Back in 2005, I Tried and Succeeded in Saving a Pure Oil Station here in Washington NC

Written and posted on back in 2005, I heard the Presbyterian Church was planning to tear down our beautiful vintage iconic Pure Oil Gas Station and something just went *bing* in my head and I had to stop them. So here it is, in its entirety, the post from the past. Names and contact info changed since 2005, small town politics, actually many names are the same, it’s what position they currently hold that’s different. (more…)


Gertrude O. Breck and My Dad

One ponders much whilst planting zucchini. Today’s topic? The Natural Body. In the United States of America, we loathe all things natural which occur to our bodies. We spend an inordinate amount of money, an obscene portion of our income, on getting rid of: freckles, stretch marks, wrinkles, age spots, gray hair, leg hair, underarm hair (and don’t let’s forget back, nose, and ear hair)


come on, join in:

cuticles, moles (benign little flat round ones, famous models get to have them but “we”, the great unwashed, do not), eyebrows…

yet we also create new bodily sensations to add to those which we disdain – tattoos, holes in our ears, nose, eyebrows, navels, and other places too perverse to mention – and years later spend $$ to remove those bodily sensations as they become droll, out of date, or faded. That was Part #1 which led my thinking around to Part #2.

Back around 1966, my father went to a labor meeting in Chicago. As he always brought me some tidbit prize when he went on trips, I was really looking forward to his return. I’d gotten more and more bold in my requests and he’d complied each time. I still have the teaset, the 007 Aston Martin Matchbox Car and other gems he produced upon disembarking. But this particular time, he didn’t listen to my request for a Madame Alexander doll. Upon his return, he handed me a booklet. Somewhat abashed, a bit embarassed, he said, “I got this autographed for you.”

I looked down at the title and saw the small pink book was about “growing up, the changes a young girl goes through” and it was printed by the Breck Company. We were both kind of embarrassed then. “Look inside,” he said.

In old lady handwriting (you know, like your grandma has, that formal even kind) “You are a very fortunate young lady to have such a father. Good luck,” and it was signed, “Gertrude O. Breck”

Ain’t that that something? I still have that book around here somewhere.


The Great Run of Southern Literature Is Over … Not.

Posted on Monday 18 February 2002

An essay, originally published in Popmatters. The encounter at Piggly Wiggly is certainly dated, now in 2016 when we all understand email (right, we do? got that. You do understand it and you are not an idiot.) We have Facebook now, we have Twitter, it’s fascinating how far we’ve come:Skillet and squash and life is good

Linton Weeks, in the Washington Post, claims that, by the mid-1970s, the “great run of Southern literature was coming to an end.” The Fugitives and the Agrarians — movements in Southern literature — all dead. Weeks claims there is “really no such thing as contemporary Southern literature.” Take Lee Smith’s latest novel, The Last Girls published by Algonquin books last September.

As Week’s explains, it’s got everything you need for a classic Southern tale, including a dead woman named Baby, but there’s no mention of it being “Southern” in the New York Times’ book review, or the Boston Globe’s. Like it’s some kind of bad taste in the literary mouth of the reviewer, they’re loathe to pigeonhole books as Southern literature.

It’s the Fear-of-Being-Labeled-Bubba Complex. Write about the South but don’t admit you’re doing it. Seems like Southern writers are schizophrenic. They don’t want to be classified as Southern, lumped together as a sort of genre of writing. They want to be American writers. But in truth, a story by any other name would smell as sweet. Local color is the foundation of any writing. It’s like denying the human experience to deny the influence of the South. Donna Tartt, this month’s literary femme fatale with a fine novel The Little Friend out last month, doesn’t want to be lumped into a group of writers (southern) simply because of the circumstances of her birth.

Algonquin’s “New Stories from the South” this year contains writing from Italy, New York, even Madison, Wisconsin. You can take it anyway you like, but I see it as the globalization of the Southern experience. Just because we “leave” the South, it doesn’t mean we’ve left it behind. The Southern experience is insidious, like eczema — rising to the surface of on our mind’s epidermis and making us itch, insidious and always lurking in the background. Storytelling is precluded by geography, good storytelling that is. Southerners talk.

Every action and reaction becomes a narrative. This is the basis for Southern writing. Remembering every detail of an insignificant event, and relating it to anyone who will listen– stranger, family member, hunting dog — just keep on talking and somebody or something will nod in agreement.

Like last week — I stopped in at the Pig, the one next to the closed-down Kmart on Fifteenth St.. My neighbor, Retha, told me they had home-grown yellow squash and really good cantalopes. Besides, I needed to pick up a box of wine for my 85 year old mom. As I was smelling the melons, I noticed a friend I hadn’t seen in years, sorting through the Vidalia onions.

Darlene Woolard. I knew her from the assembly line at Stanadyne when I did statistical process control there, years ago. The Northstar system, the one GM touts as the be-all-end-all of car guts, Stanadyne makes parts for that. And filters, oil and gas filters. It’s a dingy, turn of the century (19th, I mean) type of manufacturing plant. Dark, dismal, filthy, loud, smelly, dangerous… pick some more words to describe awful. Add cheesecake half-naked photos of women sprawled across the hoods of Camaro’s and Trans Ams and you get a general idea of the working conditions. Non-profit organizations with names like Northeastern Economic Hog Farmer and Golf ProAlliance, or The Southern Manufacturers of Stuff No One Needs League say the area is a manufacturer’s mecca. Ripe for the employment plucking. That means the minimum wage is acceptable, folks will work for uner $6.50 an hour because there are no jobs or unions here.

Once she spotted me, Darlene let out a whoop. She scooted over to the melon display, grabbed me, and hugged me sideways so’s not to drop her onions. “I have missed you. Where are you working now?” she asked.

“I’m working at the police department, slapping car accidents and reported incidents into their computer. And evidence, I watch over the evidence room. You still at Stanadyne?”

She replied, “As if I’d ever work anywhere else! I got a 2% cost of living raise last summer. I’m full-time permanent and making $6.87 an hour, honey! You don’t make that kind of money anywhere else in this county, not with them benefits you get. Say, you know computers, are you on that Internet? You always was on the computer when you was working in QC.”

This is the part of every chance conversation that makes me wish my cell phone would ring or my beeper would go off. Anything to interrupt the inevitable flow of web-related how-to questions. I liken it to, “Excuse me, doctor, but my wife has gout, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis, angina, and she needs her legs amputated. Could you stop grocery shopping long enough to take a look at her. She’s over in my cart on aisle 5, just left of the frozen peas.”

But I nod in Darlene’s direction, admit I am online, and she begins. “I’m beginning to fear the Internet is a’gonna’ take away Larry Wayne away from me. Of a night, he’ll call up and order “pay for view” WWF , ’cause he does love Stone Cold Steve Austin, then he turns his chair towards the big screen, boosts up that computer, and starts typing with both index fingers. He’s got one eye cocked on the TV screen and the other on the computer monitor. “He don’t hear nothing I say, won’t let me use the telephone on account of it will interfere with his downloads, and he smacks LW Jr. on the fanny every time he blocks the view of the wrestling arena. I told him I’d work double-shift a couple a times a month so’s we could afford a second phone line, but he tells me I got from when I get home at 4:00 to talk to my sister until he gets in at 6:00. Well, Lynette don’t get off work until 5:30 and it takes her fifteen minutes to get home, so I don’t get much of that quality time with her. And besides, LW Jr.’s likely to scream and holler if I don’t give him his Spiderman Spaghettios by 5:30, so my afternoons are full.  One of these days, I’m going to ride that Internet world wide wave. I got Carla, down at the plant, teaching me how to send email. She’s got one of them modems on her computer in Human Resources and she’s been showing me how to surf.

“Can you help me to understand how to get online? How do you get the phone to dial the right number that gets the Internet instead of Mama or Georgie Langdon? You know, I heard an advertisement on the radio the other day. I was listening to G. Gordon Liddy and this real nice man came on and said something about high speed access right here in town. You didn’t have to leave your local service, and I want to keep my business here in the county, I don’t want to pay some outsiders for something I can get here. It’s like shopping in Pitt County, we need to leave our tax dollars right here in this county, ya’ know? But phones are everywhere, why does it matter if it’s right here? Does that mean it’s better because you know the folks who are getting you onto the web? Can you help me? And I don’t want someone who lives down the road reading my email, that’s for sure.”

I say to Darlene, “You need to go to the community college and take a class. It’s probably less than $35 and they’ll teach you what you need to know. They have classes in the evenings. Call them today.”

As I move on to the checkout line, there’s a black man wearing a navy blue Stanadyne shop shirt. His name’s on the patch above the pocket. Frankie. “I heard you were at the PD. Gotta’ be cleaner than the QC room at Stanadyne,” he says. “How’s it going?” “Great, you?” I reply. “Can’t complain.” He shifts his groceries around in his arms. He doesn’t have a cart. He’s holding a frozen turkey like a sleeping infant and a five pound bag of oranges hangs from his pinky finger. He puts the frozen turkey on top of the rack of gum and Lifesavers. “That’s too cold to hang on to. You having a party?” he asks as he eyes the box of wine in my shopping cart. “No, it’s for Mama. Keeps her sane.” “Keeps everybody sane,” he replies. Southern literature, all it takes is a trip to Piggly Wiggly and there’s a story to be told. It’s not dead.



Living in the Town of James Brown, Get Down!

Aiken, South Carolina, once known to residents as the Land of James Brown… this story is 98.9% true:

Back in, ohhh, must have been Autumn 1987, late one night, hours past midnight, a neighbor living on the other side of the woods called to tell me about an escaped convict. A convict on the loose in my two-acre wood — a convict coming toward my house.

I had a vision of Steve McQueen as Max Sand, wearing striped prison garb, sweaty and dirty, meeting up with Suzanne Pleshette waiting with her dugout pirogue in the swamps of Louisiana, running from howling blood hounds and crashing toward me through my two acre wood. Reality was the convict — a murderer — had abandoned a stolen car less than a block away, near Strom Thurman’s house. He’d used a spoon to commandeer the escape vehicle, held it to the throat of an innocent bystander, brandishing it like a Bowie knife.

Hanging up the bedside phone, I snake-slithered under the quilt to the floor, and over to the shuttered floor to ceiling window and cracked the bottom shutter and looked outside. A helicopter spotlight shone down upon the half-circle drive, illuminating the macadam like I was entertaining a saint, like I’d seen Elvis’s silhouette in my freezer door — or some a holy visage, a Virgin Mary yard ornament crying real tears and, that, at the exact moment of the vision, some poor slob from Smyrna, Georgia drove by my house and told the world what he’d was looking at and the world heard him and now, here was the world at my door, witnessing and rolling and crying and speaking in tongues.

Only it wasn’t some holy tongue, it was the sound of blood hounds, howling and baying, in my front yard, by my deodar cedar and then back again, to the crawlspace hole. Two king cab 4X4 trucks with spotlights mounted on the roof, a black windowless van, and about 20 men in SWAT uniforms, wearing Kevlar vests, and carrying large rifles with infra-red scopes mounted on the barrels filled the driveway.

More bloodhounds, six of them, crashing through the woods, howling and baying, joined the original pack. The men turned toward the side yard and dogs as the animals smashed through the undergrowth into the yard. I crawled across the dining room — this was guerilla warfare now — I crawled on toward the living room, and stood up beside the window, hiding in the lace curtains, trying to watch from an angle where I wouldn’t be seen from the outside.

The dogs ran up to an overturned canoe next to the house. Howling and moaning, they circled, then they abruptly abandoned the canoe for the small trap door which led to the crawlspace. The dogs threw themselves against the side of the house as the men approached, rifles shouldered, Mag lights pointed at the door, rifle scopes sighted in, right cheek on the barrel. A SWAT man came forward, kicked open the crawlspace door from the side, and the dogs rushed under the house.

I could smell their excitement, the scent of the dogs, not the convict, as they slammed around the floor joists beneath me. Only the hardwood floor separating me from them. The dogs howled out from the crawlspace in less than five seconds. Noses to the ground, they ran to the front yard over to the deodar cedar. Jumping up against the trunk of the deodar, one dog almost made it to the first limb, climbing it like a squirrel.

The dogs were off again in a flash, running through the yard, pausing only briefly to howl and bay, then the whole pack ran down the road. Some of the men ran back to the vehicles and tore out after the dogs, others ran through my neighbor’s yard, rifles still at the ready, tracking both dogs and man.

I heard the dogs baying as they ran toward downtown Aiken, heard the helicopter overhead , then I walked over to the back door and noticed it was not locked. I locked it, went back to bed as the sun was coming up…

The next day I had an 8:00 a.m. history final at USC-Aiken. When I was late, the instructor tried to lock me out of the test and I pitched an unholy fit and made him open the classroom door. I told him what had happened the night before — he accused me of “making up the best excuse he’d ever heard.”


Ruth and Bob See Alaska

Reading Mom’s travel journals: On to Alaska. Life with Ruth wasn’t always filled with poignant moments of sentimental elderly encounters.

She and Daddy were real characters.

Ruth born 1917, Bob in 1915 … yes, the Great Generation. Certainly they qualified for the best parents. Couldn’t find fault with them in life or in death. Enjoy, those of you who knew Ruth here in Washington, those who enjoyed her humor and smile. Even if you didn’t know her, I think you’ll appreciate her travel diaries. Will publish more …

Notes from Ruth’s travel journal, April, 1983.

Their trip starts in Fort Smith, Arkansas in a Chevy Suburban pulling a 30′ Airstream trailer. The trailer was my father’s religion — the culmination of all things holy in one huge silver bullet. Many people feel this way about Airstreams. They were on their way across the US, via a Kentucky Bluegrass Tour, a short trip to visit the relatives in Cincinnati, and then west to Alaska for a couple months. In Shelbyville, KY they met up with Wally Byam Caravan group trip #1. [read about Wally Byam Caravans here]

About Keeneland in KY, she writes, “Real pleasure to have a young Irish fellow on an exchange program at Gainesway, brought out Temperance Hill — now at stud fro $50,000 a shot! Said he was a real fine horse and pointed out his features.” (There’s a family connection to this horse.) There’s more in the journal about the KY group, mostly about meeting people named Griswald and a couple, Edna and Ike.

They all had a “tasty lunch” at the original Colonel Sanders. The narration of over 2,500 miles of their road trip culminates with their arriving at Dawson Creek, the real one, in June. The reality of the trip they are about to take, following the AlCan highway, hits them. (If you’ve never read the history of highway, read about it. What an amazing act of courage and patriotism.)

In this journal entry, they’re learning about the trip ahead from some seasoned travelers.

We laughed when we saw the stuff people were putting on their trailers to protect them. That was yesterday. By this afternoon, we had contracted to have a man make us a plywood guard for the front of the trailer. We will put the Astro turf rug around it, mud guards will go on the car, we bought some heavy grooved plastic vinyl tape and have covered the trailer windows on the left side, covered the refrigerator intake, and probably will add more tomorrow. We hear the windows cost $109 not installed. We learned about flying rocks, wet and dry gravel, high winds, rain, and road construction. Not to forget dust dust dust. Bob changed the front air duct on the roof by borrowing a ladder and tools. Everyone else is engaged in similar activity, really funny looking. I have been closely inspecting the cars and motor homes coming down the highway. They are plastered with dust and mud — looks like cement. When the meeting ( the Wally Byam group meeting) was over at noon, we went to the Alaska Cafe with Rita and John and had a big wonderful meal. It gave us courage to continue on this adventure. This evening, heard a sales pitch on the ‘fly in’ trips. Seriously considering a trip to Nome and the Arctic Circle, about $1000 for 2 — will probably go as we will never get another chance. We are in this so deep now, we might as well go for broke.. …The arrangement to go to Nome and Katzebu has us really excited, $840.60 for 2 days, overnight in Nome. The agent (so cool) however figured it wrong and had to ask for $48 more today — annoyed us, but we really want to go. Also signed up to go on a boat (naturally) into Glacier Bay. Yup, we’re really going for broke.

More on their Alaska trip and other Wally Byam trips in the future.


Remembering The Prostitution of Art, 2010


So, that’s what I made, back in 2010. Pretty awesome? Now it’s 2016 and Adobe Photoshop is $9.99 a month. My old software just up and died. The result is the prostitution of photography and art. I pay up. I produce. Simple…


Cubist Collage

An attorney in Brooklyn, NY recently sent a link to a very interesting discussion concerning collages. Since lawyers have to go to collage for a long time, I figured he knew what he was talking about. I went to collage in North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and even Holland (that’s The Netherlands for your purists). Collages… my favorite way to learn:

“Collage has thus been deployed both as a mode of political resistance and as a protest against the commodity form, as an instrument of totalitarian propaganda and as a capitalist advertising tactic. It was this oscillation—a sweeping applicability to both the popular and the political, consumption and negation—that would usher in the late-twentieth-century turn to collage as a common and essential form of rethinking, repositioning, and reworking media.”

cropped-hoodgirl.jpgThat’s from ArtForum, a very remarkable read for anyone artistically inclined. — back in 2009, created that link. wonder if it still works? I know my Cubist Collages still work and that when I attended Cubist Collage, my degree, my ASS degree, still – to this day – provides me with knowledge use I create every day with my Art. Collage your words.



Arts of the Pamlico

The arts council’s Website is located at Arts of the Pamlico. The Arts Council is located in the restored portion of the Turnage Theater in downtown Washington.

you can also twit or Facebook them by the links below:

Roxie, RIP

Lost a dog yesterday. Roxie died. Seven and a half years of unconditional love. Good bye, sweetie. She died peacefully with me stroking her head and telling her stories about running in the dog park with her best buddies.

Roxie and Scooter at the Washington Dog Park. 2010.

Roxie and Scooter at the Washington Dog Park. 2010.


Roxie, the Doofus.

Roxie, the Doofus.


The Disciplined Brain

Found this in a book of quotes belonging to Mom. Ruth Heinold wrote this, copied it from a book, in the 1940s.  “If my companions on the planet’s crust choose to rage about, they cannot affect me! I will not let them. I have the power to maintain my own calm, and  I will. No earthly being can force me to be false to my principles, or to be blind to the beauty of the universe, or to be gloomy, or to be irritable, or to complain against my lot. For these things depend on the brain; cheerfulness, kindness, and honest thinking are all within the department of the brain. The disciplined brain can accomplish them.”

The quote is especially powerful during the gloom and doom of the desperate voter, the online nastiness, the mis-quoted words, the mis-reported deeds of insignificant moral value.