Sunday, October 30, 2016

Bicycle memories

I guess it's a wonder that I'm still alive.

Years and years and years ago, in my other, more youthful and athletic lifetime, I pedaled my 10-speed bicycle all over the place. It was seemingly, for a while, my primary mode of transportation, even though I had a car and a driver's license.

I just loved to ride my bike.

A couple weeks ago, I covered the Tour de Pig for The Dispatch. This is the annual pre-Barbecue Festival event that offers a pleasant, scenic, noncompetitive bicycle ride through the back roads of Davidson County. It's usually held on the Old Greensboro Road behind Davidson County Community College on routes of varying distances.

My first 10-speed looked something like this. Except it was gold...
 But the Tour brought back some fond memories.

What always strikes me about this event is the riders themselves, many who come fully outfitted in complete bicycle riding paraphernalia, including helmet, biking tights and jersey.

Say what?

Okay, I understand wearing the helmet. But why do you need riding tights and jersey?

Back in my day (I never thought I'd live long enough love to utter that phrase), my summer riding gear included a T-shirt and casual shorts, socks and sneakers. Ta dahh. Helmet was optional, and I opted not to wear one.

Hey, I was 21 years old and bullet proof.

Most of my bicycling happened in the mid-to-late 1970s. A friend of mine had just purchased a 10-speed bicycle and talked me into getting one. It was cutting edge technology back then, featuring a derailleur that shifted the bicycle chain from one gearing sprocket to another.

The 10-speed (mine was a Schwinn Varsity) was a great advance over the three-speed bikes (we called them "English" bicycles because we thought this was what Mary Poppins used in England), whose gearing cable on the handlebar mysteriously ran into the rear axle, where the gears were supposed to be. I took that on faith, because you could never see the gears, since they were inside the axle. Also, you really could never feel the change in gears when you operated the fragile looking gear lever.

Ahh, but the 10 speed was different. First of all, the bike was built on a lightweight frame. You could lift the bike with one hand. And the gears (sprockets) were visible. The derailleur levers were usually mounted on the main support frame, and when you operated the lever, you could actually see the chain move from one sprocket to the other.

That was awesome.

The bike also featured an uncomfortable seat that actually put callouses on my glutes (or so it seemed). But the seat was adjustable and usually you rode with your butt in the air, with your torso bent forward and slightly downward for streamlining.

And then there were the handlebars. Now these were cool. They were the racing kind, with curved downward grips and where the hand brake levers were located.

And there were those incredibly thin tires. Wow.

You couldn't help but feel special. Or cosmopolitan. Or, at least, English.

Anyway, I quickly learned helmetless bicycle safety. I was always careful at intersections, usually waiting for no traffic at all before proceeding. My head was constantly on a swivel, because I had no mirrors. And in the countryside, I always rode on the white border stripe marking the shoulder. You know. Because of cars.

My biggest nemesis were dogs. Unchained dogs, sleeping peacefully on front porches, somehow assumed that the passing bicyclist was a rabbit extraordinaire and would give chase. I had two choices: I could pedal as fast as I could and try to outrace the incisors bearing down on me, or I could dismount and put the bicycle between me and the dog as a barrier. Sometimes it worked. I think I got nipped just once in my riding career.

It's a wonder I'm still alive.

(Coming up shortly: Part II - The best bicycle ride I ever had.)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Snyder Family Band

It was, perhaps, about five or six Barbecue Festivals ago that Kim and I first heard The Snyder Family Band perform.

We were walking along Main Street when we heard some fast-paced bluegrass music rising up from one of the performance stages that dot the festival map. This one was the "local" stage on First Avenue.

We were curious. We made our way through the crowd and there, on the stage, was this girl who looked to be about 10 years old furiously putting the fiddle through its paces. The instrument had no choice but to submit. Her stage presence and confidence were in total command.

There was another kid on stage, a young teenage boy, who was playing the guitar as if it were his best friend.

Behind them, on the upright bass, was a guy who looked like he could be their daddy. (He is.)

So we stayed a while and listened, and were duly impressed. The little girl, of course, was the attraction. Kids who perform as good, if not better, than adults are always something to see.

Best of all, these folks actually were local, coming from the west Davidson part of the county. Whoa. They can eat barbecue whenever they want.

Skip forward to this year. Come to learn that the fiddle player, Samantha, is 17 years old now. She's more confident than ever, writing a lot of her own stuff about relationships, whaling ships and performing as a minstrel on the road. She's got a strong, mature singing voice with subtle range that just carries you into the lyrics. She first picked up the fiddle when she was three years old and hasn't let go. That's attention span for you.

Zeb, her brother, is 21 now and studying mathematics, or science, or some abstract big bang theory that's way beyond me at High Point University (he serves as his sister's calculus tutor). Zeb first learned the guitar classically, then drifted to the Americana genre. He sings with a country baritone voice but he can soar when in harmony with his sister. His musicianship is spectacular as you watch his fingers seemingly fly across the strings and frets of his guitars and mandolins.

Oh, yes. Both kids are mutli-instrumentalists. Samantha can put down her fiddle and pick up a guitar without missing a beat. Zeb apparently can play anything with strings, so hide your yo-yos.

A little brother, Owen, is 11 years old and he brings a banjo to the party. During the set we saw, he played just one tune, but he was captivating in that way that Samantha was when she was younger. It's all out there for him, too. C'mon, give him two tunes to play.

Where does family DNA like this come from?

 It seems like we don't hear much from this family, even though they record in Asheville and have a couple of CDs out there. But local appearances seem to be limited. Part of that may have to do with the fact that the kids are still in school, which really cuts down on touring time. And part of it may just be me, waiting once every five years to catch them again.

I promise to do better.

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 Clewells as "Clowells." 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.