Only in the Family …

Becky, Paul, me and Paula’s damn dog, Bubby. Talk about the Energizer Bunny.

I spent the weekend in Asheville visiting family and telling stories only we would enjoy and fully appreciate. We grew up poor and about as disjointed as a family can be, often hungry, sometimes hurt, always laughing out loud.

We seemed to remember that last part best when Becky, Paul and I got together with my Margie and Paul’s daughter, Paula. I think Paula was probably taken aback by the blunt honesty of some of the revelations and I was, frankly, surprised at how much new information can come out when siblings–all well over 60–get together and start swapping stories.

Some of the revelations were dubious, some enlightening, a couple shocking, but all fully entertaining, giving us something to chew on when we got back to our normal lives. I had a hell of a time.

My brother and I swap political barbs frequently online (Paul’s a long-time Republican who does not try to defend Trump’s behavior, though he agrees with some of his policies and I am of the view that the devil has taken second place in the awfulness sweepstakes), but we keep it civilized and nobody gets mad. I guess that’s family. I wish it was everybody’s family. Becky, by the way, proved to be the absolute queen of gossip, especially family gossip. I had to say, several times, “Oh, you’re not real!” She insists she was.


A Side Trip to Mayberry

Pampa with Andy and Opie Taylor in front of the Andy Griffith Museum.
Margie got to pose, too.

Margie and I hadn’t planned on making a stop on the way home from Asheville today, but she mentioned that Mt. Airy, N.C., which I’ve always knows was the basis for Mayberry of the Andy Griffith Show had a whole street dedicated to the show.

So we went. And we found the real Mayberry. Cool as a summer watermelon, it was. Here’s a bit of what we found, including Snappy’s cafe where the atmosphere was reminiscent and the food probably authentic, given the fact that it left a lot to be desired.

We had a good time in Mayberry.

Margie found Snappy Lunch and we ate there.
Margie got a BLT and I stuffed with the pork chop sandwich, which was curious, but it’s the “North Carolina State Sandwich,” according to lore.
This is the first view inside Snappy’s.
The decor is, well, authentic.
Here’s the downtown icon of icons.
Opie would love this.
Pampa found the ice cream parlor.
The Mt. Airy News covers the real stuff: BBQs.
Mayberry, the real one.

A Brief Visit to Lake Lure, Chimney Rock

The view from just above the rock of Lake Lure and the entire valley.
You can see the rock from a lot of angles.

Margie and I trouped down to Lake Lure and Chimney Rock from our little excursion to Asheville Saturday and found a Gatlinburg-style village with so many people it was hard to turn around without cramming an elbow into a rib. But it is a beautiful little town and Lake Lure is all I remember (except for the crowds): beautiful beaches, plenty of boats and a lot to do on a summer afternoon.

Our trip up Chimney Rock was my first (though I am a native of Asheville and had been down that way plenty of times). We took an adventurous bus trip up and back down the winding road (where the Chimney Rock Hill Climb is/was held) and it was a comic nail-biter. The nice driver assured us he hadn’t had a serious wreck in a week or two after telling us it was his first day on the job (“Just kidding, hahahahaha!”).

I like Chimney Rock, but I’d like to visit when I can get up there without having to move people out of the way. Gorgeous view, as you can see.

Margie enjoyed the balcony above the rock after climbing up.
Two old people on an adventure.
Lake Lure goes on for a bit.
This is the final climb to the top of the rock.
Lake Lure is a charming village.
The crowds had just begun to gather when I shot this. It got worse.
Loud (obnoxiously so) Harleys were all over the place and were often welcome.
Harleys are noisy and annoying as hell, but they make good pictures.
I found a kayak I wouldn’t want to paddle.
Who could forget?
Your choice: Cheerwine, RC, Nehi orange. I’ll do the Cheerwine.
Margie found a checkerboard, the game for old men … 
… and I found a roadster (like the one my dad had when he was courting Mom).
The beach at Lake Lure is beautiful.
Mom and the little dudes on the lake.
This guy gave us our hairy ride.
Margie and I had fun on the bus.
A final view for you and, yes, it’s phallic as hell.

Not So Lost in the ’50s Tonight

Paul and I at the side of the gorgeous ’50 Merc.
Margie and my sister, Becky, in the back seat. They love the car.

This Mercury Custom is one of several my younger brother, Paul, has owned and it’s one of the best. Paul buys and sells collectible cars, some quite valuable, others more aesthetically pleasing than expensive and still others simply head-turning in every respect.

Paul says this car used to be known as “Solid Gold” on the antique car circuit and was well regarded nationally. At this moment it is pretty much pristine but does not sell for as much as some other equivalent collectibles. “At a car show [recently], I got out of the car and talked to people for two hours about it, but nobody wanted to buy. They really seem to love it, but when it comes time to put up money, it’s, “Oh, no!’:

It’s about the details.

The Merc is chopped and channeled, meaning the top has been lowered abut five inches from its original height. I was surprised at how good the views from inside. Margie actually flipped over the car.

It will probably sell for around $30,000 or so I, about a tenth of what the best have sold for. Its original price was about $2,500.

This custom car has automatic transmission (a C4 transmission, and a nine-inch Ford rear end–Paul explains to me, who has no clue what he’s talking about). It would have come equipped with a flathead engine. It has power steering, windows and brakes, air conditioning and electric doors, none of that original. At night, you can turn on the neon lights around the bottom of the frame and “wow all the downtown drug addicts,” says Paul.

Paul giving a seminar on collectibles.
Me, pretending the Merc is mine. (For 35Gs, it could be.)

‘Not a Good Day for Old Men’

This is the photo that set me off. God, those shorts!

There are days when age simply shows up and shocks those of us on the outer limits of life expectancy. Yesterday it happened to me at an unexpected moment. I was posting a photo of my friend Karen Chase and me just after we finished eating a couple of fish tacos at Alejandro’s in downtown  Roanoke.

There stood Karen looking sleek, fresh and pretty beside an old man I simply didn’t recognize. It was me, I know, because I was there, but it bore no resemblance to how I normally picture myself and how the camera often treats me–with kindness.

The face was gaunt, the body limp and sagging, the shorts simply awful (they were in the trash moments after I put the photo on my computer screen) and the whole demeanor as tired as Robert Mueller’s testimony yesterday.

Maybe it was an aberration: not a good day for old men.

I have always fessed up to my age and never tried to deceive anybody about it. I’m 72, 73 next Wednesday and, truth be told, I’m healthy and in pretty good physical shape. My memory is as good as that of most of my friends in the 30-40 range. I eat right, get a lot of mental and physical exercise and tend to the parts of life that are important. My energy level surprises a lot of people. But there I was yesterday, looking like those other people I see when I attend a class reunion (“Who the hell are all these old people?”).

I won’t lose a lot of sleep about it even though vanity (thanks, Mom) is part of my fabric. The other half of the equation is recognition of the truth. And the truth is that I am old and that ain’t changing in the next few days.



A Memorial to Salem: Sports Town

Salem has been known as the premier sports town of Western Virginia since long before I moved here in 1971 and that’s finally going to get its own slice of the Salem Museum.

According to a press release from the Salem Museum, there are plans for a new gallery focusing on team and individual champions in many fields: athletics, academics, the arts, and civic and professional life. “This permanent installation will feature both traditional exhibits and a hands-on, interactive kiosk that will preserve the stories of Salem’s champions for years to come. Opening Day is planned for September 21, 2019.”

I’m happy to see this because I was editor of the Salem newspaper for several years and I know how important sports teams are to the natives. When I was a sportswriter for The Roanoke Times, I covered the Andrew Lewis High School football team that played T.C. Williams (“Remember the Titans”) in Roanoke’s Victory Stadium for the state championship, drawing about 20,000 people. Lewis was not represented in the movie and actually had a better story of integration than did T.C. Williams.

Mark O’Connell wrote a book about that team called The Team the Titans Remember (available here.)

In addition to the permanent exhibit, a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution called “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America” will be in Salem Sept. 21 through Jan. 4. The Museum’s Fran Ferguson is “reaching out to what is for us a whole new audience.”

The release says, “The gallery will permanently showcase Salem’s champions, those who have been recognized with a first-place win at the state level or above. The Champions Celebration Gallery will include both traditional exhibits and a touch-screen kiosk that will enable visitors to search a rich database of stories about Salem’s many champions. The gallery will include the student state champions from Carver School, Andrew Lewis High School, Salem High School, Glenvar High School, and Roanoke College. The winners of national championships held in Salem will be recognized, as well as Salem’s high achieving professional athletes.”

The museum is looking for individuals, teams and stories to feature and it is 2/3 of the way toward its financial goal of funding the gallery. Donations can be mailed to the Salem Museum at 801 E. Main St., Salem, VA 24153, or made securely online at

Contact Fran Ferguson ( or Alex Burke ( at the Salem Museum if you have questions or information, or call 540-389-6760. More information is also available on the museum’s website,


A Touching Goodbye for the Garbage Man

Ricky Akers struggling while being honored by the county.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve attended a government meeting in an official capacity–as a reporter, as it were. This afternoon, backgrounding a story I’m writing for a magazine, I had to attend the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors meeting and I found myself fascinated with a couple of developments.

Honoring Anne Marie Green was more traditional.

First, there was Ricky Akers, a guy who looks like a Civil War Veteran, wearing overalls (not buttoned on the side vent, showing a bit of pudge)  accepting a resolution of appreciation from the county board for his work collecting trash for the past 37 years.

Rob Light, his supervisor, said some good things about Ricky, which seemed to move him. Rob asked if Ricky would like to speak and the old boy nodded. “I dedicated my life to my job,” he said, his voice breaking. He tried to continue, but his head went down, the tears came and the hearts of a room full of people were with him.

Ricky’s having trouble these days with gout and probably a simple case of wearing out because he’s been throwing around people’s trash for nearly four decades. Good for you, Ricky, and thank you, sir.

(Anne Marie Green, the county’s HR director retired after 30 years, but hers was more predictable with laudatory statements, thank-yous and general admiration that executives give each other.)

Reporters and their devices. Those beside me had laptops. I had a pen and paper.

On another matter, I noted–so to speak–that I was the only reporter in the room with a pen and a piece of paper, taking notes, writing on the agenda and in my notebook, as I always have. The young reporters were all collecting info with electronic devices. At one point, during a crucial presentation by the planning department, the electronics stopped working and I thought to myself, “If he had some poster-sized pictures, he wouldn’t be having this problem right now.” I felt vindicated.


‘Carrying Independence” to Williamson Road

Karen with some of her favorite dudes.

My old pal Karen Chase, a former Roanoke graphic designer, will talk about her popular new book, Carrying Independence, Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the newly-renovated Williamson Road Library in Roanoke, one of the first events to be held there.

A Canadian by birth, Chase lives in Richmond now, but is frequently in Roanoke for a variety of reasons, among them talking about her books. She became a writer shortly after leaving the Star City with a charming memoir about turning 40 in France titled Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log (40 years. 40 days. 40 seconds. (Available here)

Chase, whose new work is a novel focusing on the signing of the Declaration of Independence, says, “My presentation will be some of the history and background behind the story of ‘carrying independence.’ I’ll talk about how I found the story, verifying that, indeed, not all the signers were in the same room on the same day, and then some of the lesser known facts of history that I learned along the way. Part of that time at the library will also include a Q&A to answer questions about writing, history, publishing, etc.”

 The talk is part of the Roanoke Reads summer program.

Chase’s talks about Carrying Independence (here) have been popular among history buffs and clubs like the Daughters of the American Revolution, revealing as it does a lot of the detail surrounding getting all the signatures that appear on the final document, an exciting and sometimes dangerous undertaking.


The New Norm: 100 Degrees in Roanoke

The Roanoke River was hot yesterday, but it was quite lovely.

The simple fact is that I grew up in west-central South Carolina (on the Savannah River) and the heat we are experiencing in Roanoke, VA, right now should not affect me with such devastating surprise. It was the norm in North Augusta. In August, I went to football practice at the high school at 9 a.m. with a temperature of 95 degrees and humidity hovering around 98 percent. We had no fat football players.

Dressed for heat, not for hottie.

Yesterday on my back porch, the temperature reached 103 degrees and the humidity was 78 percent a little after 3 p.m. I did a kayak trip down the Roanoke River from 9-11 a.m., then ran a few errands (didn’t turn on the AC in my truck, for reasons known only to me), getting back home about 1. It was 94 degrees when I pulled into the driveway.

At about

A circle of trees on Tinker Creek, heading toward the Roanoke River.

3, I took some trash outside and felt like I was in a foundry. That feeling was not conjecture. I spent time in foundries twice, taking photos for stories and it was hot. I was amazed that the workers doing 12-hour shifts, wearing heavy canvas jumpsuits and rarely complaining about the heat. I lasted about 20 minutes in each case. The heat was searing, much as it was yesterday, much as it was when I was a kid.

Today, we are in line to hit 100 again before the intensity of summer lets up for a while. The fact is, though, that this is no longer unheard of. It’s not even unusual. The thermometer hit 100 four times on my back porch last year and it hovered over 90 on a number of occasions. I don’t know if there’s any getting used to it, adjusting to it at my age and I am 100 percent certain climate change is the reality behind it. As a nation, we have refused to do anything about that change and we are enduring the consequences at this point.

Not a gator; a limb.
Tree roots create their own art in the intense sun.
A railroad trestle in the sun: reflections in a golden eye.
Rocks in the Roanoke River and the greenway reflected in the Roanoke River. Quite a sight for the casual kayaker.
This guy was serious about fishing and protecting his head and face from the sun.
A turn in the greenway bridge against an azure sky.
More wooden crocodiles.
I was captivated by this spooky root reflection. Turn it any one of four ways and you get a different photo. Striking.

Something New at Overnight Sensations

Amanda Mansfield (from left), Gwenyth Strope, Taylor Cobb and Mikayla Cohen in Sarah Smith’s “All’s Fair in Love and Libraries”

Overnight Sensations, the Mill Mountain Theatre/Hollins University summer collaboration, has been pretty stagnant for its 13 years, though that does not imply it has been uninteresting. That changed last night.The group of six 10-minute play-ettes, written, rehearsed and presented in 24 hours, took a turn toward sophistication.

My date and me ready for a night of theatre.

The first change I noticed was that the orchestra pit was open for the spare staging of these works. That hadn’t been done before. There was music. Writers wrote in more props, which have always been at a very minimum. And there was simply a lot more going on in general.

It made for a delightful evening, one stolen–as usual–by writers Ben Williams and Dwayne Yancey, who were strongly challenged for the best play by David Beach, Amy Lytle, Becky Becker and Sarah K. Smith.

The nearly-filled auditorium was alive with laughter, often loud and prolonged.

The premise here is to give the writers prompts, say “children’s theater set in a boarding house” and a line that must be used during the course of the play (“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child,” for example).

I normally spend some of my Overnight Sensations evening on stage, but my grandgirl is in town for a visit, so we went as spectators. Maddie, who is 14, spent the night all but rolling in the aisles. She’s a big fan of this night. And so am I.