Quiet Time

A tranquil week at Weymouth

By Bill Fields

It’s always great to come to Southern Pines, but a return last fall was special. I’d passed the hounds on Ridge Street marking the entrance to the Boyd House many times — walking, on my bike or in a car — going back to when I started elementary school in the mid-1960s. In November, though, I drove up Vermont Avenue, crossed Ridge and went through the stone canines.

For the first time, I wasn’t just passing by; I was arriving to settle in for a week at Weymouth as a writer-in-residence. My writing chops pale in comparison to some of the authors who have graced the estate going back more than a century, but I was certain no visitor had closer roots given that I’d grown up only three blocks away. Not only was I excited to see what I could get done over seven days in an inspiring environment, I was proud to be there.

I was booked to bunk in a room named for Max Perkins, the legendary book editor who helped shape 20th-century American literature with his vital ties to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and North Carolinian Thomas Wolfe, among others. The room assignment pleased me. As I unpacked, I recalled reading A. Scott Berg’s 1978 biography Max Perkins: Editor of Genius while in college. Given that typing a high school hoops gamer on deadline in the sports department of the Durham Morning Herald was the big time at that point in my life, discovering Perkins’ New York world was a revelation.

By week’s end — when two fellow resident writers and I celebrated with a lovely dinner at Ashten’s and afterward shared aloud samples of what we’d produced while at Weymouth — I’d written thousands of words for what I hope will someday be a memoir. My output, in longhand (I was reminded of the pleasure of a fountain pen) and on my laptop, didn’t quite reach the five-figure goal I’d set for myself. Yet as I waved goodbye to the dogs as I left the property and began the long drive home to Connecticut, I realized that my time at Weymouth shouldn’t be measured by word count alone.

If I’m not careful, I watch too much television and spend too much time on social media. While staying in the Boyd House, I watched no TV and paid scant attention to what was being said online. In that small bedroom and in those large common rooms alike, I had time to think.

I’m not nearly as plugged in as some people, and my texting thumbs will never reach warp speed. Stepping out of a normal routine for a week, however, and holing up in a place where the point is to get away from everything, made it easier to realize just how much sway technology holds over us.

It was quiet at Weymouth. The lack of noise took me back to late night studying in an unlocked classroom building not far from Old West dormitory, or the hours in a lonesome carrel in the Wilson Library stacks. I’ve written plenty of stories over the years in crowded press rooms, and there is satisfaction in tuning out the surroundings and turning out smooth copy in time to make an editor happy.

But I think my best work has come in quiet hotel rooms after golf tournaments, when Sunday night has turned into Monday morning and, somehow, a couple of thousand words were on the page by dawn and by deadline, in an order that mostly made sense.

Months after my peaceful week at Weymouth, I don’t get the message on my smartphone that my screen usage has been up as often as it used to. Not only did I write something there, I learned something too.  PS

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



April in Augusta

Golf’s glorious pilgrimage

By Bill Fields

When the time comes when I don’t get to cover the Masters, I’m sure spending the first full week of April somewhere else will feel strange.

The 2024 edition will be my 39th trip to northeast Georgia in the spring. I’ve been every year starting in 1985 except for 2002, when I was writing a fun story about other places that share the name of the major championship’s host city and visited several of them during Masters week.

Augusta, Iowa, featured the not-so-scenic Skunk River. A course in Augusta, Illinois, had greens the size of a throw rug. I observed a tournament of ordinary golfers on Sunday afternoon in Augusta, Kansas, which meant I missed Tiger Woods successfully defending his title. But I believe that having been on hand when Woods won his first green jacket, in 1997, and his fifth, in 2019, make up for that absence 22 years ago.

Given that it’s a week or so in Augusta on each assignment — I was credentialed as a photographer for the first 11 and a reporter for all the rest — that makes almost 10 months of my life there. Outside of locations where I’ve lived, I haven’t spent that much time anywhere else.

I regret not having taken a photo of the places I’ve laid my head down for those couple of hundred nights in Augusta. In the 1980s, we called the Knights Inn the “purple palace” for the color of the bedspreads and curtains of its “medieval themed” rooms. I spent more than a few nights in rental-house beds usually occupied by small children. A ceiling fan crashed to the floor in a den where we were watching a basketball game on TV. One home in an upscale neighborhood was overpopulated with ceramic wildlife and jungle-cat artwork. I had a Tiger painting on my bedroom wall, on tasteful velvet. In recent years, I’ve stayed in a clean but spartan (no closet, just hooks on the wall) hotel on the western outskirts of ever-growing Augusta.

Whatever the quirks of the temporary quarters for a particular Masters, you’re usually up early and back late. The work, whether with a camera or keyboard, has been rewarding.

I have wonderful memories of my years as a photographer, the satisfying images having supplanted the stress of trying to be in the right place at the right time, at an event where, unlike most golf tournaments, photojournalists must work outside the gallery ropes, finding shooting positions among the large galleries. In a large photo on my wall by friend and longtime colleague Stephen Szurlej — a wide angle of Augusta National’s 18th green as Jack Nicklaus finished his stunning 65 on Sunday in 1986, taken with a remote camera — there I am on the front row of spectators at the rear of the putting surface having scrambled into position on the historic afternoon. You can just see my left arm and hand steadying a telephoto lens and dark brown hair spilling out of a green visor. It was a long time ago.

If I had to guess how many words I’ve written in Augusta over the decades on a deadline of one sort or another, I venture it’s close to 100,000, the length of a novel. Sometimes those words came easily, but on other occasions it was like trying to two-putt from 60 feet on a slick, sloping surface — you’re happy when the task is completed.

I’m glad I got to experience those Masters of the 1980s and ’90s, before so many holes were lengthened in reaction to how far the ball was going thanks to inaction by those responsible for equipment regulation. Sure, things were more manicured than they had been in the 1930s, ’40s or ’50s, but the design was still largely as it had been for Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and some of the other greats who walked the fairways in the mid-20th century or before. Now, the walks from green to tee are longer, less natural. Augusta itself has grown like the course, and it isn’t so sleepy the other 51 weeks a year.

Still, come Sunday evening, after a week when the flowers and shrubs have popped and memorable shots have been played, golf has been the language and currency of a city, and a champion full of pride is filling out a sport coat in that distinct shade of green, what has changed yields to what hasn’t.  PS

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



Dianne and Sadie

Growing up in the sisterhood

By Bill Fields

I consider myself a “semi-only child” because I came into the world so long after my sisters — 14 1/2 years after Dianne and 12 1/2 after Sadie. They were both off at college before I started first grade.

If what they say about an adult’s first memories is correct — that they usually go back to when someone was 3 or 4 years old — my recollections of Dianne and Sadie date to their teenage days in the early 1960s, about the time we posed in our Sunday finest in the backyard in the accompanying snapshot taken shortly after my fourth birthday. (They look more comfortable in their nice dresses than I do in a bowtie.)

I remember wanting to play — and them not wanting me to in equal measure — with their lipstick and fountain pens, and being intrigued when they utilized the upstairs bathroom sink to change the color of a sweater with Rit dye. There was often music, from their tickling the ivories on the upright piano in our living room to 45s spinning on a record player.

One vivid musical memory makes me think I have some earlier-than-average recall. As much as “Moon River” and “Chances Are” were a soundtrack to those days on East New Jersey Avenue, a silly pop song in my sisters’ record collection stands out in my mind. “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini,” by Brian Hyland, came out in June of 1960, and I’m convinced its lyrics were among the building blocks of my early vocabulary.

When Dianne and Sadie set out to further their educations at Wake Forest and UNC Greensboro, respectively, I tagged along on rides to and from campus. This proximity gave me a backseat vantage point to our father’s frustration upon taking the wrong exit in Winston-Salem or Greensboro, and fatigue after helping haul his daughters’ stuff to their dorm rooms. Once, our family gave Sadie’s roommate a ride to her hometown of Valdese in the North Carolina foothills. It was about a 100-mile trip but seemed like an exotic journey for a little boy who hadn’t seen much beyond Moore County.

My sisters’ college experiences netted me much more than the Wake and UNCG sweatshirts I got from them for Christmas. If they could go to college, why couldn’t I when the time came? That was a lesson more valuable than anything I was learning at East Southern Pines Elementary. And it didn’t hurt that both were fine students, applying themselves in school. Dianne was high school valedictorian, her name on the wall for years next to a painting of the Blue Knight, which was always a source of family pride as I matriculated through those same halls and classrooms until going to Pinecrest as a sophomore.

My sisters weren’t sportswomen, but I could coerce them into shooting a basket. They tolerated my obsession with miniature golf and joined me for countless games on the carpet, although under oath they would confess to not sharing my sadness when the ball disappeared down the chute on the 18th hole.

The difference in our ages mimicked the gaps between our mother and her two older siblings. Mom always hoped the chronology wouldn’t adversely affect our relationship as we aged, that her children would stay connected as they got older, after she was gone.

Five years after our mother passed away not long before her 96th birthday, we are doing what she hoped. My sisters and I haven’t lived in the same area since they left Southern Pines, but despite the geography we remain in touch. Sometimes we talk on a three-way call, a Jetsonian advance from the days when my sisters were lining up to use the party-line phone to speak to a pal, my little self likely tugging on their hemlines.  PS

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



Watching the River Run

Leaving them one by one

By Bill Fields

A work commitment kept me from attending a reunion last fall for Pinecrest High School’s 1970s classes. I regretted missing the weekend, which, from the reports I got, was well organized and drew a big crowd. Having helped coordinate the 25th reunion for those of us who graduated in 1977, I can only imagine the effort required to hunt and gather 10 classes of folks and successfully pull off such a gathering.

From afar, though, spurred by the big reunion, I’ve been remembering those high school days and my classmates, recollections jogged by my copies of the Spectrum, Pinecrest’s annual, from my sophomore through senior years.

Without even opening them, the yearbooks tell a story. The covers and page edges are smoke-damaged from a November 1984 late night electrical fire in the bedroom loft of an Aberdeen cottage I was renting, a blaze as swift as it was startling.

My companion and I were grateful to get out safely after smelling smoke. It wasn’t the recommended way to get into the pages of The Sandhill Citizen, which ran a captioned photograph of firefighters on the scene in its next edition. That girlfriend and I didn’t go out long. We did see each other a few more times after the fire, which was a Christmas miracle, but she never returned to the apartment after it was repaired.

High school, as the annuals remind me, was much less dramatic than that unusual evening, although it hardly seemed so then. Looking through those yearbooks is to remember the angst about a class in which you struggled or the answer from someone you had finally summoned the courage to ask out.

But I was fortunate to not carry the burdens that weighed down some of my classmates. I came from a stable family, applied myself well — except when the going got tough in math — and had at least a vague sense of what I wanted to do after Pinecrest. When I read the messages written to me in those yearbooks from students and teachers, penned in both Bic and Flair, there are mentions of “level-headedness,” “determination,” “hard working” and “perseverance.” I still don’t really know what Andrew Edwards said, because he wrote his backward. 

At the time, being named “Most Dependable” along with Louise Thompson didn’t seem the flashiest of senior superlatives. I know I haven’t always lived up to that billing, although it is a good one to shoot for. (This column is being filed a day late, unless I’m receiving grace for New Year’s Day, but I’ve met many more deadlines than I’ve missed over decades of typing for a living — and since handwriting scripts on carbon paper for our closed-circuit TV news show senior year at Pinecrest.)

Mostly, those mid-1970s yearbooks make me think of the people who are with me in those yellowing pages, classmates who have prospered or struggled, others who lost their lives in accidents or to illness, some a long time ago, some in late middle-age. Just last year, two of my Pinecrest golf teammates, two good men, Jim Mathews and Charles Reid, passed away.

The theme of the 1977 Spectrum, I was reminded when rereading it recently, came from “Watching the River Run,” a beautiful 1973 song written by Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina. We teenagers probably didn’t appreciate the poignancy of “watching the river run/further and further from the things we’ve done/Leaving them one by one.”

Opposite the lyrics in my yearbook was a message from my late childhood friend Alvin Davis, who took the spread photograph that accompanied them, a wintertime waterscape in black and white, the sun bursting through trees and shining on the river’s surface. Alvin’s words dance through bare branches, memorable not so much for what they are but who said them as we were starting out, paddles in the water.  PS

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



Hey, Where Did We Go?

Down the old mine with a transistor radio

Occasionally during a New England winter, if I am in the car after dark and know North Carolina has a basketball contest that evening, I will abandon SiriusXM for old-fashioned AM and tune the dial to 1110 WBT in Charlotte. The 50,000-watt station’s old boast that it could be heard from “Maine to Miami” is still true, some static notwithstanding, and hearing the Tar Heels play takes me back to when listening to games was nearly as important as playing them.

Sports on the radio was a year-round pleasure when I was a child. There were baseball games from spring into fall, reception at the mercy of the signal and the atmosphere. When conditions were such that I could hear announcers from stations in Chicago or St. Louis, many hundreds of miles from our house in Southern Pines, it felt like there was something more powerful at work than a couple of Eveready C-cell batteries.

Wintertime meant there were basketball games on the radio, though, and I devoured anything revolving around my — and the region’s — favorite sport. I was listening to hoops over the air before I started elementary school. One of my earliest memories is hearing the exploits of a star guard for N.C. State in the mid-1960s. Eddie Bidenbach was a mouthful for the Wolfpack radio voices.

I was fascinated by the faraway hometowns of some of the players when starting lineups were introduced: Duke’s Bob Verga of Sea Girt, New Jersey, and fellow Blue Devil Mike Lewis from Missoula, Montana. My first basketball hero, Carolina’s Larry Miller, master of pump fakes and scoop shots while maneuvering toward the basket, hailed from Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, a borough that sounded as exotic as some of Miller’s moves.

The man who called Carolina’s games on the radio during the 1960s was as inventive as number 44 in light blue and white, which made each broadcast an adventure regardless of the plot of the game. Bill Currie’s nickname, “The Mouth of the South,” was well earned. Currie, voice of the Tar Heels from 1962 to 1971 after forming the school’s radio network, was cut from a different cloth.

“Sports announcers nowadays are about as colorless as a glass of gin,” Currie told Sports Illustrated in 1968. “They are so immersed in themselves, so determined to pontificate about what really is nothing more than a game that they have forgotten that sports are supposed to be fun.”

Currie never forgot, infusing his broadcasts with a whole lot of this and that about what wasn’t happening on the 94-foot-long basketball court — especially during one-sided games. In a strong Southern accent reflecting his High Point roots, Currie critiqued what folks were wearing or the quality of an arena’s concessions. He interviewed fans, recited poetry, and talked about current events. Currie’s unique style made other announcers seem as if they were narrating a funeral procession. During a 1968 ACC Tournament game when State beat Duke 12-10 after both teams went into deep slowdowns at a time well before a shot clock, Currie described the play as “having all the thrill of artificial insemination.”

The irreverence went north in 1971 when Currie took a television job at KDKA in Pittsburgh. I spent the rest of my youth listening to his more businesslike and traditional successor, Woody Durham, call Tar Heels games. It didn’t take Durham long to build a strong relationship with his audience, and his 40 years behind the mic made Currie’s run seem like a cup of coffee.

For all the pleasure that the college basketball games provided on those winter evenings as I huddled with my transistor radio, there were a couple of games a week on television thanks to the C.D. Chesley network. Radio was all I had for Carolina Cougars games, and I listened to Bob Lamey call most of their American Basketball Association schedule. The ABA lineups became second nature to me, whether the Cougars were up against the Pittsburgh Condors, Virginia Squires or Kentucky Colonels. The sound of sneakers on hardwood in some of those less-than-sold-out gyms made it feel like I was beside Lamey courtside.

Listening to so many Cougars games paid off for me on March 18, 1972, when they hosted the Memphis Pros in Greensboro. None other than Larry Miller lit it up for the home team, finishing with an ABA record of 67 points, and I happily heard every one of them.  PS

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



The Unscathed Christmas

When bad things don’t happen to good people

By Bill Fields

Looking back on the Christmas season, I realize that we were lucky.

It wasn’t just that our family had a roof over our heads, that we always had enough food and presents to make us happy, or that we never let disputes occurring in our spirited Monopoly games that were an entertainment centerpiece escalate into unpleasantness. (The adults at the table even indulged very young me when I wanted to be able to put houses and hotels on Baltic Avenue even though I didn’t own Mediterranean.)

Although a vicious intestinal bug did hit us one year with the ferocity of a Dick Butkus tackle, the miracle was that we survived each holiday season without serious harm. We didn’t have a fireplace, so there was no danger of a stray ember setting fire to G.I. Joe’s fatigues or tissue paper that had swaddled a something new from Collins department store. In place of the real thing, after one of my mother’s largest lapses in judgment, we were the proud owners of imitation logs illuminated by orange incandescent bulbs. The “flames” flickered from foil circles that rotated near the lights, although one would have needed a lot of enhanced eggnog to feel warm.

Our fire threat came from another source. We had two sets of Christmas lights, those to decorate the camellia in the front yard and those to string on the Christmas tree in our living room. They were labeled “outdoor” and “indoor,” but the difference was less than that between Carolina and sky blue. The large bulbs on each strand seemed to approximate the heat of a glowing briquette charring a steak.

Before moving on to white pines and later firs or spruces, we were a cedar tree clan. Even if we regularly filled the red stand with water, those things would get pretty crispy. It’s a wonder there was never a real fire next to the faux logs, not that there wasn’t a close call. The same angel that graced the top of our trees for many years — well into the era of tiny lights that didn’t heat up — bore a melted spot from her years of service with the big bulbs.

We skirted a lot of trouble around Christmas time, when you think about it. Nobody crashed when a neighbor got a mini bike. We avoided getting hit by a car when testing new tennis rackets by playing a set with an imaginary net out in the street. Lawn darts landed only in the rye overseed. Bruises and scrapes were the worst that came from tackle football. Dad somehow managed to get the barbecued chicken done when he cooked out in the dark. 

Indoors, there were potential hazards everywhere. Owing to my father’s job at Proctor-Silex, there was gifting of irons for a few years, but no one ever dropped one of the heavy devices on themselves in their zeal to unwrap such a utilitarian present. Nobody tripped over the Hot Wheels track after I set it up to emulate the Rockingham drag strip, but I heard a few curse words when an adult stepped on a plastic soldier or Tinker Toy. 

Santa Claus never forgot to bring bags of walnuts, pecans and Brazil nuts. The pick that went along with the nutcracker could have been classified as a weapon of war so sharp was the point, but we escaped with minor puncture wounds for which a little mercurochrome would do the trick. A dab of butter took care of any burns from rogue Crisco escaping a cast-iron skillet.

But the kitchen hazards didn’t stop at the stove. Man was going into space, but he also had time to invent the electric knife. The whir of the blades was part of the Christmas soundtrack as much as “Jingle Bells” or “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.” Mom worried as Dad took on a turkey or a ham or a roast. There was the occasional grinding of metal on platter if he misjudged his cut, but fortunately the only red on the table came from the apple rings.  PS

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



A Sight for Sore Eyes

Being thankful for the small print

By Bill Fields

I travel some for work, and some of the trips are on planes. Over the last year-and-a-half — as sure as people are determined to wedge steamer trunks into overhead compartments designed for briefcases — you would have seen me closing my left eye and training the right on something. It might be the no-smoking symbol, the lavatory locator, or a chyron on a fellow passenger’s television screen. This is not idle squinting.

I do these in-flight vision tests to reassure myself that my right eye is seeing crisply. Fortunately, it is, which is a reason I’m particularly grateful this Thanksgiving.

In early February 2022, my right eye suddenly wasn’t working properly one morning. It was as if a dark curtain was being pulled up from the bottom. I got to my ophthalmologist’s office by mid-afternoon.

The technician who does the scans is usually cheerful and chatty but didn’t say much this time. In the exam room, looking at the eye chart confirmed why he had been mum minutes earlier.

It wasn’t that the smaller letters were blurry — they were obscured by whatever was going on inside my eye. My vision was limited to the largest letter on top, the “Big E.” I joked about Elvin Hayes, but the young man asking what I could see had no clue about my reference to a basketball star from many years ago.

In the nervous minutes waiting for the doctor to come into the room, I thought about the life of my eyes.

I didn’t even need glasses until I was in college. Covering a Carolina-State football game in Raleigh during the fall of 1979, I realized I was having trouble seeing the jersey numbers. A subsequent exam indicated nearsightedness, and I got glasses for distance.

Contact lenses came later. In my early 40s, like so many others, I began to have trouble seeing up close. I thought about my dad at the breakfast table and how he had held the newspaper increasingly farther away before finally getting a pair of magnifying readers. I recalled my mom saying, “You’re in my light” and not understanding why that was a big deal.

My moment came when I was helping a friend hook up a television on a shelf in an armoire. The back of it was a shadowy tangle of cords, and I had a hard time. I stopped at a drugstore on the way home to purchase reading glasses.

Cataract surgery on both eyes in the fall of 2020 was liberating — I was able after 40 years to ditch corrective lenses for distance. But my vision bliss was short-lived. The ophthalmologist told me I had a detached retina and presently was on the phone to a retina specialist across town. A doctor there confirmed the retina in my right eye was fully detached, and I was headed for surgery the next day.

“You were a 5 out of 10,” the surgeon told me after he had finished. “Not the easiest, not the hardest.”

He had reattached the retina and inserted a gas bubble to encourage healing. The bubble appeared as a dark circle in my vision for more than two months, getting smaller as it dissipated, from the size of a nickel to a speck of black.

For three weeks after the operation, I had to be face-down — “Looking at the Earth,” as the doctor put it — eight to 10 hours per day to maximize the bubble’s effect on the repaired retina. I rented a chair designed for such recoveries. Its mirror allowed me to watch TV, which mitigated the boredom because reading was difficult.

Through months of checkups and eye drops, vision in the surgical eye improved. After the bubble shrank enough to allow some sight, what I had was like looking through a frosted window. Over time, the vision improved and I began to be able to read the smaller lines of type on a poster across my living room couch, my at-home eye chart.

It was 20/120, then 20/80. Earlier this year, an eye test indicated even more improvement: 20/25. Being able to see the little letters is a big deal indeed.  PS

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



Picture This

A wallet-sized memory

By Bill Fields

A fall ritual, as certain as football and Halloween, was the school picture.

It seems to be the thing now for parents to pose their kids with a sign as they depart for the first day of classes, a label of grade and year reminding everyone in the family and on social media of the historic moment, often occurring now in the ungodly heat of summer.

In the dark ages of my youth, I’m sure a minority of families documented the coming of another academic year with Polaroids or Kodak snapshots in a primitive version of the current practice. But most of us relied on the visit of the nomadic professional photographer, who would show up around the same time the bags of bite-sized candy were being stocked at the A&P.

We would be alerted by our teacher in advance of the taking of the school pictures, so haircuts and clothing could be considered. Going to public school and not wearing uniforms, the latter factor was a biggie — for our parents if not ourselves. Over the years, I wore T-shirts, short-sleeved seersucker, mock turtlenecks and wide-collared golf shirts. Senior year of high school, for reasons unknown, the boys were decked out in light blue tuxedo jackets. (I must have liked the look, owing to my allegiance to the Tar Heels or that I was able to rent that color on the cheap at Storey’s in the Town and Country Shopping Center. I wore one to the prom the forthcoming spring. Paired with black pants, it made me resemble a giant indigo bunting who had spent too much time at the feeder.)

Regardless of grade or costume, we would make our way to the photographer’s makeshift studio on the appointed day. The flash attachment for Dad’s Brownie camera or flashcubes for my Instamatic were no match for the pro’s equipment: Strobes bounced into white umbrellas, evenly illuminating subject and background. Take a seat on a stool, smile (or not), click. It was over quick. I couldn’t tell you the identity of anybody who was behind the camera in those years but was fascinated to hear, years later, from a friend who grew up in New Castle, Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh, that the major leaguer Chuck Tanner had an off-season gig as school photographer in his hometown. That was a long time ago.

When the photo proofs were made available weeks later, especially as we moved into junior high and beyond, it was obvious that a comb or Clearasil would have been a good idea on picture day. Until about eighth grade, I sported a crew cut. The year I began to go to the barber shop less frequently, my school picture documents why some classmates called me “Wolf Head” for a while. Fortunately, the transitioning hair and the nickname were short-lived.

I don’t recall us ever not ordering a set of prints, regardless of how I looked. A popular “package” comprised an 8×10, two 5x7s and a sheet of wallet-sized images. Using scissors to separate the small ones was a challenge, but most of them ended up in a drawer, never having to worry about being faded by sunlight.

For a long time, a nearly complete collection of my school pictures, along with those of my sisters, was stored in my childhood home, a file of growing up and growing older. Recently I came upon a strip of wallet-sized images in a box of my stuff. In them I don’t look like a carnivorous wild animal, so I’m guessing ninth or 10th grade. I used to tease my father about an unfortunate brown leisure suit of his, but this school picture proves I once wore brown, too.

Years after Dad was gone, I finally looked through his last wallet. There was the usual stuff: driver’s license, credit card, doctors’ appointment reminders, golf handicap card, receipts for gasoline, a few dollars in folding money. And in one of the plastic slots behind the snap enclosure there was 17-year-old me, imagining the skies ahead, skies the color of my coat.  PS

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



A Little Misdirection

A lake by any other name isn’t always as clear

By Bill Fields

Photograph © The Tichnor Brothers Collection, Boston Public Library

Our next-door neighbor, Dom Scali, was a good man: World War II veteran (European theater), father of a boy and a girl who were my pals. A native New Yorker and a butcher, for years after moving to Southern Pines — where he ran the Mid Pines Golf Club locker room from fall through spring — Dom went north with his family in the summer and worked in his old trade on Fire Island.

Dom drove an Oldsmobile Delta 88, dark green with a white top, a first-class car that made the parade of bargain, well-used models in our driveway feel like junkers. One late summer day around 1970, though, I discovered Dom’s sense of direction wasn’t as good as his sense of style.

We didn’t have school because of a teacher workday, and the Scali family kindly invited me to join them on a day trip to White Lake in Bladen County. This was a big deal because White Lake was to freshwater bodies of water what a Delta 88 was to sedans.

White Lake is one of many Carolina bays, oval depressions in the Coastal Plain. There were many theories about how the bays were formed, from the impact of meteorites to the spawning of giant fish. Experts eventually agreed that when the ocean receded, waves created pools of standing water shaped in elliptical forms by wind from a constant direction (northwest to southeast).

Many of the Carolina bays were the color of strong tea, but the water in the 1,200-acre White Lake was so clear it was as if it had come from a bathroom faucet. You could walk in up to your shoulders and still see your feet on the smooth, white sand bottom — you didn’t have to worry about stepping on something icky. I never saw anything that compared to the pristine water of White Lake until a few years later on a trip to the Florida panhandle and a visit to Wakulla Springs, which was so crystal clear the manatees could spot one another from a football field away.

I never rode a glass-bottom boat at White Lake, but there was a pier, concession stands and carnival rides. Away from shore, expert waterskiers performed tricks. It was about half as far from home as the Atlantic Ocean, but nearly as much fun as our annual vacation to the beach. In flip-flops, bathing suit, T-shirt and carrying a beach towel, I eagerly piled into the back seat with Donnie and Karen for the 75-mile drive southeast to White Lake. Dom was behind the wheel with wife Rose riding shotgun.

We were counting license plates and otherwise entertaining ourselves. After a while, the chatter in the front seat led to a stop at a gas station. We spent dimes on Cokes from the drink machine. I saw Mr. Scali speaking to the attendant. “It won’t be long now,” he said when getting back behind the wheel.

In fact, it wasn’t too long until we found ourselves on a commercial strip and saw signs for . . . Spring Lake. We had spent most of the morning heading toward the pawn shops and military surplus stores of the town near Fort Bragg. Mr. Scali had maneuvered us to the wrong “lake.”

I sat quietly. Dom’s wife and children were capably critiquing what had happened.

“We’ll get there,” Mr. Scali said after everyone had calmed down.

And we did, a long time after we should have. As we rolled into the parking lot in late afternoon, we saw families packing up their stuff to head home.

We had a swim; the White Lake water as clean and the bottom as smooth as I remembered from my previous trip. We weren’t there long enough to worry about getting sunburned. Before we knew it, we were knocking the sand off our flip-flops and getting into the Olds for the ride home — a journey that fortunately didn’t include any wrong turns or detours to Spring Lake.

Our stories of the day lasted longer than that roundabout ride to White Lake and were always told with a smile.  PS

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



The Best Laid Plans

The resort that almost was

By Bill Fields

On childhood visits to sleepy Jackson Springs, where my parents grew up and my maternal grandmother still lived — across the street from the Presbyterian church — the stories told of the community’s bustling days were hard to believe.

As I tried to catch minnows in Jackson Creek or filled jars of mineral water from a spigot for Ma-Ma’s kitchen, few cars drove by on Highway 73. Inside the gas station once owned by my grandfather, B.L. Henderson, there was never a line to get to the penny candy or hoop cheese.

It was hard to imagine tourists in the 1890s and early 20th century having flocked to Jackson Springs, most traveling by train on the 4-mile spur line from West End, to take the water and take a load off, lodging at the 100-room hotel on a bluff above the springs. The guests went swimming and boating in a nearby lake. They played tennis, bowled and went quail hunting. Where I spent those solitary Sunday afternoons dangling a tiny hook baited with a morsel of bread, there had been a pavilion with music and dancing.

Why didn’t Jackson Springs endure as a resort, the way Pinehurst did?

There wasn’t any golf, for one thing, although in perhaps Jackson Springs’s most intriguing chapter, in the mid-1920s, there was talk of a course — designed by Donald Ross — among other big plans that never came to fruition.

News broke in 1925 that a “Northern syndicate” was purchasing the Jackson Springs Hotel from a local owner with intentions to invest $1 million in upgrades and expansion. The New Yorkers talked about building a new, larger hotel, converting the existing structure into a sanitarium and maternity hospital, and aggressively marketing the mineral water, lauded for its curative power.

The organization incorporated in early 1926. Its president was Dr. Joseph Darwin Nagel, a physician. Born in Hungary in 1867, Nagel immigrated to the United States in the 1880s and attended the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. An author of medical textbooks, Nagel was affiliated with the Hotel Pennsylvania, then the world’s largest hotel, as medical director.

“A man of sterling worth and whose name carries confidence and assurance wherever it is known,” The Sandhill Citizen noted of Dr. Nagel.

The corporation’s general manager, Henry Stockbridge, told The Pilot in February 1926: “As soon as Donald Ross can get to it, we intend to have him establish an eighteen-hole golf course. We will enlarge the dam and raise the height of it to supply ample water power as well as to the advantages of the lake. We have other plans in view which will be unfolded when the time is ripe and which will make Jackson Springs a more prominent influence in Moore County than it is at present.”

Stockbridge’s boast turned out to be a fiction. In the late summer of 1928, Nagel wrote to Pinehurst owner Leonard Tufts, explaining that he hadn’t been able to devote the necessary time to make development in Jackson Springs a reality. “The thought occurred to me,” Nagel wrote, “that possibly you or some of your friends, might be interested in the property . . . ”

Richard Tufts, responding for his father, told Nagel that the family had operated the Jackson Springs Hotel “for several seasons” and knew full well what it would take “to put the place on a paying basis.”

The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 was a hammer to the Jackson Springs Hotel’s by-now tenuous existence. The resort chapter came to an end in April 1932, when a fire destroyed the hotel weeks before a new owner, Frank Welch of Southern Pines, planned to open it for the late spring and summer seasons. By the following summer, instead of tourists, Jackson Springs was filled with young men working at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, one of dozens of CCC installations in North Carolina.

In 1961, by which time the heyday of my parents’ hometown was a distant memory, Dr. Nagel died at age 93 in Winter Haven, Florida, where he had long wintered and later retired. His brief and ultimately aborted involvement with Jackson Springs didn’t make his obituary.  PS

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