of my older brothers were off scouting colleges. It was a thing, even back in those days. My presence, under duress I’m sure, was not about to dissuade my father from his usual pursuits. The good news for me was that one of those pursuits involved watching the Chicago White Sox play the Boston Red Sox at Comiskey Park. Late in the game, a pinch hitter was announced. Ted Williams. My father leaned over to me and said, “Watch everything No. 9 does because one day you’re going to want to tell your children you saw him play.” I don’t remember a damn thing about what Williams did. I’m going to guess it wasn’t much, since 1959 was the only year of his career when he didn’t hit over .300. We were both in a slump, I guess.

Skip forward, if you’ll indulge me, to early May of 1974. A college friend of mine who was living in northern Michigan came south to visit, carrying a brown paper bag full of smoked chubs, and we bought tickets to watch the Atlanta Braves play the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field. The sky was pewter gray, and the low that day was 32 degrees. If it got over 50 in the afternoon, it couldn’t have been by much. The wind was howling off Lake Michigan, and attendance at the game was beyond meager. As the afternoon wore on — Wrigley didn’t have lights in those days — like an advancing glacier, folks just naturally inched closer and closer to the field. The ushers didn’t care. They were freezing, too.

My friend, his bag of smoked fish, and I finished the second half of the ball game in lovely seats right behind the first base dugout. Being a generous soul, he was passing his chubs up and down the row, sharing with anyone who wanted to sample this freshwater delicacy. Sitting next to us was an older man and a young girl, about the same age I had been that day long ago at Comiskey, who I took to be his granddaughter. Having skipped school in the middle of the week, she was a devout and vocal fan of the home team with a spanking new Cubs hat to prove it. Grandpa was equally enamored of smoked fish. It was a genial grouping of box seat interlopers.

Late in the day, the seventh or eighth inning, a pinch hitter was announced. It was Henry Aaron. Roughly a month before, Aaron had broken Babe Ruth’s home run record. When he came out of the dugout, swinging a bat to loosen up those old muscles, I leaned over toward the little girl and said, “Watch everything No. 44 does because one day, you’re going to want to tell your children you saw him play.”

I confess, recycling this bit of generational guidance made me feel rather fine and noble.

As swiftly as that bit of wisdom tumbled from my windchilled lips, that sweet little girl turned to me and, in language so colorful it would have made a tugboat captain faint, reinforced her undying love of the Cubs and her utter and complete disdain for anyone, including me, who might get in the way of a complete and total Chicago victory.

Fifteen years had passed and I was still in a slump.  PS

Jim Moriarty is the Editor of PineStraw and can be reached at



The Queen Is Dead,

Long live the king!

By Tony Rothwell

Sounds harsh doesn’t it? But that’s the way it’s been for a thousand years.

As London, and much of the world, prepares for another large helping of English pomp and circumstance, I can’t help thinking back to a cold, gloomy February day in Whitby, Yorkshire. The year was 1952. I was at a boarding school, in a spelling class. We were 9-year-olds. The door opened and in came a teacher who announced he had sad news — King George VI had died. He asked us to bow our heads in a minute of silence, after which he told us that Princess Elizabeth was now our queen.

King George had been an unassuming monarch, rather overshadowed by Winston Churchill in the public eye, and the truth was we didn’t know much about him. Yes, his head was on the back of our pennies and thruppenny bits but we had no real impression of him.

However, matters royal were about to change as year-long preparations were made for the coronation of our new queen. England had had a tough time of it since the beginning of World War II in 1939, and we were still suffering from shortages, rebuilding, even rationing. Now here was something we could all look forward to.

It wasn’t long before the date of the coronation was announced — June 2, 1953. Over a year of preparations lay ahead, and England went into overdrive. Long-made plans were dusted off for the service in Westminster Abbey, the procession, the invitation list and, out in the country, celebrations and street parties were planned in every town and village. Meanwhile, all manner of coronation merchandise was popping up in shops. I still have my treasure trove — a commemorative mug, a special coronation crown coin, first day cover postage stamps, a paperweight, the souvenir programme and BBC’s Radio Times for coronation week, in its original binder.

The big news was when the BBC announced that the coronation was to be televised, though only a handful of people had access to a set. My brother and I had recently watched TV for the first time when the English FA Cup final was shown in a hut in our village to a packed audience. The reception was terrible. Every vehicle that went by produced a snowstorm over the screen, but it was still very exciting. We heard our parents discussing getting a set and did all we could to encourage them. Then suddenly it was there. A beautiful, mahogany, floor-standing piece of furniture containing a tiny 12-inch screen behind double doors placed next to the fireplace in our living room.

The day of the coronation finally came. TV coverage began early, and we were all gathered round the cathode ray tube — my parents, brother Bill, our corgi Taffy and myself — at our house south of Manchester in northwest England with the Radio Times in hand. It perfectly reflected the all-consuming mood of patriotism and coronation-mania the country was experiencing. The pages were devoted to every conceivable aspect: the “Form and Order” of the 2 hour, 50 minute service with the crowning expected at approximately 12:30 p.m.; the symbology of the many trappings of the monarchy; the glorious music and who would be singing; a map of the route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey where a congregation of 7,000 would await the young queen; and, after the service, the much longer route back to Buckingham Palace to be cheered on by the huge crowds who had come from all over Britain.

Even the Times’ advertisements were in on the act. Shell Oil did it with poetry:

Along Pall Mall, along St. James

Old buildings echo with the din

Old streets remember famous names

Lord Byron, Wellington and Gwyn

While Guardsmen’s plumes awake the air

Like pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

Two days later the United States had its moment with a radio tribute to coronation week titled “A Star-Spangled Salute,” starring Burl Ives, Gregory Peck, Sam Wanamaker and Master of Ceremonies Ben Lyon.

My most vivid memories of the day are the arrival of the queen at the Abbey to the ear-splitting acclamation “Vivat! Vivat! Vivat! Regina”; the glorious coronation coach (it was black and white television, of course, but we were assured it was gold); and the massive, Union Jack-waving crowds lining the processional route.

In the year 1066 William the Conqueror was the first monarch to be crowned in Westminster Abbey, and 957 years later, on Saturday, May 6, King Charles will be the 40th monarch to process up the Abbey’s aisle. Once seated on the throne he will have the St. Edward’s crown, made in 1661 for Charles II, placed upon his head, and Camilla, as queen consort, will wear the crown made for Queen Mary in 1911. Incidentally the St. Edward’s crown weighs 4.9 pounds, which will explain the care exercised when it is being placed on Charles’ head.

The contrast between the two sovereigns, mother and son assuming the throne almost exactly 70 years apart, could not be greater — a pretty, sheltered, 25-year-old queen, and a 74-year-old, twice-married king. We are promised a somewhat scaled back service in the Abbey to that of the late queen, the king being sensitive to Britain’s current economic and social climate, but there will be three days of events and concerts and a national holiday on the Monday. For millions of Brits born after June 1953 and seeing their very first coronation, it will be a truly memorable occasion with celebrations up and down the country and glasses raised to the newly crowned sovereign — “Here’s a health unto His Majesty.”

Meanwhile our KCIII commemorative mug has just arrived.  PS

Tony Rothwell moved to Pinehurst in 2017, exchanging the mind-numbing traffic of Washington, D.C., for less traffic, better weather and the vagaries of golf. He spent 50 years in the hotel business but in retirement writes short stories, collects caricatures, sings in the Moore County Choral Society. He can be reached at

Almanac May 2023

Almanac May 2023

May is the nimble bard, back again, rendering tales of romance and revelry.

When the peonies sing out and the black snake sheds his winter skin, the bard slinks in with an age-old poem, jubilant and familiar. You recognize the words but the tune has changed. It’s more florid, less restrained.

A bard never sings the same song twice.

The poem is a constellation of roses, a bouquet of wild songbirds, a quivering fawn, wet from birth. It is a bluebird’s first flight, a canopy of tree frogs, a fox kit emerging from the den.

It’s a tale of first love — a whisper, a giggle, a kiss — a sacred song between two hearts and the ancient, flowering magnolia.

The rhythm quickens for the ballad of the bee and the lady’s slipper; the waltz of the foxglove and hummingbird; the butterfly’s ode to red clover.

Honeysuckle on the tongue, the bard weaves from wild place to formal garden, from strawberry patch to rabbit burrow, from poppy field to chrysalis. 

She sings of earthworms and spring rain; soft grass and bare feet; the boy and his mud castle.

Listen for the girl in the sunhat. Snap peas on the trellis. Dandelions and cartwheels and picnic baskets.

The wind sings along, carrying her tune through the leafed-out trees until we are nectar-drunk and flushed. Each word pulses with ecstasy. We cannot help but sing along.

Three animal friends in clothes fox, rabbit and ferret chatting on summer picnic with food on bedspread isolated on white background. Watercolor hand drawn illustration sketch

Among the Wildflowers

National Wildflower Week, celebrated during the first full week of May, is spring at its finest. The air is sweet. Roadsides and meadows are bursting with life and color. The pollinators are here for the party.

Perhaps you know that in 2016, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation launched The Butterfly Highway project in response to the alarming decline of native bees and monarch butterflies. This conservation restoration initiative continues to expand its “network of native flowering plants” to help sustain our pollen- and nectar-dependent wild ones. Interested in adding a “Pollinator Pitstop” to the map? Visit, where you can find N.C. native pollinator seed packets, discover what’s blooming this month, and learn more.


The word May is a perfumed word . . . It means youth, love, song; and all that is beautiful in life.    — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, journal, 1861

The Great Mother

Creation stories of the Lenape and Iroquois people evoke images of a great cosmic turtle carrying the world on its back. Surely all mothers have felt like that turtle from time to time.

This year, Mother’s Day lands on Sunday, May 14. Perhaps fittingly, World Turtle Day is celebrated this month, too — on Tuesday, May 23.

The Eastern box turtle, N.C.’s state reptile, begins nesting at the end of this month. Although common across the state, the Eastern box turtle population is declining. When next you see one, wish it well. She could be carrying eggs — or tending a clutch of tiny, delicate worlds.  PS

Poem May 2023

Poem May 2023

Mallard Ducks

It is late afternoon and a pair

of mallard ducks is paddling

the length and breadth of Lake

Katharine, their webbed feet

working beneath the waterline.

The male’s hunter green head

is iridescent in the sun, his bill

the bright yellow of summer

squash. But a female is harder

to see. Her mottled, brunette

feathers blend with the aquatic

vegetation, which will help her

protect the nest she has yet to

build, the eggs she has not yet

lain. Today, however, this hen

seems content to bob for plants

and small fish while swimming

around the lake with her mate,

the two of them silent as rubber

ducks floating in a child’s bath —

or an old married couple eating

their supper on separate trays.

— Terri Kirby Erickson

Terri Kirby Erickson’s seventh book of poetry, Night Talks: New & Selected Poems, will be released in October 2023.

Back to the Future

Back to the Future

Revitalizing West Southern Pines

By Ann Petersen

Feature Photo caption: West Southern Pines Rosenwald School, 1925


Blanchie Carter Discovery Park today

Photograph by John gessner

The land tells its own story. Hope, creativity and adaptability are its chapters. History is alive at 1250 West New York Avenue.

In 1923, the town of West Southern Pines was chartered as one of the first African American townships on the East Coast. Jim Town was the slang expression for it in those days, either in reference to James Bethea, who owned the general store and other property in the new township; or because of the Jim Crow laws of the day, explains Kim Wade, an expert on West Southern Pines’ history.

The citizens of the new township, often earning as little as 50 cents a day, dreamed of building a Rosenwald School to ensure their children’s education. Julius Rosenwald, the co-owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company, and his wife, Augusta, Jewish immigrants from Germany, established the Rosenwald Fund in 1917 “for the betterment of mankind.” Among its contributions, the Rosenwald Fund (in common cause with Booker T. Washington) helped build schools in an effort to strengthen rural Black communities in the United States.

With little more than hope to drive their funding, the community raised $6,000, above and beyond municipal taxes, to match the grant from the Rosenwald Fund. Four acres were donated by William and Emma Junge as a site for the school. The land was cleared by the community, and the school was completed in 1925. In the 1940s the Rosenwald School gave way to a more modern structure, and the property became West Southern Pines High School. While the name implied the school was for students in higher grades of secondary education, it was actually the school all children of color attended, regardless of age or grade level. Though the town charter was rescinded in 1931, the community, and school, strove to maintain their viability. A gym and lunchroom along with multiple wings of classrooms were added.


Work and play at the Blanchie Carter Discovery Park, 1998

Photographs Courtesy Ann Petersen

Many West Southern Pines alumni are still in Moore County. Some, after living successful lives elsewhere, have circled back home. Dorothy Brower, a member of the high school’s last graduating class, is just one example. She returned after a career that included being the director of the Orange County Campus of Durham Technical Community College and the affirmative action officer. Other alumni include Shirley Bowman, Dorothy Douglas Jackson, Walter Powell, Martha Dickerson, Jennifer McCall, Carolyn Penland, Bill Ross and Tessie Taylor.

Retired Lt. Col. Vincent Gordon came back after his stint in the service, followed by his work as an administrative officer with the census bureau in Washington, D.C. When Gordon, one of four sons of a school principal and a Moore County Schools teacher, returned, he was armed with the kind of experience that would prove invaluable when 1250 New York Avenue eventually transitioned to the Southern Pines Housing and Land Trust.

In the 1960s, it was the hope of then-Superintendent Bob Lee to desegregate Moore County Schools and create a heterogenous school system with equal access to education, regardless of race. While Lee and his family endured hateful threats, he worked tirelessly to achieve that goal. With the support of a fearless school board, the dream became a reality and, with desegregation, West Southern Pines High School would become Southern Pines Elementary School.

In 1995, my eldest daughter, Katie, was 5 years old, and my husband, Bruce, and I hoped for what all parents desire: a creative, inspiring, sound education for our children; an education where they would be loved and nurtured. Our decision ultimately fell to Katie and her soon-to-be principal, Blanchie Carter.


Work and play at the Blanchie Carter Discovery Park, 1998

Photographs Courtesy Ann Petersen

I remember walking through the halls of Southern Pines Elementary, trailing behind Blanchie and Katie. As Bruce and I checked out the surroundings, our loquacious child peppered Blanchie with comments and questions. When we reached the media center Katie turned to us and announced: “This will be my school.” And it was.

There was one drawback to the school at that time. The playground was a treeless desert, a home to unrelenting heat in the late summer and blistering winds in the winter. Periodic dust tornadoes would flit across the barren land. It was a place that bred anger and frustration for the students and the teachers. Riddled with sand spurs, the playground made recess, meant to be a healthy break in the day, anything but. It was, instead, a time to endure. 

I signed up to co-chair the playground committee for the PTA. Our goal was to raise $25,000. Bruce, as he was prone to do, signed on to help. We ended up raising 10 times that amount. Fueled by both hope and good luck, we started searching for someone with expertise to help us with the playground. We discovered one of the world’s premier designers of parks for children, an Englishman, was on the teaching staff at the N.C. State School of Design.

Enter Robin Moore. His first lesson was to teach us we were not building a playground, but rather a discovery park. He was right. Blanchie Carter Discovery Park was born.

Moore led us to Dr. Nilda Cosco, a native Argentinian who is an expert on learning through play, also on the faculty of the N.C. State School of Design. She earned her reputation as a leader in the field by working with economically, physically and mentally challenged children in Buenos Aires. I like to think there is a magical matchmaking component to the Blanchie Carter Discovery Park. Shortly after Moore and Cosco began to collaborate on the park in West Southern Pines, Bruce and I received notice of their marriage.


Work and play at the Blanchie Carter Discovery Park, 1998

Photographs Courtesy Ann Petersen

By 2006 the Blanchie Carter Discovery Park was built. The New York Times ran a feature on the park. Southern Living magazine came calling. Students read about the park in their national Scholastic magazines. James “Pygie” Pugh showed up with his D-6 bulldozer to cut the peripheral trail. Interns came from England to work with the students. Hope and curiosity had carried the day.

Mary Scott Harrison, the principal of the school following Blanchie’s retirement, recognized the extraordinary benefit the park served. Discipline problems dissipated. Both students and teachers were happier. Teachers designed lessons that could be taught outdoors. The school nurse created a walking club that met each morning and walked the peripheral trail. 

The staff at Southern Pines Elementary School was as good as any in the country. With the likes of Elaine Simon, Barbara Kelly (Smith), Mamie Allen, Damita Nocton, Edith Moore, Annie Osterman, Liz Lyndsey, Elizabeth Strickland, Toni Hyman and Jane Kschinka, led first by Blanchie Carter and then by Mary Scott Harrison, children thrived. Four years after Katie enrolled at the school, Jennie, her younger sister, entered the magic that was SPES. Jeff Moody, a retired track star turned elementary gym teacher, knew each child’s name. He could spot the gift Jennie possessed as she raced around the track. “She’s fast. Be patient and let her lead the way. She’s a runner,” he told us. Jennie’s running career, which eventually led her to Dartmouth College, began on the SPES track.

I have not cried when my children advanced from one educational level to another with one exception: I cried the day they both left 1250 West New York Avenue.

In 2020, Southern Pines Primary School (having supplanted Southern Pines Elementary School) was rendered outdated, and the property was vacated. Students of both Southern Pines Primary School and Southern Pines Elementary School enrolled in their brand new school on Carlisle Street. With that change, the land readied for another new chapter. 

Bruce Cunningham working on the Blanchie Carter Discovery Park, 1998

The school board offered the land up for sale. There were struggles as the community sought to, again, purchase the land. As stories have a way of doing, this one came full circle when the land, primed for a new beginning, became the property of the Southern Pines Housing and Land Trust, an effort led by Vincent Gordon.

The purchase was driven largely by descendants of those who had attended the original Rosenwald School who hoped to not only embrace the history of the land, but to preserve Blanchie Carter Discovery Park as a learning venue for all children of Southern Pines to visit and enjoy. The final payment for the land was made by the Town of Southern Pines. Council member Mike Saulnier, who understood the importance of preserving the park, gave birth to a solution that resulted in a contract between the town and the Land Trust. 

The former school now proudly houses the West Southern Pines Center for African American History, Cultural Arts and Business. But hopes and dreams need funding to be realized. With a strong board of directors; Executive Director Sandra Dales; Director of Operations Nora Bowman; the relentless efforts of Tom, Lori and Rachel Van Camp; and an army of volunteers led by Susan Ward, who has managed the maintenance of the park, the weekend of May 19-20 will be filled with events to further the goals of refurbishing both the auditorium and Blanchie Carter Discovery Park.

On May 19, the auditorium where I once watched colorful Christmas pageants will play host to a jazz concert featuring Nnenna Freelon, a seven-time Grammy nominee. Tickets are on sale now at With luck, similar fundraisers will become annual events. There will be an invitation-only dinner and auction on May 20 recognizing the contributions of the community, including businesses like the Pinehurst Resort, First Citizens Bank, First Bank and The Friends of the Pinehurst Surgical Clinic. Attendance will likely exceed 350.

Hope has never left 1250 West New York Avenue. Some hope for a museum that embraces the history of West Southern Pines. Others hope for a commercial revitalization of businesses there. A youth basketball team meets in the gym to practice, and the players hope for victory while their coaches — who refinished the gym floor themselves — hope the young players will learn the lessons of collaboration and teamwork. Moore and Cosco have returned to work on the rebirth of the Discovery Park, hoping the land will not only enhance the lives of local children, but serve as a training center for teachers studying early childhood development. It remains a place where dreams can come true.  PS

Bruce Cunningham and Ann Petersen were awarded the Governor’s Volunteer Award for their work on the Blanchie Carter Discovery Park.

Creators of N.C.

Creators of N.C.

Beads on a String

Silver Alert with Lee Smith

By Wiley Cash

Photographs By Mallory Cash


Silver Alert is Lee Smith’s 15th novel, and, if you believe her, it’ll probably be her last. How can this be true? How can the writer who gave us Ivy Rowe of Fair and Tender Ladies and the Cantrell family from Oral History be done with crafting memorable characters with expansive histories?

If this is true, if Silver Alert is indeed Lee Smith’s last novel, then at least readers will be left with several new characters to remember. There’s Dee Dee, a buoyant young aesthetician living under an assumed name who’s in Key West to hide from a past she can’t shake. There’s Dee Dee’s client Susan, a wealthy woman who seems too young to be locked in the throes of dementia. And then there’s Susan’s husband, Herb, a tough old guy from up north who, with his swollen prostate and weak bladder, can’t help but long for the days of his youth.

Silver Alert is everything readers want from good storytelling and sharply drawn characters; the book is alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, wise and lighthearted, sly and deeply profound. It’s the kind of novel that only Lee Smith could write, and it will remind readers to be thankful that she has given us so many.

The idea behind Silver Alert came to Lee a little differently than the ideas that spawned her previous novels. Several years ago, when she and her husband, writer Hal Crowther, were driving back from a winter vacation in Key West, they began spotting signs on U.S. 1, alerting readers with the words “Silver Alert,” complete with the make and model of a vehicle. Neither Lee nor Hal had ever heard of a silver alert, but they’d seen amber alerts that are issued when a youth goes missing, and they soon pieced it all together. They pieced together a story, too.

“We decided that it was an elderly guy who found a set of car keys in an old golf  shoe, and he’d taken off in his car with the mani-pedi girl from the assisted living place.”

Lee and Hal had a few laughs on their drive home, speculating about where the man would stop on a trip that might end up being his final burst of freedom.

“There’s never been a more natural plot,” Lee tells me. “That’s the number one plot in literature: ‘Somebody takes a trip.’ And number two is, ‘A stranger came to town.’”

If there’s a stranger who’s come to town in Silver Alert, it’s Dee Dee. She’s from the mountains of North Carolina, and her cheerful beauty belies the dark secrets of a life of poverty that has been suffered in the shadows of sex trafficking. She seems to be the only person who can settle Susan during her bouts of confusion, a continuous struggle that has overwhelmed Herb, whose existential angst is fueled by grieving for his wife and the sense that their life together is over.

“Bless her soul,” Herb thinks on the novel’s opening page, “and damn it all to hell.”

Herb’s sarcasm and cynical nature, especially after his and Susan’s kids stage an intervention and force the couple into selling their home to move into an assisted living facility, could have easily soured the reader’s soul — at one point the narrator even says that Herb “hates everybody that’s young, everybody that’s having fun” — but Lee doesn’t allow that to happen because soon even Herb is buoyed by Dee Dee’s infectious optimism, and it’s that optimism that inspires Herb to abscond with his yellow Porsche, Dee Dee riding shotgun.

I ask Lee how she so convincingly wrote a character like Dee Dee, someone who maintains her spirit in spite of the trauma and struggle in her past.

“Well, I think in part that is a form of self-defense,” she says. “It’s a way of putting a little shell around yourself.”

In the novel, Dee Dee has spent time at the fictional Rainbow Farm in northern Florida, which is a home for women who are hoping to escape life on the streets. It’s the kind of place that Lee knows pretty well after working with organizations like Thistle Farms outside of Nashville, Tennessee. According to the organization’s mission, it’s a “nonprofit social enterprise dedicated to helping women survivors recover and heal from prostitution, trafficking, and addiction” by offering a place to live and the opportunity to learn a professional skill. While at Rainbow Farm, Dee Dee learned to be an aesthetician, something that felt natural to Lee, who admits, “I love the beauty shop type of stuff.”

Dee Dee’s work and her relationships with new friends like Susan and Herb lead her to believe that the terrible fates of life are far behind her and getting farther away every day, even if they do still exist somewhere in her past. Throughout the novel, Lee brings the reader’s attention to this time continuum, including one moment when Dee Dee is watching moonlight move across a deck, thinking, “I am happy I’m so happy I will remember this for the rest of my life.” The book’s narrator steps in at that moment to add “and she would too.”

If Dee Dee is living in the moment while thinking about the future, Herb is living in the past while dreading what’s ahead. While he attempts to care for Susan, he continually “feels himself slipping back, back, back through time” to his first love, a woman named Roxana, whom he met when they were children in Buffalo.

Given Susan and Herb’s predicament of being forced into assisted living, it would be easy to read Silver Alert as a kind of elegy to aging, but I read it as the opposite. I read it as a celebration of life along the time continuum. It’s about the past, present and future existing in the space of our minds regardless of what our bodies are doing.

“I find incredible solace in that,” I tell Lee.

“Yes,” Lee says. “Here I am, almost 80 years old, and I think this might very well be the last novel I write. But I still have everything existing in me just like you said, all these ideas and memories are still there. You can do that with a novel.

“But things are sort of coming to me now in smaller scenes and short stories, smaller things like beads on a string, and you can see that in this book.”

If you were to look back over the novels that Lee has published, beginning with her debut The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed in 1968, you could see the beads on a string, the long continuum that has taken her from her hometown of Grundy in the Virginia mountains down to Hillsborough, North Carolina, and various parts of the state where she’s lived and worked. 

“In your early work, it seems that you were investigating and chronicling the place that you came from in southwest Virginia,” I say. “And then in your more recent work, maybe beginning with Guests on Earth and Silver Alert, it feels like you’re investigating your place in the larger world after leaving the mountains of your youth.”

“I think that’s true,” Lee says.

“As you’ve spent more time writing about life outside of the place you call home, do you feel your work is somehow getting more personal?”

“In a funny way, yes, I think so,” she says. “I write my fiction very much from real life. And so, when I had those closer ties to the mountains, that’s what I wrote about. And some of the other places I’ve lived since then that have interested me.”

Beads on a string. The long continuum. Grundy, Hillsborough, Key West, Florida, and the incredible characters and stories born from these places. It’s all there in Lee Smith’s novels, and regardless of whether or not she ever writes another one, it always will be.  PS

Wiley Cash is the Alumni Author-in-Residence at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. His new novel, When Ghosts Come Home, is available wherever books are sold.