BOONE, N.C. (Jan. 26, 2022) – Some 35 years ago when I worked at The Brunswick Beacon in Shallotte, N.C., Wednesday mornings were my favorite time of the work week. That week’s edition of the newspaper had been put to bed the night before, and the newsroom was quiet for a change, at least for a few hours. It was then that I would compose my new column that would appear a week later when the next Beacon hit the newsstands. I didn’t mind having to think a week ahead.
Now, as a 62-year-old retiree whose working life has seen four distinct seasons—as a hardware clerk, newsman, teacher and coach, and writer—I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I was wrong all those years ago, whether I should have simply flown by the seat of my pants, as some folks say, instead of worrying so much about staying on top of things, getting ahead, being proactive—whatever that character trait is called. Or is it a fault? Maybe so, depending on the situation.
Several things this past year and specifically this winter have convinced me to take another look at how I approach day-to-day living. The ongoing pandemic, of course, and the resulting deaths of people close to me have had the greatest impact. A year ago today my mother died about a month after testing positive for COVID-19 and then developing pneumonia. An elderly aunt had suffered the same fate a couple of months earlier. At least three classmates—three that I know of, anyway—have died of the coronavirus, while other family members and friends have survived bouts with the disease but still feel its effects.
BOONE, N.C. (Dec. 13, 2021) – When the truck with Ohio plates cut its engine, we knew getting to the funeral on time was out. Maybe we could drive that last 97 miles in the 90 minutes we had left, but only if the traffic started moving right then. We were five hours into what was looking like a wasted day.
But there we sat on Interstate 75 just north of London, Kentucky, for another hour, finally getting free at 10:47 a.m., just 13 minutes before our friend Melissa’s memorial service was to begin at the Church of the Ascension in Frankfort, capital of her beloved Bluegrass State. Yes, we had traveled 272 miles since leaving our house at 3:16 a.m., but the only sensible thing to do was turn around and head back home.
I know the exact times and mileage and location thanks to my smart phone. What we didn’t know that morning was what had happened the night before elsewhere in Kentucky, where farther west numerous deadly tornadoes had destroyed huge buildings and hundreds of homes. In the predawn, we had driven through the line of thunderstorms that had spawned the twisters. We didn’t know how bad they’d been.
We hadn’t turned on our van’s radio once, and, for a change, we hadn’t checked our phones for emails or updates on social media posts. Our minds were focused on making this trip—our first long trek of the pandemic—and on not only Melissa but also on other friends and family members whose lives affect us, whether for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or worse. All relationships are like that.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Aug. 30, 2020) – Imagine gathering in person with a group of people—some you may know, some you don’t—on a Saturday afternoon, maybe at 3 p.m., if that’s convenient, in the Aldersgate Chapel of the First United Methodist Church on King Street. You can park for free in the church lot behind the building or in the public lot across the street behind the News Herald building.
Though it isn’t handicapped-accessible, the church building entrance nearest Aldersgate Chapel is on Queen Street. The church’s main entrance—in front on King Street—includes a ramp that handicapped individuals may use for access through the narthex to the church sanctuary. If you enter that way, walk down the aisle toward the chancel, notice the cross on the far wall, then exit the sanctuary to the right.
Walk down that hall (you’ll pass restrooms on your right, if you need to take care of biological needs), then turn right and continue a short distance past the Queen Street door to the chapel, where a limited number of chairs will be turned toward the chapel’s permanent, wood-paneled altar and green stained-glass windows from the old Methodist Church building. Notice that there’s no pulpit. I’ll bring my own.
Now, keep in mind that all of this that I’m getting ready to describe is imaginary. It hasn’t happened yet and won’t happen until the time is right. And then you’ll see the announcement in The News Herald and be given time to clean yourself up a bit, throw on something comfortable—don’t forget sensible shoes—and plan to spend a couple of hours with some old and new friends. No need to worry. It’ll be painless.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Aug. 17, 2020) – Well, tomorrow is my 61st birthday, and our lone sunflower—or whatever the heck it is, a white mulberry, maybe—hasn’t bloomed yet. We’ve been watching it grow and grow and grow all summer, and we’ve noticed that its big, green, heart-shaped leaves do follow the sun’s daily golden arcs across the sky. But no blossoms have popped open yet to solve the big mystery.
I’m going to assume it’s a sunflower—kind of like assuming that Schroedinger’s cat is still alive in that infamous sealed box of the popular thought experiment. I mean, why not? We make assumptions about more important things every day—that we haven’t contracted the Covid-19 coronavirus, that our elders locked away in nursing homes are OK, that American voters will make the right decisions on Nov. 3rd.
BOONE, N.C. (Aug. 13, 2020) – “American Pie” is playing on the 70s on 7 satellite radio channel right now as I start this essay. I couldn’t have planned it any better. Singer-songwriter Don McLean, who also scored Top 40 hits in the early 1970s with “And I Love You So” and “Vincent,” was the first successful recording artist I ever bought a ticket to hear in a bar. He played old P.B. Scott’s Music Hall in Blowing Rock one hot summer night in the late ’70s. I left annoyed because he stopped after playing just one set.
“American Pie” wasn’t in my own repertoire back then, but McLean’s other two blockbuster hits were, especially the one about Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh that opens with the haunting words, “Starry, starry night / Paint your palette blue and gray / Look out on a summer’s day / With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.” Accompanying myself on piano, I played weddings, banquets, school functions, even a reception at the N.C. Governor’s Mansion and an open-mic night at a famous Myrtle Beach bar.
BOONE, N.C. (Aug. 5, 2020) – Three years ago today, on Aug. 5, 2017, Timberley and I drove from Charlotte to Morganton at the end of her third hospital stay in just over a month. We had set up three webcams around the house to keep an eye on the place—well, actually, on our trouble-making kitten, Scout—while we were gone. Her brother, Jem, always behaved and still does. Scout was aptly named.
The other day I was looking through the photos and videos on my phone, and I happened to run across all 12 of the 30-second clips that the webcams recorded that day. In a number of those clips, the motion sensors were simply tripped by flashes of light from the street that reflected in the window and bounced off the living room walls—at least, I hope those were headlights. I don’t know. Maybe they were haints.
MORGANTON, N.C. (July 31, 2020) – All my life, I’ve felt like a dandelion in a field of sunflowers. So about a year ago—it was in early August—I ordered two packets of dandelion seed from Amazon and decided to become a dandelion farmer, as if anyone needed help to grow the little yellow buggers.
Now, I knew better than to plant those seeds right then. Dandelions are spring wildflowers. But that’s how I am. I start thinking ahead, and then I begin gathering all the supplies I need to do whatever I’m planning to do. When the time’s right, I want to know I can meet whatever deadline I’ve set for myself.
Last summer when I started this book, I had big plans—besides growing dandelions and then feasting on dandelion greens and dandelion wine. I’d also bought some dandelion tea from the supermarket—it was supposed to do wonders for me—but one cup was all it took to quench my thirst for dandelion tea.
Timberley and I were also going to buy fishing licenses and go trout fishing once winter passed and the weather warmed up. We planned to dust off our golf clubs, shine our golf shoes and play regular rounds of golf. But then the pandemic hit and shut everything down, and we got to know life under quarantine.
BOONE, N.C. (July 21, 2020) – Mango Madness’s first fiery blossom of the summer opened Sunday in Morganton. As I’ve said before, that dahlia was our Most Valuable Plant last year off the mountain. He bloomed from July to November, and all his mango-colored blossoms were photogenic, catching rays of light just right no matter how he lined up to the sun. But this year he’s playing catch-up in the AFL.
Yes, that’s the Adams Floral League, which opened in March despite the novel coronavirus quarantine. The AFL’s Dahlia Division took the field in May with the blooming of our burgundy beauty, Midnight Dancer, who finished out of the money last year in fourth place behind Mango Madness, The General and Yellow Star. This year a newcomer, Crazy Love, has taken an impressive lead in our garden.
BOONE, N.C. (July 15, 2020) – Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams and old coaches—in my case, a handful of good men who molded me as we pursued our shared goals.
As far as dreams go—I’m referring to sleeping dreams now—I remember only one that seemed to deal with life goals and, in fact, has guided my decision making at various crossroads. To paraphrase the old Yankee catcher, coach and philosopher Yogi Berra, whenever I came to a fork in the road of life, I took it, but I kept an eye peeled for a good roadside diner where I could put that eating utensil to its best use.
The Yankees were, in fact, the first sports team I was aware of as a child, probably around age 5. I liked the names Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra for obvious reasons, as I’m part of the TV Generation weaned on Mickey Mouse and Yogi Bear cartoons. Weaned? I ate all my meals off a little Hanna-Barbera plate bearing the image of a pic-a-nic at Jellystone Park with Yogi, Boo-Boo, Ranger Smith and their friends.