BOONE, N.C. (Jan. 21, 2020) – The camellia that Timberley planted in our Morganton yard looked like it might bloom soon when we bought it a couple of months ago. We’ve been checking the small plant’s buds religiously, but they don’t seem to be doing anythingat all, neither shriveling up nor bursting into a leaf or blossom to adorn one of the world’s most beautiful and fruitful evergreen shrubs.
Indeed, the information card still attached to the plant we bought at Lowe’s Garden Center says that our Camellia sasanqua (C. hiemalis ‘Kanjiro’) is hardy in Zone 7, including Morganton, though not in Zone 6, including Boone. The card also asserts that the plant’s Pepto-pink blossoms appear in fall and winter.
So that’s why we haven’t planted a camellia of any type—and there are a few hundred species—here at the Rutherwood house. That doesn’t count the veritable thousands of hybrids grown by camellia lovers and shown in the late fall, winter and early spring at camellia shows across the country in Zones 7-10. None of them could live through the winter here in Rutherwood, where for the past couple of nights, for example, the temperature dropped to 12 degrees—which old-timers consider to be almost balmy, by the way.
BOONE, N.C. (Jan. 13, 2020) – Oh, to travel back in time. That has been on my mind lately, not really regretting anything so much as wondering what life would be like now if I’d plotted different routes at various crossroads I’ve encountered in the past. Yes, I’m in a Robert Frosty, Road Not Taken-ish kind of mood.
Yesterday I felt what baseball philosopher Yogi Berra called “déjà vu all over again”—time-traveling backwards in my mind, anyway—as Timberley and I walked a section of road at the new Fonta Flora State Trail and County Park near Lake James in Burke County. Throughout the late morning and early afternoon of our outing, I caught glimpses of places that were once so important to the much younger version of me: Shortoff, Table Rock and Hawksbill mountains above the Linville Gorge.
Those are promontories—distinctive landmarks visible for miles and miles—that are easily recognized along the western skyline from Morganton and towns much farther east. One old friend regularly takes snapshots of Table Rock from spots in Caldwell and Catawba counties, and posts them on Facebook for all his friends to enjoy. Despite the ubiquity of that mountain’s image—especially around Morganton—there’s nothing like standing on it or near it. Native Americans called it Attacoa, the altar of the Great Spirit, every day, all day and all night, not just on Sunday mornings.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Jan. 5, 2020) – It’s Twelfth Night, or Epiphany Eve, and I’ve spent the past few hours going through a stack of old newspapers that I found this afternoon packed away in our storage building. Finding one article in particular thrilled me, like winning maybe not the lottery jackpot but a couple of bucks on a scratcher anyway. That paper saved me from having to talk to the judge on Tuesday morning.
Let me explain. When we came down the mountain to Morganton for the weekend, I knew I wanted to write about Old Christmas, which is tomorrow. According to the late Richard Chase, who collected The Jack Tales and The Grandfather Tales in Southern Appalachia, folk legend places Jesus’ birth on Jan. 6 after the 12 days of Christmas in the popular carol. He said that Dec. 25 is “Christmas made for man.”
Mr. Chase told me that Old Christmas—also called Epiphany—is “the Lord’s Christmas.” You’d never know it, though, from the church service that Timberley and I attended today at 11 a.m., because Epiphany wasn’t even mentioned. In fact, the preacher informed us that from now on he wouldn’t be preaching at all at the church’s 11 o’clock service, that he would preach only at the 9 o’clock service. Now that was an epiphany.
BOONE, N.C. (Dec. 29, 2019) – Sitting here in the living room of our Rutherwood house on a warm, rainy Sunday morning in late December—the last Sunday of the year and decade—I think about where I’d rather be right now. After all, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is prime travel time.
No, we didn’t go to church today, though I’m wondering who’s there and who else isn’t this morning. Once the Christmas cantatas and Christmas Eve candlelight services are past, folks often take a Sunday or two off—maybe even two months of Sundays until Ash Wednesday—in order to catch their collective breath before penitent Lent sets in and then joyful Easter rolls around. I also wonder if the tree is still up and all the garland, candles, bows and banners remain on display. It is still Christmastide, after all.
BOONE, N.C. (Dec. 18, 2019) – The holidays are a season of symbols, whatever the belief system. So take a couple of minutes and measure your holiday IQ. What is the main symbol of Christmas—not one of the many symbols but the main symbol? How about Hanukkah? Kwanzaa? Diwali? Winter solstice?
That’s a quiz of five questions at 20 points each. So if your answers were 1) Light, 2) Light, 3) Light, 4) Light, and 5) Light, then you scored a perfect 100 percent. On the Cracker Barrel Curve, you’re a genius!
On the other hand, if you answered 1) Santa Claus, 2) Eight straight days of presents, 3) No idea, 4) Di-what? and 5) Stonehenge, then you missed all five questions, and you’re just a plain “eg-no-ra-moose.” Ho-ho-ho!
Remember, I asked about the main symbol, not “the reason for the season” or what should be left in or taken out of the holiday’s name or how it’s spelled. Symbols are significant, as they help us understand complex concepts. But often the symbols become the focus in and of themselves, and that’s a problem.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Dec. 14, 2019) – I don’t want to sound catty, but another woman almost came between Timberley and me this past week—two women, actually, one single, the other separated from her husband. The older, never-married seductress has been around for what seems like forever. I finally let her get to me on Wednesday and spent almost the entire day with her, then Thursday with her young friend and associate.
Full disclosure, Timberley has known the older of my two new flames—by reputation, anyway—since the early 1960s because Beatrice, that’s her name, has always been a larger-than-life character, almost a force of nature, in our hometown. The other gal, Corinne, is younger than Beatrice by 14 years and prettier but less romantic, I think—and she’s from Texas. Her ex, like me, was a school teacher—a yearbook advisor, even—and an old newspaperman, poor guy.
BOONE, N.C. (Dec. 9, 2019) – I’m not sure if I’ve introduced you yet to Scout and Jem—no, not the sister and brother in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, but our aptly-named, three-year-old kittens.
Kittens, huh? That’s right. Kittens. Not Cats, like those strange felines in the long-running Broadway musical that’s coming to movie theaters this Christmas. We have two normal kittens. Well, kind of.
We brought them home from the animal shelter in September 2016 as two- and three-month-old poopsters, and they’ve been integral parts of the family ever since. Scout, in particular, demands attention because, like her fictional namesake, she’s always into something. She is a tortoiseshell Manx who tries her best to lead her big brother Jem, a laid-back orange tabby, astray.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Dec. 1, 2019) – “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
I didn’t plan for this book to be a devotional, but that seems to be what it’s becoming—in these pages falling after the growing season, anyway, when flowers are as dead as the leaves in our driveway. I also didn’t expect to be quoting Saul of Tarsus on the first Sunday of Advent, as I do today in the Bible verse above. I’ve never really been a fan.
Why not? Well, let’s not get into that right now, okay? Maybe in early April toward the end of Lent and before the Masters golf tournament when we’re all in better moods, I’ll spill the beans. Discussing Saul’s views on certain controversial subjects would be more tolerable later than now at the outset of the Yuletide Season.
I mean, we just got through that big family get-together at Thanksgiving without strangling old Uncle Paulie for his usual judgmental, misogynistic and homophobic remarks, so why risk ruining other holiday revelries? Fussing and fighting over stuff is out of place this time of year. We should promote faith, hope and love.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Nov. 27, 2019) – This past Sunday evening, I ran the sound for my favorite religious service of the whole year, hands down—Morganton’s community Thanksgiving service.
Ran the sound. That means I pushed some buttons to turn on and turn off—unmute and mute, in sound guy lingo—several microphones around the chancel of the First United Methodist Church, specifically, at the pulpit, above the choir, and at the grand piano on the floor in front of the lectern. What I did was nothing special. The service started at 5 p.m. and lasted about an hour, not counting the reception afterwards.
As I’ve said in the past, First Methodist is a special church to Timberley and me. It’s her home church, where she and I were married 37 years ago today. That Saturday afternoon at 5 p.m., our families and friends gathered to hear us exchange our vows in that beautiful gray-stone church, the closest thing to an old-style cathedral in Morganton. I’ve been a member since 1982; Timberley, since she was a child.
For the first few years we were married, Timberley and I regularly attended church there before moving to Brunswick County on the North Carolina coast. We returned to First Methodist about 10 years ago when we started spending more time in Morganton, though our permanent residence remains in Boone. Over the years, we visited many other churches but never found another congregation quite as special.
BOONE, N.C. (Nov. 20, 2019) – The Godfather is getting love and respect again—the movie, not the man, nor, for that matter, the best ’70s pizza parlor chain in the whole world, for my money, anyway.
Godfather’s thick, mozzarella-laden wedges of my preferred Canadian bacon and mushroom pizza pies were probably what started me down my own personal rocky road to perdition, my own private primrose path to plumpness. In those tight booths of red-and-white-checkered tablecloths, I came of gastronomical age. I learned that anchovies aren’t vegetables and that ice-cold beer in a frosted mug pairs well with brick-oven pizza.
Now I have to sit at tables, not in booths. I order medium-sized, vegetarian pizzas with thin cauliflower crusts. And I drink water—with lemon, maybe. I’ve also come to truly appreciate the Godfather trilogy.