Old Things (That Still Work)

This old phone is still in use by Jay Saunders, who adores old stuff.

A couple of years ago I wrote the following story for a magazine, but it never saw print. I wasn’t paid for it, so I still own it and it is an entertaining piece, if I do say so myself and I’m not bashful.

It has to do with the things in our lives that make living enjoyable or easier. A lot of us hang on to the old because it is comfortable and because learning new ways is often hard, even traumatic (think “computer”).

Please note that my good friend Keith Ferrell has died since this piece was written, but his contribution is no less valuable and is a good remembrance of him.

Here goes:

Some people simply can’t give up artifacts that work, raising the question: Why would you want to toss something that does what it’s supposed to do?

Many of us—maybe most of us—have one or two items in our lives from another age, goodies we hang on to, even as technology and the Cavalcade of Man pass us by. It might be an ancient Zippo lighter, a fountain pen with nib and inkwell, an old Dodge Power Wagon pickup truck, a 33 rpm vinyl recording and turntable, rusting hand tools, a typewriter, a cathedral cabinet and vacuum tube radio, a Western Electric Bakelite rotary telephone, a Sunbeam hand mixer or a 70-year-old Electrolux vacuum cleaner.

Some of us still use Western Union (especially to send money) in an age of the iPhone. You can smell the smoke from wood stoves as fall turns to winter. Your fixation could be your dad’s razor or your mom’s iron skillet. There are accessories to living that some of us simply won’t part with. How about a shoe repair shop for some instant nostalgia?

We went looking for people in the Roanoke Valley who own working antiques—or just old stuff—that they use on a daily or mostly daily basis and came up with some glimpses of our culture as it was and as many of us would like it to be again.

Here is some of what we found.

Sarah Hazelgrove and her vintage camera.

Sweating out the photo

Professional photographer Sarah Hazlegrove has not gone digital. She uses a medium format (3.25-inch negatives) Bronica portrait camera for her work, the same type of camera she has used for many years. She has been a noted professional since 1990 and these days tours the world, working on contract for corporations, shooting people, turning commercial photos into art, often stunning black and white portraiture.

She pretty much taught herself how to use a camera, film from Day 1, and she “can’t get away from it.” She uses digital cameras for video and owns high-end digital still cameras, but the Bronica is her baby. “A film camera makes you sweat to produce something of quality,” she says. “There’s a lot to be said for being a dinosaur,” admitting it’s “kind of cultish.” Some people, she says, think being a purist is almost a fine art in itself, “even if the photos suck.”

Keith Ferrell and his early-American-style scythe.

Type and chop

Franklin County-based author Keith Ferrell, who has written two dozen books (including a NYTimes bestseller two years ago) says, “I am between typewriters, but expect to have one in working order before long. My first four books and countless articles were written on a Smith-Corona manual, the next five on a Facit single element. I installed a small program on my PC that makes it sound like a Selectric with every keystroke and line return. Part of the typewriter’s appeal to me is auditory.

Keith preferred a typewriter to the newfangled computer for writing his books.

“An equally deep appeal is tactile. The Selectric-style keyboard provided both: firm and resistant keys that click when depressed, accompanied by the sound of the ‘golf ball’ striking the paper.

“For fiction and serious nonfiction, I actually use far older technology for first drafts: pencil or fountain pen and paper, as well as 3-by-5 index cards. Then, every few thousand words, I move to the computer and type up the by-now heavily marked up and annotated pages. I  do almost all editing on paper, printing a manuscript, marking it up with colored pens, then entering the corrections on the computer.”

Ferrell, who owns a farm near Rocky Mount, received a hand-made, old-style scythe as payment for a story a couple of years ago. He calls it “the best payment I ever got for a magazine story.” He adds, “None of this, I think, makes me a Luddite which is good, considering how much of my career I’ve spent writing about technology.”

Eric Fitzpatrick still uses a sketchbook for his paintings.

Traditionalist innovator

Eric Fitzpatrick has been Roanoke’s best-known and, likely, most prolific artist for the past 30 or more years, throbbing with a variety of styles and topics, always studying. He is as much an art historian as he is an artist and he brags that “I do it the old way, using a sketch to build a painting around; no camera ever.”

He insists that if you use a camera, you wind up copying its image. “How about earth pigments and paintbrushes as opposed to computer graphics?” he asks. “Artists have been doing the same thing for centuries, with little change; if you are a traditionalist like me at least.”

Fitzpatrick uses volume after volume of sketchbook, detailing nearly every moment of his life and then going back to find the essence, which often winds up on canvas. His books are prevalent throughout his large home that is simply packed with his works, his tools, his side projects and his wildly varied interests. The house is as much museum as home and a tour is a highlight of any given week.

“My tradition is the same as that of my heroes, like Degas, Bellows, and John Singer Sargent. And the lessons from these geniuses are as follows: Art is all about learning and growth, and your evolution as a fine artist only comes from constant study and hard work. Those who are truly serious about their art must strive every day to become better. A mastery of materials, draftsmanship and color, are only the starting points toward finding a unique voice that speaks to your love for what you encounter in your life, and how you truly feel about it. Emotion harnessed with great skill is the end game.” All that and the tradition of materials and methods.

Chris Henson’s shavers are oldies, but goodies.

Close shave

“I’m a big proponent of the double-edge safety razor, fountain pens and Zippo lighters,” says Chris Henson. The clincher here, though, is the old safety razor and what would be called a “shaving system” these days (razor, blades, brush, shaving soap) and would cost about $150.

Chris bought his four Gillette shavers (50-90 years old) on Ebay for about $4. He has several others and he opted for the double-edged safety blades and razor just out of college (“because it was cool”), but “kept cutting myself” and gave it up until 2013, when he jumped back in with a certain level of gusto.

These days, he says, double-edge blade shaving is “the kind of thing hipsters do.” He has become something of a technique geek and even designed and printed an eight-page brochure that he gives to accompany his Dirty Christmas gifts each year. (He works at Access, an advertising agency, so the brochure was a natural for him.) The brochure features a section called “Directions for the Perfect Shave” and gives chapter and verse to that end. There’s more to it than you might imagine.

Jay Saunders loves his old console radio.

Old is good

“I love the older technology because it’s easier to service and frankly, looks prettier,” says Jay Saunders, president of Saunders Productions. “The modern aesthetic of streamlined everything is so boring. I keep multiple vehicles with body styles from the 1940s through to the ’60s. I still use my grandfather’s vacuum tube hi-fi for my 33s and 78s [those are record speeds for old vinyl].

“I still show 8mm home movies in my man-cave, and there’s an analog clock in every room. While I do keep an old brass telephone in the phone niche built into the wall of my 1930s home, it’s not hooked up. I’d guess [the brass phone] dates to about 1930. I found it at a flea market in Rocky Mount many years ago. There was an old guy there who still worked on vacuum tube systems for fun.” His 1930s-era floor model radio—which he still uses to listen to AM radio—tops off an antique-filled home in Raleigh Court.

Jason Garnett with the Grandin’s old projector.


Jason Garnett is one of the very few remaining expert movie house projectionists from the pre-digital era. Even though “every commercial theater has moved to digital in the last 5 to 6 years,” he remains available—with his bulky projector—to show movies at special events.

He “ran film at the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke from 1997 to 2010 and worked changeover projection at the North Theatre in Danville and Hull’s Drive-In, which is also digital now. My most recent stint was being hired by Boston Light and Sound to run a limited engagement of Tarantino’s Hateful Eight’ on 70mm film in Florida. I was offered the gig of running ‘Dunkirk’ in 70mm but I had to commit to a four-week run out of state and that was too much time away from my family.”

He is “on a shortlist of projectionists that Boston Light and Sound hires out whenever special engagements like ‘Dunkirk’ are released on film. I was in the booth of the Grandin recently and Ian Fortier [the GM] briefly mentioned the idea of running film for special occasions but I’m not sure if the cost is worth it.”

Driving the dream

Purcell Barrett, a 70-year-old Norfolk Southern retiree, has been living his youthful dream since 1971, when he bought a new white Z28 Camaro.  In 2002, he magnified the dream by buying a 1973 red Z28. He did not buy the cars to put them on a shelf and show them off. “I get criticized because I drive them,” he says, “but I’ll drive them until I die.”

Both are in need of paint jobs and the 1971 has some bumps and bruises.

The cars are eagerly sought by collectors and Barrett estimates their value at $55,000 each. The red one—used—cost $18,500 in 2002 and the white one was $4,400 in 1971, which would equate to $26,690 today. They “are not for sale at any price,” he emphasizes. The 1971 Z28 has 455 horsepower and the engine has been bored and stroked for maximum speed.

Barrett says the cars are not just toys, they are practical (although he owns two more modern Volkswagens). “They’re easy to work on,” he says. “I can figure out what’s wrong in five minutes and fix it in two.”

When he was a kid, “I always wanted a Z28, but all I could do was dream.” Until that day came when he didn’t have to dream any longer.

Pam Martin uses a computer, but loves her pencils.

Pencil, please

Pam Martin begins every day at the pencil sharpener. She is director of digital marketing for New City, a high-end, high-tech marketing firm and her job revolves around a computer. But she can’t function without a set of finely sharpened pencils and a stack of notebooks. “I can’t think without them,” she says. “I hoard Blackwings, Caran d’Ache and Ticonderogas,” all brands of pencil. She looks hard and finds pencils made of wood, which is unusual today. They’re most often plastic or metal.

She has a callous on the fingers of her left hand from writing. Her job involves evaluating spreadsheets  and she says, “I can’t look at a spreadsheet without a pencil in my hand.” She takes notes she never again refers to. “I’m one of those people who can’t think unless I’m writing. There’s something about a pencil that makes my brain work.”

Patrick Toole, a craftsman from the old school.


Luthier Patrick Toole is involved in a profession that pretty much dictates how he works, primarily using hand tools that haven’t changed since people made the first fiddle. He uses a drill press that is electric, but everything else in his shop is driven by Toole Power. He builds, repairs and restores violins/fiddles and other stringed instruments at his shop in Roanoke with planes, gouges, chisels and the like.

“I’ve been carving since I was a little kid,” he says, and as an adult, he has been trained at trade school and worked as an apprentice. He cooks and mixes resins, making his own varnishes “the same way an oil painter would,” using techniques from the 13th century. He has been a toolmaker (blacksmiths often make tools for luthiers). “Tools are expensive,” he says, pointing to a $900 set of clamps, “but they pay for themselves.”

“Some processes can be quickened” with power tools, but they don’t always produce a better product, he insists. Toole plans to consider some of those updates in technology “when I have more space.” For now, though, it’s about his hands and the tools that fit nicely there.

Amanda Cockrell keeps shoes until they’re worn out.

Preserving shoes

Amanda Cockrell, who teaches children’s literature at Hollins University, likes good shoes so much that she is hard-pressed to dump them when they wear out. Most often, she takes them to the Sole Man and has them repaired.

It saves money and preserves good shoes, she says. “The cost is about $55 to repair a pair of shoes,” she says, “and these Birkenstocks [she points to her shoes] cost about $120. I’ve had flats re-soled three times. One of the reasons [she tries to preserve shoes] is that I’m hard to fit and when I find a pair I like, I try to keep them.”

It’s not just the shoes. “Thrift shops, always,” says Cockrell. “Twelve-year-old car. My day planner is a legal pad, one sheet per day. I mend clothes and sometimes I make them. My Waring Blender was my father’s and is possibly older than I am. I burned out six or so modern blenders before I inherited that one.”

Writer/photographer Anne Sampson has a lot of old stuff in her old house, but the vacuum cleaner is one of her faves.

Throwback vac

Writer/photographer/dancer Anne Sampson puts it simply: “I love my 1960s Electrolux vacuum. This vacuum was a thrifted [purchased at a thrift shop] replacement for my mom’s original blue 1960s Electrolux. I can’t imagine the original having given out. I use mine all the time, like driving a ’52 Chevy as your everyday car. It’s a magnificent machine.

“I’ve had contemporary, plastic Hoover uprights, with filters that become obsolete, and hard-to-clean canisters that make a noise rivaling the sound of a jet revving on the runway. Somehow my all-metal, reasonably quiet, well-suctioned workhorse of an Electrolux is preferable.

“I get bags online. I also have an early 1970s model Electrolux at my dad’s house. Plastic chassis, same reliable, workhorse performance. Swedish, like a Volvo. And yes, I love old things, especially old things that work. I have my mom’s old Oster blender, and I use one of those little hand-cranked nut choppers. I try to carefully weigh whether an old thing will perform better than a brand new thing. I don’t use old just because it’s old.”

Steve Urquhart is the motor for his mower.

Mow power

Retired librarian Steve Urquhart bought his human-powered push mower at a Farm supply outlet about 25 years ago and has used it frequently since, though not so much lately. The lawn in his new home is a smidge thick for the mower to be as effective as it might be.

The mower still serves a solid function, mowing the strip of grass where Urquhart’s wife parks her car. It’s not much, but, hey, the mower is old, a bit rusty and its wooden handle wore out and was replaced by a metal bar and duct tape. “I used to have a push mower that mowed when you pushed it and sharpened the blade when you pulled it back,” says Urquhart.

Urquhart’s family was from England and the push mower was an integral part of English gardens, he says. “My dad said that when Churchill came on the radio to announce World War II had begun, all that ‘clickity-click’ from the push mowers working in England stopped while he spoke.”

Kay Iroler still uses her mid-century mixer.

In the mix

When VA Hospital substance abuse counselor Kay Iroler’s foster mom and dad died during her teen years, she hung on to the 1960s-era Sunbeam electric hand mixer that her foster parents loved. “I  remember my mom and dad using it to make the weekly Sunday cakes and meringue for banana pudding. I still have it, still use it. It’s the only mixer I’ve ever owned and have no interest in another. There’s something sentimental about it.

“I never thought about buying another mixer. When things work well, why buy a new one?”

This perculator has made a lot of good cups of coffee.

Me, too

I don’t normally like to include myself in these little fun stories, but I can’t resist here, since I’m an antique myself. I use a lot of old stuff, but my favorite begins my day. It is a General Electric coffee percolator that I actually bought new at Penney’s about five years ago. I don’t have one older, but it’s not from lack of trying. I scoured the thrift store bins and flea markets for about a year before I finally broke down and bought one that looks like a dead ringer for the one Mom used most of her adult life.

Mom loved coffee so much that she often drank instant when “cowboy coffee” (her term) wasn’t available and I was raised with the smell of coffee and bacon wafting into my bedroom about 6 a.m. every day. Nostalgia? You bet. Great coffee? Ah, not so much. That depends more on good water and properly roasted coffee more than it depends on the pot. Still, not much looks as inviting as the coffee perking through the glass bulb on the top of the pot.


A Lovely Walk in a Fresh Snow

These are the rocks at the top of the overlook at Carvins Cove.

Today’s little adventure was a day hike up the lower portion of Tinker Mountain via the Hollins Greenway trail. It was a snow-packed hike because of yesterday’s five inches–or so–of perfect-for-sledding snow.

Tracks in the snow melted into a muddy trail.

The trail was slick and muddy in spots because the temperature was about 37 degrees and there was a little melting in the areas where there were footprints (and there weren’t all that many). I thought initially that it might be a dangerous walk, but it wasn’t. My hiking pole kept me stable throughout.

It was eerily quiet and quite beautiful. At times all I could hear were an occasional airplane overhead or a stream nearby. Great for calming. Here’s some of what it looked like.

This creek made the only sounds for a while.
The snow got heavy and weighed a lot of the pines down.
That’s the trailhead behind me at the bridge.
The old trooper at the creek.
This father and son passed me on the way up and on the way back.
That’s Tinker Mountain in the distance.
That’s Carvins Cove at the bottom of the hill.
I don’t know why this old cedar was yellow, but it was a bright golden color even without the sun on it.
This is the meadow at the foot of Tinker.



The Sound of Children Laughing

That’s Pampa (moi) doing my obligatory snow angel. Ain’t pretty, but it’s effective.

Today, we had the first real snow in more than a year. Last winter’s output was a couple of 1-inchers, which hardly count as snow at all. Today, the sleds, skis and snowman expertise came out. And I took my camera out to record some of it.

Most of these photos are in Wasena Park and on the sledding hill above Memorial Avenue in Roanoke. The order of the day was children laughing. What a wonderful sound.

Parents gathered at the top of the sledding hill
A good-sized crowd was sledding or watching today.
Some decided their time would be best spent building snowmen(women).
The kids got to pose with Frosty.
Dad and the kid had a wreck.
Dad and son in a snowball fight. Dad has the shield.
Struggling back up the hill (the hard part of sledding).
Lean on me, when you’re slip-sliding …
Cross country skiing with a Labradoodle motor.
This was her first snowman and it was a good one. Even the dog loved it.
Wasena Park was peaceful in the snow.

Two Grumpy Old Men, One in a Mask

Sen. Bernie Sanders sat alone, showing off his new mittens at the inauguration of Joe Biden, Jan. 20, 2021. The photo of him has become an international sensation meme. My pal Jennifer Grover composed these two shots of Bernie and me.


Henry Aaron Taught Me To Run

I was embarrassed and mortified and made a promise to myself to become one of the team’s fastest–if not necessarily best–players. I looked to Henry Aaron for help.

Aaron, who died yesterday at 86, was the most graceful athlete I had ever seen. He didn’t run, so much as he loped. And he was far, far faster than almost anybody realized. He was always among the top base stealers in baseball (Milwaukee with the Braves and Brewers and Atlanta with the Braves) and he covered a great expanse of right and center fields on defense. He also set a career home run record, which is remarkable. Mostly, home run hitters didn’t run especially well.

Watching him was like watching an antelope run from a lion. I decided that’s what I wanted: Dan the antelope. I worked hard on it, running short sprints, long sprints; running distances as fast as practical; always concentrating on that long lope with my short legs.

Eventually, it paid off. I became the fastest player on my high school football team by the time I was a senior and even though I had a bad knee and was a quarterback, where speed didn’t matter all that much, I took great pride in it.

Hank Aaron had great influence on a generation or two of young athletes all over the country, but I saw his influence most in the deep south where black people weren’t always seen as human. Aaron was accessible to those of us who didn’t understand why black and brown people were hated for no reason other than their color. He gave us a point of reference: “Why the hell would anybody, anybody at all, hate Hank Aaron?”

Aaron was one of the first black players in the Major Leagues, moving over from the old Negro Leagues where he was a star among some of the best baseball players in history.

He was never flashy, outspoken, or even larger than life the way Babe Ruth was. He was a quiet, dignified man who fought for civil rights in his own way. I remember once responding to a boy in my crowd’s question, “Who’s your favorite baseball player?” I told him Henry Aaron was.

He said, exasperated, “Aaron’s a nigger!”

I said, “He’s a baseball player. A good one.”

The kid just looked at me, totally confused.



The Many (Many) Failures of Donald Trump

A guy named Michael Edmonds compiled the following list, detailing Donald Trump’s failures as president, all of them easily proven and well documented. Trump supporters will either deny them or or approve of them that that group includes the four U.S. Congressmen from our area: Bob Good (whose staff apparently gave Capitol tours to national threats the day before 1/6), Morgan Griffith and Ben Cline, all toadies for the extreme right.

Remember one simple fact: people who support Trump are not conservatives. They are anarchists. Here’s the list:


  • lying in public more than 22,500 times according to the Washington Post Fact-Checker
  • letting at least eight associates connect with Russian agents during the 2016 election
  • trusting Putin rather than U.S. intelligence agencies on 2016 election intrusions
  • easing sanctions on Russia after it interfered in the 2016 election
  • pardoning everyone who refused to cooperate with the Mueller investigation
  • trying to make US help for Ukraine contingent on a campaign contribution
  • hiding $600 million in 2020 campaign expenses behind a family shell company
  • trying to sabotage mail-in voting during an epidemic
  • proposing that the 2020 election be postponed when he fell behind in the polls
  • undermining the democratic process with unfounded claims of election fraud
  • contemplating martial law and seizure of voting machines after the 2020 election
  • refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power after losing
  • threatening state officials to make them change 2020 vote totals
  • pressuring VP Pence to disobey the Constitution during certification of the vote in 2021
  • inciting terrorists to attack the Capitol and overturn the election on Jan. 6, 2021
  • refusing to call out the National Guard to help police during the Jan. 6th attack
  • telling the Jan. 6th attackers, “We love you, you’re very special.”
  • being impeached twice for high crimes and misdemeanors


  • failing to deliver (or even propose) a promised health care plan “cheaper and better” than Obamacare
  • ignoring and downplaying the Covid-19 pandemic as it killed nearly 400,000 Americans
  • calling Covid-19 a hoax and saying it would go away by itself
  • discouraging local officials from mandating basic safety measures during the pandemic
  • blocking a CDC order requiring masks on public transit
  • removing health data collection from the CDC and centralizing it in the White House
  • instructing agencies to make no reference to Covid without prior administration review
  • ordering federal agencies to distribute misinformation virus treatments
  • endorsing potentially harmful treatments for Covid-19
  • silencing CDC scientists when they contradicted White House marketing spin
  • advocating herd immunity, a strategy that unnecessarily killed thousands
  • canceling health insurance for 2.3 million Americans, causing ~10,000 excess deaths
  • failing to coordinate delivery of the Covid vaccine on a national scale
  • vaccinating only 3 million people by 12/31/20 after promising 20 million


  • making the wealthiest Americans even richer through the 2017 tax law
  • keeping wages flat for most Americans while corporate profits soared
  • creating the highest number of unemployed workers since the Great Depression
  • generating trillion-dollar budget deficits by cutting taxes
  • increasing the national debt by $7 trillion, or 37%, in four years
  • permitting the trade deficit to rise to an all-time high


  • reversing 80 environmental regulations that protected land, water, and air
  • blocking efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions
  • weakening rules that limited pollution
  • suppressing federal data on climate change and endangered species
  • opening protected lands and wildlife refuges to gas and oil drilling
  • removing environmental, land management, and public health regulations in order to build the Border Wall
  • removing 30 species per year from the Endangered Species Act regardless of scientific data
  • prohibiting federal scientists from giving congressional testimony
  • firing scientists from federal agencies and replacing them with corporate executives
  • censoring NWS meteorologists who contradicted with White House messaging
  • shutting down multiple programs that collected data on global warming
  • withdrawing the U.S. from 13 international organizations, agreements, and treaties, including the Paris climate accords


  • purging dozens of experts from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency created by Congress in 2018
  • allowing Russian hack of computers in more than 250 federal agencies and businesses
  • vetoing a defense bill because it renamed bases honoring Confederate heroes
  • refusing to share critical defense information with the incoming Biden administration


  • claiming that the Constitution “allows me to do whatever I want”
  • firing two attorneys general and many other high officials who contradicted him
  • creating a turnover rate in top jobs of 92% over four years
  • appointing 220+ judges to the federal bench, 96% of them white
  • appointing more judges rated “not qualified” by the AAA than any other president in 50 years
  • polarizing American political discourse through inflammatory rhetoric and falsehoods
  • praising totalitarian rulers like Putin, Orban, Xi Jinping, and Erdogan
  • legitimizing right-wing extremists like the Michigan Militia, Proud Boys, and QAnon
  • encouraging right-wing militants to seize state capitols governed by his opponents
  • declaring there were good people on both sides of a 2017 white supremacist march
  • threatening to cut federal support to cities governed by his political opponents
  • pressuring the Justice Department to prosecute his enemies and go easy on his friends
  • pardoning supporters convicted of stealing campaign funds, tax evasion, insider trading, witness tampering, and lying to the FBI
  • delaying and hampering the transition to the Biden administration
  • undermining public faith in government institutions, from the FBI to the CDC


  • destroying sacred American Indian sites to build the Border Wall
  • tear-gassing peaceful demonstrators outside the White House to create a photo op
  • prohibiting collection of employee data showing race, gender, age or other factors that could support discrimination charges
  • prohibiting training of federal workers that included discussion of systemic racism or white supremacy
  • using unmarked federal agents to kidnap and interrogate legal demonstrators
  • gagging doctors from sharing scientific data on family planning with low-income women
  • executing more death row prisoners than all presidents in the last 50 years combined
  • removing worker protections in many industries
  • making it harder for sexual harassment victims to bring complaints
  • pardoning U.S. soldiers and mercenaries convicted of war crimes


  • prohibiting people from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S.
  • reducing the annual number of refugees admitted to the U.S. from 85,000 to 12,000
  • erecting 460 miles of barrier to refugees along the southern border
  • separating refugee children from their parents, hundreds of whom still can’t be found
  • housing hundreds of refugee children in chain-link cages


  • accepting payments to himself and his family from foreign nations with whom he was negotiating treaties
  • accepting than $8 million from taxpayers and donors in payments to his family businesses
  • hiring family, friends, donors, and business partners into key government positions
  • pardoning a conman who defrauded Medicare of hundreds of millions of dollars


  • being accused of sexual assault or harassment by more than 40 women (since 1980)
  • golfing on more than 300 days during the four years he was president
  • watching television an average of 5 to 6 hours daily



A Delayed, but Happy Christmas

Meg (right) and Rachel open their gift of a Nikon camera outfit.

I trooped down to Christiansburg yesterday for the long-delayed Christmas celebration with Margie’s daughter, Meghann, and Meg’s partner, Rachel, and we had a grand time.

Meg made her world-famous quiche-like breakfast (some of which I brought home, after eating an embarrassing amount for breakfast) and exchanged gifts. I loved my “Vote Dammit!” T-shirt and the girls seemed to dig their Nikon camera rig. Both are photographers, so it works for them well.

I really like dragging out Christmas.

These “necklaces” are lanyards my grandgirl and her mother made for Margie, Meg and Rachel.



Finding the Fun on a Winters’ Day

Like this shot of susan with her colorful jacket and the black and white landscape.

My buddy Susan and I walked the Roanoke Mountain trails today, finding snow in the right places, lots of shadows, plenty of color and a very nice winter hike overall.

Also presented some good opportunities for photos, which are here.

That’s me and my buddy Elbert Tree.
Susan against the snowy background.
Looks a smidge spooky with the heavy shadows.
That’s Susan’s shadow photographing me. It’s a thing we do.
Want color? Got color.


We Survived, Thanks to Solidarity

Mob ransacks Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Note the idiot on the left placing a call and the one on the right with his feet on the desk.

The U. S. Congress acted exactly as it is supposed to yesterday–perhaps by default, but still locking arms and standing tall to protect our form of government for one more day under the Trump assault.

Mob shows walls can be climbed.

A large group of Trump terrorists–the unofficial count is 10,000–rushed the U.S. Capitol, where the Senate and House were debating whether Joe Biden would be the new president and caused physical and emotional damage. Four people are reported dead, one of a gunshot wound. Much of the massive building was trashed and looted.

But after various law agencies re-took control and pushed the mob away from the Capitol building, the House and Senate reconvened and made relatively short work of confirming Biden’s presidency, a mostly ceremonial act that had gotten out of hand.

All of what unfolded on television, flipping from one network to another, looking for the latest images and listening to reporters and commentators roundly criticizing Trump and his army of right-wing malcontents. Even Fox News, Trump’s official lapdog, couldn’t take much of what was going on.

Facebook and Twitter (both of which have banned Trump) today have a lot of Trump supporters blaming Antifa for the whole debacle yesterday. Trump supporters live in an alternate universe.

The incident became a rare moment of solidarity when people like Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the very image of partisanship on a normal day, sounded like real diplomats, people who honestly cared about their country.

Even an apparently drunk Republican leader and Trump Toadie Lindsey Graham rose to the occasion, blasting the terrorists and saying without reservation Biden was most definitely president.

Trump terrorists rush through the Capitol building, threatening, trashing, looting.

It was a political day to remember. On top of all the commotion, Georgia elected two Democratic senators, throwing the Senate into a 50-50 deadlock with Vice President Kamala Harris becoming the 51st vote for the Democrats when any measure is tied.

Today the mission of finding out what happened to Capitol security, usually dependable, begins. Was the breach an inside job? Was it organized by the Trump organization or an outside group? Whose head is on the chopping block?

But for now, we have to acknowledge that the result was our government holding together in the face of its most direct threat in many decades, perhaps since the Civil War.

I was pushed to the verge of tears several times when people I have come to loathe appeared to rise to the occasion and to defend America against this traitorous mob. It was a nice moment. One to remember when Trump next strikes. As he will.


To Start the New Year, a Story

2020 is gone and 2021 is a mystery, so how better to begin it than with a story. I just put this one together to entertain you. Enjoy it.


By Dan Smith

Eb smelled the bacon first thing as his eyes made an attempt to open. Then the coffee and the biscuit smells wafted into the tiny, cluttered bedroom. His mother yelled, “Get up!” and he knew that was the first of two general alarms before she marched into the bedroom with the glass of cold water to dash on the stragglers.

Eb was not a morning boy, but the bacon was the better choice here. Cold water would send him bolt upright and could make him pee in his underwear. He threw the cover back on the narrow bed and dropped a leg over the side, careful not to put his feet on a chilly pine floor. He rubbed his face and passed his hand over his burr haircut, blinking open his eyes. He took a deep breath of bacon fumes and put both feet on the floor, picking up his jeans and sliding into them. Eb pulled a plain white T-shirt over his head and slipped on his worn white Keds. No need for socks in South Carolina where the temperature would reach 90 before this September day waned into evening.

“Mornin’, Mama,” he said, taking a seat at the dining room table, just off the kitchen, where his mother seemed to spend the bulk of her life. He was the first of the five McCourry kids to reach safety from the cold water.

His mother smiled. “You want cold water duty this morning?” she said.

“No, Mama. That’s your job. They’d kill me.”

Dane McCourry chuckled as she let a spatula full of bacon drip back into the frypan before placing the crisp strips on a newspaper to drain. “No guts this morning, huh?”

“No, ma’am. Can I go over to Mike’s after breakfast? We want to go to the pool and then maybe play some war or baseball or something.”

“Where you getting’ the money for the pool?” she said.

“You know: We pick up Coke bottles from the neighborhood and take them over to the A&P for deposit. Only takes five to get the 10 cents I need. If I find five more, I can buy a frozen Zero bar. Mike taught me about it.”

“How’s he know that? His family has money and he always seems to have his share of it.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Mama. Can I go?”

“Yes, but come home for lunch and be careful. I don’t have to remind you that little Timmy Edwards drowned there last year.”

“I was there, Mama. You know that. And, no, you don’t have to tell me every time swimming comes up. I think about it all the time.”

She placed a plate loaded with bacon, fried eggs, two tomato slices, a biscuit broken in half and covered with gravy, and a glass of milk in front of him. He quickly picked up a strip of bacon and stuffed it into his mouth. “Miss Graybill lets Mike drink coffee,” he said. “Can I have some?”

“No, Eb, it’ll make you nervous and it’ll stunt your growth. You don’t need either of those, so eat your breakfast.”

He made a whiny “awwww” sound and bit into another strip of bacon as he cut a bite of gravy-biscuit. “They have toast with real butter, too,” he said.

“Will you shut up and quit comparing what we have with what they have? Just eat. And go play. Be back here at lunch.”

On the radio, Tony Bennett sang, “I go fwom wags to wiches …” and she softly whistled to the music, turning over a frying egg.


The screen door was standing open and the front door was ajar, so Eb walked into Mike Graybill’s house with a forceful knock and a “Hey, Mike!”

“Back here,” came Mike’s voice from the kitchen. “I’m making coffee and toast. Want some?”

Eb had just finished eating about a quarter of his weight but didn’t hesitate. “Yeh! Great!”

Mike poured half a cup of coffee for Eb in a large white mug, leaving room for cream and sugar, and tossed a piece of dark brown toast onto the table near the butter.  Eb quickly picked up the toast, smeared it with soft butter, and took a large bite. “Mmmmm,” he moaned, picking up the cream and pouring his coffee cup to near the rim. He put in four teaspoons of sugar and stirred, then chased the toast.

“What you wanna do today?” he asked Mike, who was stuffing in a piece of toast.

“I dunno,” Mike said. “Swim, maybe? Mom says there’s a hurricane named Flossy coming up this way from down in the Gulf of Mexico, so it’ll probably be raining tomorrow. It’s going to be hot today.”

“I got my bathing suit, but the pool don’t open ’til 9:30 and I gotta get some money.

The Pond itself was a minor Wonder of the World to Eb’s young mind. It was about 30 yards wide and 100 yards long with a peeling painted aqua concrete wall surrounding three sides. The side near the woods was the most natural, falling off from the edge of the miniature forest, a creek running straight into the Pond and sycamore trees lining the banks on each side of the emptying creek. As one moved to the left from the bathhouses and walked toward the creek, the water turned dark green, and vegetation, including some lily pads, became more evident. The usable portion of the pond—the best part for swimming—was probably 30 yards wide, making the swimming pool a square and the swimming hole next to it—complete with mud bottom—a long rectangle.

Eb suspected that the water was dangerously nasty, but apparently, it was suitable for swimming because occasionally, when the pool opened in the morning, Eb watched as lifeguards took out water samples in glass containers. They were, he imagined, tested, and pronounced swimmable, if not drinkable.

“Let’s go find some bottles,” said Eb as he took the last bite of toast and looked at the toaster.

“Want another one?” said Mike, knowing the answer. A minute later, he tossed another slice at Eb, who buttered it and ate it in three bites. He loved that stuff.

The boys prowled the neighborhood for bottles, walking barefoot on the hot pavement, occasionally crying out when stepping on a sandspur. In half an hour they had found two Royal Crowns and a Nehi orange, all of them in Carrie Baker’s garbage. They still needed two bottles to cover admission and five more for a Zero bar.

North Augusta’s town’s tiny shopping center just across the bridge from Augusta, Ga., on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, was half a mile away and on the way to the pool. Eb and Mike had picked the neighborhood clean over the summer, but the businesses still threw away bottles every day, including the A&P where they took their collection for the deposit. Didn’t make sense to Eb, but he wasn’t going to argue because they were paying his way into the pool. And buying him a Zero.

At 9:30 on the dot Martha Hampton, a pretty cheerleader at the high school and a lifeguard unlocked the pool gate and smiled at Mike and Eb. “Come on in, you two. We’re going to have to give you boys jobs since you’re here every day anyway,” she said. Eb looked embarrassed and Mike said, “You paying us?”

“Come on in and get in the water,” said Martha, adjusting the strap on her pink striped bathing suit. In less than five minutes, they were out of the bathhouse and standing in the white sand near the edge of the pool.

“Watch this,” said Eb as he darted for the shallow end of the pool and launched himself into a straight, flat swimmer’s dive hitting smack on his belly and skirting like a flat rock out into the water. Mike followed closely and Martha yelled from the lifeguard chair, “You boys know better than to dive in the shallow end!” They looked embarrassed and swam toward the raft in the center of the pond, the one where little Tim Thompson had caught his bathing suit on a nail the year before and drowned. They closed the pool for a week after that because when a five-year-old dies, everybody pays attention, Eb learned.

It was 11:30 when June Manchester, the tall, willowy teen-aged blonde with the soiled reputation showed up in a teal bathing suit that was too big on top. People whispered about June and Eb never understood why. She was nice and she was pretty and she always spoke sweetly to him, as she had this morning. She placed her towel on the sand 30 feet from the edge of the pool and went to a spot near the diving board where she sat with her feet in the water.

Eb looked at Mike. Mike looked at Eb. They scrambled out of the water and slowly started a lap around the pool, slowing significantly as they approached June. They moved closer and June bent toward the pool, scooping up a handful of water and rubbing it on her shoulders. As she bent, the boys’ eyes went straight to the top of her bathing suit, and there it was. Breasts. Nipples. All of it. Eb nearly fell. Mike did.

They walked slowly past June, then turned and went back. She bent forward again and got another scoop of water, put it on her shoulders, and turned toward the boys, knowing exactly what they were doing. “You boys find what you’re looking for?” she said, smiling sweetly. Martha laughed. Girls lying on towels nearby laughed. The snack bar manager laughed. They all knew.

Mike’s and Eb’s faces were the color of barn roofs and they broke into a run for the bathhouse. “Did you see that?” Eb said in a loud whisper as they entered the changing room.

“Boobs!” said Mike. “Yeh, I saw it. The left one, then the right one on the way back. Both of them. Nipples! God!” Both boys looked down at their erections and laughed. Nothing could possibly happen the rest of the day—maybe the rest of the summer—that would top this. Nipples. Lordy mercy.


One Saturday the previous summer Eb got back to the pond about two o’clock and everybody was bunched up in a circle on the beach. People were crying and screaming at each other. “Give him some room!” somebody yelled. “He can’t breathe! Back up!” An ambulance roared into the parking lot, its light flashing urgently and two men in white clothes came running to the beach, carrying bags and a big board. The crowd opened and the men ran to the center. That’s when Eb saw Timmy Edwards lying there lifeless, his tiny body not moving.

Timmy was the newly-adopted five-year-old son of Dane McCourry’s best friend. He swam like he was born in the water and was a fearless little guy. He laughed and played and was a happy, curious little boy. He was lying in the sand light blue, limp, dead.

Allen Simmons, a pitcher on Eb’s Dixie League baseball team, stepped on Timmy as Allen climbed up the ladder to the raft at the center of the pond. Allen then went under water to see what he’d stepped on and found Timmy, his bathing suit hooked on a protruding nail, drowned. Allen, a big kid, pulled Timmy loose and swam with him in his arms to the shallow water and then walked him to the beach and lay him down.

Mike and Eb left Panic Pond that day with their heads down. The sun went behind a big cloud and the pavement cooled as much as it could, so the somber walk home wasn’t interrupted by the usual yelps. As they passed Mike’s house and he peeled off, Eb said, “See you tomorrow,” and Mike said, “Yeah, OK,” without much feeling.

They closed the pool for two days and the boys didn’t have anything to do for those days, but they didn’t mind so much because it was sort of a way of honoring Timmy for being a good little guy. Dane McCouorry did a lot of cooking for Timmy’s parents and she was gone more than usual for a while, over at the Edwards’ house, talking to them, Eb guessed. Eb heard his mom and dad whispering late at night and for several evenings, and he heard what I thought must be his mom crying. She almost never cried.


An adventure first thing every day was the daily goal, even before he got out of bed on occasion. Today’s was not the kind of adventure he sought this late summer day, one that was too hot.

Adventure would come and the possibilities were nearly endless: swimming at Panic Pond, war games in their many iterations, an all-day baseball game at the playground, sledding with a cardboard box on the pine needle hills, climbing to the top of the kudzu-covered trees and looking up at the sky. Eb didn’t own a bike and his family had neither telephone nor TV. But there was no lack of things to do with his fading summer vacation.

In the southernmost regions of the United States, snow is a theoretical concept, but the lack of snow has never discouraged the Children of the South from sledding in winter. The young tend toward resourcefulness and those of the west-central South Carolina piedmont regions are expert sledders.

Creative games were often an exercise of flying in the face of convention, sometimes just making do with something different. In the 1950s, Southerners took what was essentially an upper-crust, elitist, rich European playboy’s sport and turned it over to chicken farmers and moonshiners. They created NASCAR.

On this morning, Eb and Mike opted for sledding, which required proper preparation—again combing the neighborhood for proper materials, this time a cardboard box of sufficient size. People’s Drug Store and Carolina Furniture Outlet provided the boxes. The medium-sized boxes, flattened out with all seams unglued, were best for 10-year-olds. They were sleek, fast, and easy to maneuver for the boys who knew how to bend the front corners and cup their hands on the box’s steering wheel.

The front flap, which already had a crease, was pulled to the knees of the sitting boy and curled slightly over them. Then the corners were bent forward so they could be held as the driver leaned right or left in steering.

That hill, covered in long, slick Southern pine needles, made its way through a heavily wooded section, and running into trees was a hazard, especially near the bottom when maximum speed was reached. But if Eb or Mike could make it to the bottom, the reward was a quick upward slope that allowed the box and the boy to become air-born for seconds of “Yaaaa-hoooooo!” thrill.

On this day, Eb hit the up-slope just right following an uninterrupted run straight down the hill and landed in a small bush about 20 feet beyond the ditch, flying through the air just long enough to yell, “Geronimoooooooooooo!” Eb lay stretched like he was doing a snow angel at the end of the run, as Mike slid in beside him. “Again?” said Mike. The boys jumped to their feet and sprinted to the top of the hill where a group of younger boys was gathered with their boxes. “Watch us,” said Mike. “Learn something.” He put picked up his box, held it out in front of him, and ran to the downhill starting spot, diving onto the pine needles – and straight into a tree.

Before Eb had even finished laughing at and making fun of Mike (“Hey, wanna try that again? Some of the boys missed it”), Eb set said down the hill and quickly banged off a bulky pine knocking his path off-kilter, spinning him around and leaving him disoriented for an instant.

He steered back toward the path, never losing any speed, and overshot it, hitting another tree, skinning his knuckles, going faster with each smashup. As he hurtled toward the bottom of the hill, screaming more intensely with every foot, he saw that he was to the left of the ditch jump and heading fast at a brush pile that would flip him into the gulley. He tugged, pulled, and pleaded with the sled until it turned slightly right, edged into the beaten path, and at the last possible instant, hit dead center on the jump.

Eb jumped up and yelled to Mike, “Show the boys how to do that!


Sledding season ultimately waned and, mostly from bored repetition, so it was to the top of the trees for the boys. Most of the trees were about the size of a dogwood because a lot of them were dogwoods. They were covered in kudzu, the Japanese vine brought to the Philadelphia Expo in the 1890s that Southern adults hate and kids love.

The adults know that kudzu grows two feet a day in the deep South and can cover a farmhouse over the course of a long vacation break. They know you can’t kill it any more than you can kill honeysuckle and that kudzu kills trees and dominates everything it touches, including electrical wires.

But the boys loved kudzu because of what it led to: forts in the sky where legendary wars were fought on long days before school became an issue again. When kudzu took over a grove of trees, it grew to the tops and spread out. That created a carpet on the crest of the trees and those weighing about 60 to 80 pounds walked on it, climbed through it, hid above and below it, shot BB guns at each other while hiding in it. Mothers didn’t know the part about the BB guns.

On this day, Eb went to the top of the trees by myself just to lie in the kudzu, springy as a bed, and watch cloud formations, a dinosaur here, a fireman there, a dog and a horse and a castle. This was the summer of dreams.

When Mike and Eb played games with other boys on top of the trees, an occasional head would pop through the kudzu or some kid walking on top would disappear with a yelp.

One overcast day when rain threatened, Marion McCorkle was lying in wait on the roof of one of the kudzu neighborhoods, poking his head down through the top layer and scouting the floor of the woods every little bit, hanging onto his Daisy Air Rifle with a death grip, his hand on the trigger and the gun cocked and ready to put another kid’s eye out.

Eb was one of Marion’s enemies that day—and most other days—and he’d caught on to Marion’s trap when he saw a sag in the canopy and a dark shadow in the shape of a boy, backlit through the layers of kudzu. Marion wasn’t quite as sharp or as treacherous as he imagined.

Mike climbed a tree about 10 feet in front of Marion and Eb clamored up one about 10 feet behind him. Eb had a long rope and when he and Mike reached the kudzu roof, Eb looked over at Mike, signaled that the end of the rope was coming, and threw it through several branches. It was a great throw and Mike caught it as it shot through the branches holding Marion in place.

Eb grinned. Mike grinned. Eb held up a hand and counted off: one, two, three, and they jumped, holding the end of the rope and falling through the trees. Each of the boys stopped as if they were hitched to a bungee cord about three feet off the ground, balancing each other at each end and pulling the roof from underneath Marion, who felt his foundation open up and watched as the floor of the woods rushed to meet his face. Several branches broke his fall, but not his scream. You could hear him over at the grocery store a good quarter of a mile away.

That evening Mom asked me what was wrong with Marion—she’d picked out his high-pitched yelping—and I said, “Oh, nothing. He fell off one of those little kudzu bushes.”

The end of the season was coming soon and Eb couldn’t wait for the guys at school to ask about his summer. Boobs and kudzu and wrecked tanks and a dead little boy. Legends in the making.