A Happy Birthday to My Good Son

My son and grandgirl, Madeline, who adores him.

Evan and grandboy, Oz.

Today is my son Evan’s 45th birthday and he has come through one of the most difficult years of his life shining like an airplane landing light. I won’t go into the details of his tough year because that’s private, but let me say he has shown considerable strength, grace, patience, perseverance and grit over the past year. I’m truly proud of him.

A few weeks ago, Ev got a new job in Waco, Texas. It’s a good job, one that will challenge and reward him, I suspect, but rather than simply announce to the family that they should uproot from Memphis and head out to the great Southwest, he consulted his wife and two kids.

Evan at his wedding: This is all I taught him.

It was especially important for 14-year-old Madeline, who was just beginning high school and had friends and her beloved School of Rock to leave behind. The School of Rock had one more concert planned for her band and she wanted to participate, but that would be in late September, two months away. Evan didn’t bat an eye. Maddie would get her performance, even though that meant he would have to fly back to Memphis every other week to be with the family.

It’s that kind of being a great dad that I respect most about my son, I think. I was not much of a father (I’m a great Pampa) and I look with amazement at him and how he handles and teaches his kids. He sure as hell didn’t learn that from me. But he learned it and I want to say, “Happy birthday, Ev. Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s working.”

Ev and me after a day of whitewater rafting. He was about 14 and had terrible shorts.

Today Marks my 55th Year in Journalism

I was 18 and two months out of high school when I began writing for money.

Fifty-five years ago today at 10 o’clock in the morning I walked into the tiny sports department at the Asheville Citizen-Times, spotted sports editor Bob Terrell’s desk in the back corner. There were five desks in a room that couldn’t have been more than 15X15. I briskly walked toward him, my right hand extended to shake his.

I had no appointment, but I wanted a job. This was the only way I knew to ask. My background was not imposing: I was 18, a recent high school graduate and I couldn’t type. My previous jobs were in a paint warehouse and a fast-food restaurant. I had been a high school athlete and a good English student. I liked to write.

Bob listened patiently as I told him all that and ended with, “I’d love to work here with you.”

My mother suggested I give Terrell a visit, asking, “What do you have to lose?” I had no answer. “Besides,” she said, “this Bob Terrell seems like a nice man. I’ve read his columns.” He was a nice man. He hired me on the spot and I worked that night at a salary of $5 a night as a copy boy, a position that no longer exists and hasn’t for many years.

My first assignment was to practice typing and take hard copy (that’s stories type-written on paper) to the composing room every 30 minutes or so, in order for the stories to be set into type on lead slugs. Bob assigned Al Geremonte, the paper’s outdoor editor and an old World War II platoon sergeant who fought at Guadalcanal, to watch over me and teach me the ropes.

This is me in about 1981 as editor of a weekly paper.

I took to the routine quickly, loved the always-excited atmospheres of the adjacent news and sports rooms, learned to type by typing and started writing small stories initiated by people calling the department. Al had a blue pencil that he used on my two and three-paragraph pieces, tearing them apart, often leaving me crushed, but determined. He said, “Listen, kid, [he always called me “kid”], just write the way you talk and make sure you speak English and you’ll be OK.” I later learned that Al’s advice gave me permission to write in my own “voice,” something I have taught young writers for years now.

It was October before I earned my first by-line, a small piece, maybe six paragraphs, on high school football. I had never before–or since–been so proud. Mom showed the clipping to everybody she knew.

That’s the significantly-ripened me in front of the Citizen-Times building in downtown Asheville.

I have always felt something more than blessed that Mom suggested I go see Bob Terrell, that I did and that he hired me. Some years ago, I wrote a story about a job counselor who suggested that most of us land in our careers by sheer happenstance, like the theater major a friend of mine hired to be a financial advisor (she’s great at it, he says). I loved to write, even as a kid and entertained notions of teaching history at one point. But that wasn’t happening.

Listening to Mom wasn’t something I always did. This time, though, it was the right thing to do.


Kelani Lawrence Shines in Pan Am Games

Kelani Bailey Lawrence kisses her two bronze Pan American Games medals.

Kelani Lawrence with doubles partner Rhonda Rajsich and their Pan Am medals

It’s been quite the warm season for Roanoker Kelani Bailey Lawrence, who began with a national championship in racquetball in May and followed that with two bronze medals at the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru, July 26-Aug. 11.

As reported here earlier, the young Salem YMCA membership coordinator, won a national singles title at the USA Racquetball Championships at Highlands Ranch, Colorado, in the spring. She shared the USA Racquetball title in 2018. (My Roanoker magazine story here.)

At the Pan Am games she won bronze medals in doubles with partner Rhonda Rajsich (40-year-old veteran player and former national champ from Phoneix) and with the USA team. She lost in the quarterfinals of the singles competitions. The lack of a title was not discouraging, she says. “I continued to improve throughout the tournament,” she says. “The South American teams rock it in racquetball. It is the No. 2 sport in Bolivia and has government support in several countries.”

Kelani relaxes on the Pan Am logo.

The team had little time to explore the coastal city of Lima (which was an hour and a half away from the Pan Am venue). “We would wake up, eat, go to the competition, play, go back, eat and sleep. We did find the food amazing. Peru is known for its food, especially the fish, which I loved.”

The tournament took place during the Peruvian winter and “it was in the 50s and 60s most days and overcast most of the time we were there.”

She gets back to work in September, returning to her home area of Chesapeake for a pro tournament run by her mother, Malia Kamahoahoa Bailey. Kelani says her mom will play in the tournament, but it is unlikely the two will face each other.

(Photos courtesy Kelani Lawrence.)


A Delayed Birthday to a Lovely City

This bridge leads to Percival Island in downtown Lynchburg.

That’s Uday and me.

Celebrating a birthday on the birthday is pretty much a settled argument, except for when it isn’t. Yesterday, my friend Susan helped me celebrate my July 31 birthday by taking me to Lynchburg for a hike on the inner-city trail to Percival Island and lunch at the Hill City’s lovely city market.

The market area of Lynchburg once trailed Roanoke’s version, but no more. Not by a mile. Lynchburg has more farmers, more vendors, better-prepared food and a heck of a lot more to do downtown when you get there than does Roanoke. Lynchburg’s version of Roanoke’s greenway runs right along the James River, which is about three blocks away from its market area, which is teeming with people, smiling, telling stories, buying veggies, crafts (they love the phrase “Made in Virginia”), window shopping and being surprised at just how much entertainment can be packed into a small area.

Noting my birthday on the chalkboard at H&C Cafe.

My friend and I ate lunch at the well-regarded (just look at the awards on the wall) “Italian-Mediterranean Fusion” restaurant Hot & Cold Cafe, straight across the street from the city market building and its farmers. The cafe’s owner is Uday Mukherjee, one of the most engaging and enthusiastic chef/owners I’ve ever met. You see, hear and feel the love in his preparations as he flits around the room offering suggestions. Eating at H&C Cafe is a delight.

Susan and I in silhouette during lunch.

I bought beets, tomatoes and a lovely Asian pear at the market.

My old artist pal Paul Clement made Lynchburg’s “Love” sign on the banks of the James River.

We posed in the “O.”

These locks for bicycles made for an interesting graphic over the James River.

The James River, downtown Lynchburg.

The Style of Madeline Smith

A touch of the 1950s

My shirt adds a touch.

My daughter-in-law, Kara, explained the photos this way: “This is Madeline’s first week of school fashion… I really love that she is finding her own style and experimenting.”

Maddie’s mom has always had a nice sense of stylish flair and my grandgirl has been the beneficiary. Add to that the two years they lived in Spain and the notion that elegance is cool, and you get Maddie at 14, a young woman who has developed her own look and is comfortable with it.

Lose the backpack, Mads.

USO dance, 1944.

She has combined Goodwill (the outdoor shirt I bought for her) with the yellow lounging outfit, long sweaters, 1940s frocks, combat boots, Goth darkness, a haircut that looks like an accident and those ever-present and alluring dimples to become Madeline, Viking Warrior, which she has been since she was about 8. Now she has the clothes for it.

Here’s Madeline’s fashion as she enters high school in Memphis. She will take it with her to stir up Texas when the family moves to Waco at the end of September.

One tip: Straighten the shoulders, sweetie.

Maddie wore this on a theatre date with me (minus the jacket) when she was here this summer.

The Value of People Who Want To Live Here

Coochanelli wants only those with money.

The Trump Administration, with former Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken “Cooch” Coochanelli at the point, wants to rewrite the inscription on the Statue of Liberty so that America becomes a welcoming country only for well-to-do white people only.

The plaque was attached to the statue after it was constructed, but its intent has always been a part of our country’s reason for being: We want those looking for an opportunity, regardless of their culture, their circumstances, their religion.

Here are a few people we have welcomed, that were poor when they got here, but aren’t any longer. A lot of Americans benefitted from that largesse.

In 2016 “42 slots on The Forbes 400 belong to naturalized citizens who immigrated to America. That’s 10.5% of the list, a huge overperformance considering that naturalized citizens make up only 6% of the U.S. population,” according to Forges.

Here are a few success stories (not necessarily on the Forbes list) that the Trumpsters may want to consider before banning people because of the color of their skin or their religion.

  • Yahoo founder Jerry Yang (Taiwan)
  • Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi (India)
  • Andrew Ly Sugar Bowl Bakery (Vietnam)
  • Vinod Dham CEO of Silicon Spice (India)
  • Rijat Gupta ex-managing director McKinsey & Co. (India)
  • Elie Weisel author and Jewish activist (Transylvania)
  • Mel Martinez former U.S. Senator, chairman Chase Bank of Florida (Cuba)
  • Andy Grove co-founder Intel (Hungary)
  • Lowell Hawthorne founder Golden Crust Caribbean Bakery & Grill (Jamaica)
  • Gene Simmons (Chaim Witz) musician with KISS (Hungary)
  • Ahmad Meradji Booklogix CEO (Iran)
  • Felix Sanchez de la Vega Guzman Puebla Foods founder (Mexico)
  • Sergey Brin co-founder Google (Russia)
  • Shahid Khan Jacksonville Jaguars owner (Pakistan)

I’m writing a story for early next year that will feature some of our more successful immigrants and you will know some of them. Imagine what we’d be without them.




Subtle Changes Mark the Seasons

Celebrate good times, come on!

Virginia creeper showing its red.

Sometimes, the outside is so glorious I can’t contain myself and this past weekend presented two days’ worth of that glory. I was outside, hiking, paddling and thoroughly enjoying the sun, the breeze, the clarity of the air, the smells and the soaking of all five senses at the same time.

The colors in the woods are beginning to ease toward fall, giving hints with the subtle changes of color in poison ivy, the Virginia creeper and a wide variety of other flora and fauna. It is a time to take notice.

Faux muscle boy.

A flower all his own.

I’m not sure what this is, but it’s lovely.

This says “fall” in a loud voice.

I think these are poison sumac berries.

Not sure what spun this web, but it’s striking and a little spooky.


Renewing a Good Friendship on the Cove

Pam paddles toward me as fog clings to the mountain in the distance. The fog was lovely.

Pam has that great up-from-the-feet, full-throated laugh, even as Pampa tries to shoot a selfie.

It’s always odd to me how when I don’t see a good friend for a while, little gets lost in the intervening time. My pal Pam Golden and I have been promising to put the boats in the water for nearly two years and did it today, breaking away from schedules that sometimes confine us.

We hadn’t missed a beat, chattering about all manner of important and unimportant matters for a good while as we paddled the bumpy waters of Carvin’s Cove. It was a perfect day and the company could not have been better. Pam, who owns Glazed Bisque-It and helps people make some special ceramics, was full of good stories and great humor. So good to see her again.

Pam took this shot of Pampa, heading for her, wearing his hemp hat.