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.
BOONE, N.C. (Feb. 5, 2020) – Five years ago when Appalachian State University won its first Camellia Bowl—it won two in a row—life in Boone changed for good. That was the start of a run that hasn’t ended yet, with our Mountaineers having won five straight post-season bowls since moving up to college football’s top division. They’ve also won the Dollar General Bowl and two New Orleans Bowls.
What difference do bowl wins make? Well, when App State football is at home on Saturdays in the late summer and early autumn—and on the occasional Thursday night—the place to be is Kidd Brewer Stadium, or in the vicinity, at least. The sights, sounds and smells of tailgating fill the senses and the air on Rivers Street and Stadium Drive, even off campus on Howard and King streets downtown.
Everyone who is someone in Boone is tailgating somewhere close to campus sometime before the big football game. Those of us who aren’t anyone, really, stay home and watch on TV or listen on the radio.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Jan. 30, 2020) – Poet Nikki Giovanni’s joints are like camellia buds in January—tough, resistant to coldness, blunt … but when her words blossom … worth the wait. Inside those tightly wrapped layers of pink, brown and white, her poems are as soft, as warm, as right as our hearing allows.
For the second time in our lives three Mondays ago, Timberley and I heard Miss Giovanni speak, both of her appearances at Appalachian State University in Boone. The first time was in 1995 at a children’s literature institute that also included children’s authors Brock Cole and Gloria Houston. I don’t especially like that label—children’s author—because it implies, to me, anyway, that the stories and poems aren’t also good for adult consumption. Often I’m nourished so much more fully by children’s literature than adult.
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.