Au Revoir, Pearl Fu, the Best of Us

Pearlie Mae Fu with my friend Susan and me yesterday. So long, Pearlie. We will all miss you.

Pearl Fu is moving to Philadelphia this week and I have mixed emotions about it. Pearlie Mae (as I prefer to call Roanoke’s First Citizen) needs to be near her family as her Parkinson’s Disease progresses, but she has been and remains such a force for good in Roanoke that her loss will be felt for a long time. I don’t know that we can replace her in any sense. Philly lucked out.

Pearl in 2010.

My friend Susan and I visited Pearlie at her fast-emptying-out Avenham Avenue home yesterday and found ourselves part of a procession of people sharing stories about her and giving her hugs and kisses that would have to last.

We got there just after a City Council duo of Vice Mayor Joe Cobb and Councilman Bill Bestpitch presented her with a gold star of thanks for being who she is and what she has meant to Roanoke.

For 25 years, Pearlie was the heart and soul of Local Colors, Roanoke’s best festival, the one that put a face of tolerance and understanding on the old railroad town. When the festival started, it had representatives from four countries showing off their culture (cooking, entertaining, chatting, etc.) and just a few years ago, at its peak, Local Colors’ Parade of Nations featured 126 flags, all from immigrants living in Roanoke now. Pearlie did that. She has a way of presenting a plea for help that leaves no room for a “no” answer. Ask anybody.

(Here is a feature story I wrote about Pearlie dealing with Parkinson’s early this year.)

Pearl, Maddie and me.

Pearl has shown us how good we could be and pulled us in that direction. She expects that of us and god knows we don’t want to disappoint the woman Barbara Durek called “the Queen of Roanoke.”

Pearlie has had not only a direct effect on me and how I view the world, but she had a strong influence on my grandgirl, Madeline, who rode with Pearl in several different Roanoke parades, including Local Colors. Maddie was fascinated with Pearl and vice versa. Pearl has three brilliant and delightful daughters, foremost among them the internationally famous Colette, who is at the top of the pop-up-books world.

I love this woman and what she has done for us. Let us hope her influence remains strong long after she is gone. We desperately need it.

‘A French Village’ One of Many Top-Notch Series

I agreed with a friend some months ago when he said, “This is the golden age of television.” It may get worse, but I’m not sure it can get much better, at least for those who like to stream fictional series.

My latest example of this abundance of quality is the spectacular World War II French series “A French Village,” telling the story of a small town in Southern France and how its people were affected by German occupation. We often get the mistaken impression that nearly all French citizens were members of the Resistance during the war. That is wildly wrong. Most simply tried to survive, to buy food and coal, to protect their children. They cooperated with the Nazis and many collaborated with them, especially those among the wealthier French citizens. They sold out the Jews, even as they learned the Nazis weren’t sending them to happy little camps in the Alps.

“A French Village” reflects the stories of those ordinary people who faced challenges daily from an oppressive, often violent and cruel government, often led by their own people, especially the French police who were as close as you can get to Nazis without wearing the armband.

The series has “great movie” written all over it from the period look to the wonderful ensemble cast, to precise direction, lighting and sound. The subtitles are not only legible but easy to follow, a rarity among TV series, which most often use small type that flashes quickly.

This ranks with series like “Deadwood,” “Madmen,” “Fringe,” “The Amazing Mrs. Maizel,” “Justified,” “Olive Kitteridge,” “Rectify,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Queen,” “Hinterlands,” “The Bletchley Circle,” “Endeavour,” “The Killing,” “Babylon Berlin,” “Black Earth Rising,” “Cable Girls,” “Broadchurch,” “Keeping Faith,” “A Place To Call Home,” “Rake,” “Renoir,” “Wallander” (either the Swedish or British versions), “Happy Valley,” and a whole bunch more.

The problem with streaming TV shows is that it will definitely cut into reading time. I went from two books a month to six a year just like that. But the simple fact is that some of these series are so long that they can capture the details of a good novel in a way movies never could. It’s a good choice to have.


Well, Hello There Bear!

The bear in the tree looked a lot like this, but I missed my shot with my Nikon. Just got the tree.

My hike this morning was pleasant and cool for the most part, but running from a bear at my age will get the body temp up and open the sweat glands.

I was trudging up the Hollins Greenway trail toward Tinker Mountain when I heard a commotion about 20-25 yards off to the side in the thick undergrowth. I thought it was a doe and a couple of fawns, but then I heard a huffing, like a dog trying to growl. “Ain’t no deer,” I thought. Then I saw a black image move among the bushes and another following it.

The rattling of leaves and branches grew louder and so did the huffing. “Bear,” I thought. “Oh, shit!” My first reflex was to set my Nikon for a photo. If this guy was going to kill me, I was at least going to get a photo of him and maybe his brother.

The lead bear jumped on a tree and scampered up 12 to 15 feet to a relatively open spot, looking around. I stood still, moving my camera into position and I fired off a shot. Then I took off, the second bear clamoring up the tree. I figured I had a brief window to get the hell out before the bears got curious. They appeared to be young and Mom might be around, as well.

I cleared the area and finished my hike on tip-toes, hoping not to stir up any more interest from the wildlife.

An Arts Celebration at the Kendigs

Hollins Theatre professor Ernie Zulia and our good pal Kurt Navratil were in fine fettle. (That’s Jere Lee Hodgin, former artistic director at Mill Mountain Theatre in the background.

Last night’s Perry F. Kendig Awards ceremony at Roanoke College brought together prominent members of the Roanoke Valley’s arts community to tell us who’s been a shining star over the past year. Three of those stars took home hardware: Jimmy Ray Ward as an individual artist (he’s a theatrical set designer); Susan Jennings as Arts Supporter (a leader in the city’s arts initiatives); and the Studio School (a school for visual art).

Hollins interim president Nancy Gray (left) chats with Jay and Daphne Turner.

The Kendigs are the region’s most prestigious arts awards.

The room, as usual, was packed with representatives of arts organizations in the Valley and former winners of Kendigs (including me, who was part of the Blue Ridge Business Journal’s award in 2004; and an individual winner in 2009).

Kendig brothers John (left) and Bill.

It was a great place for me to hang with my posse and catch up on stories, see old friends (like construction magnate Jay Turner and his wife Daphne and Perry Kendig’s sons John and Bill, as well as to meet interesting new people like Tara Marciniak of Center in the Square and Teri Maxey, Roanoke College President Mike Maxey’s wife.

Herewith a photo look at the proceedings.

Jimmy Ray Ward accepts his plaque.

Susan Jennings says “thank you.”

Vera Dickerson accepts for the Studio School.

Brook Dickson of Hollins and Christina Koomen of The Roanoke Times chat.

Olin Hall’s arts hall was full for the Kendigs.

Mike Maxey at the podium.

Maxey looking artistic.

Hollins’ Nancy Gray introducing the nominees.

Gray and Maxey with Susan Jennings.

Tara Marciniak of Center in the Square and John Kendig chat.

Teri and Mike Maxey enjoy a moment.

Avoiding the Massacre: A Lovely Saturday in Lexington

Margie and me on the way to the game. She looks like a Southern planter.

It seems that every year at this time–late September–I’m trying to find a way to avoid watching the University of Tennessee’s football team being massacred by Florida and generally I turn to Washington & Lee’s football team to bail me out.

Yesterday was the annual event: a trip to Lexington to watch W&L play a Division III game against an entertaining opponent, lunch at one of Lexington’s several good restaurants, a walk downtown to the wonderful Artists in Cahoots shop and a stop at one of the best GWLtd stores (Goodwill) in Western Virginia.

We got all that done yesterday with the added benefit (not a first) of buying a lovely piece of jewelry at Artists in Cahoots for my grandgirl’s Christmas (wrapped in a Tiffany box) and meeting an artist named Karen Pannabecker whose work I adore. Another Christmas present, I suspect, this one for my daughter.

We found a burger for Margie.

Tennessee was, of course, clobbered I discovered once I got home and flipped on ESPN, but by then, I’d had so much fun I didn’t care. The W&L game against Guilford (a Quaker school plays football?) was thoroughly entertaining for a half, though the Generals ran away in the second half, winning 54-14. The sun was hot, the grass green, the obnoxious cowbells clanged and a young woman (about 45, so young to me) sitting in front of me was so fetching that she competed with the game for my eyes. Margie didn’t notice my occasional–harmless–glances.

W&L doesn’t offer football scholarships and doesn’t charge admittance for its games. Its concession stand is minimal, but the 1930s atmosphere is a real lure for me, even when the crowd is small, as it was yesterday (maybe 600 people, counting the teams).

Lunch at the Palms in downtown Lexington.

Margie and I stopped at the Palms Restaurant, opened in 1975 and featuring some of the thickest, tastiest hamburgers around–making Margie very, very happy.

In the evening, I managed to turn on the University of Virginia’s game against Old Dominion, joining the game in the second half with UVa trailing 17-7. That was a shocker, so I stuck it out until the end with the Cavs coming back to win 28-17 and salvage some dignity (which Virginia Tech did not do last year against ODU).

Good day all around. Margie liked it, too.

I shot this just before the game began at 1 p.m. Almost nobody was there yet. W&L’s crowds show up late.

Margie and I found seats on the 50, looking like old alumni, which we aren’t.

The W&L shuttle parked in the garage offered this license plate.

The reason we were in Lexington.

Presidential Age Limit? Let the Voters Decide

Elizabeth Warren is ageless. (CNN photo.)

Former President Jimmy Carter, a man of considerable wisdom, has suggested that we put a cap on the age Americans are eligible to run for president. There is, of course, a Constitutional minimum age of 35, but there is no maximum, so any age questions about Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders are left to the individual voters.

As they should be.

I see age showing itself–or not–in obvious ways and each of the above-mentioned presidential contenders either has or doesn’t have obvious issues. At one end is Warren, who seems as bright and energetic as a Gen-Z candidate. At the other end are Biden, who has classic problems in speaking coherently, remembering, saying what he means without being out of line; and Trump, whose problems probably include some issues with age.

Voters can see that. And they can vote.

Age problems are not easy to hide, though political operatives will give it their best shot. We all knew Ronald Reagan was exhibiting signs of Alzheimer’s in his second term (which turned out to be the case) and we could watch George H.W. Bush fall asleep in his dinner with the Chinese while in his late 70s. We knew Eisenhower’s heart had outlived his body and it finally did him in, but by then he was a past president.

I’m 73 and much to my occasional horror, I show signs of being an old man. I pull out of my driveway on an errand and briefly forget where I’m going; the simplest words escape me when I am talking or writing; I forget people’s names–and not just casual acquaintances, but people I’m close to. My body aches after exercise, no matter how much exercise I get. Sometimes I can’t type well, and I’ve been typing for 55 years. If it weren’t for SpellCheck or GrammarCheck, I would be in big trouble professionally. I have made errors in stories that are directly connected with aging.

These shortcomings are hard to admit because they threaten me as a freelance writer of value. I’m still working regularly as a freelancer, but it is easy for editors to fire freelancers without ever saying a word. They can simply reject story ideas without explanation. I get that and my guess is that in the past–when I was younger–I’ve done it.

But the question of a too-old president is, and will be, pressing in every election. However, I don’t think drawing an artificial line at, say 70 or 75, is smart. I know people who are nearly feeble at 45 and others who are bright as an airplane landing light at 85. Elizabeth Warren will be presidential at 80, but Biden probably won’t. Trump never has been. How do we know that, though? We watch, as voters, and we vote.

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.