BOONE, N.C. (April 5, 2020) – The azaleas are so, so beautiful on this last Sunday of Lent, this Palm Sunday—in Morganton, not in Boone just yet. I’ve noticed that flowers here bloom some 2-3 weeks later than they do off the mountain. So all the colors—all the pinks, purples, reds and oranges—that foothills residents now enjoy will wash westward across the High Country like a sunset by Shakespeare’s big day on April 23. That is, unless we have a late frost.
Shakespeare’s big day? Yeah, 4/23 was the day he was born and the day he died—or, rather, the date of the two important events in Shakespeare’s life, as he was born in 1564 and died in 1616. That’s William Shakespeare, by the way, the Bard of Avon, the Sexy Wordsmith of Stratford, the Perennially Punishing Poet of Perpetually Perplexed Pupils, not the inventor of level-winding fishing reels and Ugly Stiks.
But in his sonnets and his better plays, William Shakespeare has the final word on the fairer aspects of life. “’Tis beauty truly blent, whose red and white Nature’s own sweet and cunning hand laid on,” says Viola, the cross-dressing castaway, about her admirer Olivia’s natural good looks in Twelfth Night. The two beauties and Orsino comprise a love triangle that piques the interest of even a Shakespeare hater like me.
MORGANTON, N.C. (March 29, 2020) – It’s the fifth Sunday of Lent, a period of somber reflection before Good Friday and Easter, the two most important days on the Christian calendar—not everyone’s calendar, mind you, just that of particular people who believe a particular story from a particular book.
Having been one of those particular people my whole life, I know that word particular probably pisses people like me off—and particularly other people who just pretend to be pious, like poll-minded politicians and other posers.
And a pootie-grabbing president whose surname ends in p—a pusillanimous prick and potty-mouthed pantywaist who cares more about pushing stock prices ever higher, than about protecting poor people.
MORGANTON, N.C. (March 22, 2020) – On the first day of spring this past Thursday, Timberley and I cut down the row of dead and dying forsythia bushes at our Boone house and burned them in the fire pit we bought four years ago but have lit only a few times. We bought it the weekend after we retired, with visions of bonfires and Blue Moons dancing in our heads. But it’s been used mainly to burn brush.
Now we drink mainly LaCroix, though there is an aging, unopened 12-pack of Belgian White ale in the fridge. It’s waiting for a special occasion, I guess, like living from one weekend to the next.
BOONE, N.C. (March 15, 2020) – With this essay, I’m traveling backwards in time, as I return to August 2019 when I was working on this book’s “Bean” chapter. Remember last August? That seems like years ago, not seven months ago. And we will be traveling back to the future with my next installment.
Last August, I was just turning 60, so I wasn’t quite “elderly” yet, as health officials say I am now with the current concern over the coronavirus pandemic. Timberley and I went out to eat downtown several times to celebrate my birthday month, at Root & Vine, our “special occasion” restaurant in Morganton, and at Kin2Kin, our local “go-to” restaurant, where I lucked up and got two fortune cookies in the same package. Also, I finished planning this project, and I wrote its first two chapters, each with three parts.
MORGANTON, N.C. (March 12, 2020) – I’m writing this installment on my phone as I wait for Timberley at the Burke Literacy Council this morning, so if it seems more disjointed than usual, that might be why. But maybe this half-fast, thumb-driven essay will be everything you’ve always wanted in my fare, and less! More taste, less filling? I hope not—the latter part, anyway.
I used a Miller Lite allusion there because I read an article online this morning about golfer Rory McIlroy saying that playing a golf course designed by Pete Dye is an acquired taste, like being turned off by one’s first-ever sip of beer before learning to tolerate it and then finally liking it maybe too much. A lot of things are like that—acquired tastes … and bad stuff we like too much.
Sometimes I think golf itself—not just a Pete Dye course—is one of those bad things. I never played the Pete Dye course at St. James Plantation near Southport when we lived in Brunswick County, but I’ve been watching too much televised golf on Saturday and Sunday afternoons for the past few weeks, and the Masters is still a month off. I’m itching to hit the driving range, even though I can’t roll over in bed or hop into the driver’s seat of our van without hurting my back.
But I can’t help myself. I want to cast off the winter blues and revel in the green of springtime by smacking a bucket of little white balls across an open field. I’m tired of being cooped up indoors. I want to go outside and soak up some sunshine, work up a good sweat, maybe even rub a little blister on the fleshy part of my ungloved index finger. Sunburn, sweat and blisters. Spring can’t come a moment too soon.
MORGANTON, N.C. (March 8, 2020) – I’ve mentioned before that we’ve lost several dogwood trees over the past few years in our front yard here—two white ones along the street that we replaced with a single crapemyrtle and a pink one on the side that Timberley’s dad had strangled with Christmas lights, as if he had been trying to stunt its growth the way a bonsai artist would wrap a tree with copper wire.
Nat, my father-in-law, liked blue twinkle lights for some reason and had wound at least a dozen strands of them around the trunk and every sizable branch of that pink dogwood. That was 25 Christmases ago when the tree still had some growing to do. We inherited the tree about 12 years ago and over the next five years or so watched it lose one diseased branch after another until we finally had Grady Rose, the best arborist in Burke County, take down the whole tree and a similarly ailing white dogwood out front.
The other white dogwood had already been destroyed in an act of God—a thunderstorm that lashed our side of town with heavy rain and high winds. That was in the old days when my back was still OK, and I could wield a chainsaw like a lumberjack all day. We cut up the dogwood and left it for the city brush truck to haul off. Before disposing of the tree, we did manage to save the string of solar-powered lights like Chinese lanterns that Timberley had hung in the low limbs. Yes, I know. Like father, like daughter.
MORGANTON, N.C. (March 1, 2020) – Like the dogwood’s beauty, religion should be simple—and it is when one’s path on this challenging course called life is true. Not necessarily smooth. Or straight. Or wide. But true, as in the right path that leads the traveler to a meaningful coexistence in this wild world.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent, so I’m going to use the break (Sundays aren’t counted in the 40 days of Lent, the period of reflection leading to Easter) to think about religion in general and Christianity in particular. We’re currently “taking a break” from church—giving it up for Lent, I guess, maybe longer.
Two months ago, the church we had attended for years changed its main worship service to a time that was too early for us to attend. We were going to attend a later Sunday morning service until the pastor announced that he wouldn’t be preaching at that gathering, just at the earlier, more contemporary service.
Alrighty, then. But I’m getting off track here, off the right path. Maybe staying on course isn’t easy after all.
BOONE, N.C. (Feb. 26, 2020) – It has always seemed odd to me that the dogwood—a small tree found from the mountains to the sea—is North Carolina’s state flower, while the longleaf pine, found only in eastern N.C., is our state tree. Our legislature, in its infinite wisdom, made those decisions in 1941 and 1963, respectively. I would have picked an entirely different state tree or at least a more common pine.
Maybe the scrub pine, Pinus virginiana, or loblolly pine, Pinus taeda, would be more appropriate now, as both are much more numerous in wider regions than the majestic longleaf variety, Pinus palustris, of our coastal plain. Wikipedia says that the longleaf pine is a “cultural symbol” of the South as sources of resin (pine tar), turpentine and timber needed by 18th– and 19th-century merchants and ship builders—yeah, back when we were true Tar Heels, before the One-and-Done Era of college basketball.
BOONE, N.C. (Feb. 20, 2020) – We really wanted to attend this weekend’s Tidewater Camellia Club annual show in Wilmington—and, well, to eat breakfast one morning with my buddy John at Inlet View Bar & Grill at Shallotte Point. We’ve wanted to do that for a while, but our plans never work out.
Almost 30 years ago, I worked for John at a medical office management company in Shallotte while I was attending the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He was one of the best supervisors I’ve ever had, only partly because he was a kindred spirit—a former high school teacher and coach, and an Atlanta Braves fan. At the time, I was learning to be a teacher and coach, so he was a valuable mentor. Together we also suffered through the Braves’ World Series losses to the Twins in ’91 and the Bluejays in ’92. John gave me a red foam tomahawk from one game. I gave him my Chipper Jones rookie card.
His wife Amy, also a teacher, showed Timberley how to fix a low-country boil, with potatoes, ears of corn, sweet onions, smoked sausage, chicken breasts, shrimp and clams. We’d gotten together at John and Amy’s home on the intracoastal waterway for the opening game of the ’91 World Series, one of the best fall classics ever. The food and the fellowship were great. The game—a Twins win—not so much.
This past Saturday night, Timberley made a low-country boil just for the two of us. It was good, but it got us thinking about the possibility of a quick trip to the coast. Inlet View had reopened for the season on Valentine’s Eve and was even serving breakfast again on Saturday and Sunday mornings. John takes spectacular sunrise photos every day from one of Inlet View’s decks and posts them on Facebook. For weeks I’d followed and liked those glorious sunrises, along with John’s countdown to Reopening Day.
BOONE, N.C. (Feb. 10, 2020) – I’m afraid that our camellia is cursed, and I’m not sure I should forgive Lowe’s Garden Center for selling it to us. After last week’s mild weather, I just knew that one huge bud, the only big one on our spindly little Kanjiro, for which we had paid $10.98 plus tax three months ago, would be open in all its roseate glory when we got off the mountain. But no. That bud was a dud.
The information card that came with our camellia—and is still attached to it—says it needs three to six hours of morning sun and moist soil its first year to bloom in the fall and winter of Planting Zone 7. We—or, rather, Timberley—had followed all the planting instructions, and I’d checked on its progress each weekend so that I could record that first beautiful pink blossom on our camellia, not on someone else’s.