The Acorn and the Tree
Sharing the gifts of love and life
By Jenna Biter • Photographs by Lolly Nazario
Mothers do big things. They plan weddings and crisscross the country (sometimes the globe) to visit children and babysit grandchildren. They do small things, too, like pack lunchboxes, sort smelly laundry, and cheer from the sidelines in excited shouts or whispers. Better than anyone else, mothers navigate awkward, in-between-sized things, like bad breakups or even worse grades.
Mom often does it all without audience or recognition. Sixteen-year-olds don’t remember when she changed their diapers or cooed nighttime lullabies. Her love becomes expected. Some moms relearn calculus only to teach it. Others drive to college in the middle of the night like it’s no big deal. Above all else, moms expertly watch.
She watches, drives, coos, changes, navigates, cheers, sorts, packs and plans. At root, a mother does. Her world is a deep sea of verbs that almost always includes sharing. Mothers and children share hugs. Some share daily conversation. And then there are the lucky few — like these five mothers and their children — who share passions.
Louisa and Walter Mebane
Two-and-a-half-year-old Walter takes his tot-sized violin out of its case a second time. Meanwhile, big sister Louisa asks Mom if she can add a heart-shaped sticker to her practice chart. The 6-year-old violinist just cycled through “Mississippi Stop Stop,” the first rhythm to her first song: “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
“Sure,” Hannah Mebane says.
Hannah started playing the violin at Pinehurst Elementary in fourth grade. Fast forward a few decades, and she has taught music and orchestra in Moore County for 11 years. But 2023 will be her last. Hannah has her hands full with kids, a part-time real estate gig, and plans to go from private lessons to a full-time, Suzuki-method studio. There, Hannah will be able to teach even more kids the way she teaches her own.
Tucked off a backroad — where wildflowers grow tall and dew perpetually clings to emerald grass — sits an old cabin that a trio of fairy godmothers should inhabit. But sprites are nowhere to be found, only sloping candlesticks, jugs with full bellies, and a family of four professional potters hard at work to keep the legacy of Jugtown Pottery alive.
Like the clay they shape with their hands, the Owenses seem to have surfaced from the North Carolina ground. Vernon practically has. Coming from a long line of Seagrove potters, he grew up just around the corner. Pam had to move a little farther. With New England pottery-making in her blood, she originally came south to apprentice with Vernon. Then she returned to marry him, and together, they passed the cumulative talent of generations on to their children, Travis and Bayle.
“I stayed, as a baby, in the room where my mother was working,” Travis says in an easy Southern drawl. “That’s my memory of being very small: being in the workshop, especially with her.”
Eleven-year-old Claire Greene practices on her balance beam at home while her mom, Tracey, gives pointers. Up next, 5-year-old Caroline tries a move with instruction from Claire.
“I help train her,” the big sister gushes. “She can already do a bridge, and her cartwheel is getting a lot better.”
Like mother, like daughters.
From ages 4 to 14, Tracey participated in competitive gymnastics. The sport was her lifeline. After her mom, Pat, died from breast cancer, coaches became like second parents. For Claire, gymnastics, as well as dance, provide similar support. They have been her throughline from one military move to the next.
“I started gymnastics when I was 2,” Claire says with a broad smile. “I remember some pictures of us doing stuff together: me mocking Mom, wanting to do what she was doing.”
Then the roles reversed. Watching her daughter compete, Tracey yearned to join in and soon did. She has been tumbling every Wednesday night since an adult class started
at Sandhills Gymnastics this January.
At only 14 years old, Barbara Burley sat at the hospital bedside of a sick child she would babysit. From then on, she knew that she wanted to be a nurse. She pursued a nursing degree and didn’t look back for decades. For 47 1/2 years, Barbara worked nights in the pediatric unit at Moore Regional Hospital. Her last night was New Year’s Eve 2020.
While the night shift wasn’t easy, it allowed Barbara to take her daughters, Beth and Nikki, to and from school, attend their every practice and game, and sometimes even get some sleep.
“She was always at everything. I thought her schedule was great as a kid,” Nikki says. “I didn’t realize how hard it is until I had my children and started working the night shift. You just don’t sleep.”
Nikki graduated from nursing school exactly 25 years after her mom. Thanks to Barbara’s good reputation, she got her first nursing job at Moore, where she worked in the neonatal intensive care unit. Ministering to children must run in the family. Beth also works with kids as a pediatric occupational therapist in the county.
Christina Baker points past the fence. “Here comes Amara.” Back from an hour-long lesson, the teenage brunette rides toward the Baker family’s barn on a matching horse named Zeppelin. Amara dismounts, unlatches her helmet, and shelves her tack before hosing down the retired racehorse. She started riding more than a decade ago, first falling for the flat-out speed of foxhunting, and then the discipline of eventing. Inspired by her daughter, Christina decided to take the reins herself.
“Having a teenager is difficult,” Christina says. “I’m not even close to the center of Amara’s world anymore. But, as long as horses are a big part of her world, sharing that activity lets me have a special little place in it, even if it’s just for a one-hour ride.”