Two Thousand Miles I Roam

Just to make this dock my home

By Bill Fields

I have a modest stash of record albums, LPs that spark memories of people, places and parties. The number of scratches pretty much tells where each ranked on my personal charts, but no visual cues are required to identify the vinyl that meant the most to me.

Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman was the first album I owned, and I thought it was 29 minutes of gold. It was released in November 1968, when I was 9 years old. Given that pop culture took the slow train to Southern Pines in those days, I obtained it a bit later.

The love of my first album coincided with my loathing of fourth-grade music and having to learn how to play the recorder. I didn’t like the teacher and couldn’t get the hang of the instrument. The combination caused me to loathe that class to a degree unmatched until calculus came along.

Amid the unpleasantness created by a one-dollar piece of plastic with holes in it, putting Wichita Lineman on the record player was bliss even though there was a lot of melancholy within the lyrics of those 11 songs. Campbell had a beautiful, pure voice and was, as I would learn, a world-class guitarist.

As I listened over and over to the album, Campbell became an obsession, my first outside of sports. If, in the summer of ’69, you’d told me I could meet either Brooks Robinson or Glen Campbell, I might well have chosen the famous Arkansan who didn’t play third base.

My mother and sisters could sing, and the Campbell record convinced me to see if I could, too, although there wasn’t a boys’ choir in America that would have signed me. I made up for the talent deficit with enthusiasm. Santa Claus brought me a TrueTone reel-to-reel tape recorder, affording me a make-believe opportunity to be a sports announcer or, after Campbell’s music became part of my life, recording artist.

I sang the title track plenty of times, but the second song on side one, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” became my favorite. It was written by soul singer Otis Redding with Steve Cropper and recorded not long before Redding died in a plane crash in December 1967, when he was only 26 years old.

I must have heard Redding’s song played on the radio after it was released in early ’68, but Campbell’s cover was what I tried to mimic. I recorded it on the TrueTone and forced my parents to listen to me perform it live in the living room. I was far from being a lonely child, but Redding’s song of loneliness, sung by Campbell, fascinated me.

When Campbell came to town to play golf in the pro-am preceding the U.S. Professional Match Play Championship at the Country Club of North Carolina in 1971, he was the celebrity I was most eager to see, even though Mickey Mantle and astronaut Gene Cernan also were in the field. Campbell was dressed in yellow and offered a wide smile when I called out from behind a gallery rope before snapping a picture with my Instamatic camera. After the round, he signed my program. I collected many golfers’ autographs that day — Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Julius Boros and Ray Floyd among them — but at home that evening I lingered over the signature of the man whose music had meant so much.

About 20 years or so later, when karaoke had become a thing, I was in an airport hotel in Orlando, having arrived to photograph a story with well-known golf instructor David Leadbetter the next morning. I hadn’t sung outside the shower or alone in my car in years. But it was karaoke night at the Marriott, I knew no one in the crowded bar, and I wanted to sing. There was no doubt about the song.

I was waiting for my turn when I heard a familiar voice. It was my colleague John Huggan, a Scot with standards and opinions. Suddenly, I did know someone in the crowded bar. My plan for off-key anonymity was gone. Huggan and I chatted over a beer as a handful of karaoke performers grabbed the microphone. My name was called. The lyrics scrolled on a monitor but having sung “The Dock of the Bay” over and over as a kid, I could have done it without assistance.

I sang the song. A few people clapped. I warily returned to my barstool.

“You weren’t the worst,” Huggan said.

I considered it high praise  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

Golftown Journal

By Lee Pace

It’s the banana ball that balloons into the wind and is funneled into the hinterlands to the right. It’s the duck hook that runs like a scalded dog into the woods left. It’s that bladed wedge that flies into the weeds and dark catacombs beyond the green.

A bad shot at Tobacco Road Golf Club provides opportunity. For Martha Hudson with her trusty iPhone camera, the possibilities are endless.

“Most of the really interesting angles that I find usually happen when I’m playing and I’ve hit a really horrendous shot, or I’m helping someone look for a ball,” says Hudson, a golf staff member at Tobacco Road who manages the course’s social media platforms.

Over the last six years, Hudson has learned to work with dexterity, documenting the skies, shadows and seasons of a course designed by Mike Strantz in 1998 and carved from a sand pit 30 miles north of the village of Pinehurst. Showcased at various times on the club’s Instagram account, which numbers more than 26,000 followers, are the mottled grasses and dramatic hillocks around the blind-shot 13th green; the mammoth mounds bordering the pathway of the tee shot on the first hole; the weathered railroad ties up to the ninth tee, or others providing access to bunkers around the course. There are misty mornings, full moons at dusk, and the ecrus of dormant grass in the winter.

“For me, it’s capturing all of what makes this golf course so unique,” she says. “The features, the green shapes, the undulations, the light at different times of day and different seasons. I wasn’t here when the course was built, but the guys who were here talk about how Mike saw everything as art. That artwork has matured over 20 years. That’s what I try to capture.”

Tobacco Road is one of the Sandhills area’s most distinctive golf courses. It’s appropriate then that the club has one of the most cutting-edge social media presences, particularly on Instagram, the medium of choice for millennial and Generation Z golfers looking for eye candy and interaction with their fellows. It can hardly rival the reach of Pinehurst Resort and Country Club with its 68,000-plus Instagram followers and a worldwide presence via more than a century of existence and its position as a U.S. Open “anchor site,” but Tobacco Road dwarfs every other golf venue in the area.

Hudson, a former collegiate golfer at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and an English major, melds her love of golf — “the Game,” as she refers to it online — a one-of-a-kind golf course, her vocabulary and her camera, into an eclectic mix of images and pithy descriptions.

“I have a concentration in creative writing, so the storytelling aspect of doing the marketing at such a unique place is fulfilling on a creative level for me,” she says. “Tobacco Road is truly a special place, and people are reliving experiences digitally, whether it’s going through their own photos or Instagram or whatever social media platforms they’re on. You get their attention, and then they’ll dig into whatever story you want to tell. A lot of golf courses never take advantage of the opportunity. It’s free. All it takes is effort, a little time and some creativity.”

A mid-1990s golf trip to Myrtle Beach by two Sanford friends and businessmen sparked the idea for Tobacco Road. Mark Stewart was president of Lee Concrete Co., and Tony Woodell was vice president of construction, and their company owned more than 200 acres of old rock and sand quarries on a tobacco and soybean farm just off U.S. 15-501 south of Sanford. The proliferation of courses in the 1990s golf boom prompted them to wonder if a daily fee course located between the population-dense Triangle area and the international golf mecca of the Sandhills might work. They investigated the concept and were led to Strantz, a former Tom Fazio protégé who had recently completed excellent work at Caledonia and True Blue near Pawley’s Island, South Carolina.

Before his death from cancer in 2005, Strantz bequeathed to the mid-Atlantic region a half-dozen dynamic new golf courses. His firm was named Maverick Golf Design for excellent reasons. The architect worked on one course at a time and set up living quarters at the venue. He stood 6-foot-5 and sported shoulder-length hair and a mustache. He rode a horse around the property and made intricate sketches of every hole, then turned the drawings over to his shapers. He would be covered in dirt after working the equipment all day or in paint after marking the lines of the various layers of the course — fairways, fescue rough, love grass, areas to be left in their natural sandy state. Part of the club’s logo is a deer skull that Strantz found while building the course.

“I remember his passion most of all,” says Joe Gay, the club’s original director of golf, who retired in 2015. “He was so enthusiastic about everything. He was excited all the time. We feel blessed Mike provided us with this golf course before he passed away.”

Today the course is ranked No. 49 on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses and No. 35 on Golf magazine’s Top 100 Courses You Can Play. The course closed for two months in the summer of 2014 to convert its greens to MiniVerde Bermudagrass.

“It is so visually stunning, and the images just get seared in your mind at certain places, and it just makes you want more,” Hudson says. “You want to understand more of the golf course and why Mike did that or maybe how you could have played it differently.”

Hudson grew up in Black Mountain, just east of Asheville, and played golf in high school in the early 2000s before moving on to UAB. She was working at a daily fee course in Birmingham in January 2015 when she was hired at Tobacco Road. Gay retired later that year, Chris Brown moved up from head professional to director of golf, and Hudson was given more responsibilities, including managing the social media platforms. The course’s Instagram account had under 500 followers at the time.

“Martha has done a great job,” Brown says. “Some people are good with the photos, some with the words. She’s skilled at both. Add to that the fact that everybody has a mobile TV studio in their back pocket. The younger audiences are coming through the door, the guys attracted by Bar Stool and places like that. People get information today through so many different sources. I’m 53. I don’t have to understand it or always agree with it, but I know it works.”  PS

Chapel Hill-based writer Lee Pace has written about golf in the Sandhills since the late 1980s and has authored a dozen books about clubs, courses and the people who made it special. Write him at leepace7@gmail.com and follow him @LeePaceTweet.

The Kitchen Garden

Christmas Greens

Cold and collards go together

By Jan Leitschuh

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for many kitchen gardeners. Holidays are an opportune time to harvest, prepare and share the fruits of the late fall veggie patch — especially fresh collards.

About the time frost kisses the November vegetable garden, knocking back the remnant pepper plants and gone-to-seed basil, the collard patch comes into its happy place. That happy place extends into December, indeed, usually all winter. Jack Frost may be nipping at your nose, but he only does very good things for the unique flavor of collards.

When temperatures drop down to about 26 degrees Fahrenheit, frost can burn the foliage of the collard’s cousins such as broccoli and cauliflower. But the tough leaves of collards can take the cold down to 5 degrees F. A deeply cold morning may flatten your collard patch, a sad drooping sight, but after a few hours of sun they look sturdy and brand-new again. More than merely survive cold weather, nutrient-packed collards come through the cold even more flavorful — sweeter.

“Because of their high levels of glucosinolate compounds, collards offer more nutrition than all but just a few other vegetables,” says SFGate. “Freshly harvested collards top the charts in nutritional benefits, but by the time they are shipped long distances, up to 80 percent of their nutrients are lost. In addition, time and distance cause sweetness to fade and bitterness to intensify, so the tastiest option is to grow them yourself.”

That’s what we do — grow ‘em ourselves! No bugs in our winter garden.

A member of the cabbage family, the substantive, leathery leaves of collards grow in a loose head, rather than tight balls like cabbages. Thus, the home gardener can harvest just a few leaves for supper or soup, or you can chop the whole shebang for a holiday cookfest.

There are several ways to prepare collard leaves for cooking. A quick and simple way is to tear the leafy part from the midrib, then discard the ribs. The softer leaves can be rolled and cut into thin strips for even steaming. By julienning, smaller amounts of the tough leaves can be swiftly and easily steamed, dressed with a little Texas Pete or olive oil.

Discarding the sturdy midribs is wasteful, however. A more traditional treatment is to go big, with pounds of collards prepped at one time. Tear the leaf from the midrib, as above. Then, snap the crisp ribs into 3-inch pieces and place on the bottom of a pan with about 4 cups of liquid.

In the South, those 4 cups of flavorful liquid are often the result of boiling two or three smoked ham hocks in several cups of water for 2 hours (you could use — sorry, traditionalists — chicken, or even vegetable stock if ham is off your dietary radar). Other common additions are a teaspoon or so each of salt and red pepper flakes. One-half cup of apple cider vinegar helps the boiled meat break down and adds depth to the flavor but, be certain to use a non-reactive pot.

After a 2-hour simmer, the smoked meat should fall off the bone. Cool the broth, chop the meat, and remove bones. Add about 5 pounds of washed and torn collards, the snapped midribs at the bottom of the liquid. Then pile on the torn leaves, with the thickest leaves near the bottom. The newer, more tender, leaves can go in near the top since they won’t be fully submerged.

Cover the pot and simmer gently for another hour. Repeat, gently. Low heat keeps the healthy sulfur compounds in the collards from stinking up the joint. The bright green leaves will darken to an olive green.

Eat hearty, share with friends, and freeze the rest. Merry Christmas! PS

Jan Leitschuh is a local gardener, avid eater of fresh produce and co-founder of Sandhills Farm to Table.


Strikes, Spares and a Baby Split

Filling an open frame with something to cherish

By Bill Fields

A couple of months before my mother died, she had to be hospitalized because of an infection. At 95, with dementia, Mom was tiny. On the last day of my visit, she had rallied but still was very frail. I stood by her bed. Putting the large fingers of my right hand on her right palm, for reasons I don’t know, I said, “Squeeze.”

Her eyes took me in and she did, holding the grip for several seconds. I was stunned by its force. My fingers hurt. When she let go, I saw the hint of a smile on her face. I shook my head — and my hand — as I left the room.

Driving my rental car to RDU, I thought about bowling.

My mother wasn’t an athlete. She enjoyed watching college basketball and professional golf — Mom spent quite a few minutes with me on her land line lamenting what Phil Mickelson or Carolina had done — but that was about it.

She would shoot a basket in the backyard if I made her and play miniature golf with the rest of the family at the beach. Once, when she was in her early 60s, Mom joined a Wiffle ball game with kids and grandkids at the home of her younger daughter. Twenty years or so after that, I coerced her into a few golf swings on the Knollwood range. By that point in life she was content to watch Phil on TV, and her assisted-living room was decorated with an autographed picture of Lefty.

Once upon a time, though, Mom had a been a bowler. It was the winter of 1964-65. I was 5 years old and would have been in kindergarten, but East Southern Pines School started with first grade. I watched Captain Kangaroo, played in the dirt with toy soldiers or Tonka trucks, and pored over the World Books. Dad had taken a job at a tool-and-die plant in High Point, coming home on weekends.

Mom worked as a teller at The Citizens Bank and Trust Company. The bank had a team in a women’s bowling league that competed in the bowling alley that stood on North West Broad just before the intersection with Morganton Road. That winter, on Tuesday nights after Mom made supper for the two of us, she put on her white team shirt with the bank’s name in green script on the back and drove downtown with her boy riding shotgun. I was given a dime to use in the candy machine and told to behave, which wasn’t a given for me at that age.

The bowling center was an exotic place to a kid who hadn’t seen much beyond his block. Shiny wooden lanes brightly lit. Bowlers in their matching team shirts.  The rumble of flying pins. More than once, another spectating child and I had to be shooed away from the air vent where bowlers dried their hands, so fascinating was that feature. The women who smoked put their lipstick-stained cigarettes in a big glass ashtray when it was their turn. I didn’t know what either body English or camaraderie meant at the time, but recognize now that both were present.

There were winners and losers on those Tuesday evenings, results that would be reported in The Pilot, but I couldn’t tell you how the Citizens’ ladies fared against the competition or whether Mom ever rolled a strike. That bowling season came and went. Mom never bought her own ball, one of the colorful ones that looked like a giant marble. Her snazzy shirt became a painting smock when it was home improvement time. The bowling alley would burn down.

She didn’t want to leave her home when it was time. It was her house and her things, lots of them after more than 60 years. My sisters and I toiled for a week to sort through it all. Mom’s bedroom closet was chock full of stuff. I hadn’t seen the bank bowling shirt in many years but hoped to find it. To my disappointment, the shirt wasn’t there. As I cleared things out, something shiny in the closet corner caught my eye.

It was a trophy, chrome with a wooden base, about a foot tall with a woman on top. “TARHEEL BOWLERETTES. 64-65. Most Improved.”  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

Sporting Life

An Authentic Master

Born to be in the outdoors

“Tom, I know there are people who have more money and more stuff than I do, but I don’t know anyone who’s had more fun.” — Edwin Clapp, dove hunting season, 2021

By Tom Bryant

Over my years as an outdoorsman, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many folks who claim they were born for the outdoors. Very few fit the high goal they supposedly set for themselves. They are either overly enthused and too vocal about their expertise, or in the case of one dude we took on a duck hunt, had to be watched like a hawk to keep from shooting himself, or worse, us. That fellow should never have left the pavement.

Edwin Clapp is definitely not one of those.

I first met Edwin in the early ’80s. We both were having fun training yellow Labs as gun dogs and retrievers. It’s often said in the vernacular of dog owners, especially hunting dog owners, “If you’re lucky in your lifetime and you’re persistent, you will have one good dog. And if the stars align just right, you might have a great dog.”

The stars lined up just right for Edwin and me. His dog was a big, long-legged yellow Lab named Dick, and mine was a medium-sized yellow named Paddle. Edwin and I spent many happy hours afield training those wonderful animals.

Edwin grew up on a farm relatively close to Siler City. He has two brothers: Al, who owns and manages Clapp Brothers Tractor; and Tim, who’s a retired N.C. State University professor. They are both equally proficient in the woods; but in my opinion, Edwin tops the bill.

He went to Jordan-Matthews High School, where he starred in baseball, basketball and track. He received a full baseball scholarship to Louisburg College, where he was instrumental in helping his team go to the Junior College World Series, a first for the school. He was voted captain and the most valuable player.

Edwin is a self-effacing kind of fellow, and it took me several years to land an interview with him. On this particular day, we were on his farm at his lake house, “Fair Weather,” where we had hunted doves several weeks earlier. It was raining, and we were kicked back under the tin-roofed porch of his barn near the cabin. It was the perfect setting for reminiscing about old times. As we looked toward the tree line on the far side of the dove field, three wild turkeys crossed the expanse in front of us.

“Tom, I was kinda tired of school after that first year, so a buddy and I decided we would go to Florida. We got jobs at Disney World, and I worked in the candy factory making lollipops.”

It was incredible to me that a star baseball player would toss all that fame and fortune away, just like that. Edwin’s adventure leaving school hit close to home. I remembered that as a young guy looking for adventure, I joined the Marines after my first year of college.

“So, what was next?” I asked.

“I got tired of making candy and came back home, called my coach at Louisburg and he told me to come on back, the scholarship was still available.”

Edwin returned to school and that year was offered a full baseball scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and also a full scholarship to East Carolina University. He chose ECU and was a star pitcher, their number one righthander.

Again, fate stepped in and for whatever reason, Edwin left college and became a jack of all trades. There are people like that. I’ve met a few. Folks who can do anything, fix anything, and build anything. In Edwin’s case, he ended up starting his own company, C&B Small Engines, and later, after selling his business, he became the service manager at MacDonald’s Building Supply.

Rain was rattling the tin roof of the old barn in a restful way, and we watched as the turkeys continued to feed across the field.

“You know, Tom, there was a time during my journeys that I took a six-month sabbatical, lived here at the cabin and hunted and fished every day. It was wonderful.”

The land that Edwin hunts has been in his family for generations. It’s where he grew up, and he knows every nook and cranny like the back of his hand.

Our conversation drifted here and yonder about all the places he had hunted and fished, which brought me to my next question. “Which do you like to do best, hunt or fish?”

“I believe I like to fish the best. One season I had the opportunity to be the mate on a 38-foot Bertram sport fisher boat for a gentleman who was fishing in a king mackerel tournament. It was loads of fun and I learned a lot about fishing tournaments. But don’t forget, hunting runs a close second. I love dove hunting.”

I have hunted with Edwin many times, and I’ve never seen anyone better with a shotgun. Every dove season, he has an opening day hunt on his farm. It’s by invitation only. He barbecues chicken and Boston butts with all the fixin’s. Yet another talent. He’s a superb cook. The event is a day-long affair and is much looked forward to by everybody.

The rain was slacking a little and Edwin stood and said, “Come on, I want to show you a part of the farm you’ve never seen.”

We climbed in his truck, and he put it in 4-wheel drive. We drove down a narrow track, almost a path, with overhanging branches damp with rain. The path opened to a small field, maybe 5 or 6 acres, and just as we eased out of the tree line, a pair of whitetail deer bounded tight around the planted cornfield. We exclaimed and laughed about jumping the deer. Then, as we turned the corner, we saw a group of young turkeys, maybe this year’s crop, and they flew across the front of the truck into the trees.

Edwin is the ultimate conservationist. He has a wildlife habitat on his farm that’s rarely seen anymore.

We rode slowly back to his house, and as I prepared to load up and head home, he presented me with a big sack of freshly picked tomatoes and peppers from his garden. Did I mention that he’s also a champion gardener?

Edwin and his lovely wife, Danette, live happily on their farm in Chatham County, and I agree with him wholeheartedly when he says that he has had plenty of fun. But without a doubt, his talent and hard work has made all those good times possible.  PS

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

Out of the Blue

Thankful for Thanksgiving

The holiday with staying power

By Deborah Salomon

Far as I can tell, of all the holidays Americans over-celebrate, Thanksgiving best retains its symbols and sanctities. Sure, the food magazines do turkey upside down and backward, including an abomination called turducken, a deboned chicken shoved inside a deboned duck shoved inside a deboned turkey costing an arm and a leg. Cranberry chutney may be all the rage, but the backbone of the celebration hasn’t changed much since the holiday, celebrated informally since the 1860s, was institutionalized in 1941.

At least for a few minutes, before digging in we still go round the table giving thanks. For what?

Columnists and entertainers offer lists of things to be thankful for, usually predictable, mostly generic. Families and their guests are called upon to do the same, with often poignant and amusing results. Pregnancies and new jobs are cited, as well as medical updates. “I’m thankful my cancer is in remission” is always welcome. This year, however, has been so fraught with tragedies that thanks may require a slant.

I’m thankful not to have contracted COVID-19.

I’m thankful there’s a vaccine to prevent it.

I’m thankful Hurricane Ida petered out before reaching Moore County.

I’m thankful my job wasn’t eliminated.

I’m thankful my home wasn’t destroyed by earthquakes or wildfires.

I’m thankful I didn’t run out of paper products during the pandemic.

Other observations, beyond the stuffing: The vocabulary of a traditional Thanksgiving usually includes “Grandma” — a relic from when she lived over the river and through the woods, not in a Florida retirement village. Where’s Grandpa? Stretched out in his BarcaLounger, watching the game. But Grandma, the institution, is fast morphing into a format more Sharon Stone and Judge Judy than the sweet homemakers-choir singers-pie bakers-rose growers I find on the obit page. Let’s be thankful for those while they last because, like the woolly mammoth, when they’re gone, they’re gone.

Back to food because, truth be told, without it Thanksgiving might wither on the vine. Try as they may, Martha Stewart, Ina Garten and Rachael Ray cannot budge green bean casserole, marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, jellied cranberry sauce, spongy dinner rolls, pumpkin pie and a Butterball built like Dolly Parton — an image I’ve used for more than three decades.

They are sacred. They are icons. I know, because I grew up deprived. I’m the only child of late-onset parents. My mother loved to eat, hated to cook. She never once stuck a turkey in the oven even when I came home from college, starved — a waste for three people, was her excuse. If we weren’t invited somewhere, we ate in a hotel dining room with a turkey dinner special. Forget seconds. No leftovers. Imagine her surprise seeing me roast several birds a year, just for sandwiches. Besides, nothing compares to warmed-over cornbread stuffing for breakfast.

After all, June, not November, is National Turkey Lovers’ Month. Another surprise: Israel, devoid of Thanksgiving, consumes the most turkey per capita.

Last Thanksgiving, sales of small turkeys soared, attributed to fewer big gatherings. With the unexpected summer virus surge, no telling what will happen this month. But I have faith that even if the turkey and trimmings are pared down, Thanksgiving will survive intact.

Because where there’s life, there’s hope. And hopeful people always find something to be thankful for.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

The Omnivorous Reader

Comrades in the Wilderness

A solitary woman and a red fox

By Stephen E. Smith

Literary agents and acquisition editors who read early drafts of what would become Catherine Raven’s bestselling Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship must have wondered what niche the book might fill. Memoir/autobiography? Not exactly. Humanities/social sciences? Not really. Spirituality/self-help? Probably not.

This much is certain: Whatever nook the book occupies, a careworn copy of Walden is already there. Like Thoreau, Catherine Raven wandered into the wilderness “to live deliberately, to confront the essential facts of life, and see if she could not learn what it had to teach.”

At the age of 15, Raven escaped her abusive parents who, she claims, wanted her “to disappear.” She eventually landed a job as a ranger in the National Park system. She was homeless, living in her car on a piece of remote land in Montana while putting herself through college and graduate school, where, as she frequently reminds the reader, she earned a Ph.D. in biology. She built a house in Montana and taught the occasional college class, all the while avoiding her fellow human beings. Then she met the fox.

Every day at 4:15 p.m. a red fox visits Raven’s property. His arrival quickly becomes the central focus of her otherwise uneventful life, and she begins to structure her activities around his visits. She reads to him from Dr. Seuss and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (a fox plays a central role in the story). She observes his every movement and speculates as to his motivations. She keeps track of his nutritional needs (he has an appetite for voles), his mating habits, the kits he helps raise, and his interaction with the surrounding fauna, especially two magpies who she names Tennis Ball and Round Belly, and bluebirds, deer, bats, eagles, elk, feral cats, etc. And she details the local flora — fescue, mustard, cheat, mullein, sunflower, Russian thistle, rabbitbrush, knapweed, sagebrush, wild rye, bluestem, wheatgrass, sow thistle — with equal purpose, producing a litany of zoological annotations liberally sprinkled with a biologist’s vocabulary. (Readers utilizing a Kindle will appreciate the handy “Dictionary” function.)

The fox never exhibits what might be interpreted as affection and doesn’t approach within petting distance. But Raven’s isolation leads her to imagine a relationship has developed between her and the animal. Her friends, few though they may be, remind her that her academic training forbids anthropomorphizing the fox, but the regularity of his visits and his attention to her human affectations lead her to project a personality onto the fox. “I tried to imagine when Fox and I first became more than just two itinerant animals crossing each other’s paths. . . . Maybe the relationship had developed so smoothly that I never doubted that all was as it should be, or maybe it had developed rapidly enough to keep me perpetually confused. . . . I had barely enough social intelligence to understand that adults, least of all trained scientists, don’t go around treating wild foxes as if they had personalities.”

Raven’s narrative doesn’t collapse into a mawkish “Lassie” story, but it approaches, especially in its conclusion, a sentimentality that is tempered only by her scientific training. Because she accepts that communicating with a wild animal is not the same as conversing with her friends and that her relationship with the fox is in no way tantamount to a human friendship, she remains uncertain as to why the attachment has developed or what lessons she might draw from her limited interaction with the fox. In fact, Fox and I might be read as a rationalization for Raven’s bond, real or imagined, with the fox. As beautifully written as her memoir is — and certainly Raven’s prose occasionally rises to the level of poetry — she never truly resolves the ambiguities that are central to her life with the fox.

Predictably, the moment arrives when Raven senses that the fox’s trust in her is almost complete. On a moonlit night, she is waiting outside for his arrival and notices the fox’s “wispy, translucent fur in the light” as he trots directly to her front steps. “I stepped away from the door, and four round and fluid kits rolled past me. Fox moved off to the side, leaving me surrounded by little leaping foxes. Close enough to touch, they were tumbling around me like acrobats while my hands sprung up in surprise. I focused on two tussling kits, and everything around them homogenized into a blur.”

All such animal tales have an obvious and inevitable conclusion, and it’s not spoiling the ending to reveal the fox’s fate. Wildfire rips through Raven’s corner of Montana, and she flees for her life. She returns to find that her house has survived but that the fox and his kits are nowhere to be found, gone up, one would suppose, in smoke, possible victims of global warming. “Nature is cruel,” she writes, “that’s a trope masquerading as a paradigm, in the sense that a carpetbagger might masquerade as a charlatan.”

Raven blames herself, enjoying the self-pity that accompanies the probable death of the fox, noting that he might have fled to safety with his vixen and the four kits, but that he waited for her to appear: “I imagined him upright on his hind legs and pressing his nose into my front window like he used to do. I could see him standing with his ears drawn back until his ankles shook and then skipping backward to regain his balance. His last memory of me was an empty house.”

Although Fox and I is nonfiction, Raven uses fictional techniques to tell her story and includes chapters written from the fox’s point of view. Though occasionally afflicted with the dictionary disease, her style is fluid and lyrical and is a joy to read, propelling the reader through her intermittent pedantic ramblings. More to her credit, she doesn’t burden the reader with timely political insights or lessons learned. Readers are left to their own conclusions. She simply tells the story of a lonely woman’s encounter with a red fox in the wilds of Montana.  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 Freedom Writers

James Boyd’s dream team of authors and actors

By Bill Case

It seemed unfathomable, but it was an unavoidable truth: By September 1940, freedom, democracy and civil liberties had become nonexistent in much of Europe. Nearly all its countries were suffering under the yoke of tyranny. During the preceding year, Adolf Hitler’s military “blitzkrieg” had established Nazi hegemony over much of the continent. Other fascist strongmen controlled Italy and Spain, and Stalin ruled Communist Russia with an iron fist.

While Great Britain remained free, it was fighting the Nazis alone. Many feared the British would not survive the onslaught of the German war machine, especially after the Luftwaffe began regularly bombing London on Sept. 7. Germany’s propaganda campaign of lies and misinformation directed by Joseph Goebbels justifying its repressive actions was having telling effects too, not only in Europe, but in some quarters of this country as well.

These happenings were viewed with alarm in the United States, but not to the point where Americans were inclined to go to war. A hands-off policy toward the conflict had become the prevailing sentiment. Leaders of the “America First Committee,” like Charles Lindbergh, saw neither a strategic nor moral justification for America to rush to the aid of Great Britain, let alone the rest of Europe. Moreover, President Franklin Roosevelt, running for a third term, had pledged to keep America out of the war, though in retrospect that appears not to have been his ultimate intent. 

In contrast, two thoughtful men felt that many of their fellow Americans were taking their rights and liberties for granted and needed to be reawakened to their importance. Francis Biddle and James Boyd were gentlemen of the patrician class who had accomplished much in their chosen fields. A Pennsylvania native, the Harvard-educated Biddle was serving as the solicitor general of the United States in 1940. He would become U.S. attorney general in 1942.

Coal-mining scion and Princeton grad James Boyd had burst on the national literary scene in 1925 with the publication of Drums, a work of historical fiction regarded by numerous critics as the finest novel written about the Revolutionary War. In the following 14 years, Boyd authored four more historical novels, crafting them at Weymouth, his Southern Pines country estate where he lived after moving from his home state, also Pennsylvania, in 1920.

Biddle and Boyd had come to know each other years before through their shared passion for fox hunting. Boyd and his brother, Jackson, owned and managed the Moore County Hounds. While riding with the Boyds in the local hunt, Biddle crashed into a fence and broke his collarbone. Boyd and wife Katharine insisted that Biddle lodge with them at Weymouth until he healed. A close friendship resulted.

The pair envisioned combating the insidious Nazi propaganda by creating, producing and broadcasting a series of radio plays designed to illustrate in dramatic fashion the liberties granted by the Bill of Rights. In Biddle’s autobiography, In Brief Authority, he claims the plays were Boyd’s idea. Boyd’s writings, on the other hand, assign credit to Biddle. What is known is that by September 1940, the two friends had begun considering the necessary steps to bring their project to fruition. They hoped that if a department of the Roosevelt administration sponsored the productions, perhaps writers, actors and a radio broadcasting company would consent to work for free out of a sense of patriotic duty.

Biddle thought his boss at the Department of Justice, Attorney General Robert Jackson, could be persuaded to have DOJ serve as that sponsoring agency. On Sept. 25, 1940, Boyd drafted a memorandum outlining the proposed project for Jackson. His memo pointed out that DOJ was the federal agency most concerned with protecting the rights of Americans, and that its sponsorship would help bring about “a renewed appreciation of their value.”

But what if the listening public concluded that the plays were really Roosevelt administration propaganda? Boyd anticipated that concern and attempted to head it off. “The radio companies, the actors and the writers would be asked to contribute their services. This would counteract suspicion of paid propaganda,” he wrote. “The writers would be given complete freedom of expression. In a word, the Department would act only as a medium through which they would receive an opportunity to present in dramatic form and to the widest possible audience their faith in this country.”

Boyd provided a tentative list of authors and actors, recruiting the greatest names in literature and stage. John Steinbeck, Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner, Paul Green, Sherwood Anderson, Carl Sandburg, Sinclair Lewis, Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway were among the writers Boyd would be soliciting to author plays. His wish list of potential actors included marquee names like Burgess Meredith, Charlie Chaplin, Helen Hayes, Paul Muni, Katharine Hepburn, Melvyn Douglas and John Garfield. Boyd figured each weekly broadcast would run 30 minutes. He called the enterprise “The Free Company,” in recognition that all participants would be working without pay, and the authors would be entirely free to speak their respective minds.

On Oct. 7, Biddle sent Boyd a handwritten letter indicating that the attorney general had approved development of the program, and that DOJ was “very glad that you have acceded to our request to come here and take charge of it for us.” Boyd would become a nominal governmental employee working for a dollar a year.

During the preceding 15 years, Boyd had lived the life of a successful novelist, accountable only to his publisher, Charles Scribner’s Sons, and that firm’s legendary editor Maxwell Perkins. Now he would be managing famous writers, some with towering egos, riding herd on them to produce finished plays gratis and on tight deadlines. The Columbia Broadcasting System, which agreed to broadcast the plays, planned to air the first on Sunday, Feb. 16, at 2 p.m. That was just four months away. As if that was not enough to occupy his time, Boyd was also engaged in exasperating negotiations to purchase The Pilot newspaper in Southern Pines, where assorted “Oh, by the ways” kept roadblocking the sale.

Still, Boyd was confident he could meet the daunting CBS timeline, likely assuming he would have little difficulty coaxing scripts from writers, since many of them were friends. Paul Green and Sherwood Anderson had bunked in with the convivial Boyds at Weymouth, as had legendary authors Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Wolfe, however, had passed away in 1938, and Fitzgerald’s own death was imminent.

Though he was The Free Company’s national chairman, Boyd couldn’t manage its wide-ranging operations alone. Burgess Meredith (who in later years played the role of the Penguin in the Batman television series and the crusty trainer, Mick, in Rocky) agreed to serve as chair of the actors’ division. William B. Lewis, of CBS, became chair of the radio division, rounding up the network’s directors, composers and musicians to staff the productions. Robert Sherwood (Pulitzer Prize winner for his play Abe Lincoln in Illinois) was named writers’ division chair, but it would be Boyd who did the heavy lifting in recruiting and coordinating the authors.

James Boyd, Stephen Benet, Marc Connelly, Dorothy Thompson

From October 1940 to January 1941, Boyd sent a torrent of letters to leading American writers urging them to join The Free Company’s ranks. He took pains to personalize each one. He stroked Ernest Hemingway’s ego this way: “Believing as I do in the plain people, the people to whom Lincoln talked, I think that if you have anything to say to these people, you — perhaps above anyone else in this country — ought to do what I am asking.”

Few of Boyd’s targets rejected his entreaties outright, more often begging off for the time being. Eugene O’Neill was not in the best of health. Sinclair Lewis indicated he would like to contribute but could not because he was “absorbed night and day for a number of weeks.” Louis Bromfield expressed concern that he had no experience writing plays for radio and asked to be excused.

But other writers agreed to produce plays for The Free Company. They included Robert Sherwood, Archibald MacLeish (winner of three Pulitzer Prizes and then the Librarian of Congress), Marc Connelly (Pulitzer Prize winner for The Green Pastures), Stephen Vincent Benet (Pulitzer Prize for poetry winner and author of The Devil and Daniel Webster), William Saroyan (winner of the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for The Time of Your Life), Sherwood Anderson (author of Winesburg, Ohio), George M. Cohan (Yankee Doodle Dandy), Paul Green (Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Lost Colony), Maxwell Anderson (author of Anne of a Thousand Days and What Price Glory?), and Elmer Rice (Pulitzer Prize winner for The Street Scene). John Steinbeck expressed support and permitted his name to be listed on The Free Company’s letterhead, though nothing in Boyd’s papers indicates the Grapes of Wrath author made an express commitment to deliver a script.

Boyd was undoubtedly elated when Max Perkins reported Hemingway would produce a piece, though, “not for three months because he cannot before he goes to the Orient.” Perkins noted, however, that Hemingway “always does what he says he will.”

Boyd bagged another major trophy when 25-year-old wunderkind Orson Welles agreed to contribute a play addressing freedom of assembly. But before proceeding, Welles, then in the throes of putting the finishing touches on Citizen Kane, needed an answer to a fundamental question. In a telegram to Boyd dated Dec. 15, 1940, Welles wanted “facts from you regarding censorship of my material. Am I right in assuming there will be none?” Boyd gave his assurances.

Saroyan, who declined his Pulitzer Prize out of a belief that commerce should not judge the arts, was also concerned about censorship and whether the prospect of government sponsorship could pose an issue. “Some writers may feel that this sort of work may hem them in — make propagandists out of them,” he pointed out to Boyd. “You may have a job in putting over that they are as free as they have always been.” These concerns ultimately led to a minimizing of DOJ’s anticipated role. The early Free Company broadcasts never mentioned DOJ’s involvement. However, Biddle and other DOJ higher-ups kept in touch with Boyd throughout the project, mostly offering marketing advice.

Boyd thought that an endorsement by someone in the highest ranks of government might jumpstart promotion of the broadcasts, so he inquired of Biddle whether Charles Evans Hughes, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, could be cajoled into making a statement during the first broadcast, stressing the importance of America’s civil liberties. He was rebuffed. Boyd then asked MacLeish to work his personal connection with Franklin Roosevelt in hopes of persuading the president to introduce the first broadcast. He tried, but reported to Boyd that “the answer, alas, is no.” Changing his pitch, Boyd sought a brief written testimonial from the president. That gambit failed as well. Running The Free Company, Boyd confessed, was causing him to develop, “the persistence of an Armenian rug vendor.”

Boyd unabashedly lobbied the media. He begged for coverage from stalwarts like columnist Walter Lippmann, New York Times Washington bureau chief Arthur Krock, and New York Post columnist Franklin P. Adams. When Adams asked Boyd to be more specific, he responded, “Simply mention us, derisively, contumaciously, patronizingly, adoringly — any way you will. As one of us, surely you know that writers, like other children, would rather be cuffed than ignored. So say anything you like.” With his tongue placed solidly in his cheek, Boyd added, “If you print this letter, I am a lost man.”


Krock applauded the notion of dramatic plays highlighting civil liberties, but expressed skepticism about the authors chosen to write them. “You have among your scenario writers about five whose views of the meaning of American freedom alarm me somewhat,” Krock wrote. “But maybe they won’t when I hear them on the air.”

Krock was not alone in criticizing The Free Company’s lineup. Philadelphian Francis Henry crafted this sneering message to Boyd: “Your committee seems to be made up of parlor-pinkos and leftists . . . How did George M. Cohan get mixed up with this bunch?”

It is probable that Boyd, a middle-of-the-road Democrat, gave little thought to the political affiliations of the writers. He simply wished to have the cream of America’s writers on board. It is true that MacLeish, Connelly, Hemingway and Welles had expressed sympathy with various liberal causes. As a result, some firebrands on the right labeled those writers “fellow travelers” of the Communist Party.

Boyd spent much of the first quarter of 1941 in The Free Company’s small office in New York coordinating the writers’ activities and beseeching them to submit their scripts on time. There were pitfalls; MacLeish and Welles requested and received extensions because of their need to attend to paying work. Boyd also had to make sure the writers were not preparing scripts covering the same subject matter — free speech, for example. He could not afford to rely on a potluck dinner approach. By Jan. 25, 1941, he had arrived at a tentative timetable for 14 weekly productions, debuting, as CBS had requested, on Feb. 16. Boyd anticipated that the series would open with his own play. It was slated to end on a high note May 18, with a work from Hemingway — American literature’s reigning superstar.

Matters seemed to be well in hand. Sherwood and Saroyan delivered their scripts, and Benet, Anderson and MacLeish were promising completion posthaste. Boyd expected to receive scripts for later in the series from Steinbeck, Hemingway and Elmer Rice. He also arranged for the printing of the texts of each individual play. The booklets could be purchased for 10 cents apiece, covering the cost of printing and mailing.

Then things began unraveling on several fronts. Steinbeck was out. He wrote an apologetic letter requesting a rain check. Another project was distracting him. “When I’ve tried to do two things at once,” he explained, “neither of them were any good.” Rice did not deliver a play either. But the worst blow came when Perkins advised Boyd that Hemingway was out, too. The editor reported that the writer would not be returning to the states “until early June” and was “worn out from finishing ‘the Bell’ (For Whom the Bell Tolls).” Try to “get him early” for the next series, he counseled.

Another devastating blow occurred with the sudden demise of Sherwood Anderson, who had sketched out a treatment of his play Above Suspicion (dealing with freedom from police persecution) prior to departing on an ocean voyage to Panama in early March. He became sick on board and his illness worsened once he arrived. He died there on March 8 of peritonitis, caused by a swallowed toothpick. George M. Cohan stepped up to finish Anderson’s script.

The number of plays to be aired by The Free Company and CBS was down to just 10. Boyd partly backfilled the hole with Walter Van Tilburg’s existing play, The Ox-Bow Incident, in which a hanging by vigilantes denied the victim his right to trial by jury.

To Boyd’s further alarm, CBS requested changes to several scripts, including Boyd’s own play, Jim Crow. His play took place in a small Southern town where a Black man, Jim Crow, shoots and kills a prominent white man in self-defense. A venomous mob appears at the jail bent on lynching Crow. The mob overwhelms the local sheriff, but a white citizen of the town, Thad, steps forward to confront the mob, demanding that Crow be afforded a trial. Unmoved, the vigilantes kill Thad. Horrified by having murdered one of their own, the mob’s members disperse, and Crow’s life is saved. CBS wanted to change the ending to have Crow die while attempting to save the sheriff, or alternatively, Thad. Boyd considered CBS’s proposed scenario preposterous and missing the point. Rather than acquiesce to such interference, an irritated Boyd withdrew the play and substituted another.

The network also sought script alterations to maximize the speaking lines of the plays’ more celebrated actors. Boyd drafted a letter to CBS venting his displeasure. It is unclear whether he actually mailed it, but nonetheless, the surviving copy provides a window into his agitated state of mind. “Such handling of the writers we want is bound to alienate them,” Boyd wrote. “They are men who stand where they do because they know what they want to say and how to say it. They will not accept peremptory suggestions to alter their scripts radically for the worse.”

Boyd warned that the writers would view CBS’s editing as an attempt to create “just another sustaining program which Columbia is getting out of them for nothing under the guise of patriotism . . . I suggest you let me handle the writers.” In the end, CBS mostly backed off.

Another brouhaha occurred after Boyd circulated the script of his substituted play, One More Free Man. To Boyd’s surprise, Burgess Meredith was upset with the play’s tone. In the plot, the protagonist, John, speaks the truth whatever the consequences. While employed as a manager in a mining operation, he acknowledges to the workers they have the right to unionize. John’s boss demands that John sign a document indicating he said no such thing. John refuses and is fired. As he is unable to support his family, John’s wife leaves him. He eventually finds another job and becomes a union member. Observing that the local union’s president is corrupt, John makes accusations against the leader at a meeting and as a result is ostracized. The story has a happy ending when John’s fellow union members come to realize he was right and recruit him to run for the leadership of the organization.

Meredith, an active leader of the Actors’ Equity Association, considered the play reactionary. In his view, Boyd had cast unions in an unfavorable light. Boyd explained that the plot was balanced by also showing unscrupulous conduct of management. Meredith seems to have been mollified as the two men enjoyed cordial relations for the remainder of the project.

The debut of the first play produced by The Free Company was moved back a week, to Feb. 23. Rather than opening the series with his own work, Boyd decided to lead off with Saroyan’s, The People With Light Coming Out of Them. The play did not contain a civil liberties theme, per se, but it did set a positive tone for the more substantive broadcasts to follow with a message that good citizens emit a positive “light” that benefits the whole of society. Meredith, John Garfield, Tim Holt and Nancy Kelly starred.

Initial reviews of the new show were glowing. The New Republic noted that The Free Company has “roots in American history. Tom Paine, Horace Greeley, and Harriett Beecher Stowe were factors in past crises — strong factors and always on the side of freedom.” Fifteen hundred letters praising Saroyan’s play arrived at the network. A delighted Biddle expressed to Boyd his “great satisfaction” with the creativity of the first production. 

The second play, which aired March 2 and featured Melvyn Douglas, Claire Trevor and Charles Bickford, was more controversial. Marc Connelly’s The Mole on Lincoln’s Cheek involved a dispute between a school board and a teacher. Upset that a textbook used by the instructor included unflattering, albeit accurate, information regarding figures in American history (John Hancock was a smuggler; George Washington had false teeth; John Adams was a political boss, etc.) the board members branded the book “un-American” and threatened disciplinary action against the teacher. Connelly’s play mirrored a contentious debate over school textbooks then taking place in the country. A series of books written by Harold Rugg proved popular with progressive educators, but some school boards sought to ban the texts, claiming that Rugg advocated socialism.

Orson Welles, circa 1941

An indignant letter writer, Helen Vance, complained that The Mole on Lincoln’s Cheek was “a very thin disguise for the destructive and anti-capitalist propaganda as defended in the books of Prof. Harold Rugg . . . I am sure that CBS will wish to subject to closest scrutiny any further scripts.” But any negative reviews of The Mole were outweighed by favorable reaction to other early broadcasts in the series, including Sherwood’s An American Crusader on March 9 (the story of Elijah Lovejoy, a newspaper publisher martyred for publishing unpopular anti-slavery views); Boyd’s aforementioned One More Free Man on March 16; Benet’s Freedom’s a Hard Thing on March 23 (a Southern slave catches the untreatable disease of “freedom”); and, Van Tilburg’s The Ox-Bow Incident on March 30. Walter Winchell gave two-thumbs up to the series, saying, “The Free Company, one of the delights of the networks, is easily one of the toppers of dramatic programs.”

On Sunday, April 6, Boyd, himself, introduced the seventh play of the series, His Honor, the Mayor, by Orson Welles. The play featured several cast members from Citizen Kane, including Agnes Moorehead, Ray Collins and Everett Sloane. The play, narrated by Welles, involved a scenario in which the mayor of a Southwestern border town faces intense pressure from local citizens demanding he stop a scheduled meeting of the “White Crusaders,” a group that is anti-Jewish, anti-Mexican, and anti-everything liberal.

Though sensitive to public sentiment, the mayor is reluctant to act. He feels the group is entitled to meet because the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of assembly. In an early scene, a White Crusader partisan informs the mayor that the group’s primary goal is to eradicate “the Reds” in town. The perplexed mayor responds that there is only one Communist in town, and he’s 87 years old. “Besides,” says the mayor, “there is nothing illegal about being a Communist.”

In a subsequent scene, the same lone, aged Communist citizen urges the mayor to follow the will of the people and break up the meeting. After all, he maintains, it was Lincoln who said that once the people grow weary of their existing government, “they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.” The mayor rejects that advice and successfully defuses the situation by holding a counter demonstration during the White Crusaders’ meeting.

Welles’ play resulted in a firestorm, courtesy of media titan William Randolph Hearst and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Believing that the lead character in Citizen Kane represented a thinly veiled and unflattering caricature of himself, Hearst unleashed his immense power in a no-holds-barred effort to suppress the movie and ruin Welles. Hearst-run newspapers across the country denounced Welles as a Communist and sought his blacklisting by the film industry. Taking their cue from the mogul, various leaders of the American Legion found evidence of Welles’ Communist sympathies in His Honor, the Mayor. The mayor’s statement that it is not illegal to be a Communist and the use of Lincoln’s quote regarding the peoples’ right to overthrow their government were cited as proof.

The Free Company got caught up in the ensuing crossfire. The chair of the Legion’s National Americanism Commission claimed that the radio plays were “cleverly designed to poison the minds of young Americans.” Another Legion spokesman said, “The name itself, Free Company, sounds suspiciously Communistic.” Moreover, Hoover, presumably at Hearst’s behest, opened a file to investigate the allegedly subversive activities of Welles and other members of The Free Company. Boyd was mentioned in the investigation, though the FBI concluded that it was not “deemed advisable to pursue additional inquiries” concerning him, maybe because of his close relationship with Biddle.

Other newspapers, not controlled by Hearst, saw things differently. The Chicago Sunday Times observed, “William Randolph Hearst is piqued with Orson Welles. The rest is camouflage.” But nevertheless, Hearst’s attacks succeeded in causing a nosedive for Welles. Film historians say his long career never got fully back on track.

James Boyd, Marc Connelly and W.B. Lewis

After the dust-up, Burgess Meredith rebutted the diatribes against the writers by mentioning for the first time on air that the attorney general and solicitor general endorsed the plays. He also dispelled whiffs of the writers’ supposed anti-Americanism by enumerating their impressive military service records. Among them was Boyd, who had honorably served in the U.S. Army Ambulance Service in Italy during World War I.

The final four plays of the series were Paul Green’s A Start in Life, concerning the travails of a Black family (April 13); Archibald MacLeish’s The States Talking (April 20), in which the states respond to the criticisms of America by the Axis powers; Maxwell Anderson’s Miracle on th Danube, focusing on religious liberty, starring Paul Muni and Meredith (April 27); and lastly, Sherwood Anderson’s Above Suspicion, with George M. Cohan and Paul Henreid in the lead roles (May 4). A hard-cover anthology of the plays hit the nation’s bookstores on May 5.

To Boyd’s gratification, radio ratings increased following the Welles-Hearst debacle. On May 6, he reported to Biddle that a recent broadcast had attracted at least 5 million listeners, attributing the uptick to the “Hearst-American Legion attacks on the Free Company.” Boyd reported that CBS was interested in a second series, but he rejected the idea. He told Biddle that “aside from the question of my own time, it would be impossible to continue to get scripts of the same high caliber. There are not many other writers of the same standing available, and we could not ask the writers who had already contributed their work without compensation to do so again so soon.”

After closing down The Free Company, Boyd seemed to harbor doubts whether its activities had achieved any measurable impact. In correspondence with Perkins, he noted his despair. “I feel sickened by this blank sickness of the world and just now see no light,” he wrote. “There is nothing to do but stand as firm as we can by the best we are able to believe in. I can only hope that there are enough of those who will do this to save some fragments from the cataclysm.”

Thereafter, James Boyd turned to other affairs. He consummated the purchase of The Pilot in May, providing a new writing outlet that was entirely in his control. He turned from historical novels to poetry. His final book, Eighteen Poems, was published on Jan. 1, 1944, just a month before his untimely and sudden death at age 55 in Princeton, New Jersey, where he’d traveled for a speaking engagement at his alma mater.

Seven months after The Free Company’s final broadcast, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the country plunged into World War II. Americans came together overnight, united in a struggle against tyranny and in defense of the freedoms written about by The Free Company. Boyd may not have envisioned that it would take a war to awaken Americans to the importance of their freedoms, but he and The Free Company had sounded the alarm bell.  PS

Pinehurst resident Bill Case is PineStraw’s history man. He can be reached at Bill.Case@thompsonhine.com.

The Kitchen Garden

Thanksgiving in a Bowl

The everything-but-the-kitchen-sink soup

By Jan Leitschuh

Who wouldn’t love to curl up around a steamy, creamy bowl of soup on a raw November day?

I have a clever friend and avid kitchen gardener, Deb Tucker, who gathers the fall harvest from garden and market, and throws it together in marvelous combinations. She takes this abundance and turns it into a rich bowl of comfort food to ward off late fall’s chill.

The goodies in her cook pot are different every time. The nice thing about this soup is that the ingredients are fluid, and you don’t have to be a gifted chef to make a hearty and delicious potful — just a cook who likes to eat.

The markets reflect the abundance of fresh fall harvest available to us, from apples and squashes, to broccoli, to pecans, to sweet potatoes, to early collards, to fall green beans, to northern cranberries and more. And, of course, roasted turkey.

And my creative friend grabs onto it with both hands, crafting her free-form soup magic.

So, no precise recipes here. Soup is more of a narrative, anyway, a tale of your household’s leftover bits and bobs, with a tasty dash of this and that. To craft your Thanksgiving-in-a-bowl, follow the basic structure, unleash your inner Deb, and fashion a soup that fits your dietary needs and preferences.

Deb described her latest as “cream and cheeses and sherry and cranberries and onions and pecans and nutmeg and coriander and broccoli and cayenne and leftover seasoned turkey tenderloins. Basically . . . comfort food.”

Too rich for you? Back off the cream and cheeses. Avoiding alcohol? Eliminate the sherry. Vegetarian? Use vegetable stock and lose the turkey. Vegan? Vegetarian plus no dairy.

See? This is easy. So, commence:

1. Begin at the bottom of your soup pot. Add a bit of oil and “start as we do with nearly everything, sautéing/caramelizing onion,” Deb said. You might want to add a handful of chopped celery, if available. Thanksgiving spices such as sage are also good additions — a bit of chopped, fried sage is the “pumpkin spice” of our favorite savory Thanksgiving dishes.

2. You’ll need the stock for the soup’s broth. Chicken broth is the standard; vegetable stock could also suffice. A carton of squash soup might be an intriguing side trip into fall flavors. Add liquid to the soup pot and heat. Once your stock is established, start tossing things in.

3. Depending on your diet, you may or may not want to skip the dairy — my friend cooks like a Frenchwoman. On this chilly fall day, Deb’s tastes went right to rich by adding “a little heavy cream. You could also use both cream cheese and/or mascarpone,” she said, “though I wanted the tart bite of cream cheese.” Gilding the lily, as it were, Deb also used a second cheese, an extra-sharp shredded cheddar. “It was a cool, rainy day, and I just wanted some cheesiness,” she said. “I was out of any melty-type cheese, but that would be good, too.” Despite all the dairy, Deb used a light touch and called her concoction more of a “bisque, as it wasn’t as thick as a creamed soup, but not as broth-y as a clear soup.”

4. Add the protein. Deb tossed in leftover turkey, torn in pieces from a simple Butterball-type turkey tenderloin. (On another occasion, she sprinkled the tenderloins with chili powder and cumin, roasting them at 325 degrees for about 45 minutes. She also added mashed sweet potatoes.) Vegetarians could add chunks of grilled portobello mushrooms, or perhaps stir some nut butter into the veggie broth.

5. Season the Thanksgiving bowl with spices and flavors. Deb loves sherry in soups, “many good splashes.” She tried a spot of nutmeg (“just a little . . . freshly grated is best”) and coriander. For a little more heat, she dashed in a little cayenne along with salt and pepper. Though she loves garlic in so many things, Deb steered clear of it this time. “I didn’t think it fit with this milder concoction,” she explained.

6. Add more stuff. Deb kept tossing in seasonal ingredients. A handful of chopped pecans are a soup surprise but very effective, adding “a little bit of the crunch of pecans, which can also be mild and creamy.” Another surprise is a scattering of dried fruits. For this latest creation, she used low-sugar dried cranberries. She adores adding Montmorency sour cherries at other times.

7. After simmering a bit to blend flavors, Deb added frozen broccoli florets near the end. She wants them cooked but still firm and green, “not too soggy. Sometimes I’ll throw some frozen florets into a skillet and brown it quickly, so it resembles roasted.” The result is “easy and quick, if you already have the leftover turkey.”

As a self-described experimental kitchen cook, I could see adding a few sautéed green beans, a cut potato or two, or perhaps some chunks of roasted sweet potato in some iteration. Your larder, tastebuds and imagination shape the outcome.

The result was so good, “I wish I had made enough to have the next day,” Deb said. “Oh, wait, I think I do have one bowl left. Don’t tell my husband. It might disappear when I settle down to watch a movie tonight.”

November leftovers don’t get much better than that. PS

Jan Leitschuh is a local gardener, avid eater of fresh produce and co-founder of Sandhills Farm to Table.

Food Nouveau

New delights for Sandhills taste buds

By Jenna Biter     Photographs by John Gessner

Agora Café

15 Chinquapin Road, Pinehurst

Agora Café is the new Pinehurst bakery and eatery where Southern hospitality meets French bistro — think biscuits topped with herb butter, fresh salads and craft lattes for sale at the counter. Chef Emmy Hirengen relocated to the Sandhills all the way from Oregon just to helm the new gathering place co-owned by Ginny and David Tran, Robert and April Bortins, and David and Bethany Morgan.

The café is Ginny’s brainchild. She started making macarons while raising three, now four kids, as a stay-at-home mom. “Baking was her outlet,” David says about his wife. In short order, Ginny’s macarons became popular, and she and a friend launched a baking business from their home kitchens in Raleigh. Then the Trans relocated to the Sandhills for David’s job. “We kind of took a leap of faith and said, ‘OK, let’s do this, let’s create a bakery,’” he says. The café officially opened in September.

But Ginny didn’t want Agora to be just a bakery, she wanted it to be a gathering place, particularly for moms. In ancient Greek city-states, agora, which literally means gathering place or assembly, was the hub for conversation, debate and buying and selling wares. “She wants to build this community of stay-at-home bakers that we’ll buy from wholesale, or we’ll do whatever we can to promote them in the shop,” says David.

Robert and April Bortins and their children Lily, Trey, and Jonah and Ginny and David Tran and their children Banks, Lila, Colbie, and Lincoln)

Turkey, ham and tomato chutney with melted muenster, gruyère, and Havarti cheeses on multigrain bread; fresh-made French croissants.

The Block

290 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Southern Pines

Husband-and-wife restaurateurs James and Keena Lam opened The Block in mid-August as a merger of their former Southern Pines’ eateries Bambu Boba Café on Broad Street and Steve’s TK Pizza & Subs on Morganton Road. “Even though both spots were within a minute or two of each other, the idea of them being here together, allowing us to focus on the quality of the food, that was the main thing for us,” James says.

Agreeing on the merger wasn’t an easy decision. Steve’s had been a popular establishment on Morganton Road for six years, and uprooting the eatery worried the Lams. But the risk proved worthwhile. “It has been insane,” James says, commenting on business since The Block’s launch. “We’ve been selling out every other day. Even though we loaded up with food, it’s hard to keep up.”

The Block caters to the whole family, from picky eaters to foodies, in a one-stop shop. “You’ve got Asian dishes, pizzas, subs, teriyaki, you name it,” he says, “burgers, fries, just a little bit of everything.” That includes Boba tea, the popular Asian drink that’s chock-full of chewy tapioca balls.

The Lams’ authentic Vietnamese food is always droolworthy, but pizza is their up-and-comer. “Our pizza was good before, but with this pizza oven,” he says, motioning toward the kitchen, “it’s a couple of levels higher.”

Keena and James Lam

Chicken curry ramen, Vietnamese beef pho noodle soup, woodfire house pizza, pulled pork banh mi tacos with house spicy chili sauce, fresh spring rolls.

Jaya’s Indian Cuisine

169 N.E. Broad St., Southern Pines

Ekambaram “Maran” and Jayarani “Jaya” Elamaran started selling their Indian food while working at Nature’s Own Natural Foods Market in Southern Pines. Karen Frye, the owner of the market, gave the Elamarans the opportunity to start selling Jaya’s Indian food in a daily, prepared-foods case in her store about six years ago. “We would sell from the daily case five to 10 meals every day,” Maran says, describing how they dipped their toes into the food industry.

Word started to spread about Jaya’s Indian cooking, so the Elamarans decided they wanted to purchase a food truck. Complications put that plan on hold, and they opened their former takeout location on May Street in 2018. About 200 people showed up to the opening. “We got nervous, me and my wife,” Maran says, thinking back to the long line of customers on that cold day. But too many customers is a good problem to have, and the food was worth the wait.

About four months after their takeout location opened, they finally got their food truck and ran both operations in tandem. Then customers started asking about dining. “So, we thought, ‘OK, we need dining,’ because we know that people will come,” Maran says. After three years of takeout, the Elamarans moved out of their May Street location and opened their new dine-in restaurant on Broad Street in July, serving up much-loved favorites like chicken tikka masala and vegetable samosas.

Maran, Ria and Jaya Elamaran

Chicken tikka masala thali comes with raita, garlic naan, chickpea masala, basmati rice and gulab jamun for dessert; vegetable samosas served with mint chutney and tamarin chutney.

Neko Thai and Sushi Bar

70 Market Square, Pinehurst

“My girlfriend, she loves cats; Neko means cat in Japanese,” says Phon, owner of Neko Thai and Sushi Bar in downtown Pinehurst. The restaurant’s logo is the maneki-neko Japanese figurine, a “beckoning cat” intended to bring good luck to the business owner.

Neko marks Phon’s debut as a restaurateur, but he has worked in the restaurant industry in a variety of positions ranging from server to manager to sushi chef for over 10 years. “I did so many things, it was time for me to open a restaurant myself,” he says. “It was a gamble, but everything worked out well.”

Phon relocated from Florida to the Sandhills just to open his new Asian fusion restaurant after scouring Midwestern and Southern states for the ideal spot. “People that live in the village always come here two or three times per week, so I’m really happy,” he says. Neko opened in April, and Phon says business has been steady almost from the start.

Phon is Thai, but he’s an experienced sushi chef, so Asian fusion made sense as his restaurant concept. It made even more sense because he saw so many Asian fusion restaurants succeed in Florida. “When you come here with your family, maybe your dad doesn’t like sushi, but he might like Thai food, so you’ve got something for everybody,” he says.

Phou Neti

Neko shrimp tempura roll topped with a spicy mayo crab-imitation mixture, Tom Yum soup with shrimp, garlic soft-shell crab over steamed mixed vegetables, Thai iced tea with whipped cream.

The Workshop Tavern

106 W. Main St., Aberdeen

When Nathan Lonnen’s best friend from college nudged him to open a restaurant in downtown Aberdeen, he did, making the move from Charlotte to the Sandhills. He has worked in the restaurant industry since college and has helped several restaurants open, but The Workshop Tavern is the first he’s owned.

“It was the perfect chance to blend my woodworking and creativity into what I want in a restaurant,” Nathan says. In five months, he built out the restaurant almost entirely by hand, from the wooden bar and tables to the accent wall in the back. He even painted the artwork that hangs on the tavern’s walls. Nathan wanted to create a down-to-earth atmosphere that embodies the craftsman’s journey, whether it’s in woodworking or crafting a pulled pork sandwich and an old fashioned.

“My roots are in upstate New York, and I just always remember big food with a lot of flavor,” he says, and that’s what he wants for The Workshop Tavern. “The community has embraced us a lot. It’s been great. It definitely makes the long hours worthwhile when people come in, and they’re happy to be here.

“I just want to say thank you to everybody that’s supported us in this endeavor throughout the eight months that we’ve been open — it’s been a ride so far.”

Nathan Lonnen

Street-style pork carnitas tacos with roasted tomatillo avocado salsa; six-cheese macaroni and cheese topped with slow-roasted spicy chicken, house-pickled jalapeños and secret hot sauce.

YellowBird Southern Table and Bar

100 Pavilion Way, Suite B, Southern Pines

“The concept is Southern brunch — fried chicken and champagne,” says Orlando Jinzo, owner of YellowBird Southern Table and Bar with Sonja McCarrell. They’ll be serving up sweet and savory waffles, smoked brisket deviled eggs, fried green tomatoes, wagyu and bison meatloaf and, of course, chef-driven craft cocktails. But the Southern fare will be fresh and seasonal, so patrons don’t feel bogged down.

“Believe it or not, I grew up in Arizona, but most of the food we ate was Southern because those were the cookbooks my mom had,” Orlando says. “So, I grew up eating fried chicken and biscuits and cornbread in the Southwest.” Sonja grew up on Southern food, too, but right here in North Carolina.

Orlando and Sonja also own Leadmine Whiskey Bar and Kitchen in Southern Pines. After their plans for a second Leadmine in Raleigh serendipitously fell through, YellowBird was born. “Leadmine isn’t family-oriented,” Orlando says. “We play explicit rap music on the weekends. Here? It’s family-friendly. It’s literally opposite sides of the coin.”

YellowBird will be serving up brunch all day after their soft opening on Tuesday, Nov. 2, and their grand opening on Sunday, Nov. 14.  PS

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

Sonja McCarrell and Orlando Jinzo

Malted waffle topped with Southern fried chicken; chocolate-hazelnut waffle with berries and cream; brown sugar brûlée bacon steaks; white cheddar macaroni and cheese.