Going Against the Grain

By Karen Frye

The holiday season has begun. There will be family gatherings, parties, dinners and more, and the main event is always the food. Come December, we give ourselves permission to eat and drink as much as we want — as we should, because we know that come January we are going to go on that diet, exercise more, and take better care of ourselves. But wouldn’t it be amazing to make it through the holidays without gaining a single pound? Perhaps even losing a few extra? It doesn’t have to be difficult; in fact it’s just the opposite. You can learn how to feel confident and at ease as you maneuver your way around the table, laden with all the delicious food, and never once feel like you are missing out on anything.

Of course it may take a certain amount of willpower and determination. I like to think of this type of challenge as an adventure, one I went on seven years ago myself. I had heard Dr. Joseph Mercola speak at a natural food expo, and got his book The No Grain Diet. I read it but didn’t practice his message until the timing seemed right. I joined a gym, went religiously and did various fad diets, constantly trying to remove the 20 pounds I didn’t need — with minimal success. The words of Dr. Mercola came to me, “if you want to lose weight you must stop eating grain.”

It wasn’t that hard to do. For the record I started this in October, seven years ago. I made it through the holidays eating grain-free, never once feeling sorry that I wasn’t consuming all the sugary, heavy foods that normally I would eat. After the first 30 days I’d only lost a few pounds. The outstanding thing was the clarity of mind that I experienced. That inspired my dedication to continue, and by the fourth month eating this way I had lost the 20 pounds.

A no-grain diet is simple and easy to follow. It’s a lifestyle change more than a diet — that’s a four-letter word. I can live with it and keep the weight off. It’s not like the Atkins Diet, or low-carb diet. Paleo is similar, but a bit more restricted. Simply avoid anything made from a grain — no pasta, rice, bread, crackers, cookies, oatmeal, or cake (unless it’s made with almond flour). One question I am often asked is, “What do you eat?” My reply, “Everything else.”

You can have sweet potatoes, beans, chicken, fish, meat, eggs, healthy fats (avocados, for example) salads and quinoa (which is used like a grain, but is actually a seed). You never have to count calories, or be hungry. You just have to be prepared to have food with you when you are in situations that might leave you without the right choices.

Following this plan can help you feel better in many ways. Your self-esteem improves when you’re in control of your life (and your clothes aren’t so tight). Often, health issues clear up like allergies or digestive problems. Come January, you will have already made the changes in your life in a positive way. Once you’ve reached your desired weight you will never have to diet again. If you make this your way of eating, occasional cheats will be OK. Just don’t do it too often, and always get back on the no-grain path. PS

Karen Frye is the owner and founder of Natures Own and teaches yoga at the Bikram Yoga Studio.

My Pre-Geezer Christmas List

Wishing for the intangible

By Jim Dodson

Earlier this month, my lovely grown-up daughter living in faraway Chicago phoned to ask what I want for Christmas.

“Can’t think of a thing, Honey,” I replied, then said what I say every December when we do this routine. “I don’t need a thing, Mugs. Just seeing all of you kids come home is my Christmas present. Oh, wait, I know — a pair of new white socks and a pen that doesn’t run out of ink.”

“Dad, be serious.”

I was being serious. For better or worse, come winter I go through white socks like tissues, and there’s nothing worse than a pen that runs out of ink when you’ve had a sudden brilliant thought.

The trick of living, I’ve discovered over three score years plus four is to know what’s enough and to need (and better yet desire) less and less of this world’s material stuff, whittling down life until you’re traveling light enough to someday join the dust from whence you came.

On this same note, it was a shock to discover the other day that I own 23 very nice sports coats. Where on Earth did they all come from? And more to the point, do I really need 23 sports coats in my life, only two or three of which I might wear over the course of a year? Ditto neckties, golf clubs, various hats and caps, even books I used to think I would someday read but never got around to.

So I had a brilliant idea. For the first time in decades, I made out a Christmas list, putting “give away at least half your very nice sports coats for Christmas” at the top of it. 

Like my working hero Thomas Jefferson — who claimed to be an “old man but a new gardener” —  I tend to make lists of things I mean to do on any given day. As any pre-geezer knows, the older you get, the better it is to write stuff down before you forget it. Unfortunately, I’m always finding old lists of things I meant to do stuffed in the pockets of my sports coats and gardening pants, things I somehow forgot to do. This is just another good reason to get rid of half my very nice sports coats. That way, I’ll probably only forget to do half the tasks I put on my daily list of things to do.

In this spirit, I decided to revisit making a Christmas list since I was about 11. That year my buddies and I used to ride our bikes to the downtown Sears and Roebuck store to check out toys we wanted to see under the Christmas tree. I wanted a new Alamo set that year and a Redskins football jersey. Also to kiss Della Hockaday who rode my bus and lived just around the corner. She wouldn’t give me the time of day. But that’s an old story of youthful yearning and unrequited love.

Back to my current pre-geezer Christmas List:

Time. Don’t tell anyone, least of all my literary agent, but I have at least three novels half-written that I just can’t find the time to finish. I don’t know if the world needs to read my unfinished novels or not. I just know I need to someday finish writing them — though “someday” really has a scary way of creeping up on you. Time is the one thing that always seems to be in short supply, running out like the ink in your pen when you least expect it. I’d also like enough time to see my children settled down and happy with how their lives are working out. While I’m on the subject, wouldn’t  mind being in the Grandpa Club some day. But no rush, Kids. Hopefully I still have a little time yet. Those new grandpas seem to have all the fun, though.

Something spicy and blue. Thanks to several careers in writing, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel abroard a great deal, exploring faraway places I only dreamed or read about as a kid. Most of my wanderlust has been spent. But there still are a few places I’d like to go before I’m scattered among the wildflowers. One is the spice market and Blue Mosque of Istanbul. I can’t really tell you why — maybe because on an attempt to see the wonders of the ancient world with my 10-year-old son many years ago, we failed to reach Constantinople or explore the Holy Land. In a nice development, next summer that grown-up son — now a reporter for a famous newspaper in northern Maine — plans to marry a beautiful Palestinian Christian girl from Jaffa, Israel. The sacred sights of the Holy Land await. And just maybe, on the return leg, something spicy and blue in old Constantinople.

Another rescue dog. Please don’t share this with my wife, but I’d love another rescue dog or two. Rescue dogs make the world a better place. They’re all about love and joy at finally having a home to call their own. Mine found me. Her name is Mulligan. Best dog ever. I’ll cry like a baby when she’s gone. Then I’ll go get myself another rescue dog or two.

A politician to admire. Frankly, I’m tired of the ones we have. All they do is bicker, call names and point nasty fingers at each other. If my mother were running this country, she’d send them all to their bedrooms without dessert until they could learn to speak with a civil tongue in their mouths.  If you can’t tweet something nice, she would add, don’t tweet anything at all. We could sure use a guy like Thomas Jefferson or my mom for president.

Tickle the ivories. Sure wish I could play the piano. Actually, I can play the piano. It just doesn’t sound like it. Looking back, I should have taken more than two weeks of lessons. You can probably put the blame directly on Della Hockaday. She was all I could think about the year my mom (see above) suggested I take piano lessons. The teacher smelled like moth balls so I quit and took up playing guitar, planning to become the next George Harrison. Sadly, Della wasn’t impressed.   

More Saturday mornings. Look, I could really use an extra Saturday morning.  That’s when I get my errands and garden work done. While the world sleeps in, I get down and dirty. Thus I hereby propose a constitutional amendment introducing the four-day work week and renaming Friday “First Saturday.” Just imagine what we could all do if we had two Saturday mornings! An extra day for golf, gardening, sleeping in, reading a book, meeting a friend for lunch, writing a letter by hand, taking a walk with the dogs in the park, or just doing nothing but noticing what a beautiful world we’re briefly inhabiting.

What’s Up, Doc? And since we’re on the subject, would someone please bring back those classic Bugs Bunny cartoons that once made Saturday mornings so sublime – Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig,  Foghorn Leghorn, Tweety and Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Pepé Le Pew, the whole Looney Tunes gang. Sure loved those guys. They made the world a better place — or at least a whole lot funnier. We should all lighten up, especially the cartoon characters we’ve elected to public office. Besides, I have it on good authority that Tom Jefferson was a huge Rocky and Bullwinkle fan.

A Revised Eleventh Commandment. Here’s a final thing I wish we could do: learn to listen to each other with a closed mouth and an open mind. During the years I wrote about life in Washington, D.C., Ronald Reagan publicly embraced an Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.” I propose we update that to “Never speak ill of another American, even if they look or sound different from you.” We’re the most diverse nation on Earth, after all, made up of a polyglot of souls who mostly came from someplace else far, far away — yet a country constitutionally founded on the timeless principle of free exchange of ideas, civil discourse and respect for a neighbor’s opinions, even if we don’t agree. If we get to know that neighbor, we just might be reminded that far more unites than divides us.

So there it is, neighbors, eight modest items on my pre-geezer Christmas Wish List.  I can almost hear what you’re thinking — What a dreamer, pal. You must have sugar-plums dancing in your head.

I suppose that’s true. But the older I get, the more I dream about such things, not unlike the way, long ago and far away, I wished for a new Alamo set and a kiss from Della Hockaday. One of those things, I can safely report, Santa delivered.

In the mean time, can anyone use a very nice sports coat or two?  PS

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at jim@thepilot.com.

Mixing It Up

Sagittarius brings a merry, motley crew

By Astrid Stellanova

Happy Holidays, Star Children! December births make me think of Forrest Gump’s good ole chocolate-box. Born in December: Crooners Frank Sinatra, Britney Spears and Taylor Swift; politicians and criminals, like Winston Churchill and drug lord Pablo Escobar. Then, everybody else that is waaaay outside the box: Pope Francis and Walt Disney, Larry Byrd and Mary Queen of Scots. Stephen Spielberg and Richard Pryor. Beethoven. Nostradamus and Bruce Lee. Woody Allen and Samuel L. Jackson. Keith Richards and Jamie Foxx. Joseph Stalin and Benjamin Disraeli. . . Ad Astra — Astrid

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

There ain’t nothing old about you but your money! And Honey, you know you are feeling the rush of being flush since a minor crisis passed this year. You escaped just fine with your wallet, hair and teeth intact. Now, the cake is ready, friends are gathering and birthday wishes are all coming true. Have faith. Your life is the sum of a lot of struggle but nothing was wasted — not even your dryer lint. (We can talk about that hoarding thing another day.)

Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

You don’t need to keep looking in the rearview mirror. All good things lie ahead, Sugar. Memory lane is closed. And what you have lying straight before you is worth focusing on. Meanwhile, there is a great opportunity for investing in yourself and a new idea in the new year. Don’t let that escape you — take the off ramp!

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

Well, look at you social caterpillar! You have broken into a tough circle of friends that only took about a thousand forevers. But you were patient and they finally saw that one of you was worth ten of a lot of people.  You’re well loved, Honey Bun.

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

You sayin’ your Jaguar can’t make it up the driveway at your mountain place? Or you’re allergic to all metals but platinum? Sugar, that is something called a humblebrag. Nobody else has told you, so I have to. It is true you have been prosperous. And that you have especially fine taste. Just say a little bit less about it.

Aries (March 21–April 19)

Somebody bamboozled you pretty good. Looked like you couldn’t tell a skunk from a Billy goat. Well, they reckoned wrong. You’ll get your chance to settle the score but don’t let it concern you. The view ain’t worth the climb, Honey Bunny. 

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

There is one somebody who gets under your skin and makes you lose your ever-loving mind. You know who and when. You have got to stop the blame game, hurling insults faster than Kim Jong-un. It might be a game to them but it is bad for your constitution, Sugar.

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

You’ve been showing too many teeth. Makes people nervous, and that completely undermines you. Stop trying so hard to be liked. You don’t have to work that angle. If you can stand in your truth, they will admire you, anyhow. You are likeable enough, Sally Field.

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

Let’s get some lumbar support for you, since you’re having a lot of trouble with your backbone. The thing is, you let a situation get out of control because you felt a lot of misplaced sympathy. But what they need from you is leadership. That might require you to be a lot firmer than your Beautyrest mattress.

Leo (July 23–August 22)

Yep, your little plan fell into place, which either puts you in the catbird seat or the litter box. You were cunning and scored a win. But is this a game you really want to win? Ask that question. Also, a friend from your past needs a pal. It would be good karma just to let them know you remember them.

Virgo (August 23–September 22)

Can’t never could, Sugar, but don’t kill yourself. It is also true that flop sweat ain’t becoming. During the holidays you may be asked to step up and take on a social role that you have never especially wanted. But it will be growth for you. And a toehold inside a door that has been closed for a very long time.

Libra (September 23–October 22)

You speak Southern? Then you know not to look over yonder for something right under foot. Focus is all you need to find your heart’s desire. And even though you feel like you have given all you have for a mighty big goal, you have something important and don’t even recognize it.

Scorpio (October 23–November 21)

Hunh? Darling, you brought a cup of Ramen noodles to a knife fight? I don’t know what got into you lately, but you have had this idea that life is a spectator sport. Well, what are you planning to do with the rest of this special life? This month is a good time to ask yourself if you are going to keep chasing after unicorns.  PS

For years, Astrid Stellanova owned and operated Curl Up and Dye Beauty Salon in the boondocks of North Carolina until arthritic fingers and her popular astrological readings provoked a new career path.

Have Yourselfie a Merry Little Christmas

In search of a family tradition

By Wiley Cash

Our oldest daughter was only 2 months old the first time we made her cry while showing her the importance of family traditions. It was a chilly late afternoon on the day after Thanksgiving in 2014, and my wife and I had already unloaded all the Christmas decorations from the attic while our daughter napped. Now we sat on the living room sofa in nervous silence, watching the daylight slip away and wondering if we should dare commit the cardinal sin of waking a sleeping baby. After all, we were going to get our first Christmas tree as a family, and we needed high-quality photos to prove that a tradition had been forged.

I cannot quite remember what my wife or I were wearing, but in my memory it seems that we were decked out in our winter, Christmas tree-searching finery. I picture myself in a red flannel shirt with one of those leather hats with the flaps folded down over my ears, and I imagine my wife was wearing a cream-colored sweater with a beret that matched, but these are just bits of speculation. I do, however, remember our daughter’s outfit, can still picture it where it was laid out on the coffee table: a white onesie with a Cubist-inspired Christmas tree on it and, of course, a tiny red Santa hat that we planned to perch perfectly atop her bald baby head.

At the first sound of her stirring, we flew upstairs. We slipped her out of her non-holiday clothes and into the Christmas tree onesie with ease, but we hit a serious speed bump once the Santa hat was installed on her head. She shook it loose, and when we put it back on she actually reached for it and removed it. My wife did her best to distract our daughter while I fumbled with the tripod so we could snap a few casual photos in front of our garlanded, lit fireplace before setting out in search of a tree. By the time the camera was ready, our daughter was in tears. The photos show our strained faces, her tear-stained cheeks and a tiny Santa hat that is alternately atop her head, in midair as it falls toward the floor, then absent altogether. 

With dusk coming on and our normally relaxed newborn newly fitful, we made a dash for the closest Christmas tree lot we could find, which, unfortunately, sat on a narrow strip of grass between the fire department and a busy road.

The sun had sunk below the tree line and an icy chill had settled over the late afternoon by the time we arrived at the lot. We immediately set about the task of having and photographing our tree-hunting experience instead of actually hunting for a tree. Our daughter showed no more interest in wearing her Santa hat than she had shown at home, and the cars and trucks that sped past us only a few feet away did not assist us in our attempts to keep the hat on her head. However, what the speeding automobiles did do well was force the cold air deep into our eyes so that tears streamed down all our faces.

After we had taken all the pictures the three of us could stand — none of which actually featured the three of us together — we realized that we had not yet spent a moment considering any trees on the lot. We made a hasty selection, tied a tree to the top of the car and headed home.

We got the tree inside and set it up in its stand, but we did not decorate it that evening. We did not decorate it the next day either. Perhaps we were not yet in the Christmas spirit. Perhaps we were busy decorating other parts of the house. But what is most likely is that we were silently pouting due to the fact that the experience of getting the tree had not been captured in a way that felt sufficient to memorialize it as a family tradition.

A few nights later, after an early dinner, I found my wife going through a box of ornaments. Many of them had been given to us while we were dating or during the first year of our marriage. We considered each ornament, talked about the people who had given it to us, recalled the first Christmas tree we decorated as a couple when we were living in the northern panhandle of West Virginia in 2009.

That year, my wife had come home late from work, and snow had begun to fall. It was early December, and there was already a thin layer of snow on the ground. Both of us being Southerners, we were excited by the idea of getting a Christmas tree in the falling snow. Although we had not yet unpacked ornaments or even considered decorating our tiny apartment, we set out on the dark, snow-covered roads that wound through our mountain village and headed for the small town of Wellsburg, on the banks of the Ohio River.

The only Christmas trees we could find were in the parking lot of a Rite-Aid, and there were only a few trees available. But we took our time, imagining each one crammed inside our living room in front of the window that looked out on the main street of the village. We talked about how high our ceiling was, what kind of tree topper we would buy, which ornaments would hang where. The snow kept falling, and I have vivid memories of seeing flakes caught in my wife’s dark hair. I can remember reaching out and touching the pine boughs on the various trees where the soft snow had settled.

We finally agreed on a short, fat tree, and as we paid for it and loaded it onto the roof of our car we discovered that the owner of the tree lot knew some friends of ours. We had only recently moved to West Virginia, and we were thrilled by the knowledge that we had just met someone who was friends with our friends. We felt like we belonged in this distant place that was so far from our lives back home in North Carolina. We were forging a life together.

Five years later we stood in a new house with a new baby and looked through old ornaments. I opened a few boxes of lights and began snaking them through the tree. We made a fire and hung our old ornaments one by one. We were so caught up in our decorating that we did not notice that our daughter had fallen asleep on the little pillow where she often rested, the light from the fire and the light from the tree causing her soft baby face to glow. I looked at my wife. She reached for her cellphone, and I reached for our daughter’s tiny Santa hat and, as carefully as I could, placed it on her head. We knelt behind her, gazed down upon her with all the love one could ever feel for such a sweet, innocent thing. And then we looked up at my wife’s cellphone and snapped a selfie.

That night, I knew that we were a family with a Christmas tradition. But I also knew something else: We always had been.  PS

Wiley Cash lives in Wilmington with his wife and their two daughters. His forthcoming novel The Last Ballad is available wherever books are sold.

A Bitter Little Christmas

Treat your cocktail enthusiast to the perfect stocking stuffer

By Tony Cross

I first met Craig Rudewicz two years ago at Fair Game Beverage Company’s spirit release party. Craig and I (along with two other bartenders from Raleigh) were asked to create cocktails with FG’s Apple Brandy and Sorghum Rum. Craig was in his third year running Crude Bitters, North Carolina’s first cocktail bitters company. We briefly chatted, and he sent me off with his staple bitters to see what I thought. Since then, we’ve both been busy boys, but finally reconnected at this year’s Pepperfest in Chapel Hill. A few weeks later, I was able to drive up to Raleigh, and check out his new facility, as well as his new cocktail supply shop and classroom, The Bittery.

Craig and his wife moved to Raleigh six years ago from Cambridge, Massachusetts. He spent the next few years slinging behind a few restaurant bars, while managing as well. “It was a wonderful way to associate cocktails with food and the relationships with the kitchen,” Craig says about how he gained inspiration for coming up with his first bitters recipes. You see, bitters is usually an enigma to those that aren’t into cocktails, or are just learning. It’s pretty simple, actually. Bitters is to a cocktail like salt and pepper are to food. Bitters can also bring cocktail ingredients together that, without it, wouldn’t be a perfect fit. Bitters is used in food too, but I’ll save that for when I start a food column. In addition to creating bitters at the restaurant bar he managed, Craig and his wife started making their own syrups and extracts at home. “To get away from using products with high fructose corn syrup, chemicals and preservatives,” he says. “We appreciate a good cocktail, and wanted our drinks to be just as great as our meals . . . so Crude grew from that. I wanted bitters to be appreciated as a craft product just as much as spirits and beer.”

Crude Bitters was launched in 2012 while Craig was still working his restaurant gig; he started selling his homemade bitters at local farmer’s markets. If you head over to their website, www.crudebitters.com, you’ll see that Craig takes every step to make sure his bitters are as authentic as possible. “Our bitters are crafted in small batches from 100 percent maceration in organic, non-GMO alcohol, with no glycerin, chemicals or dyes,” he says. “Glass pots or wood barrels are used exclusively in the storage and aging of our products.” His attention to detail on all fronts hasn’t gone unnoticed. He’s won many awards, including the Good Food Award (twice) and the Southern Living Food Award. His bitters also found its way into Mark Bitterman’s Field Guide to Bitters and Amari that came out in 2015. In it, Craig explains the origin of his company’s name. “The name is in reference to the rudimentary origins of bitters. Exotic (and undocumented) roots, herbs, and spices were aged in various liquids and beneficial (and unverified) claims attached to them. Hence, crude,” he says.

When Craig is coming up with a new elixir, he focuses more on what blend of flavors will work with a certain spirit or cocktail than narrowing in on a single flavor of bitters. “It can be difficult putting the right blend of flavor and aroma together,” he says, “but I always start with what spirit I would like the bitters to be used in.” This shows in his Rizzo bitters, with flavors of citrus, pepper, and rosemary — perfect for a gin and tonic, or even someone who is cutting calories with a vodka soda. Personally, I love adding his Sycophant Orange & Fig bitters to my Old-Fashioned. It pairs well with an aromatic bitter, giving the cocktail a slight candied orange and vanilla undertone.

Crude is the first North Carolina bitters company, but Craig foresees growth from other businesses with bitters and mixers on the horizon. “There is not much competition (at the moment). There are a couple of small companies around the state, and bars/restaurants always have great bar programs that produce their own house bitters,” he says. “I expect there to be a boom of cocktail bitters and mixers soon.”

You don’t have to drive up to Raleigh to grab a bottle — or multiple bottles — of Crude Bitters. Stop into Nature’s Own and ask about which bottles are currently being represented. You can also check out the new whiskey bar, The Leadmine, and ask Orlando to concoct a cocktail with the local bitters. It’s amazing what bitters can do for a cocktail, and the more you understand this, the better you’ll appreciate Craig’s passion. Don’t take my word for it, stop into his new space and take a cocktail class. In addition to being educated on bitters, and doing tastings, Craig will guide you on how to use his bitters in cocktails, and why different ones work better with different spirits. You can go online and subscribe to his mailing list, where you’ll be privy to Crude’s up and coming classes. PS

Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.


December orphans the dove

permits growing pains flight

whispers this is why you fought —

in a wrap of bright cerements

weans solstice with a mutter and a kiss

bestows sparkle to ruined promises.

December lends diamonds

spins a symphony in crackling trees

waltzes us to the whistle of sleet —

seizes the ripple in my weary stream

warns a feral life knows no end

argues reasons to abridge the verdict.

December chaperons chill

points out the joy in an ashen sky

bends all light across the gaunt branch —

she liquors my lips with her tongue

allows secrets loosed on a smile

re-pours the bitter vintage till it is gone.

December is a confession

knocking down the tell-tale curtain

promising weakness will set you free —

directs congealed communions

palming our dead leaves as wafers

proffers intinction in a frosty spirit

and glazes gravestones so I can sleep.

— Sam Barbee

The Night Before Christmas, Y’all

Illustrations by Laurel Holden

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the towns,
Not a creature was stirring, not even the hounds;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of barbecue danc’d in their heads,
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap-
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, with briskets and beer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than beagles his sauces they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them
by name:
Now! Salsa, now! Garlic, now! Curry, and Poblano,
“On! Chili, on! Cumin, on! Mustard and Diablo;
“To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As pine needles before the hurricane fly,
Twist in the wind and mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the sauces they flew,

With the sleigh full of ribs – and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard up above
The clatter and clang of a labor of love.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d in an apron, from his head to his foot,
And the front was all tarnish’d with grease marks and soot;
A sack full of ribs was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a smoker just opening his stack:
His eyes – how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
His cheeks were like RedHot, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pick he held tight in his teeth,
And the aroma of smoke hung around like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like hot soup in a deli:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A dash of wasabi and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And laid out the ribs; then turn’d with a jerk,
And putting his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh as fast as a missile,
And away they all flew to the Pig and the Whistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight-
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. 


Jump-starting a financial giant

By Jim Moriarty     Photograph by Tim Sayer

If the U.S. Postal Service has to use a forklift or your internet provider has to double its bandwidth to deliver your MasterCard bill after the holiday season you really have no one to blame but yourself. However, if you did feel the need to look around for a convenient scapegoat, look no further than Gary Southard. It wouldn’t be strictly accurate to say that Southard invented MasterCard, but it wouldn’t be entirely wrong either. It’s a bit like asking which Wright Brother invented manned flight. At the end of the day, the hang time is what really mattered — even if decades down the line you end up hoisting your credit limit on Southard’s petard.

Southard, who has lived in Pinehurst with his wife, Sue, for the past 20 years, was the first president of the operating company that administered Master Charge, an infant venture of four California banks that would eventually metamorphose into the MasterCard behemoth that employs something in the neighborhood of 12,000 people today. Southard strolled into the picture somewhere at intersection of serendipity, salesmanship and destiny. “In November of 1966 I was hired from State Street Bank in Boston to go and do the start up, bring this company operational,” says Southard. “So I was the first employee and had the great title of president.” Today, MasterCard ads saturate TV and its billboards are ubiquitous in airports around the world. When Southard saw one in Dubai, his reaction was positively grandfatherly. “I didn’t feel it was my child,” he said, “but I have a warm place in my heart.”

Born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1929 (yes, the man who helped get MasterCard off the ground was born the same year the stock market crash rang in the Great Depression) and grew up in Robinson, Illinois, home of the Heath candy bar. He attended the University of Illinois, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps and is a veteran of the Korean War. In March of 1953, he joined IBM where he quickly found himself seated on the same dais with Tom Watson Sr., the company’s benevolent dictator, and his successor, Tom Watson Jr., being fêted as their salesman of the year. After a brief stint with RCA where he and 18 other IBM refugees made a mostly unsuccessful attempt at starting their computer division, he joined State Street Bank in its mutual fund group.

The four California banks that ultimately moved him from one coast to the other — Wells Fargo, Crocker, UCB and Bank of California — didn’t want to be in the credit card business at all but felt they couldn’t avoid it since Bank of America introduced its card, BankAmericard, in 1959. Rather than issue cards separately, they wanted something with a common card face. With Southard’s help, they formed a company to accomplish just that. Its success kicked off a lot of begetting. The California Bank Card Association (the first venture of the four banks) begat Western States Bank Card Association, which begat Interbank Card Association (when the big Eastern banks joined in), which eventually morphed into MasterCard. The entire process took something in the neighborhood of a dozen years and left a footprint in the buying and selling of goods as big as Sasquatch’s.

“The actual first Master Charge card went in the mail on July 7th, 1967. They issued cards to all their checking account holders in good standing,” says Southard. “Theft from mailboxes became a problem. When we started out, we had four Keystone Cops from L.A. as our security.” One of the banks even issued a card to: Jesus Christ, Church of the Latter Days Saints, Alameda, CA. “To the best of our knowledge, it was never used,” says Southard. It wasn’t just security that was primitive. Merchants had to physically look in a printed ledger to see if a card was still good. “What MasterCard is today, they handle 68,000 transactions a second. They do all the authorizations,” says Southard. “Visa and MasterCard are technology companies. We started with punch cards. Young people never heard of punch cards. It was pushing a lot of paper.”

The now famous interlocking circles on the face were the design product of a Los Angeles ad agency, Foote, Cone and Belding. “Then they had the colors of burnt orange and ochre,” says Southard. “Our board of directors was five at California Bank Card Association at the time. The vote was 4 to 1. The one against was me. I would never have made it in the advertising world.”

If Southard was a Wilbur or an Orville, Karl Hinkey, a top executive at Marine Midland Bank from Buffalo, New York, was the Godfather. He wanted his cardholders to be able to use them when they traveled to California. Enter Interbank and all the big boys — Midland, Chemical Bank, First National City Bank (Citibank), Manufacturers Hanover. “Because Master Charge had been so well accepted throughout the west, they decided it would become the common card for Interbank Card Association,” says Southard, who left his home a block from the Presidio Wall in San Francisco to move to New York to run it. And the rest is history, or at least commerce. Mexico, Japan, Canada and Great Britain all began accepting the card. “The growth was amazing,” says Southard.

By 1973, Southard had moved on to form his own consulting business which he kept up until he retired. Why not? By then he knew most of the big bankers at most of the big banks in the U.S., if not the world. He had three children, Gary (Ry), Susan and Jonathan who rarely lived in the same place long enough to learn their teachers’ names. “Military families stayed put more than we did,” says Ry jokingly, who has moved to Moore County and is a fund-raiser for the Boys & Girls Club of the Sandhills in Southern Pines. “I lived in 18 homes before I graduated from high school. Nine states. Twelve school systems.”

If anything, this nomadic existence seems to have had a distinctly artistic influence on Southard’s three children. Ry went to the San Francisco Art Institute where he majored in photography and minored in sculpture and painting. “I’m an artist,” he says, “but I didn’t want to be a starving artist.”

Susan, who moved to Southern Pines last year, is the founder and director of the Phoenix-based Essential Theatre, now in its 28th season. She has a Master of Fine Arts from Antioch University and is the author of Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War for which she received the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Lukas Book Prize, both in 2016.

And Jonathan, the youngest, has a degree in theater from Trinity University in San Antonio. “I was a child actor starting at 6 or 7 years old,” he says. “Never anything big. In Rogers and Hammerstein musicals or Damon Runyon comedies I was ‘the kid.’” Now, the kid’s resume includes being first assistant director on somewhere between 75 and 80 feature films, including Titanic. “I’m about to start my 10th film with a company called Emmett Furla Oasis, very prolific action filmmakers,” he says. It’s a movie starring Sylvester Stallone. “I just did one with him last spring, Escape Plan 2.”

That the children of someone who spent a lifetime in the financial world would find their way into the arts may not be all that odd. Following his divorce in the early ‘70s, Southard was working with First National Bank of Chicago as a consultant when he met Sue who has four children of her own. They would marry 10 years later. “She found a lovely apartment for me on the Gold Coast,” says Southard, so he moved from Manhattan to the shore of Lake Michigan. While he lived in Chicago, if he wasn’t busy walking the city’s famous baseball announcer, Harry Caray, home from a routine pit stop at Sage’s, a local watering hole, Southard became a patron of the arts for the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, using his business acumen to take it from a glorified community theater to regional and national success.

“I was asked to join the board and got involved with fund-raising,” says Southard. “We had these great actors, but we didn’t have enough money to pay them. A lot of them were working two, three jobs trying to stay alive. Gary Sinise. John Malkovich. John Mahoney, who played the grandfather on Frazier. Jeff Perry who’s now with Scandal. Terry Kinney who is directing a play on Broadway. Laurie Metcalfe who’s got a Tony. Sue and I used to take them out to dinner to feed them. We had an open house at the little theater, and we’d bring gallons of jug wine. You’d have guys like Roger Ebert there. We started raising money. AT&T had a big headquarters in Chicago. Eventually, they wound up giving $500,000 and that really put them on the map.” Since Gary and Sue moved to Pinehurst, a village they remembered from a trip to take tennis lessons, Gary has served as president of the board of the Ruth Pauley Lecture Series for four years and another six on the Arts Council of Moore County.

Apparently, he had lots of credit to go around. Like Jonathan says, “I didn’t understand, really, until my adulthood the impact of what he was doing.” If you need a reminder, all you have to do is check your statement.   PS

Jim Moriarty is senior editor of PineStraw and can be reached at jjmpinestraw@gmail.com.


Winter Is Here

Deadhead the rose bush. Prune the wild muscadine. Move the front porch pumpkins to the compost pile. 

The days grow shorter, yet from darkness comes light. Behold phlox and hellebores, snowdrop and iris, camellia and winter-flowering crocus.

This month, while the soil is cool, plant spring bulbs and fruit trees, harvest edible weeds and winter greens, and when the work is done, create sacred space to enjoy the season. And beaucoup peppermint.

First cultivated in 1750 near London, England, as an experimental hybrid between water mint and spearmint, this perennial herb has long been used for its magical and medicinal qualities. According to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, however, the candy cane came before its flavor. Sometime around 1670, a choirmaster in Cologne, Germany, asked a local confectioner to come up with a special candy stick to help pacify the young folks during the live Nativity on Christmas Eve. Shaped like a shepherd’s staff, this sugary creation surely kept them quiet (and buzzing) until the Magi arrived.

Want to grow your own? If you’re going for potency (read: high oil content), go with black peppermint, named for its dark purple-green leaves and stems. White peppermint has a milder flavor, but crush the leaves between your fingers and feel an instant calm throughout your entire being. Because this aromatic herb can quickly take over an entire garden, and because it craves rich soil and good drainage, container gardening is recommended. Full sun increases its medicinal qualities (and makes for stronger, spicier tea).

Stocking Stuffers

Pear tree seed

• Bird food

• Binoculars 

Peppermint Tea for Two

2 cups water

14 peppermint leaves

2 teaspoons honey

Bring water to boil

Place leaves in teacups; cover

mint with hot water

Steep for 5 minutes

Remove leaves (or not)

Add honey

Steep with fresh tarragon leaves and a quarter-inch slice of vanilla bean to enter a new realm. Add lemon wedge to continue the journey.

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. — William Blake

Celestial Shower

As we approach the winter solstice — the longest night of the year — we look to the stars to celebrate a new season, and the final hours of the year. The Geminid meteor shower peaks on the night of Wednesday, Dec.13, until the earliest hours of Thursday, Dec. 14. Sky-watchers may see as many as 60 to 120 shooting stars per hour predawn. Watching with friends or loved ones? Steep a pot of peppermint tea or keep the cocoa simmering on the stovetop for this enchanted celestial event. PS

The Fabric of Life

In room 104 at the Pinehurst Resort, seamstress Wanda Capel holds forth, one stitch at a time

By Haley Ray

In the Carolina Hotel, on the ground floor of the east wing, a sewing machine clatters. The hum comes from room 104, the last stop at the end of a hallway full of guest accommodations. It’s the office where hotel seamstress Wanda Capel holds court daily with fabrics that need her mending.

She’s saved weddings like Cinderella’s fairy godmother from bridesmaids dresses gone bad and put more stitches in golfers’ pants than there are range balls on Maniac Hill. Boxed in by three sewing machines, surrounded by spools of colorful thread and cloth, Capel has spent 26 years working at the Carolina. An Employee of the Month trophy sits high on a shelf among pictures of her children and grandchildren. She grasps a piece of fabric with a fashionably gloved right hand. More utilitarian than stylish, the glove helps manage the pain in her palm, the arthritic remnant of a car accident.

Capel nonchalantly explains the quick fix for the pain. “I just put some numbing medicine on it because it hurts right there, and the more I cut the worse it feels,” she says, pointing to her palm. “So, I just put the glove on there and the medicine to work my hands. Just the sewing is OK, but it depends on how much cutting I do. Sometimes at night my hands will ache and I know it’s nothing but arthritis. But once I get them going in the morning they’ll last all day. I refuse to let them shut down on me.”

Before taking over room 104, Capel had a gig at Quality Mills in Carthage, drove a school bus, picked up the odd sewing job here and there, and taught an evening sewing class at Sandhills Community College. “I had a girlfriend who worked here . . . and she kept telling me that the lady they had was leaving and they were looking for somebody,” says Capel. “She kept telling me to go and apply. I said, ‘I’m not going over there. I won’t get that job.’ I was in one of those times where you don’t think anything is going to work out for you.” Finally, frustrated with her daytime boss, one Friday afternoon she plucked up the nerve to submit an application at the Carolina. Four days later she had the job.

Flying solo on a sewing machine is about as far from workplace drama as a human being can get. Capel mends alone and couldn’t be happier. “When I came here it was like the best thing that could have ever have happened to me,” she says. “Now I don’t have to concentrate on nothing but what I’m doing. I don’t have to worry about anybody that don’t like me, because it don’t even matter.”

Peaceful surroundings are not all Capel gained from the job. She also found her husband, Walter. He was working in transportation at the hotel and needed his uniforms fixed. After bringing them to room 104, he kept pestering her for a date. “I wouldn’t talk to him, though,” Capel remembers with a smile. “I don’t date people I work with.” He quit his job to work elsewhere, and before long they were married.

Capel mends and cares for family members as carefully as she stitches a frayed collar, working through personal tragedy and long-term illnesses. It was a car accident in 2000 that left her with a broken arm, a broken pelvis and the injuries to her skilled hands that would eventually turn arthritic. Recovering at home, in traction, Capel stubbornly refused to miss the high school graduation of her daughter, Alycia. Her doctor told her she wouldn’t be able to attend the ceremony unless she obtained the proper medical transportation.

Talk about an entrance. “My youngest sister, she got up with the rescue unit and she got me a rescue squad,” she says. “The nurses came out and showed her how to take me out of traction and put me back. So that graduation morning she came and she got me dressed and everything. The rescue unit came to get me, and I went to the graduation by ambulance. They rolled me out on the ball field and that’s where I watched her graduate.”

While the accident forced Capel out of work for a time, not much else has. A two-year battle with an illness required her to take a handful of pills a day and have a shot once a week. One of the medications caused memory loss and Capel still feels the effects, admitting to randomly forgetting names or stories she’s known her whole life.

In 2005, Capel lost one of her three children, the daughter whose graduation she rode in an ambulance to watch, when 22-year-old Alycia McKinnon was babysitting at her half-sister’s home. A vengeful boyfriend hired a man to kill the sibling that night. Neither the boyfriend nor the hit man had accounted for Alycia’s presence, and she was the one murdered. The killer was sentenced to life in prison. Only months before the tragedy, Capel’s mother had succumbed to cancer.

To cope with the twin losses, she turned to her work, making the mends and alterations of a hotel seamstress. “I worked through the whole time,” she says. “It’s like, after I lost my daughter, all I could hear her saying was, ‘Mama, you know you gotta work. You know you gotta work.’ From that point on, I have needed something to keep my mind occupied because I don’t need to think about certain things. Concentrating on my work is like my way out.”

So Capel stitches a life together, clattering away at her machine in room 104, fixing what others cannot. PS

Haley Ray is a Pinehurst native and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill graduate, who recently returned from the deserts of Southern California.