Category Archives: General

James W. Clark, Jr.

Weymouth final

Consider this contrast:  Jimmy Clark, age 9, is one of seven children. He works in his family’s country store and service station on U.S.158 in Vaughan, N.C. He also delivers the daily newspaper and helps to harvest tobacco. As time permits, he does his homework and reads Agricultural Extension bulletins — “Insects 101” — about keeping pests out of those tobacco plants. He also collects bugs that are drawn to the store’s lights at night.

tobacco plant

Flash forward to 2018 and the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines, where five distinguished Tar Heels are inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. One of them is James W. Clark, Jr., PhD. professor emeritus of English at NC State. OLLI members know him as Jim, a popular OLLI instructor. But they may not know that he’s the only one who’s taught a course every single year since the program began as Encore! So why does this erudite professor prefer OLLI to university teaching? “I don’t have to grade papers,” he quipped during an interview.

The Literary Hall of Fame celebrates and promotes the state’s rich literary heritage by saluting its leading authors and encouraging great literature. Jim has degrees from UNC — with a scholarship as a national 4-H winner for a project in entomology — and from Duke. Today he focuses most of his scholarship on North Carolina’s “cultural geography” and literary history. He’s had a leadership role in those areas as president of the Thomas Wolfe Society and the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association. He still serves as president of the North Caroliniana Society, which supports the North Carolina Collection at Chapel Hill and preserves and celebrates the state’s culture and history.

4H

The leap from what Jim calls “bugs to books” wasn’t as broad as it sounds, he said, “because 4-H has a broad curriculum that stresses reading, writing and figuring as well as speaking and teaching.” His faculty mentor at State was Richard Walser, another member of the NC Literary Hall of Fame. “He was a great teacher and something of a rascal,” Jim said, “beloved and feared for his critical voice and bawdy sense of humor.”

Jim followed Walser in his roles at State and became director of the nation’s first Humanities Extension program, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, focusing on North Carolina writers in public TV programs and public school textbooks. He also developed “Talk About Writing” videos about North Carolina writers for classroom use. Proceeds from sales supported outreach to public school teachers. That outreach involved sending faculty members in the humanities — including Jim — to lead seminars around the state on literature and culture. And some faculty conducted summer writing seminars for 4-H youth at the county level. Jim has written a social history of this program, “Clover All Over: North Carolina’s First 4-H Century.”

The Lost Boy

But he may be best known as a champion of two literary figures: Thomas Wolfe and Paul Green. He’s been president of the Thomas Wolfe Society and is still on the editorial board of The Thomas Wolfe Review. Like Walser, he’s devoted many hours to teaching and writing about Wolfe, who had been Walser’s primary focus. Jim discovered Wolfe’s novella, “The Lost Boy,” at Harvard, and the UNC Press published the edition he’d edited in 1992. German and French editions followed.

Jim will teach a course on “The Amazing Genius of Paul Green,” whom he calls a Tar Heel polymath, in OLLI’s next semester. Jim considers him “this state’s most productive and well known playwright.” Green studied and later taught at UNC. Jim said he’s known best for such outdoor dramas as “The Lost Colony,” but won a Pulitzer in 1927 for “In Abraham’s Bosom,” a play about racism and education. A foundation in his name supports playwriting and progressive causes, chiefly racial justice. Jim served as the foundation’s president for a decade.

In addition to other major awards, in 2012 Jim received the William C. Friday Award for Distinguished Service in Retirement. He says Friday “was like God for public education,” and that he worked with Paul Green on progressive issues. The award recognized Jim’s OLLI participation, leading writing workshops at senior living communities, and serving as historian of the state’s 4-H youth development program, based largely at State. Jim’s latest work, a social and political history of his family’s part of Warren County entitled “Finding and Keeping Vaughan: Our Hometown,” was published in November.

Dr Jim Coffee Cup

~ Barbara Haddad Ryan

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LISABONA

Lisabona was Lisbon’s name in the sixteenth century. Lisabona came from Olisipo, the name the Romans had given the city more than a thousand years before – Municipium Cives Romanorum Felicitas Julia Olisipo. In the 1500s, amid the fever of the discovery of new maritime routes to countries where the commerce of spices and other riches originated, and driven by the hope of fortunes and fame to be had on those endeavors, the whole world converged into Lisabona. The crowds in the city center had Bretons, Catalans, Normans, Castilians, Genovese, Dutch, Venetian, Africans and, of course, Portuguese. Some came to spy, trying to get the secrets of maritime navigation the Portuguese had developed, others to try their fortune. The chroniclers of those days describe Lisabona as a cosmopolitan city, bustling with people, business and opportunities, the place to be within Europe.

Lisabona

My wife Amy and I just came back from a long vacation in Lisboa, as we Portuguese have been calling Lisbon for centuries. When we walked downtown, for a moment we got the feeling we had traveled back in time to the 1500s. We heard English, French, Italian, Russian, Chinese, and Romanian and hardly any Portuguese. Nowadays these foreigners do not look for fortune or fame; they respond to the slogan Lisbon is the place to be this year. They follow the sun, they come to taste food specialties and wine vintages, to explore beautiful views, historical sites and monuments. They come looking for fun and leave their Pounds, Euros, Yuan, Rubles and Dollars in Portugal. The Portuguese are having a bonanza brought by tourism (more than 20 million people last year), albeit with possible downfalls down the road.

Waterside

Amy and I joined the tourist crowds in Lisbon and throughout Portugal, visited many of the fantastic views and historical monuments, ate in many, many restaurants, mainly fish and seafood, trekked up the mountains, traveled down south to Algarve and basked on the beaches, absorbing the warm sun that crossed the cerulean blue sky, like none on earth. We visited museums and it seems now in Lisbon there is a museum for anything imaginable, some better than others. We visited a millenary church and monastery in Alcobaça with its cloisters, and some obscene golden altars, with beautiful art that centuries of foreign invasions, fires and earthquakes could not obliterate. In Lisbon the aqueduct from 1744 and its distribution water pools were the highlight of one of our days; I was born and raised in Lisbon but had never visited it. We traveled north to Coimbra’s University, one of the oldest in Europe, with its magnificent ancient library, then traveled to Nazaré’s promontory over the ocean, where the tallest wave in the world (78 Ft.) challenges ‘”crazy” surfers every year, and close to home we visited Cabo da Roca one more time, the most western point of continental Europe.

Thus, like all the other tourists, we joyfully, gladly and happily scattered our Dollars from the north to the south of Portugal.

Lisbon from water

Henrique Gomes, OLLI Member, OLLI Writers Group Coordinator

Footprints to Believing

red sled

The home I lived in a as a child had no fireplace and that always worried me at Christmas time. I was assured that that would be no problem for Santa; he would simply enter through the front door. This explanation seemed sensible to me and I easily accepted it. Hadn’t Santa always found me? I would just make sure the front door was unlocked on Christmas Eve.

The Christmas I was ten I longed for two things: a muff and a sled. My heart was set on a white fur muff I had seen in the store window. The fur was the softest and purest I had ever seen and there was a doll’s face with eyes that blinked open and shut on the front of the muff. The inside was white satin, and a white cord would go around my neck. For weeks I dreamed about that muff.

The second thing I wanted was a sled. I wanted to fly down the hill with those flashing red runners skimming swiftly along on the hard packed snow, the cold wind blowing in my face making my eyes water and my nose run.  I was told maybe I shouldn’t count on the sled. I didn’t ask why.

On December 24, the snow began falling early in the day. By the time family members had all gathered in the evening for the traditional Christmas Eve celebration, many inches had accumulated and the snow continued to fall.  During the gift exchange, I did get my beautiful muff, but there was no sled. I told myself the muff was plenty.

window

Every year at the end of the Christmas celebration, Uncle John would say, “I think I hear sleigh bells,” but this year there really was a noise on the front porch.  I ran to the window. Leaning against the railing was a shiny sled with red runners, and it had my name on it. Footprints in the snow led from the sidewalk to the porch and back down.

fottprints in the snow

I grabbed a coat and went outdoors.  The footprints were clearly visible in the fresh snow. I turned right at the sidewalk, and although I could see no one about, the tracks were easy to follow. I went to the corner of the street where the tracks intermingled and got lost there with other pedestrian prints. The night was quiet and still. I could see no people outdoors anywhere. I walked back home looking over my shoulder many times, trying to piece everything together.

I was overjoyed with the sled, but the adults were truly bewildered. No one had an explanation, and no one had left the house. All whispered that it was not their doing. But none of this was a mystery to me.

At future Christmas gatherings, the talk always got around to the year I was ten and an unknown visitor came to the house. The adults held steadfastly to the claim they didn’t know the benefactor.  To me, however, it was always very simple. Santa brought me a sled that special Christmas I was ten. Since then, when someone asks if I believe in Santa Claus, my answer is the same.

“Oh, yes. Indeed I do”

For, you see, I saw his footprints in the snow.

 

Mercedes Horton, OLLI member since 1991

 

 

President George H.W. Bush: Quick with a Quip!

goergoe-h-w-bush-e1543958405228.jpg

George H.W. Bush visited Denver briefly in 1980 when he was running against Ronald Reagan for the Republican presidential nomination. I was then a political reporter.  His staff told me he wouldn’t have time for a conventional interview, but an unconventional one was possible.

So I went to what was then Stapleton Airport to be picked up by a BMW, driven by the son of Michigan’s GOP governor. Mr. Bush was already in the back seat, where I joined him. We were driven around while I asked him a lot of questions, mostly about the many international crises that had developed around the globe. He was impressive: This former C.I.A. chief had clear-eyed, well-informed answers to all my questions. On both international and domestic issues, he was running as a pragmatic alternative to Reagan, deriding “voodoo economics” and other aspects of Reagan’s campaign. (He did not tell me that he had “the Big Mo,” his famous term for momentum.)

The next step was to attend a private reception that evening for Mr. Bush, where he was expected to speak. I drove to a very upscale neighborhood and entered a mansion, where I was led to a handsomely landscaped courtyard. A stage had been constructed, with velvet curtains on both sides. I was given a chair behind one curtain, and I noticed one of Mr. Bush’s senior advisers behind the other one.  When Mr. Bush came onto the stage, he looked over the glittering members of Denver’s high society, clinked the ice in his glass, and said, “Gee, it’s great to be back with the grass roots!”

The commemoration of Mr. Bush’s passing also reminded me of something I learned when I was working in Washington. A Democratic friend who had connections with Bill and Hillary Clinton told me that the two couples treated the White House staff very differently. The Bushes had always lived lives of privilege, and were accustomed to servants in their homes. So they quickly got to know those in the White House, treating them “like family,” one of them told my friend. But the Clintons came from much humbler roots and weren’t used to having “strangers” around them at all hours. They made no attempt to be friendly. My friend said that his White House contact conceded that they talked about the Bushes among themselves, and the Clintons may have suspected that the staff gossiped about them. This liberal hopes that the relationship changed as the years went on.

 ~Barbara Haddad Ryan

(OLLI Member and  OLLI Voices Team)

 

In Our Own Backyard – Johnson’s Restaurant, Siler City, NC

Johnsons exterior

Sometimes we think we have to drive hours to find a unique place.

My wife and I wanted to “get out of the house” today, so I said, “let’s go to Johnson’s Restaurant.”  40 miles and 50 minutes later we pulled into the parking lot at 11:48.  This was not the first time we have eaten there, so we knew to get there before noon to find a seat.

Johnsons interior

Luckily there were two seats left at the bar next to the cash register.  Cash register is correct, because they only accept cash, no plastic. We ordered what almost all do at Johnson’s, a cheese burger all the way, an order of fries and sweet tea.  What makes the place unique is who shows up to eat.  I have never eaten there without getting to know some interesting couple from someplace that were very engaging and delightful.   The couple next to us at the bar today was from Lenoir County not far from Kinston.  The husband was going to some sawmill north of Mebane to get some heart pine lumber available only at that place, to build some piece of furniture. They just saw the restaurant sign and stopped.  I always think we would get the prize for driving the farthest.  But Cary qualifies only as yet another town because people come from all parts of North Carolina to experience the 1946 dinner.  However by far, the locals make up the most clientele.

Owner

The owner, Claxton Johnson, has been running Johnson’s Restaurant since 1946 and is still the driving force for its success. Located on US 64 it’s one of many food places, along that stretch of road, but apparently it’s never hurting for customers.   Claxton, said, “We started out as a curbside place back in ’46.  I was only about 5 when I started.  It’s been in the family ever since.”

To prove his statement two of his grandsons, Tristan and Caemon Johnson, cook burgers, run the cash register and seem to fill in where necessary to make sure customers are well taken care of.

chef

I was able to get a picture of our waitress only when she slowed long enough to take the order of our new friends from Lenoir County.  My other pictures of her were too blurry to print.  She hardly ever stopped.  The same goes for the other waitress.

waitress

“How many burgers have you cooked?” I asked Braxton.  His reply, “I have no idea.”  “A million, two million?” I queried.  “No idea,” he once again replied.  I didn’t ask him how much hamburger he ground before opening, since I knew the answer from my last visit, “I have no idea.”

I also knew when the restaurant closed for the day because, I had asked him that question before, “it’s when the hamburger meat gives out,” was his pat answer.  Somehow I was supposed to know that.

So, if you just want to “get out of the house” and take a short trip, give Johnson’s Restaurant in Siler City North Carolina, a try.  You will be blessed with a good meal and make some new friends.

Larry Kingsley

Writer’s Group, OLLI member, Author

Vermont Teddy Bear Factory

The store

 

Christmas, and Valentines, are the big times of the year for what has become a tradition of a heartfelt gift that has a message of I Love You implied just by sending a Vermont Teddy bear. The company was founded in 1981 by John Sortino when he started sewing cloth bears on his wife’s sewing machine for his newborn son.  His first creation was named after Groucho Marx because of the thick black eyebrows.

He soon moved to Vermont from Plattsburg New York after obtaining a degree from Plattsburg College in mathematics.   He sold 50 bears in 1981 and in 1982 his sales went to 200 and he gave up his full time jobs with The Boy Scouts and UPS.  Nearing bankruptcy in 1989 he began promoting the teddy bears in the New York City market through popular radio programs and experienced a sudden and spectacular growth.  By 1993 sales had reached $17 million and he was well on his way to becoming the biggest manufacturer of teddy bears in the US.

Assembly Line

Today the factory is a one of the hottest tourist destinations in Vermont.  The tour shows busy artisans cutting out outfits for the bears, stuffing the bears, and preparing them for shipment all over the world.  The tour ends at their store where you can actually make your own teddy bear. The $4.00 admission is well worth the two hour visit.  The factory is located in Shelburne Vermont in the beautiful Champlain Lake Valley and not far from Burlington Vt.

Outside View

I didn’t make or buy a teddy bear, but at least I bought a frisbee for my grandchild’s birthday.

Larry Kingsley

OLLI Member and OLLI Writers Group

Minor Amends

Corolla wild horsesOur guide’s name was Winston. I remember him as craggy, angular, with weathered skin and wearing a floppy straw hat over pony-tailed hair. His lanky body slipped easily behind the wheel of the open-sided red Jeep and off we went in search of wild horses, Winston and four women enjoying a week-long vacation on the Outer Banks.

We got more than anticipated in both time and attention. Winston drove slowly. He answered our questions without seeming bored by them. He found several wild horses for us to photograph grazing near the few houses scattered at the north end of the island. He told us about the people who lived in this far-flung place with no access roads other than the beach, how they and horses sought isolation but were being encroached upon by civilization. How one wild horse had ventured inside a Harris Teeter in the newest shopping strip. We wondered if we should feel guilty for being here, but Winston wouldn’t go that far. After all, without the likes of us, he’d have no job.

FulgariteBesides wild horses, Winston took time to find lightning-struck sand called fulgurites to show us. He picked up the clump of fused sand and we passed it around, turning it over in our hands, then let Winston put it back where he’d found it. I was humbled anew by Mother Nature’s power and my limited awareness of the world around me.

When we finally returned to the excursion company’s parking lot, we expressed gratitude to Winston and said farewell. Only as we pulled purses from our car’s trunk did it occur to us that a tip might be in order. Before we could get our heads together about how much and who had the right amount, Winston had disappeared. We drove back to the rental house sensing a small cloud darkening our enjoyment of the day.

A year passed. We returned to Duck and the same rental house. We recalled our dune exploration and remembered Winston and his kind quirkiness. We remembered not tipping him and felt guilty all over again. We called the excursion company and learned that Winston still worked there, that he was out but should be back in an hour or so. Did we want to leave a message? No, we did not.

Tip

Four of us drove north and hung out on the office porch and watched for Winston’s Jeep. When he arrived, we waited near-by while he said goodbye to the current group. Then we pounced, all four of us a-jabber about being there a year ago, not tipping him, feeling guilty, and now coming back with our belated offering. Winston looked bewildered, but eventually grasped what we were saying. He gave no indication that he remembered us, pushed his straw hat back, and accepted the money with a smile.

We drove away in a happy fog of atonement knowing that life doesn’t always give us an opportunity to right a wrong. This time we were lucky.

Lynne Sparrow

OLLI Member