The Jelly Lady on 221

“With Floyd gone, this feels more like home than anywhere I could be.”

This November, Barbara Gragg will have run the jelly stand for 59 years.  Fifty-five of those years were with her husband, Floyd, whom I first became acquainted with years ago when I would see him playing his banjo at the jelly stand to draw in and entertain tourists.  “Floyd passed away 4 years ago,” Barbara says. “I used to play the guitar.  But since Floyd died, I don’t anymore.”

Floyd Gragg

“Mr. (Hugh)  Morton (owner of Grandfather Mountain) would come by almost every day to check on us.”  And with reason, as there has been a long-standing relationship between the Gragg  and Morton families.  Floyd’s granddad ran the toll booth on the Yonahlossee Turnpike, which is the present-day U.S. 221.  The Turnpike, connecting Blowing Rock with the Linville, was built and owned by Mr. Morton’s granddad, Mr. Hugh McRae.

From the “Hugh Morton Collection of Photographs and Films, UNC University Libraries”

The Gift of the Unexpected Gift

“Base Camp” Meadow Garden

One afternoon this week, I opened the front door of our 1800’s log home (our previous full time residence) in Old Salem and to my surprise found an arranged bouquet of freshly cut zinnia’s on our granite front steps.

Totally unexpected, no predisposing circumstances or situation to our knowledge which would have precipitated such a generous act.

There was no note. We were saturated with a sense of wonder as to who may have left them.

But hey, I have seen such a signature before – depicted in a photograph – which with God’s hand had produced such perfect flowers.

Thank you, Cynthia Glasscoe.  Your bouquet is now the frontispiece of our wild meadow garden for our new permanent home in Watauga County.

I have a love affair with country ham and the guy who wraps it

Roy Anders, Ham Handler

I have a love affair with country ham and THE guy who wraps it.

It is no secret that one of my favorite destinations of all times is Ronnie’s Country Store in Winston-Salem, N.C.  When I moved to town in the late 70’s, the store was known as “W.G. White and Company” – founded in 1925.  In 1994,  Ronnie Horton bought the store from the White family; but the county health department came down hard … “Sorry, son,  but you need to bring the store up to code”.  And thanks for the outpouring affection of Winston-Salem residents and one local Senator Ham Horton (no relationship to Ronnie), Senator Horton introduced and passed a special bill in the North Carolina legislature to allow Ronnie’s to remain as it always was.  The law became known as “Ham’s Law.”

For your approval …

Now with THE guy, there are rituals which go with the purchase.  First, THE guy will always perfunctorily hold up the first slice for the customer’s approval (usually just a nod is needed) before he would cut the next.  Next would come the weighing; and then the magic would start –  the wrapping.

What makes it magical for me, are THE guy’s hands – hands that one would expect to be those of a venerable farmer who has spent his life outside.  His bent fingers have never been very nimble but there is a calculated movement in each meticulous and intentional fold of the butcher paper that keeps the flavors safe inside until the customer gets home.

After 38 years of being a loyal customer and never hearing anyone address another by their first name, I finally introduced myself to Ronnie Horton, the proprietor.  I asked him, who is THE guy that cuts your ham.  His name is “Roy Anders and he has been working for me for more than 20 years; and every Sunday you can find him leading the choir at Freedom Baptist Church in Rural Hall.

I think now that I might have a church.

“And over there” …. Successful Farmers are Entrepreneurs

Cheryl Ferguson Plum Granny Farm

Since I have been documenting organic farmers and farming, I have been searching for and cataloguing common denominators that characterize this special breed of growers.

I had the opportunity this week to visit with Cheryl Ferguson and Ray Tuegel, owners of Plum Granny Farm. In only a moment of a conversation, Cheryl exclaimed “And over there ….     ” Who but an entrepreneur would be excited about “over there” and how it would fulfill a vision for what will happen later in the season. Farmers find strange things to bring personal joy.

I became immediately excited too about what Cheryl was excited about!

Thank you, Cheryl!

I couldn’t pay my Duke Energy bill with these. What would they care?

Deconstructing a childhood stamp collection … An emotional journey to the past

When my mom and dad passed away in 2012 and 2013 respectfully, the task of “cleaning out” and “settling up” HOME in Waynesville, NC became forefront in my and my sister’s lives.’ My tangible personal connections to HOME changed when I moved out of the house in 1978 as a young adult to become a permanent resident of Winston-Salem, NC.

While I took on the task of settling my parents’ estates, my sister took on the challenge of “mucking out” as she referred to it, everything else since she continued to live in the HOME until she could design and build her own.

Reuter, San Martin, Paderewski, Garabaldi (the 4c and 8c versions), Bolivar, and Mahatma Gandhi

In one of our “check in calls” she asked me, “what do you want me to do with your stamp collection?”

Uh, oh …. I had completely forgotten that one. So, on a visit back to Waynesville, I loaded the boxes, brought them to Winston-Salem, and stored them away until a time that I could go through them. They couldn’t be worth much, I thought, even though the collection was all mint (uncancelled) stamps. They sat again in the corner of our living room.

This winter, someone wrote the Ask SAM column in the Winston-Salem Journal asking about stamp collection values and appraisals recommendations. His answer was succinct:

“It is not an investment possibility, as it was once considered to be,” he said. “Very few stamps have increased in value over the years. And what increase there was, was wiped out a few years ago, when the market went into decline at the same time the antique market and stock prices went south.”

Boy Scouts, NATO, Project Mercury, Kansas Statehood, and Range Conservation

This was just the permission that I needed to cannibalize the collection for the postage value only. Feeling rich, I without guilt started removing the mints stamps from their protective glassine envelopes. Then something happened. The emotional flood gates opened. I nearly drowned. There is Reuter, San Martin, Paderewski, Garabaldi (the 4c and 8c versions), Bolivar, and Mahatma Gandhi. And then there is Boy Scouts, NATO, Project Mercury, Kansas Statehood, and Range Conservation. And my favorite stamp ever of all time, John James Audubon (I bought an entire sheet).

I knew that I couldn’t pay my Duke Energy bill with these. What would they care?

My intimacy with American history and with these commemorative three and four cent stamps issued between 1963 and 1980 matured. Grandmother Houck (my mother’s mother) started me at the age of 13 collecting, bought me my first album, and helped me mount them precisely so they could be “preserved”.

The old Waynesville post office

My backed-up emotions rolled over me like a California mudslide. It felt as if it were only yesterday buying those stamps, and with my own money. There was a ritual in the process, too. I bicycled to the old post office downtown (now repurposed as the Waynesville City Hall) to find Mr. J.T. Russell looming large in the stamp window, my laying out my hard-earned cash on the cold marble counter window, and exchanging for a “block of four with serial number”. He was my stamp guardian; I was sure he had a special recess in his stamp drawer just for me. The relationship was that special. And another bonus, he saved all the new issue announcements which showcased the image of newly issued stamps, documented their history, and cited their date of issue. These were always thumb tacked to the lobby bulletin board right next to the wanted posters.

My favorite stamp of all time, John James Audubon

So …. Duke Energy will not get my stamps.

Instead, I will be using them as postage for our Christmas cards that we send to our friends this year along with the link to this story informing and reminding them where all these old beautiful quaint stamps came from.

“Merry Christmas,” already.  Maybe you will be the lucky one to get my favorite stamp of all time.

The Elusive Artist Statement

For the convenience of those readers who struggle with the metaphorical language of other artists when they write statements requiring a close-read i.e word-for-word’, then pause, then again, read word-for-word; I have tried to make it easy. Simply, this is “Who I Am”.


Here is another great example, one for Mary Presson Roberts, an emerging fine art photographer, educator, and published author.

The Organics: Heart and Hands – “MicroPRESS – Volume I”

The new hand sewn  “MicroPRESS – Volume I” of The Organics: Heart and Hands has just been published! Printed with archival inks on archival paper, this signed, and numbered, limited edition of 50  photo books is now available.

The Organics is a long-term project designed to capture the living spirit of sustainable agriculture growers’ hearts and of their connected hands which serve as instruments of cultivation and harvest.

“MicroPRESS Volume I” is a smaller representation of a much larger body of work being presented as a photography exhibition.

Featured farmers and farms in this volume are Kyle Montgomery, Ashley Pully, Jeff Seibel, Isaac Oliver, Brandon McGinnity, Kevin Oliver, Cynthia Glasscoe, Kate Schumacher, Jennifer Matler, Cheryl Ferguson and Ray Tuegel.  Farms represented are Harmony Ridge Farms, Plum Granny Farm, and The Billy Place Farm.

The book is available for purchase.



Would You Believe that this was a Bicycle Event?


Superchef Chris Smith (front center) leads his success team for this event

Cycling and food have always had a connection. Food is what cyclists devour after a long ride.

Now in a unique arrangement,  a new reason to ride is to dine at a one-of-a-kind of bicycle event created by a one-of-a-kind cyclist and chef, Keith Gardiner.  Keith is an instructor / chef in the Culinary Arts Program at Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, NC.  “I have always wanted to do this – where cyclists sit down and ARE SERVED a prepared meal by some of North Carolina’s greatest chefs.

The inaugural event raised over $4, 000 to:

-help educate children and families in understanding proper nutrition (Chef and Child – a program of the American Culinary Foundation)

– stock a food pantry, a flagship beneficiary of the Popular Ridge Friends Meeting, to support a backpack program that enables them to send a backpack filled with food home for children over the weekend.
Tour de Chef

-utilize the creativity and culinary expertise of chefs to help schools to ensure that America’s youngest generation grows up healthy (Chefs Move to Schools – a special initiative of the American Culinary Foundation)

-to support culinary scholarships for students in the Culinary Arts Program at Guildford Technician Community College

David Mercadante, senior pastor of the Popular Ridge Friends Meeting, whose church was the host for the the venue, had this to say:  “This is one of the best events we have ever participated in.”

The Tour de Chef is always the 4th Saturday in September.

Tour de Chefbcta6657

This moment changed our lives forever

Commissaire Lisa Colvin and para-athlete, Matt Broughton

Commissaire Lisa Colvin and para-athlete, Matt Broughton

A long day of marshalling for the USA Cycling National Championships with nearly 1,000 individual riders competing in the championship time trials had come to an end.  We had escorted  the last two para-cyclists and they had crossed the finish line; NC DOT had removed all the lane cones and were in the process of dismantling all the barricades; our motorcycle colleagues had long since departed for the comfort of their hotels in Winston-Salem; the shadows were long and we were tired.

As we were packing our bikes, Lisa Colvin, an apprentice commissair for the race pulled up next to us in her COMM car.  With her voice full of emotion.  “I hope I have done the right thing.” Then after a long pause, she continued “I know I have done the right thing.” She then shared with us in a quivering voice,  “there is still one more para-athlete on the course.”

We were in a state of disbelief as we had personally escorted the last riders.  We soon learned there was still one rider who had been mistakenly overlooked because of very slow progress in an earlier race.

“I found a law enforcement officer to escort him, one of our race officials to marshall for him, and his wife is following him in her personal car.”

With less than five miles to go, the cyclist athlete’s wife rolled up next to us where we were standing and anxiously asked from behind her steering wheel, “How much further?”

Lisa answered, “Ma’am, you have nothing to worry about.  I just spoke with the race director and she is  keeping the race open until your husband crosses the finish line.”

The para-cyclist athelete is Matt Broughton (Sherrills Ford, N.C./Team Roger C. Peace),  a stroke victim paralyzed on his left side.  He had not been allowed to finish his race the day before.

We checked the results today.  He DID cross the finish line. His finish time was twice what the finish time was for every para-athlete that raced that day.

We will never complain about anything ever again.

Red Maple Helicopters

After a life time of being fascinated by these seed pods of our native red maples, I have never been sure whether I liked them or hated them.  The seeds always foiled the broom whisks which were never able to herd them 100%; or the leaf blower which added more chaos to any effort of spring tidiness.

I have decided now that “I love ’em” as they have a unique ability (unknown to me until now) that they capture and hold water at the base of their copter wings —  even without the rain participating in loading this indiscreet reservoir of light!