Sunday, October 16, 2016

To the rescue

Almost without fail, you can usually depend on a teacher to come to the rescue.

Literally hours before the 15th annual Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame banquet was to take place at the J. Smith Young YMCA Saturday night, chairman Jim Lippard learned that designated keynote speaker, emcee and fellow board member Lee Jessup was suddenly bed-ridden with a bronchial infection.

Jessup, of course, is perhaps one of the most engaging speakers in Davidson County. He's emceed the opening ceremony of the Barbecue Festival forever. He speaks motivationally to almost any group that will listen. He's inspiring, with both grace and humor lacing his messages. Always. Without fail.

But not this night.

Uh-oh. Now what?

Lippard immediately went to his list of potential rescuers. It was a short list of one.

Vinnon Williams, a former teacher and coach at Lexington Senior High School, answered Lippard's call for help.

And what a save it turned out to be. Displaying the confidence of a time-tested public speaker (or perhaps as a teacher), Williams gave a brief message, without any notes in sight, suggesting that all of us are probably in somebody's debt. It was a thoughtful moment, ushered along with grace and humor.

Williams then, in turn, introduced each inductee, giving each one a brief preface saluting their remarkable Hall-of-Fame-worthy careers. The inductees — Joe "Jitter" Yarbrough, Lisa Ward, Lamont Pegues, Madison Hedgecock, Hugo Crigler III and Curtis Ingram (accepting the posthumous induction of his sister, sportswriter Sarah Sue Ingram) — all tied into what turned out to be a common theme of thanking coaches, teammates, friends and family for their success. In other words, recognizing a debt owed to others.

That was kind of a "wow" epiphany right there.

 With all that could have gone wrong, the evening went off without a hitch. It was something to see.

And as a member of the board of directors myself, I feel compelled to say that, Vinnon, we are in your debt. Thank you.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Robert's chicken salad

Whenever we go grocery shopping — usually once a week at a Harris-Teeter in Clemmons — I make it a point to pick up a container of Robert's Chicken Salad.

I started doing this about a year or so ago. I don't know what prompted me to do this in the first place. Usually, grocery store chicken salad is too mayonaissy for my taste, and sometimes, too salty.

Good stuff
 But Kim pointed out that this chicken salad came from a store in Wrightsville Beach, Robert's Market, which was famous for its chicken salad.

Well, kinda famous. I'd never heard of it before this. But I thought I'd give it a try.


It was great. Just the right consistency, with fresh, crunchy bits of celery, shredded chicken, eggs and just enough mayo to hold everything together without being overwhelming. The only trouble is that it's pretty expensive: $8.99 for a 14-ounce container. Robert, apparently, knows he makes good stuff and can charge whatever he wants for it.

Anyway, last weekend we took a long-needed vacation to Cherry Grove beach (pre-Matthew, mind you), and we reserved Sunday for a jaunt up to Wilmington. Kim and I decided that as long as we're there, we'd take a side trip to nearby Wrightsville Beach and check out Robert's.

I'd never been to Wrigthsville and the last time Kim had been there, she was a little girl. While I wanted some chicken salad, Kim wanted to resurrect some childhood memories.

Because I didn't have my road atlas, and we don't have an active GPS in the car, we approached Wrightsville by intuition. Road signs helped, as did driving by the seat of my pants. My inner compass was telling me we were close, and that by following the North star (even though it was 10 a.m.), I sensed the ocean was off to my right.

Ta-dahh. We entered Wrightsville. Kim couldn't remember a thing about it. Somehow, it had become upscale over the years. Millennials everywhere. Joggers. Bicycle riders. Dog walkers. Beach goers.

We found it
"We'll never find Robert's," said Kim, barely finishing her sentence before I said, "Look, there's Robert's," pointing to the right. Indeed, there it was. And despite being Sunday morning, it was open for business.

We parked the car about three blocks away (parking was abysmal) and walked into the store. We were surprised by how small it was, but then, it's been a beach-side market since 1919. What did we expect?

Nevertheless, we found the cooler which was stocked with containers of chicken salad — and only 50 cents less than Harris-Teeter.

We didn't want to buy a tub, because we had no way to keep it fresh and we still had the rest of the day ahead of us. So we bought a chicken salad sandwich (on rye), walked to the beach, split the sandwich in two, shared it and washed it down with a bottle of water.

We decided that the chicken salad from Harris-Teeter was somehow better. I don't know how this could be. Maybe the sandwich we bought was a couple days old. Maybe it was made differently than the mass-produced variety sold to H-T. Maybe there really was sand in my sandwich. I don't know.

We continued with a short walk up the beach to the Johnnie Mercer fishing pier, which Kim remembered from her youth. Johnnie Mercer is not to be confused with Johnny Mercer, the famous lyricist who founded Capital Records. Johnnie, however, was apparently famous for his pier and today it's still the only concrete pier on the North Carolina coast.

We're all famous for something, I guess.

Anyway, having fulfilled our Wrightsville bucket list, we hopped in the car, turned on our internal GPS's, and moved on.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Aunt Bea

For some reason that's beyond me, longevity seems to run in my family.

Grandpa Paul Wehrle lived to be 91 years old, and his wife, Charlotte, knocked out 98 years. Grandpa, a gentle soul, was hobbled by a stroke in his final decade, which ultimately changed his personality, but Charlotte was a pistol pretty much to the day she died. We were kind of pulling for her to make it to 100, but I think she just wore out in the end.

It amazed me, when I thought about it, that Charlotte was born four months after the Wright brothers first took to the air, and lived to see men walk on the moon.

On my mother's side, Grandpa Harry Kessler lived to be 92 years old, while his wife, Grace, truly graced the planet for 83 years. Harry was a tool inventor for Bethlehem Steel while Grace was, either by avocation or compulsion, a baker extraordinaire.

My parents, unfortunately, somehow misplaced the longevity gene. Dad died when he was only 58 years old, felled by prostate cancer that eventually traveled to his bones. Mom made it to 63 before breast cancer claimed her.

Given the family history, I've not been able to figure out this particular genealogical anomaly. If their genomes hadn't faltered and followed bloodline history, Mom would be 88 now, and Dad would be 87. Mere youngsters in the family tree.

Bea Clewell about 10 years ago.
 But earlier this week, we were informed that Mom's oldest sister, Beatrice — my Aunt Bea — passed away on Tuesday at the age of 102 in Allentown, PA.

So we have a centurion in the family after all.

We were told that Bea decided to donate her body to science, which I think is pretty remarkable. Maybe they'll locate that longevity gene somewhere and clone it for the rest of us. Who knows?

At any rate, Bea was a Kessler through and through. Whenever my wife, Kim, and I traveled north, we'd make a stop to visit her, first in her home in Emmaus, and in later years, at her assisted living condo in Allentown.

Bea was always sharp and gracious, and we spent most of our time simply catching up, trying to pin down where the remainder of our scattered family was and how each of us was doing.

She always had coffee and a homemade snack (like cherry pie) waiting on us. She inherited her mother's bakery skills (as did her sister), which made us feel incredibly comfortable. It also made me feel incredibly connected, somehow, to Mom.

I'm trying to put Bea's longevity into perspective. She was born in 1914 — 10 years after Charlotte — but in the very year that World War I began. I guess it says something that she avoided the great flu pandemic that ravaged the world four years later, the state of medicine being what it was back then. Lucky for her. Lucky for us.

Bea's husband, Ed, was 18 years older than she. I didn't know it when Ed was alive (he died in 1985 at the age of 89. Apparently, you also can marry into longevity), but his father, William, fought in the Civil War. He's my great uncle. William served with the 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteers, 11th Corps, and saw action at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg before he mustered out.

 What I didn't know until today was that Ed served in the U.S. Navy during World War I as a Fireman, third class. Just like that, now I have more research to pursue: What ship did he serve? Did he see action? What was his battle station?

Bea knew of my interest in history and several years ago gave me some of Ed's books about the Civil War, including a worm-eaten 1863 regimental of the 153rd Pennsylvania which lists the Clewell's as "Clowell's." Oh, well.

When Ed died in 1985, Bea was 71 years old. She spent the next 31 years — think about that for a moment — as a fiercely independent and capable woman devoted to her three daughters (who are still living). She met life head on and on her own terms. Simply remarkable.

I'm not sure what all this longevity means for me, or even if it applies. I'm about four months shy of my 66th birthday and take meds to regulate my A-fib. On the one hand, it's nice to think I might still be writing blogs 30 years from now. On the other hand, that's a lot of taxes to still be paying.

What I do know is that another branch of the family tree is gone. And it's an empty feeling.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Harold Bowen

It's no exaggeration to suggest that Lexington has a deep hole in its heart today.

When the sad news first broke that Harold Bowen had died on Tuesday at the age of 95, you could almost sense the town shifting slightly on its axis. And the news, aided by the winds of Facebook, became its own swirling force of nature.

It's impact seemed to hit many of us.

Harold Bowen
 I guess that's because Harold himself made such a significant impact. A quick glance at his obituary tells you that the Salisbury native came to Lexington in 1948 (after serving with the Marines on Saipan during World War II and then, postwar, graduating from Catawba College) where he became an educator for the next 33 years — much of that time as the principal of Pickett Elementary School, but also as a high school basketball and football coach as well as athletic director.

Then, in 1986 — five years into his retirement from education — he became a two-term mayor of Lexington. So you can see, between his years in education and his years of civic service, he was positioned to provide guidance, direction, assurance and life lessons to many of us.

I came to Lexington in 1976 as a rookie sportswriter for The Dispatch. Harold was one of the first people I met who helped make me feel comfortable in my new surroundings. He was already doing sports broadcasts on the radio for WLXN, in the middle of what would eventually become more than 50 years as the Voice of the Yellow Jackets.

I actually made it a point whenever I covered Friday night football games in the press box to sit as close to the radio booth as I could, so I could hear Harold on the air. Without the commercials.

He was not a natural. His voice wasn't particularly rich in the way that you would think a radio voice should be. And he'd get excitable on the air, sometimes losing sight of himself. He once told me a story about the time he was covering a Lexington football game, broadcasting with the desk-mounted microphone. Lexington's Joe McIntosh had just broken free for a 62-yard TD pass reception at a critical moment, and Harold jumped to his feet.

"I stood up and kept broadcasting," Harold said, "but that only put me further from the mic. Joe scored and the Jackets won, but I don't think anybody heard me because I was so far away from the mic. Now we have headsets."

But that was OK. In fact, it was more than OK. I always thought Harold was the epitome of the small town Southern radio sports announcer, which gave those Friday night games its own sense of richness — and humor.

Harold, a man who could laugh at himself, was more than that, of course. Like many others, I could tell you stories of his kindness, of his welcoming smile, and of his friendship, of his faith, of his going out of his way to help. And they'd all be true.

And it's why, as a community, we're trying to stitch the gaping hole in our hearts today.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

My past finally catches me

File this last week under "You just can't make this stuff up."

A few days earlier, my cousin — whom I'll call Deb — posted a throwback Tuesday picture of herself on Facebook from nearly 50 years ago. It was an image of her as a flautist in the Liberty (Bethlehem, Pa.) High School marching band. The Grenadier Band.

Standing with her in the photograph was a bandmate, whom I'll call Nanette. I didn't think twice about the picture for a while because, you know, it was pretty innocuous: just a couple of high school chums smiling for the camera. Cute.

Until a little bell started ringing in my head. Wait a minute, it chimed. You went to school with a Nanette. Elementary school. Stevens School, in Fountain Hill. First grade.

Nah. Not possible. So I private messaged Deb, asking her if Nanette ever lived in Fountain Hill, a neighboring community of Bethlehem where I grew up.

Why, yes she did, replied Deb, who is still in contact with Nanette. You're kidding me. The chime became a gong. The only reason that Nanette popped up in my mind at all is that she's perhaps the only person named Nanette that I ever knew.

And I knew her way back in first grade. Sixty years ago.

Consequently, my memories of her are kind of spotty. They might be the first memories that ever took hold in my brain, which explains why they now linger somewhere in the shadows of my synapses and neurons. What I do remember is going to a birthday party at her house. I think. It might have been the first social function I ever attended that included girls. And there was chocolate cake. Why do I remember that detail? I know why. Chocolate cake was important to me then.

Still is. Holy cow.

I have since submitted Nanette a friend request on Facebook, but she has yet to respond. She probably thinks I'm a stalker, but that's OK. I understand. I'd be leery of me, too.

The fact that my cousin is a conduit for all this makes this story even stranger because Deb and I pretty much have just reconnected our own family ties after nearly 50 years or so of invisibility. After my parents and grandparents passed away, I thought all I had left from my family were my brothers.

Not even close. Now I've learned there's a whole extended family of cousins and their children floating around out there. It's a comforting epiphany.

The story would be amazing enough if it ended here, but no. There's more.

On Friday, I was playing around on Facebook when I noticed that I had a friend request — not Nanette — from a guy I'll call Richard. Clear out of the blue. I thought and thought hard about this until it occurred to me that I had gone to school with a guy named Richard back when our family lived in East Hartford, Conn.

Fifth grade. Get outta here.

Richard and I lived just a block or two away from each other. Richard introduced me to Avalon Hill war gaming, and we'd spend countless hours at his house defeating Hitler's Fortress Europa or Napoleon's Waterloo with dice and elimination charts. You know. Normal kid stuff.

To this day, I still have several Avalon Hill war games collecting dust in my closet, now replaced by computer games.

Anyway, I accepted his request and we are friends again.

I asked him how he came to find me and he explained that he somehow tripped across a blog I had written that's hiding out there in Internet land. He knew almost right away that I was me (a concept that I'm still exploring) and put in his request.

So now I'm trying to put this week into perspective. It's hard to get past the "Wow" factor here, but when two blasts from the past rise up out of the mist in the same week, it kind of makes you think. Karma? Kismet? Koincidence?

I don't know. I'm kind of hoping there's not that many long-ago girlfriends out there...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A moment

The other day one of my colleagues at work pointed out to me that the high school class of 2019 — this year's freshmen — is more or less the first class of students not yet to have been born when the brutal horror that is Sept. 11 occurred in 2001.

I let that one rattle around in my head for a moment. It was for me, at once, both a profound and an obvious thought.

I guess the thing that knocked me off stride was the fact that 9/11 happened 15 years ago. Really? It seems like yesterday.
It was a gorgeous Tuesday morning. Autumn was coming. I was already in my work station at The Dispatch, and had been for several hours. The clear blue September sky that we saw in North Carolina that day enhanced the entire eastern seaboard, reaching to lower Manhattan as well.

Then a fellow worker, reading off the Associated Press wire, announced that an airplane apparently had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers.

I didn't think much about it at the time. I thought maybe a little Piper Cub or something like that had clipped the building, and went on with my job. There was precedent: I remembered hearing stories about a B-25 that flew into the Empire State Building in a heavy fog during World War II. It was all just very odd and didn't seem to make any sense.

But as the morning stretched on, the news worsened. When the second tower was struck, it was immediately clear this was no accident. There was video: a jet passenger plane dissolving into a ball of flame upon impact. Instant death.

Then the Pentagon was attacked. The morning was never going to end. We learned the plane had been hijacked. Yet a fourth plane, also hijacked, had crashed in Pennsylvania, headed to Washington DC and perhaps either the White House or the Capitol.

No more flights were allowed to enter the country. There was speculation that any suspiciously rogue aircraft still in the sky would be shot down. With their passengers.

 Oh my God.

The one image (of many) that's seared into my brain came later that morning. We'd finished deadline and most of the reporters were gathered around the television in the editor's office. We were watching the chaos of the burning buildings when suddenly, but as if in slow motion, one of the towers collapsed in on itself. Where a majestic building once had been there was now a pillar of smoke and debris.

I have come to regard this day as our generation's Pearl Harbor. Like the Class of 2019 in relation to 9/11 now, I wasn't yet born when the Japanese attacked. But I have depended on the oral, written and photographed history of that event to build my understanding of the moment.

Understanding the moment. It was a challenge for us then. And it's a challenge for us now.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

My ear for music

In a couple weeks Underhill Rose will be in Lexington, where they will perform at High Rock Outfitters, one of their favorite venues.

This time, when they sing, they'll be recording tunes for a live CD album. Awesome.

I'm going to have to find a way to contain myself. I usually like to sit on the front row where I can let their music envelop me like some kind of a comfortable blanket. Who ever thought a banjo and a harmonica could be so evocative? Or that an upright bass could be so foundational? Or a guitar so sweet?

Or harmonies so heavenly?

So I'm going to have to shut up. Sometimes, sitting up front, I can catch their eye, or point to them after a nifty riff, or applaud, or shout out "You go girl!" as I once did as Eleanor weaved her way through a solo banjo bit.

The last thing anybody wants to hear is me croaking something on their CD.

With that in mind, I just hope I don't feel compelled to sing along. That's because somewhere along the way, I've been cursed. I love music. I love the way an instrument can reach into your soul and stimulate the fibers of your being. I love lyrics wrought with thought and meaning, or that can create a picture with the palette of colors within your mind.

The curse is that I can't sing. I can't sing a lick. I can't sing a note. At least, not in tune with anything musical.

Nor can I play an instrument.

I don't know how this curse came to be. My dad played both the piano and the trumpet. Mom had a wonderful alto voice. When I was young, around kindergarten, my parents tried piano lessons on me, but the discipline of learning music never took hold. I tried the trumpet a few years later and that was an even worse experience. I was, figuratively, shedding my musical scales.

Clearly, I didn't inherit the Play Music gene. I inherited the Play Games gene.

Then came the Sixties and suddenly transistor radios where bringing us great music everywhere. I tried to sing along, but as I learned, one note only goes so far. So I hummed. Try humming to Sgt. Pepper.

To this day, with Sirius in our car radio and tuned in to Sixties on Six, I am swept overboard by great music. Just yesterday, while Kim was in the post office, I was singing along with Chad & Jeremy's "A Summer Song." It's a tune that evokes a mystic chord within me, transporting me back to 1966 and high school and girl friends and all that is good in my nostalgia.

But when Kim returned to the car, she turned the volume up. You know, to drown me out.

I hate sitting on my hands when live performances put my entire being in rhythm. But the women of Underhill Rose are also my friends, and I don't want to offend them. So if sitting on my hands is what it takes, then sitting on my hands is what it is.

At least I can hum.

•  •  •

Underhill Rose will perform at High Rock Outfitters, located at 13 S. Main Street, Lexington, on Sept. 17, starting at 7 p.m. Admission is $10.