“I See Great Things in Baseball”

The boys of spring, summer and fall

The first time I saw Jim “Catfish” Hunter up close was during spring training in the late ’70s. The New York Yankees, who trained in Fort Lauderdale, were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates, who called Bradenton their winter home. We drove south all night and managed to get to Florida in time to see a game — we didn’t care which one, we were on vacation. I believe, though I can’t swear to it, that this was the year my wife, the War Department, who was educated at a fine Midwestern university famous for its engineers and astronauts, looked around the stands at the great number of people wearing black baseball caps with a gold ‘P’ on them and said, “This must be some kind of Purdue alumni society.” Of course, she hadn’t slept in 24 hours.

Anyway, we saw Hunter outside the ballpark. Like us, he was just arriving. Fueled by caffeine, we were wearing T-shirts and sunscreen. He was wearing a powder blue leisure suit and the easygoing demeanor of a man who would be spending the day lounging in the bullpen. Catfish was looking stylish — I said it was the ’70s, right? — but he had nothing on Willie Stargell, who was often seen driving around Bradenton in his Rolls-Royce.

For those who don’t remember Hunter, he won 224 games in his Hall of Fame pitching career for the A’s and the Yankees. He was an eight-time All Star and pitched for five World Series champions. Though it was Curt Flood who led the charge to overturn baseball’s reserve clause (it finally happened in 1975), Hunter became the game’s first million-dollar free agent when Charles O. Finley, owner of the A’s, failed to live up to the terms of Hunter’s contract. It was Finley who, after drafting the promising prospect from the bucolic eastern outposts of North Carolina, decided the young man with a bum foot needed a nickname. How he lit on Catfish, I have no idea. Hunter, weakened by diabetes and plagued by arm trouble, retired at the end of the ’79 season at the age of 33. He remains the last pitcher in Major League baseball to throw 30 complete games in a season. Twenty years after hanging ’em up, he died at age 53 of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The next, and last, time I saw Hunter up close was when I was sent to his home in Hertford, North Carolina — where everyone knew him only as Jimmy — to take his photograph along with his son, Todd, and his brother, Peter. Todd was 14 years old and hitting .444 for the Pirates of Perquimans County High School. Peter was the team’s coach. He was also, incidentally, the brother involved in the hunting accident that cost Jim a toe and embedded buckshot in his right foot.

Jimmy was 39, plus or minus, the day I showed up to take his picture. His most recent appearance on the mound had been in a Perquimans alumni game, where he hung a curve ball that Todd pulled down the left field line for a double. The next batter homered. Catfish did have a knack for giving up the long ball.

While Peter and I waited for Jimmy to join us for the photo shoot — it was a working farm and he was on a tractor plowing the fields behind his house — Peter was throwing a little batting practice for Catfish’s youngest son, Paul, who was maybe 6 at the time. Make no mistake, athletic genes are real. Peter would throw the ball (a regulation baseball) underhand to Paul, who kept hitting frozen ropes right back through the box. Bam. Bam. Bam. When Jimmy finally arrived, he watched his son’s hitting exhibition for a few moments in silence, then looked at his brother and said, “Throw it overhand.” With that, he went inside to clean up.

After taking a couple of photos, one with Catfish and the two Pirates posed in front of a sign painted on the side of a barn that said “The Pride of Perquimans,” Jimmy invited the War Department (my assistant) and me into his house. The balusters supporting the railing going upstairs were made completely of baseball bats. More impressive was the silver replica of the World Series trophy on the table next to the stairs.

“Reggie Jackson had this made for me,” Jimmy said. It was by way of saying thanks. Mr. October telling a teammate that, if it wasn’t for him, they never would have gotten that far.

It may only be April, but fall is always in the air.  PS

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



Color Me Blue

But save me from mellow marzipan

By Ruth Moose

I just saw a purple car. Truly. Welch’s Grape Juice purple. A muscadine grape purple. And that made me think of the old poem about a purple cow. How I’d rather see one than be one. Well, I’d rather see a purple car than own one.

Or the French’s mustard-colored yellow car. Or the kiwi green baby SUV. Where do these colors come from? The chocolate (not brown) but Hershey’s chocolate-colored car. I once asked my friend, who had just bought a cute little sort of bronze-ish, mandarin-colored car what the dealer called it.

“Oh,” she said with a laugh, “it’s called green tangerine.”

Imagine at some black tie and evening gown function, handing your keys to a parking attendant and telling him, “It’s the green tangerine one.”

When my family and I lived in Charlotte, our next door neighbors were the Beans. Both their cars were, of course, green. The green bean cars. I don’t know if they bought green cars on purpose or just liked the color green. Does it matter?

My own first car was an Opel. A perky, polished, gleaming emerald green. I loved that car. It had spirit, and I mourned when we traded it in for a Ford Country Squire station wagon. A station wagon that hauled a camping trailer to parks and campgrounds from Maine to Georgia. (We never made it to Florida before our sons turned teenagers and outgrew the overhead bunk, making the whole outfit too tight a fit for four adult-sized humans.)

An automotive generation or so ago, when my car turned over 200,000 miles and I went to the dealer’s lot to look for a new one, I didn’t even have to wander among the parked beauties set out for my admiration, screaming “Buy me! Buy me!” I had already spotted mine when I drove in. Right there on the front row. My car: a Carolina blue sedan. It was meant for me. It called my name, and as long as I owned it, never gave me a moment’s concern, not one worry.

I didn’t even have to test drive it. Just pointed the car out to the salesman. He got the keys and opened the door suggesting that I, at the very least, should sit in the driver’s seat. Try it out. I didn’t have to. The color had already sold me. Of course she was named Caroline. In my family, whether we admit it or not, we do name our cars. My Aunt Pearl called her last Pontiac Esmeralda. A friend just introduced me to her sleek, new gray Subaru, “Joan Didion.” Another friend called her car Betsy Cupcake because once, after we had a couple of inches of really pretty fluffy snow, she looked out in her driveway where the little car stood with snow on its roof like icing. She said it looked like a big, fat cupcake.

My grandfather, one of those baptizing-in-the-river Baptist preachers, had traveled to his churches and revivals in Davidson, Montgomery and Stanly Counties on horseback and later in a buggy. When he got his first car, a model something or other Ford, he was a terrible driver. Fortunately, there were few cars on the road and fewer still on the backroads he traveled. The story goes that one time he came home tired and probably distracted, drove straight into the garage (which was known as the car shed), then proceeded to drive straight out the back wall of the garage, all the while yelling “Whoa, Nellie! Whoa!”

Nellie did not stop. Nellie had been the name for all the horses he owned — horses with enough sense to know when they were home.

Maybe we name our cars for the horses held captive under the hood. As for the colors, Lord only knows what’s coming next. We could always ask Nellie.  PS

Ruth Moose taught creative writing at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for 15 years and tacked on 10 more at Central Carolina Community College.



Queen of Bath

It’s a bit of a stretch, sure. But this dream tub sorta works

By Ashley Walshe

If you’re a bath person like me — that is to say, someone who soaks ritualistically — then perhaps you’ve spent time imagining what life could be like if your tub was just a little wider; a little deeper; a little more picturesque.

An elegant garden tub aglow with flickering candles. A cast iron clawfoot laced with salt and rose petals. An hourglass drop-in complete with whirlpool jets.

Such visions used to rule my mind.

Now, having spent the last two years living in a 32-foot travel trailer with my husband and my canine shadow, my dream tub has but one requirement: I can bathe in it.

Which brings me to my current situation.

A standard bathtub holds about 70 gallons of water. Suffice it to say that our RV tub does not. Think farmhouse sink with bobsleigh undertones. Bigger than a breadbox, smaller than a storage tote.

I’ll be honest. It took a while to see potential here. The tub’s fun-size dimensions combined with our 6-gallon hot water heater don’t exactly add up to a space for quiet contemplation and long, soulful soaks. Quick showers are fine. But when baths are your primary indulgence, you consider all your options.

My first bath attempt was, frankly, valiant. I’m no bobsled pilot, but given my daily yoga practice, I was deftly able to navigate the tub’s shallow waters. A knees-to-chest pose, for instance, followed by seated pigeon, a gentle variation of boat pose and — after a bit of ocean breathing — a legs-up-the-wall inversion. 

Despite this series of postures, most of my body was not, in fact, wet. Still, half baths are better than no bath in my book. I lit a candle and resumed my lazy pigeon.

All of this was fine. Really. But when the ankle-deep water began cooling with unholy swiftness, my efforts seemed altogether fruitless.

“I wish we had more hot water,” I mumbled as the basin drained.

“We can try using the electric kettle next time,” my husband offered from the living space. “I’ll even be your bath butler.”

I felt my lips explore the foreign words.   

“Bath butler.” I liked the sound of it.

My bath butler has changed my life. Weekly, per my request or his proposal, I luxuriate in what I’ve taken to calling my Queen’s Bath — a modified version of a full bath, sure, but a yogi can dream.

Pre-kettle, I add a swirl of Epsom salt into the finger-pour of steaming water, get the candle going, flip off the lights and climb in.

If I fits, they say, I sits. 

By now, my bath butler has mastered water control. He knows that, after adding a kettle to my bath, it’s time to heat up the next one. Sensitive and compassionate, he keeps things strictly professional, a trait any honorable bath butler should possess.

“How’s the temperature?” he might ask. Or, “May I bring you a beverage?” Most often, he simply pours and gives a courtly head bow. Role playing at its finest.

Four kettles in, the water nearly hugs my waist. By kettle five, I’m beginning to feel like a Greek goddess. Kettle six? I could not ask for more.

You don’t opt for camper life without sacrificing some modern comforts. Still, we have everything we need: clean, running water; electricity; full bellies and warm hearts.

My butler is the bath bomb on top. 

If it’s true that gratitude is the quickest path to happiness, I think I’m already there. As for my husband?

“I’m happy to bring you water,” he assures me. Although he insists on maintaining his professional butler pose, I pry.

“What’s in it for you?” I ask.

He pours the kettle, shrugs, then clears his throat. “I guess I like the view.”  PS

Ashley Walshe is a former editor of O.Henry and a longtime contributor to PineStraw. She presently lives and bathes near the glittering waters of Lake James.



AI, AI, Oh

Be afraid, be very afraid

By Jim Moriarty

Among the litany of things we have every right to fear in 2024, one that seems to be near the top of everyone’s list is AI. Being a person who believes that existential threats ought to be taken seriously, I’ve searched in vain for someone who can explain to me — admittedly a person of limited scope and ability — why a machine that is already way smarter than I am is going to be a clear and present danger to the human race because it’s going to be way, way, way smarter than I am. And this just when I thought artificial intelligence had arrived in the nick of time.

My pint mate, Tom, and I are gentlemen of a certain age, and when we drone on and on about this and that like Statler and Waldorf in a quiet corner of our pub, The Bitter and Twisted, names, dates, the exact sequence of events and whether or not these things actually happened at all, can be somewhat elusive. We typically award points for being able to retrieve names — first and last elevates you to the bonus situation — but more often than not our response to one another is simply, “How soon do you need to know?”

Just as our minds are failing and our short-term memories have pulled a hamstring, along comes AI to pick up the slack. We’re both longtime marrieds, so the experience of existing in an environment controlled by something infinitely smarter than we are is not something with which we are entirely unfamiliar. I will confess that during a recent unpleasant bout of sobriety, I discovered, much to my surprise, that my wife, the War Department, seems to repeat herself with disturbing frequency. Under ordinary circumstances, I never would have come to this conclusion, since my having heard this thing — whatever it might be — in the first place would have been a matter of dispute. But I digress.

Tom and I both have backgrounds in golf, where AI has existed for something in the neighborhood of 600 of years. I speak, of course, of a player and his caddie. If ever there was a template for artificial intelligence, this would be it. Factoring in all variables — distance, wind, lie — and possible outcomes, if I was to ask my caddie if I could get home with a good 4-iron, the computing power accumulated across the centuries would spit out the answer “eventually.” I’ve been given to understand that if your personal chatbot doesn’t know an answer it may exhibit “a tendency to invent facts in moments of uncertainty.” Peas in pod, if you ask me.

In order to dangle my toes in the AI universe, after downloading the program onto my laptop, I asked my newfound chatbot (who I have named Jeeves) to write me a joke about AI. This was the response:

“Why did the AI break up with its computer?”

“Because it found someone byte-ter.”

I confess, I was impressed. AI has been data mining Henny Youngman. (For the cost of a pint of Smithwick’s Tom will be happy to explain who he was.) And so I pressed on. I say, Jeeves, write me a limerick. I don’t mind telling you, the results were disappointing. Bland doggerel. Perhaps I hadn’t phrased my request with sufficient specificity. And so I asked my chatbuddy to write me a humorous yet salacious limerick. The response I got was:

“I’m sorry I can’t assist you with that request.”

AI apparently has higher standards than I have, which I suppose is the whole point, though I find it peculiar Jeeves has never heard of Nantucket.  PS



The Third Wheel

Keeping up with the big kids

By Emilee Phillips

“Don’t cry! Don’t cry! Shhhhhhhh,” my siblings would plead while glancing over their shoulders for a looming parent. This was the phrase commonly panic-whispered in our household after one of their “brilliant” ideas. 

“Hey, kid,” my older sister would say, “have you ever tried riding a laundry basket down the stairs?” The house we grew up in had sturdy wooden walls, impervious to laundry baskets. This was good for the walls. Not so good for me.

Siblings are handy for all sorts of things, like teaching you words you didn’t know and weren’t supposed to use, or how to ride a bike — a learning experience that could combine both injury and vocabulary.

I have two siblings, a brother and a sister. They are 10 and 11 years older than me, respectively, which made playtime a bit challenging. I was the laboratory rat used to test their theories, such as: How long was it possible to play hide-and-seek before realizing they weren’t seeking me at all? Or how long could they tickle me before I screamed? I don’t know what this training was for, but at least I developed strong lungs.

Like all who share blood, we messed with each other often. The games frequently involved seeing which two siblings wanted to team up against the other one on any given day, for no particular reason. Who got the last Life Saver would spur an entire wrestling match in the living room. Perks of being so much younger and smaller than them included being able to wriggle into small spaces where they couldn’t reach me. Cons were that all they had to do was sit on me and I was conquered. On the weekends, my cardio was running through the house between my sister’s group of friends and my brother’s group of friends, acting as carrier pigeon for the top-secret messages.

After they went to college, I had to entertain myself. I played dress-up with all the things they left behind until summer break. Making Halloween costumes out of my sister’s dance recital outfits was better than any Spirit Halloween store. My brother’s room was where I went for props.

Christmastime was magical because it meant we were all together. They would make me hot chocolate, snuggle up with me and tell me tales of Santa. “Listen closely and maybe we’ll hear sleighbells,” my sister would say on Christmas Eve. What I didn’t know was that, more than once, my brother climbed up on the roof, bells in hand, just to keep that magic alive. I was in denial about Santa quite a bit longer than my peers because of it.

You must be thinking, “Ah, that’s so sweet!” And it was, but it balances out with the year my sister made me wrap my own Christmas present. She even told me I had to act surprised in front of Mom. I suppose we can chalk that one up to acting lessons.

It could be lonely at times, growing up with siblings who were so much older, but it also gave me a built-in advice panel, tutors (for real subjects), great taste in movies and a sense of adventure from trying to keep up with them. That last bit only added to my mother’s gray hairs.

I’ll admit, it’s hard feeling so far behind them in so many ways. Sometimes it’s like I’m in a race where I can never catch up. Forever the annoying little sister, I’m always looking for ways to be “part of the club.”

We don’t see each other very often anymore, though we have a group text for important things like proving each other wrong, arranging the next gathering, or determining who has the honor of getting Mom socks for Christmas — a happy family tradition.

To my mother’s dismay, my sister and I still occasionally throw ourselves down the stairs aboard various objects. We most recently upgraded to mattress surfing. The walls of her current house don’t hold up quite as well as those of our childhood home. Or perhaps the payload is a bit bigger.

The good news is, these days if tears are shed, it’s because we’re crying with laughter, though we probably still don’t want our parents to know.  PS

Emilee Phillips is PineStraw’s director of social media and digital content.



Window Dressing

A remarkable find

By Scott Sheffield

Normally I’m not one to believe in miracles, or the supernatural, or even coincidences, but on that day, in that moment, I could have believed in all three.

It was Thanksgiving and my Maine family had come to visit, as they had several times before. This time there was a difference, a big difference in a small package. In addition to my daughter, her husband and his mother (the usual trio), there was a baby girl — my granddaughter, Alaina, barely more than a year old.

As was our custom on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we went to Southern Pines for a stroll up and down Broad Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, admiring the Christmas decorations and popping into stores as we lollygagged. This time our route included The Little Toy Shop. It just so happened I had learned of a visit to this particular store by a certain gentleman from the far North. He was a quirky fellow by reputation, one given to sporting a hoary beard, wearing a bright red suit and exercising a penchant for giving gifts to children.

While my son-in-law waited dutifully in line for my granddaughter’s turn with Santa, the rest of us were fully engaged preventing Alaina, despite her being in a stroller, from “inspecting” (tossing on the floor) the vast array of toys and games on the lower shelves within what seemed like her 10-foot reach. Eventually, Alaina’s turn came with the jolly old elf, though she seemed less interested in him than the candy canes sitting in a jar just beyond her grasp. Requisite photos were taken.

With Alaina off Santa’s lap and fastened into her carriage, we headed back up Broad Street, slowed at times as Alaina tried to pet every dog we passed. Soon after crossing Pennsylvania, I saw the sign for Living on the Bliss, a store owned by the friend of a friend. As we looked in the window and I explained the personal connection, suddenly, I stopped. Inside on a shelf, snuggled into an array of specialty items, one in particular caught my attention — a gray pillow with large pink lettering stitched across the top. I confess, pillows in general are not something that would normally catch my eye. This one was different. The first name on the pillow was the same as my granddaughter’s. I was about to say something when I noticed that in smaller print below “Alaina” were names identical to my granddaughter’s middle name and surname. Sure, sometimes stores put personalized items on display so customers can see what a finished product might look like, but those three names? Not likely.

Then I saw a date and time printed under the name that were also familiar. It was the exact moment of Alaina’s birth, month, day and year. How could this be? While I was standing there dumbfounded, Grandma said she didn’t care how it got there, she was going to buy it. We went inside and she snatched the pillow out of the display and marched over to the check-out counter. Cassie, the daughter of the owner, Cindy Miller, was ready to ring up our purchase. I asked her how in the world my granddaughter’s name and birth information came to be on the pillow. (Her birth weight, length and the town where she was born were also there.) Unbeknown to me, my close friend Deborah — an honorary aunt to Alaina — had decided to make a gift of the pillow to my daughter’s family at Thanksgiving, but Deborah’s schedule prevented her both from being with us on that day and picking up her surprise. On a whim, the Millers decided to put the pillow on display in the window.

It was truly a special delivery.  PS

Scott Sheffield is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. He may be reached at



The Ancient Ways

The primitive art of pumpkin carving

By Jim Moriarty

There are things in the modern world into which far too much thought has been invested. One is pumpkin carving. Search the web long enough and you can find out how to etch T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” into your front doorstep decoration, backlit with electric lights and read by Jeremy Irons.

The array of hand tools necessary for modern pumpkin carving is slightly less complicated than a tray full of surgical instruments used in a heart transplant. Keyhole saw. Fleshing tool. Awl. Drill and interchangeable bits. Melon baller. Petroleum jelly — and I’m not at all sure I even want to know what that’s for.

Apparently in the 21st century, it’s not uncommon to make the initial incision from the back of the pumpkin, or the side, or however you want to describe the part of the pumpkin that is neither top nor bottom. Once you’ve cracked its chest and the outer pumpkin seal has been broken, the modern gourd is subjected to a form of liposuction. After all the icky stuff is removed with scooping devices — melon ballers, it seems, can be obtained in a great variety of sizes and grip options — the inner wall is then thinned to a thickness of no less than 1/2 inch but no greater than 3/4 inch by scraping away the orange flesh with some sort of diabolical loop instrument that looks as though it would have been used in medieval times to remove the tongue of the village heretic.

After you’ve hollowed out and squeegeed the interior to a lustrous sheen, you then apply the stencil to the outer surface using either industrial grade duct tape or T-pins borrowed from your child’s voodoo doll. This is where all right-thinking persons should draw the line. Did Picasso use a template to paint Guernica? Did Michelangelo stencil Adam onto the Sistine Chapel ceiling? Yet, they press on.

Once the stencil is in place, using some kind of  needle, puncture the outer skin every 1/8 to 1/4 inch along the outline of the design. Remove stencil, plug in and engage the three-speed electric drill or, if you’re etching, scrape the skin away with linoleum cutters. Work outside to in. This, as it turns out, is where the petroleum jelly comes to the rescue, applied to the bare flesh (the pumpkin’s, that is) the way you apply a poultice to a boil. Soon you’ll have a design more magnificent than, and equally as complex as, the four laws of thermodynamics.

There is, however, another way. You can go old school.

First, get you a pumpkin. Next, get you a knife.

I’m not talking just any knife. Go to the kitchen drawer and pull out the biggest, most dangerous carving knife you can find. Full-on Chucky.

Using a blue Bic, draw two equilateral triangles for the eyes — point up, naturally — and a mouth with two upper teeth and one lower. Then, insert your carving knife into the top of the pumpkin at a slight angle to the perpendicular, cutting all the way around the peduncle. (The stem, I’m told.) Lift the lid, trim the bottom.

Using your bare hands, scrape out the innards until your fingernails turn orange. Go in right up to your elbow if you must, scooping out handfuls of slimy, fibrous pumpkin entrails. Young children pressed into service may get the dry heaves. Pay them no mind. Put the slop into a big pile and begin separating the seeds from the goop. Place the seeds on a greased cookie sheet, sprinkling garlic salt liberally on top. Place the tray in the oven on broil. Cook until they’re turned to ash.

As the odor of burning garlic wafts through the kitchen, plunge the knife into the pumpkin, more or less following the Bic drawing for the eyes and mouth. Freelancing is allowed though not encouraged. When finished, use the butt end of your carving knife — being careful not to put your eye out — and tap the cutouts until they fall into the hollow pumpkin. Remove. Once empty, use the sharp point of the knife, employing the twisting motion of an assassin, to dig a spot in the bottom of the pumpkin’s interior. Take a candle from the dining room table, light it and drip the wax into the wound you’ve carved in the base. Place the bottom of the candle in the pumpkin before the wax hardens. The candle won’t stay upright long but, if you’re lucky, it’ll get you through one night. After that you’re just eating leftover candy anyway.  PS



Fall Follies

By Jim Moriarty

Are you ready for some football? The question is rhetorical, of course. Until February it will be our reality.

I spent roughly two decades working for the Sports Information Department of Clemson University photographing the home football games. It was a lovely change of pace for me every fall, going from the relatively docile game of golf to the kinetic violence of football.

One year I was given permission to bring my son down on the field with me. He was 11 or so at the time, and I promised I’d keep him behind the bench when the game started. It’s easy to get hurt down there if you don’t have your head on a swivel, and few 11-year-olds do.

When the Clemson team came out for warmups, it came in waves. First the kickers; then the speed guys and quarterbacks; then the linebackers. The last guys to leave the locker room were the big uglies, as Hall of Fame broadcaster Keith Jackson liked to call them. At the time Chester McGlockton, who went to four Pro Bowls during his NFL career and would pass away from an enlarged heart at the age of 42, was playing for the Tigers. I told my son to watch for No. 91, the biggest human being I’d ever seen, bigger even than William Perry — though Chester might only nip the Refrigerator by an inch and an ounce. My son and I stood together as the water buffalos plodded down the sideline into Death Valley. McGlockton’s playing weight was somewhere north of a Toyota Land Cruiser, and his thighs looked as big around as 55-gallon drums. My son’s eyes got as large as Moon Pies.

Clemson wasn’t my first experience with big-time football. In the early ’70s, recently graduated from a little hippie college in Ohio, I somehow acquired a job writing sports for the South Bend Tribune. To say that football at my alma mater was not a matter of great significance would be like saying Halloween is something of a lesser holiday in Outer Mongolia.

My sports editor saw fit to have my name added to the list of journalists allowed to watch Notre Dame football practices. Notre Dame had won the national championship the previous year, beating the University of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl 24-23, and I thought I should stick my head in and have a look at what everyone was raving about.

It would be Ara Parseghian’s last year as Notre Dame’s football coach. My boss, Joe Doyle, who I came to love like a father, had a particularly close relationship with Ara. They would have breakfast one-on-one every Monday morning in the fall. Joe liked to tease Ara that he shouldn’t count the four times he beat Notre Dame while he was the coach at Northwestern University among his career victories, to which Ara would respond, “Without those, I’m not here.”

Just as Clemson had a particular way they came out on the field, so did the Irish. Parseghian had a tall tower mounted on the back of an old jalopy pickup truck, and the team began each day by pushing Ara’s tower out to whatever far field they were practicing on.

The first day I cleared customs and was allowed inside the fenced and curtained practice area, the team was on the far field. To get there I had to cross the artificial turf field, obviously used for weeks when they’d be playing on that surface. Fresh from my hippie college, I’d never seen nor touched artificial turf. Any previous knowledge I might have had about it would have echoed Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee’s who, when asked whether he preferred grass or artificial turf, replied, “I don’t know. I never smoked artificial turf.”

Anyway, the feel of it under my feet was a new, and not entirely unpleasant, sensation. When I was about halfway across the plastic grass, the heavens screamed down on me. “Moriarty!!!! What the (profound expletive) are you doing????” It was Ara. And he was not amused. And his voice didn’t need artificial amplification. My first time on carpet and I was called on it. Blood drained from my face. I was trapped. Do I go forward? Do I go back? I elected to press on, getting off the artificial surface as if my feet were on fire.

Unbeknown to me, Notre Dame had a sixth or seventh or eighth string quarterback named Moriarty. It was this distant family member who had somehow invoked the ire of one of Notre Dame’s greatest coaches. I was off the hook that day, but that voice still scares the hell out of me.  PS

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



Letter to Charlotte

By LuEllen Huntley

She’s cute the last time we shop for groceries, wearing pressed jeans with a sparkle button jean jacket, exactly hemmed. Hair washed, set and combed the way she likes it. After putting almost everything on her “list” into our cart, she needs a restroom break. When she comes out, she’s forgotten it all. I show her our cart, nearly full. She wants to start over with all the things on the list. This is how it goes, sooner or later. Our grocery shopping together ends this day. I take over writing down the grocery items on her notepad at home, but a time comes when even the list doesn’t matter anymore.

Three years before our last shopping trip, during a daily visit, she says, “I’ve written a birthday letter for Charlotte’s second birthday.” Charlotte is her first great-grandchild. She has four grown children, four adult grandchildren, and by the time she writes her letter to Charlotte, three great-grandchildren. She has seen pictures of her two great-grandsons, but Charlotte is the only one she’s held in her arms. She occupies her mind that day. “I want you to keep this and give it to Charlotte’s parents when she’s 11,” she says.

Her mind has not yet betrayed her, but it will. Sooner than we dare to think. She looks me in the eye when giving directives, as she always does. Her commanding codes, spoken and unspoken, reflect her resolve, an attribute refined from teaching elementary school. Her handwriting on the envelope — meticulous as ever — betrays what I know. She’s written this over and over again for perfection.

I’m charmed by my mother’s unquestioning trust in me as her courier. Although it’s been a gradual shift, our roles as mother and daughter have reversed. And here she is, having completed an assignment she has given herself, sharing wisdom with her great-granddaughter, and honoring me to be the messenger. It’s a sacred trust. My father, her high school sweetheart, passed away seven months before and she’s carrying on. In private, I know she suffers. We all do.

In August 2022, eight years after my mother writes her letter and more than two years after she, herself, has passed away, I send it to Charlotte’s parents. It’s her 10th birthday. It’s written on two notebook pages, front and back. Her voice is in every line. She tells Charlotte she knows what it’s like to be young and to want to be admired but to understand that she already is. Walk proudly, she says, and that when hard times come faith will see her through, just as it did her.

On August 21, 2023, Charlotte will be 11. When she reads the letter from her great-grandmother, her brown eyes will grow wide. Written in the past, it’s delivered in the present to the future, from an old soul to a young one. Ink on paper. A list for life.  PS

LuEllen Huntley, associate professor emerita in the UNCW Department of English, lives in Pinehurst. She is originally from Wadesboro, in Anson County.



Just Roll With It

By Emilee Phillips

I may have grown up in a small town, but stories of faraway places were as close as a Fourth of July picnic with my well-traveled family members and their extensive passport stamp collections. What a lovely thing it would be to be worldly, I often thought. Someone who knows a thing or two about a thing or two. Imagine the conversations I could have, sitting on the beach with friends and a cooler of White Claws. “Cannes? Oh, dear, it’s simply too crowded this time of year.”

As luck would have it, I have friends who live in Germany. A situation ripe for exploring. This would be my gateway to European sophistication. My plan was simple — an eight-day nonstop odyssey. Joined by my friend Olivia, we would cross more borders than the Mongol hordes. The EU was there for the taking. 

I hit foreign soil running. First side trip: France. Oui, these Americans were going to grab some French culture by its breadsticks. Strasbourg was just a high-speed train hop away — if we hadn’t missed the connection. Let’s call it part of the learning curve. Luckily, there were plenty of (much slower) trains to get us there and, in a couple of hours, we were strolling the streets of this storybook city. 

Strasbourg, we discovered, is a lovely, confusing border town. Its traditionally German-looking buildings have some very French-sounding names, and the food seemed an odd blend, as if two households were forced to work in one kitchen with neither willing to give up on their own way of doing things. The language situation was no less confusing, so we opted to bounce between French and German, giving ourselves a 50-50 chance of being right. We listened to street performers, window-shopped and, because one can’t go to France without indulging oneself, did a wine tasting at a shop flush with wines from the Alsace region. We relied on a kindly French woman to translate for us and somehow walked out with six bottles that we had to lug around the rest of the day. Worldliness, it turns out, is a process.

So is planning, which we admittedly didn’t do very well. (See high-speed train, above.) In my head, getting back to home base in Germany would be no issue. We were doing things the European way, laissez-faire. Traveling the rails in Europe is as easy as driving a golf cart in Pinehurst . . . right?

Mais, non. 

High-speed train? Whoosh. Already gone. Next up, a regional train, which is something of a different beast. Despite trying to purchase tickets hours before departure, the one we wanted was fully booked. No restrooms, no cushioned seats, no bar car for us.

We stood at the ticket machine weighing our options long enough to make us look illiterate. “Désolé,” I said to the clearly annoyed man waiting in line behind us, hoping I chose the right language to apologize in. Our next option was the two-and-a-half-hour journey that included multiple stops and changes.

All Dorothy had to do to get out of Oz was click her heels together three times. We, on the other hand, had multiple delays and two trains announcing, in a language I barely understood, that we needed to switch lines. The last change involved sprinting, along with our fellow travelers, down one set of stairs and up another while hauling our six increasingly heavy bottles of wine. The train we jumped on was full but we squeezed in anyway, because who knew when the next one would be or if there would even be a next one. The learning curve was getting steeper.

Crammed in, I could feel the breath of the person behind me down my neck. By then, it was now close to 1 a.m. We were one stop away from our parked car, and the train came to a halt in the middle of a tunnel. This was it. My final straw. I was completely exhausted and would have laid right down on the floor if I had been able to move an inch.

I let out a pitiful sigh and looked to my left. While the rest of us were packed together like a box of crayons, holding onto whatever piece of train could double as a handrail, two women were sitting in the window seats, unbothered. One was dressed in head-to-toe black and the other in all white — including a white, fur-trimmed coat.

The epitome of chic, they were sipping Champagne brut. Out of real glasses. Where they got the drinks I couldn’t tell you. I do know I was getting a good dose of culture that day. I tried my best not to stare during the 30 minutes we were stuck on the tracks but I was in awe, jealous, and frankly, in desperate need of a drink.

When the train finally began moving, the herd of smooshed commuters began to cheer. All I heard, though, was the polite clink of glasses as the two women toasted. No language barrier got in the way this time. They seemed to say “C’est la vie,” an attitude I plan to carry with me more often.  PS

Emilee Phillips is PineStraw’s director of social media and digital content.