Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (3/19) — Chapter Three, Crapemyrtle (1/3)

THIS PINK CRAPEMYRTLE TREE now stands in our front yard, replacing a diseased pink dogwood that had fallen in a storm.


BOONE, N.C. (Aug. 28, 2019) – Forget about Where the Lilies Bloom and Where the Crawdads Sing. When the crapemyrtles stop blooming on Morehead Street, summer is almost over.

Here in North Carolina, there are two Morehead Streets that are both important to Timberley and me. Our preferred Morehead Street—the one I’m writing about today—is where Timberley grew up in Morganton and where we set up true house-keeping as newlyweds about 35 years ago. That rambling, two-story house, where her grandparents had lived for a time before us, was across the street from her smaller, more humble homeplace, where her father lived alone then. The proximity made visits easy either way.

The other Morehead Street—this one in Charlotte’s historic Dilworth neighborhood—has been our reluctant home away from home since the spring of 2017 when Timberley was diagnosed with a rare bladder cancer and referred to Levine Cancer Institute at the Carolinas Medical Center, now called Atrium Health, on East Morehead Street. There she underwent cancer surgery and three separate but related hospitalizations before the end of that summer. We still return to Levine every 4-6 months for tests.

I called Charlotte our reluctant home, but we are forever grateful for the life-saving care we got there and for the support we now receive from our doctor, physician’s assistant, nurses and other healthcare personnel—even the ladies in the CMC cafeteria and the gentlemen who work in the parking garages—who have made the time we’ve spent there bearable and the time we can spend anywhere else possible.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (3/19) — Chapter Three, Crapemyrtle (1/3)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (2/19) — Chapter Two, Bean (3/4)

IN HIS BEAN-FIELD AT WALDEN POND, Henry Thoreau grew white bush beans. I don’t think they looked like this. Our bean patch is behind the fence at right in the background.


MORGANTON, N.C. (Aug. 25, 2019) – No one can tell me there’s anything better to eat than a plate of pinto beans sprinkled with diced onion, a steaming slice of cornbread topped with a thick pat of melting butter, and a large, cold glass of whole milk. Collard greens are optional. No dessert is necessary.

And that’s the God’s honest truth. Right? If you don’t believe me, then you ain’t from around here, and you probably don’t like those crusty little slabs of heaven called fried livermush, either, but that’s OK. Tar Heels from the Piedmont are too polite to push good vittles on folks who don’t know no better.

So what foods feed your soul? (Even though that is a rhetorical question, feel free to post your answer in the comments below.)

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (2/19) — Chapter Two, Bean (3/4)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (2/19) — Chapter Two, Bean (2/4)

ROYALTY PURPLE POD garden beans put out purple beans that turn green in the pot or pan and taste perfectly pleasing!


BOONE, N.C. (Aug. 22, 2019) – It’s easy to reel off the names of people whom we have hated or who have hurt us. Those folks are hard to forget. It’s often much harder to acknowledge the loved ones who have affected us in positive ways. The explanation is complicated.

That was the object lesson our pastor, Dana McKim, assigned to congregants a couple of Sundays ago at First United Methodist Church in Morganton. “Who do you hate?” Dana asked to begin his sermon. And later, “Who loves you?” instead of the more obvious “Who do you love?” Along with those first two questions, he offered suggestions of people or groups that might fall into either category.

They weren’t rhetorical questions, not really. He did want us to list—in our heads at least, not out loud—the objects of our antipathy and, on the flip side of that record, the names of those people who have let us know in some way that we are objects of their affection. Remember, love isn’t always obvious to the loved, nor is it always requited.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (2/19) — Chapter Two, Bean (2/4)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (2/19) — Chapter Two, Bean (1/4)

WE PLANTED THESE BEANS to learn what their growth had to teach us about life, work and other things that can be food for thought.


BOONE, N.C. (Aug. 20, 2019) – Right now I’m sitting in the lobby of the Reich College of Education at Appalachian State University, and I’m wondering why I don’t know beans—or, rather, about growing beans. The rabbits keep getting them at both of our houses, in town and in the country.

Henry D. Thoreau, a hoer with a heart of gold and the humor of iron pyrite, wrote in Walden; or, Life in the Woods: “I am determined to know beans.” And in the two years, two months and two days of his experiment in living deliberately at Walden Pond in the mid-1840s, he did learn much about growing beans, but mainly that it was a lot of hard work just to feed the rabbits, woodchucks and other rodents.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (2/19) — Chapter Two, Bean (1/4)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (1/19) — Chapter One, Thrift (Part 3/3)


BOONE, N.C. (Aug. 18, 2019) — Thrift always reminds me of the woman who made me want to tell stories—thrift the flower, not the prudent use of money.

If she were alive today, Grandmother Duckworth would get a laugh out of that sentence, not because I’m giving her credit for inspiring me to be a writer, but because, in her country way of saying things, “telling stories” meant you were telling lies.

One summer when I lived with her, she asked me more than once if I was “telling [her] a story” about where I’d been or whom I’d been with after I’d gotten home late from work. “Honest, Grandmother,” I’d say, “I wasn’t with anybody. I stopped at Western Piedmont to shoot some basketball—by myself.”

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (1/19) — Chapter One, Thrift (Part 3/3)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (1/19) — Chapter One, Thrift (2/3)


MORGANTON, N.C. (Aug. 16, 2019) – When the preacher prompted me to promise, “For richer or poorer,” almost 37 years ago, he wasn’t kidding.

Ever since we retired three years ago, we’ve been cutting back on just about everything, learning to do without many of the things we had taken for granted during our working lives when regular paychecks were coming in.

It used to be that I didn’t even bother balancing our checkbook; I just glanced at the account balance whenever I hit the ATM for cash. If that balance was within a few hundred dollars of what I thought it should be, I wasn’t worried.

Right now, some of you are horrified. How could I have been so blasé about our personal finances? Others of you are asking, “What’s a checkbook? And how do you balance it?”

Well, now I balance our checkbook (a rectangular, pocket-sized, plastic- or leather-covered pad of printed bank forms that are filled out by an authorized account holder and traded for goods or services in lieu of cash). When the monthly bank statement arrives in the mail—yes, the old-fashioned way, not on a smartphone app—I go over it in detail to make sure everything agrees, at least to the dollar.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (1/19) — Chapter One, Thrift (2/3)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (1/19) — Chapter One, Thrift (Part 1/3)


MORGANTON, N.C. (Aug. 14, 2019) – In all likelihood, this will be the last book-length manuscript that I write—that is, if I manage to finish it by the end of next summer, my goal. Based on all the times I’ve tried to start this thing over the past three years but have been waylaid—or, even worse, laid low—by this and that, don’t be surprised if I get hit by a bread truck between now and, say, Labor Day 2020.

Why a bread truck? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I spent the first years of my adulthood in Valdese, where the boxy orange delivery trucks of Waldensian Bakeries were flashier than all those damn brown Buicks and metallic-blue Fords favored by bakery employees. That shiny Sunbeam fleet with the cute, blond-haired, gluten-glorifying girl on their side panels must have made a big impression on me. But if bread bothers you, substitute milk or beer or whatever else you can tolerate being loaded into a truck and delivered over the road, that could then run over a guy with my kind of luck. Man can live and die by many things other than bread alone.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (1/19) — Chapter One, Thrift (Part 1/3)

Fill in the Blank: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Las Vegas, __________

FROM BUD TO FADING FLOWER, this heirloom rose retains its beauty throughout its life cycle. With water, sun, warmth and minimal care, the rose bush thrives, as do its purple blossoms each for a time. The plant dies in the winter and returns to life the next spring. We mortals should be so lucky.


We all know it’s coming. Sooner or later, a mass shooting will come to our town — to our school, our college, our worship center, our movie theater, our concert venue, our park, our store, our workplace.

And there’s nothing we can do to stop it.


Guns. Violence. Hate. Mental illness. Video games. Movies. Television. The Internet. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. The President. The Congress. The Judiciary. The Fourth Estate. We, the People. We, the Tired, the Poor, the Huddled Masses, the Homeless, the Wretched Refuse of Teeming Shores throughout our nation’s storied past. Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness. The Second Amendment. Laws. Weapons of Mass Destruction.

And, lest I forget, thoughts and prayers. I didn’t bother to capitalize those two words, even though What We Think and What We Say — whether to our God or to our Neighbor in the broadest senses of both words — are fundamentally more important than anything in the previous paragraph’s long list of nouns.

Continue reading Fill in the Blank: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Las Vegas, __________

Dear AT&T: Is This the End of a Beautiful Friendship?

THE OLD COLONY AMPHITHEATRE in Valdese was where I spent Friday and Saturday evenings during the summer of 1980. I’m the blond-haired guy in back, third from the left.


Remember how you felt when a telephone number was attached to your name for the first time?

I phrased it that way because times have certainly changed since August 1980 when my name first appeared in the Southern Bell telephone listings for Valdese, North Carolina. These days anyone can walk into almost any store and walk out with affordable phone service. Those phones are called “burners” because they’re so cheap and basically disposable.

We’re assigned so many new phone numbers so often now that one definitive 10-digit string is no longer burned into our foreheads as our own personal “mark of the beast.” For that matter, I’ve probably had 666 phone numbers in my life but am lucky if I can remember the one — or two or three — I have now.

In 1980, though, the process of becoming an official Southern Bell subscriber involved deposits, credit checks, references, and even promises to name all newborn family members some variation of Alexander, Graham, or Bell. That’s why there are so many Alexes of both sexes now, and so few Grahams and Belles, because ordinary folks couldn’t afford a second kid after they’d paid for all the long-distance calls to announce little Alex’s birth.

Yes, Virginia, there were long-distance charges back then. Long-distance calls were so expensive that we couldn’t just pick up the phone and dial up friends or family members outside the county whenever we wanted, sometimes not even within our own county. There had to be a good reason — like new life or death — to incur the wrath of the Long-Distance Operator, especially before direct dialing and calling cards were invented.

Continue reading Dear AT&T: Is This the End of a Beautiful Friendship?

As Aristotle Said, ‘One Flower Does Not a Garden Make’

ALL THESE ROSES grew outside our house this spring and early summer. The yellow blossoms and bud are from an heirloom rosebush called ‘Dolly Parton.’


The flowers at our house have been beautiful since March, but the blossoms are slowing down as we trudge deeper, ever deeper into the dog days of summer.

I’ve always liked flowers. The daisy-like gaillardia or blanket flower is my favorite, thus the name of our website. On the North Carolina coast where we used to live, gaillardia is as common as the dandelion is in the Piedmont and mountains. So now, whenever I spot a bunch of the humble red-and-yellow blossoms at the Lowe’s Garden Center or Biltmore Gardens, I think of our adopted home in Brunswick County. For some reason, we can’t get gaillardia to grow at our houses.

Living with two gardeners — Mom for 21 years, then Timberley for 38 — has helped me appreciate not just the wildflowers and weeds that Nature brings us, but also the flowers, trees and shrubs we’ve planted ourselves: the camellia, Lenten rose, breath of spring, crocus, daffodil, sweet bubby, azalea, thrift, candytuft, yellowbell, dogwood, iris, snowball bush, sweet William, clematis, rhododendron, hibiscus, violet, moonflower, tea olive, peony, gardenia, echinacea, coreopsis, foxglove, dahlia, gladiolus, daisy, black-eyed Susan, nasturtium, hosta, butterfly bush, crepe myrtle, sunflower, marigold, phlox, rose of Sharon, and several varieties of lilies and roses, just to name some of the blossoms I’ve seen at our houses this growing season.

But this column isn’t just about beautiful flowers. It’s also about how we look at objects of allure — flowers, friends, lovers, heroes, villains — and what we see in them and in ourselves.

Continue reading As Aristotle Said, ‘One Flower Does Not a Garden Make’