July 2009 ARCHIVE
I Like Mules…

Mules. They are half breeds and the result of a mixed relationship. The father is a jackass and the mother is a horse. The progeny is a hybrid known as a mule, an animal that is stubborn, strong, smart and peculiar.

Gerald McClure says comparing mules to horses is like comparing diesel fuel to high octane gas. Mules are smart, hardworking, sturdy animals, but there is nothing classy about them. Baxter Black posted his opinion of mules on The Mule Store website. He said: First they are not real. They are the equivalent of a Caterpillar body on a Volkswagen chassis with Cadillac suspension, a Cummins diesel and lawnmower wheels.

Our farming forefathers depended on them for many chores from plowing to transportation. This compulsory partnership created a wealth of tales concerning what happened when a mule’s stubbornness challenges a farmer’s resolve. It was always a chaotic experience that would pitch man against mule, the world’s most defiant and all knowing beast of burden. I love mule stories because the settlers who followed the Wilderness trail were society’s pack-mules.

I grew up around mules, Poppa Link had a couple of mules, My dad and brother plowed spring fields with our mule, Sunshine. An unfortunate name for a mule who thought he was Socrates. If you farmed, you needed a mule.
I like mules and I delight in mule stories…only if tale does not involve hurting the mule. For some reason, when a farmer locked head and horn with his mule. They both took it personally. I have heard tell of one farmer who out of desperation, frustration, and fatigue shot his own mule.
I recall an ex-husband bragging about his father cold-cocking a mule. The father was a stout strong man who just didn’t like the mule he had recently purchased. When the mule expressed the same opinion of him, well, it wasn’t pretty.
It went like this…one afternoon after hours of plowing, the tired mule just stopped. After a short time of prodding the mule, which still refused to budge, he simply assumed a boxer’s stance, balled up his fist, threw his best punch and knocked the mule out. What he got out of that tale was entirely different from what I took from the from the story.
On The Mule Store website I also read that people, who lost their temper, lack tolerance and empathy, are highly domineering or aggressive and will probably dislike mules.

I have always been fond of the peculiarity of mules and that is probably a reflection of my own personality. However, I first fell in love with mules when I read the following paragraphs about a mule race written by Mark Twain:

There were thirteen mules in the first heat; all sorts of mules,
they were; all sorts of complexions, gaits, dispositions, aspects.
Some were handsome creatures, some were not; some were sleek,
some hadn’t had their fur brushed lately; some were innocently
gay and frisky; some were full of malice and all unrighteousness;
guessing from looks, some of them thought the matter on hand was war, some thought it was a lark, the rest took it for a religious occasion. And each mule acted according to his convictions. The result was an absence of harmony well compensated by a conspicuous presence of variety–variety of a picturesque and entertaining sort.

The thirteen mules got away in a body, after a couple
of false starts, and scampered off with prodigious spirit.
As each mule and each rider had a distinct opinion of his own
as to how the race ought to be run, and which side of the track
was best in certain circumstances, and how often the track ought
to be crossed, and when a collision ought to be accomplished,
and when it ought to be avoided, these twenty-six conflicting
opinions created a most fantastic and picturesque confusion,
and the resulting spectacle was killingly comical. Eight of the thirteen mules distanced. I had a bet on a mule which would have won if the procession had been reversed.”

It happened in much the same way as Mark Twain described the race, it took some pretty prodigious mules to settle the Carolina Backcountry, and the farming families who settled the western wilderness for they were also, stubborn, strong, smart and peculiar.

Our Family Basket

There is much to say about mother-daughter relationships. Sometimes, two spirits travel in tandem until they discover the beauty in each other throughout. I could not have been me without my daughter’s feminine spirit to hold to and lean-on. Have we spun through lifetimes sparing and jostling each other? Have we spun through lifetimes gathering strength from hard-won wisdom? I hope so.

There is much to be said about the families we weave, but I believe that families, sisters, daughters, women, and mothers, sons, husbands, and lovers meet in different spaces in unseen universes because we always find solace and strength among these spirits. This time, I got to be Mom.

Where is your Rocking Chair?

Where do you need to be when the world is weary? Where do you need to be; when the world turns odd and out of bounds, where do you need to be? What do you seek? Where is your contentment?

When you pray or meditate and muse on rhyme and rhythms, Greed, taxes, Repubs, liberals, superstars, and transformers and Gods. When you pray or meditate on things that are right and wrong. On all things important, where do you go to find peace?

Mama Jo kept a yardstick above the doorframe of each room and she measured and balanced her life as easily as tracing the tip of her nose to the tips of her fingers. She stayed close to the teachings her German ancestors bequeathed to her and measured life by the yard.

Every other Sunday, after Sunday dinner, Daddy would drive through the county taking Mother home to see her family. It was a forty-five minute drive and it was taken every other Sunday come rain or snow. Mama Jo touched home base twice a month.

All nine brothers and sisters met back home in the living room where they spent their youth and where they discussed their challenges. On those Sunday afternoons, each member of the family brought home, dates, friends, new husbands, babies and in-laws. All that became family were brought to Poppa Link’s sprawling brick home on Sunday afternoon and the lucky ones drank from the back-porch well.

This is where Mama Jo came together with her sisters and brothers to tend to hearth fires and to see to each other. Before eventide, when the livestock was getting restless and there were chores to be done, when the pie was finished and the last swallow of tea. When we were ready for Monday, Mama Jo and my father stood up from their rocking chairs to begin the saying of the goodbyes.

When I had kissed the grandparents goodbye, I turned in the back seat to watch the cousins as they wave goodbye, when we pulled out of the driveway, the rocking chairs were always left behind crunched together in a tight circle. Where is your rocking chair?

We all need a safe place to call home with space for a rocking chair. It can be a familiar bed, a room with curtains that can be drawn open or left alone, or not at all. A place where we speak with ourselves; scratch our tush unseen; and whether singing along or making dreadful noises, no apologizes required?

Where I find sustenance and courage, others look away, and seek other places to call home; other places that holds their spirit content? Home is a place where only I can be me, but there is a larger question?

Like elixirs, and perfumes, where do you keep the essence of you? Where do you begin to tell the story of your life? From what point do you begin to trace your life, your roots, the best years, the learning years, and the comforted years?

Is an anchored rocking chair important in our world today? Is it very important for individuals to have strong connections to places and people?

We live in a portable world of quantum physics and narrow spaces with built-in plugs, and outlets, the world is only a plug away. We exist on trains, planes and automobiles and the cubicles of corporate fiefdoms. We live in a universe where relationships begin and end without the touching of flesh. In this universal space I can fly like a bird over the rainbows.

With the flick of a finger, I can swoop down onto the forests of the Carolina Piedmont dipping and diving above woodland maps that are more than 3,000 miles from source. Sitting on a satellite I can see the spit of land where the Abernethy Inn once existed. At the widest point in the river they operated a ferry across the Catawba River. Do we need rocking chairs, at all? How portable must a man be before he floats away?

Masks are required in a global world, but when the masks fall away; who will we be? Is it important to remain tied to a region, to carry colors and hymns of other places with us today? Is it important to know who we were to be able to find and sustain a home in the rushing currents of today?

If only the “now” counts, what is there of yesterday? Where do you put the baggage, the memories, the family myths, the truths of life? In the most technical of worlds; in the most beautifully-blended societies and cultures, it still holds true that the sum of the parts is as strong as the whole.

My story begins in Shuffletown, a once semi-scenic crossroads community nine miles from the square in Charlotte, North Carolina. Like Mother, I have yardsticks above the door arches in my home. Shuffletown is my home. These are my people. For generations, they abided in yesterday and taught me how to shoulder today.

This is my home. And, even though, I wrote the biography of home in my book, Shuffletown USA, in 2003, I still rely on what I learned in Shuffletown to get me through today. Shuffletown; the banks of the Catawba River and the land thereabouts is my home.

The currents from the Catawba River have fed and clothed my family since the NC State Hwy 16 was an Indian path; when the American Colonies were puppies; when the British Colony was christened Carolina by King Charles I, The Abernethys came to land that became their home.

As the story goes, James Abernethy and his sister, Jane, settled on the banks of the Catawba River and built cabins. Their second-cousin Jim had travelled with them on their journey from Jamestown, Virginia to the river that runs at the edge of the western wilderness. Jim married Jane, his second cousin. While James probably married the first Dunn to settle near by.

For a bit of silver or gold, they ferried travelers from one shore to the other. In their Inn they provided food and hearth for those who journey. The Abernethy Inn and Ferry was the last stop for supplies and sustenance before the pilgrims entered the western wilderness. My ancestors have tilled the same land and ferried the same river since the America Colonies were nothing more than a bag of puppies.

I think about home. I think about how other friends are able to pick up roots and relocate far from their birthplace and their growing years to find home. There are many who seem to find home along their wandering paths. I do not believe that needing a sense of place can be defined.

I often state that, “I am only one-generation away from the plow. The blood of my Scottish, Irish, English, French, and German, African and Cherokee ancestors still runs strong and it is easy to recall their yardsticks. I know because I watched my elders my fathers, mothers, and brother laid the seeds into these spring grounds life following life.

It was a time when the world ran on good sense; when we understood the importance of insincerity, and sometimes, today, in this most portable of worlds, every other Sunday I desire rambling country roads, counting cows and white horses in pastures and watching meadows roll down hill into farm ponds. Then I will dust off my apron and be on my way towards Monday.

Today, I pulled up my rocking chair and thought of Sister’s recipe for rock stew to remind me that I am only one generation away from the plow and I come from good strong, sturdy material. Shuffletown and the lands thereabouts; Southfork, Belmont, Woodland, Riverbend, Lincolnton, old Tryon County, is where I keep my rocking chair.

Calls to my Sister

My sister called today to discuss my forth-coming spinal surgery. I prefer not to speak of my surgery, at least, not often and then in hushed tones. Each time I speak of the surgeons operating on my back through my stomach. Well, I have to be there when it happens.

We moved on to the subject of the serial killer who terrorized the small town of Gaffney, South Carolina, and had been shot as a robber somewhere else. My nephew and ex-housemate…her son, Jay, lives in Gaffney, South Carolina.

“Have they caught the right man in Gaffney, South Carolina. What does Jay say about all that went there on last week?”

“Well, he didn’t go out much while the murdurer was on-the-loose. He matched the man’s description. they were looking for someone who was six feet six inches. Jay is. He had a bald head. Jay has a bald head. The killer weighed about the same. Jay stayed inside except for working hours.”

“Really,” I asked.

“Yeah, they were armed from house-to-house. When the Gaffney police told everyone to arm themselves, you couldn’t buy a bullet in the town.”

Strange Tales of Duke Mansion

Before Charlotte became the Mecca of towering corporate fiefdoms and a world class city, it was the home of many eccentric citizens who failed to conform to customary behavior patterns. As a native of Charlotte, I was fortunate to have known a few of them.

These eccentric, odd, quaint and unique citizens are the foundation of Charlotte. Without them, Charlotte could not be the mighty city it is today. I hold the memories of them in my heart. They gave me laughter.

The esteem I hold for the city is built upon my acquaintance with these marvelous folks. Before they are forgotten in the busyness of life, it is time to recall how they shaped and anchored Charlotte preparing it for the future.

One couple I remember fondly, Claire and William (Bill) Allen, were the essence of quaint. In 1976, they rescued the Duke Mansion from what could have been a dire fate. If they had not stepped forward and purchased this magnificent mansion, it could have faced destruction.

Today, it is in the safe hands of the Lynnwood Foundation which is dedicated to maintaining and preserving this national historic site as a unique meeting facility and community gathering place.

In the 1970s, we lost many historic homes, but fortunately, the Allens set the mansion on a path of restoration. Once they occupied the mansion the Allens lived in a manner befitting the history of the home.

In order to understand how Claire and Bill were at that time the perfect owners of the mansion and lived up to the unique and eccentric heritage of the mansion we must explore the history of the Duke Mansion. The story begins with a father, James Buchanan “Buck” Duke, who doted on his daughter, Doris.

Step back in time to the era when it was possible to acquire vast fortunes. Buck Duke had accomplished this feat, when he built the Duke Mansion, he owned homes in Manhattan, Newport, and New Jersey. When he added the Duke Mansion to his list of homes it was with the intention of providing six-year-old, daughter, Doris with a genteel southern upbringing. He purchased what was then known as Lynnwood, an eight year old estate at 400 Hermitage Rd., in Charlotte’s prestigious new neighborhood known as Myers Park. However, as with the “best laid plans,” things went awry.

Business also brought him to the area, he needed to be close to the operations of his hydro-electric power company – today’s Duke Energy company — but his prime motivation in buying Lynnwood was to give Doris the benefit of growing up in his native North Carolina. Duke purchased parcels of land surrounding the estate between 1919 and 1922 transforming the already substantial home into a majestic mansion of 45 rooms and 12 baths. The Duke Mansion was the first of many grand homes in Charlotte designed in the Neo-Colonial style.

In the front lawn of the estate, as the crowning jewel, Buck installed a fountain that sent plumes of water as high as 150 feet, and was quite a local attraction. The fountain, his car, a Rolls-Royce, and his daughter, Doris, were his pride and joy.

Fountain View Street is off East Blvd. was so named because it afforded a view of the water spires from the Duke Mansion fountain.

However, Mrs. Buck Duke, the former Nanaline Holt Inman of Macon, Georgia, preferred her residence on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue to the quiet righteousness of Charlotte. I guess back then it could be said that “what happened in New York stayed in New York.” Often when her mother traveled to New York, Doris remained behind with her father and received part of her early education at a private school in Charlotte.

But in 1925, when Doris was 12 years old, Buck Duke died. Quickly, Nanaline Duke sold Lynnwood to C. C. Coddington, a car dealer, and thus deprived Doris of the southern upbringing her devoted father had desired. Possibly, it is not a stretch to say that if Doris had remained in Charlotte her life could have been happier, but instead Doris married twice unsuccessfully and in the end, it was her final relationship with her bizarre butler, Bernard Lafferty, who wore his hair in a pony tail and catered to her every wish.

Except, unfortunately, he was accused of hastening her demise with a fatal overdose of morphine and Demerol — but not before she changed her will leaving her estate to him. Three years after Doris Duke died, Lafferty himself passed away, prompting an amusingly morbid tale in the in the Los Angeles press. Prior to his death, Bernard had agreed to a series of interviews with a reporter, but died rather inconveniently before the interviews were complete. The reporter resorted to a medium who contacted Lafferty on the “other side.” When asked if he ever say Doris in heaven, Lafferty replied that he did see her, but only from a distance because she was in a section reserved for the rich and famous. So apparently, you can take it with you.

The Duke Mansion is also haunted by Jon Avery who briefly owned the home. The story goes that his wife was permanently hospitalized due to mental illness; and during his tenure in the mansion he fell deeply in love with another woman. But his love was unrequited. One fateful night the woman, accompanied by a friend, went to the mansion to break off the relationship. When they opened the front door Jon Avery walked past them and spoke the words, “Dead or Alive.” Unknown to them, Avery had died a few days before due to an illness.

In 1929, the mansion was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Martin L. Cannon, one of the 10 children of James Cannon, founder of Concord’s Cannon Mills fortune. The Cannon’s named the home, “White Oaks.” (John F. Kennedy, the future president, attended their daughter’s wedding here in 1940.) Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lineberger of Belmont bought the mansion in 1957. In 1966, the house was almost destroyed by a fire, after which the Linebergers did an extensive restoration. After the death of Henry Lineberger, in 1976, the mansion entered its White Elephant stage.

It was around this time that my friends, Claire and Bill Allen bought the mansion for approximately $250,000, which was a steal for a 45-room home, even then. They moved into the main part of the house with their five dogs and many cats. Bill often told me that he owned the last dog in America named Rover and he adored the dog and all the other animals. In truth, they made PETA look timid.

At that time, I lived on Huntley Place, a street beside Myers Park Hardware. Before the home was purchased by the Allens, my children and many neighborhood children played about the lawns of the mansion. They hid in a hollow of an old oak tree that stood in the front lawn and played hide and seek around and about the house.

It was on a Sunday afternoon when the Allens had moved into the mansion when I was in search of my yellow striped cat, Beowulf, that I was to make their acquaintance.

When I knocked on the door and asked if I could search their premises for Beowulf, Claire gave me permission for the search and invited me inside for a drink. I found Beowulf; and eagerly returned to the mansion. When I arrived it was time to feed Claire’s favorite cat, whose name now escapes me, but the cat and its feeding was memorable. The poor cat had suffered a stroke and was physically challenged. Like Beowulf, he was a sweet yellow striped cat, but resulting from the stroke, he would list to the left and, mostly, walked in circles. She fed him in the enormous kitchen where many servants had once sliced and diced vegetables while preparing large meals on a huge chopping block; if the chopping block had been a table, it would have seated twelve guests. A brass foot railing ran along the bottom of the solid wooden block.

When it was time to feed the cat, Claire would carefully lift him up to the top of the block and set a plate of tuna in the middle of the chopping block. They had so many animals this was the only way the cat could eat in peace. Then we would sit nearby at a small table drinking cocktails while keeping close watch on the cat– listing to the left, circling the tuna until by fate and fortune he located his meal. Under Claire’s watchful gaze, the cat never toppled off, but it usually took him four to six long minutes before he bumped into his meal. He lived out his days on a circular journey to being well-fed.

Sunday cocktails with Claire and Bill became a habit. Their story was very romantic. When they were very young, Bill had fallen in love with Claire who was an opera singer. Once again, if memory serves me correctly, it was her leading role in the opera, Madame Butterfly, which stoked the flame of love in Bill’s heart. Many years later, when Claire returned from her operatic career in New York City, Bill was a widower. After a chance meeting, and a short courtship, they were married.

Often cocktails led into dinner; a short Sunday afternoon visit with them would often extended for hours; by the time the subject of dinner rolled around, the main course was still frozen. By the time dinner was ready, I often walked to dinner as unsteadily as Claire’s cat.

During my visits I met many other quaint citizens of Charlotte; one of them was a fiftyish female attorney who bragged to me that she had never lost a rape case. Later, I discovered that she always represented the accused (males). She was, however, a delightful guest. Her stories were always entertaining and very humorous, but she scared me.

However, during one Sunday dinner, she saved my life. Someone had said something funny; I laughed causing me to choke on a piece of steak. She jerked me up, slapped my back determinedly and dislodged the steak. Afterward, she admonished me that it would have been extremely rude of me to die during dinner; the fact being, the great tragedy of Bill’s life was that his first wife had choked to death during a meal at a dinner theatre. I am forever grateful to her that my death did not coincide with my final faux pas.

They also rented out sections of the house as apartments to an ever-changing array of tenants. Their occupant renters were sometimes unique. One couple, of whom they were very fond, was eagerly waiting on FDA approval of a patent for an invention that we now know as Krab. It is seen today in most grocery stores and some restaurants. I hope, somewhere, they are carrying on in the art of fine living in the tradition of Claire and Bill Allen.

The Allens loved to entertain and I enjoyed many lively parties there. During one party two of my friends, who shall remain nameless, stopped by looking for me after I had already departed. The next day, Claire reported to me that some of my motorcycle friends had stopped by and they were very delightful.

My favorite memory of those days is a Scottish themed party. They hired a bagpipe band and Scottish attire for the guests was encouraged. It was a beautiful site to see: about fifteen men in swinging plaid kilts marching down the large hallway escorted by five tail-wagging, barking dogs towards the living room. By request, undaunted by the barking, the bagpipers and entourage were to repeat their march several times. It was a night the Allens recalled with pride.

One of my last parties at the mansion was during the week-long festivities of the premier of the NASCAR movie, “Stroker Ace,” which starred Burt Reynolds. The Allens invited the guests for lunch where they were fed a traditional southern meal complete with fried chicken, potato salad, black-eyed peas, greens and many other traditional native dishes. Tea and Bloody Marys were served in blue mason jars. The meal was prepared by Ellen Davis who now owns the McNinch House, one of Charlotte’s finest restaurants. The Fincannon brothers, Craig and Mark, who are now extremely successful movie casting agents, sent invitations to the cast. It was a star-studded occasion. Jon Ponder and I were in charge of arranging the party and specifically, to oversee that the Allens would be standing when the guests departed. However, I am not sure any of us were totally vertical when the last guest departed. What I am sure of, to this day, is everyone involved recalls the flowing hospitality of the effervescent Allens.

Jim Nabors, one of the cast members, attended the party and arrived early to request a tour of the home. Jim Nabors, you may recall, played Gomer Pyle on the “Andy Griffith Show.” He was then a neighbor of Doris Duke in Honolulu. Doris had regaled him with stories of her youth in the mansion. She had specifically asked him to visit the mansion.

Unlike Doris Duke, the story of the Duke Mansion has a happy ending. It was later divided into condos, and eventually rescued by Rick and Dee Ray, owners of the Raycom media company. With Duke Power and others, they set up the Lynwood Foundation. They even have the fountain working again…

Ed’s note: Jon Ponder, my former partner in the now-defunct, but still imfamous, advertising agency, Haley, Garland & Lahr, assisted in the writing and complilation of this article. We probably made unintentional mistakes in our recollection of those days. But, that is to be expected. Jon lives in West Hollywood, but he still calls Charlotte his hometown.

Happy 4th from Shuffletown

As we remember those who declared on this day a Great Nation, I wanted to share with you some notable quotes from some odd and regular folks, saints, and bigots, of my crossroads village, Shuffletown. God bless them all. They abided in the years of yesterday and taught us how to shoulder today.

Shuffletown is a strange name, but once there were many places with odd sounding names. Just up the road there once were places called Frog Level, Three Pistols, Peach Hollow, Emmy Town, and Pig Squeal.
William A. Rozzelle Jr.

Mrs. Took was so old she had shriveled to the size of a hound dog sitting up. She wore lacy bonnets that covered her face and big white lace collars. She was nice and sweet. However, she did smell like old shoes.
Judy Rozzelle

A shotgun house is built with the back door lined up with the front door. If it was necessary, you could stand in the front door and shoot somebody running out of the back door.
Hank Wallen

The cow seemed not to mind. Oh, it might have aggravated the cow when Rob pried open the cow’s mouth and stuck his head inside. He just couldn’t figure out how the cow ate grass or why?
Mrs. Susan Griffin

We’d line up for our chigger medicine. The kerosene was supposed to keep chiggers off you.
Ivy Aaron Barnes

If there was something that needed doing whether it was plowing or planting the girls worked just like the boys. One day, Fred Walled, our neighbor, asked Daddy, “Don’t you wish these girls was boys?”
“Well, no Fred, I don’t,” answered Daddy. “I wish the boys were girls.”

Maria Hooper

I was going to be the first mailman to deliver mail in these parts, and I thought that the sight of a redheaded mailman riding a black bull would be something to see.
Mac Gillis

It is the school bus that teaches you the true meaning of the Darwin Theory, survival of the fittest. But like childbirth and blows to the head, the memory of the experience recedes with time.

Judy Rozzelle

The actual church camp wasn’t much. I do not remember what I learned of Jesus’ life back then, but I will never forget how the bathroom smelled.

Judy Rozzelle

Three decades later, a doctor convinced my cousin to have the cracked vertebrae in her neck repaired, that was back when if you fell out of a tree at church camp; they would brush you off and fuss at your for breaking the tree.
Judy Rozzelle

He said that before the day ended; Jim Bob could pump oil…crap…and carry on a conversation at the same time.
Slick Cameron

“Dad, are those reindeer?” my youngest piped up from the back seat. We just sat in the car in the driveway watching. There were goats and a sled on my rooftop. In the middle of the sledge’s seat was the blessed brick.

Jim Bob Cameron

Camerons piled out of the hay like clowns out of a clown car. It was not Christmas Eve at church until the Camerons arrived, brushed hay from their clothes and entered the church. Then and only then, did the Christmas Eve service begin in Shuffletown.
Judy Rozzelle

I was told by folks that the Abernethy women did ever marry ‘cause they couldn’t find a man who could fix a fence as good as they could.

Lee Wallace

I don’t right recall whether or not I bit his finger off.
Zeke Wallen

She drove me crazy. When I took her out and introduced her, I’d say, “This is Cousin Judy, she hasn’t got a lick of sense, but she’s got big boobs.”
Yvonne R. Herbert

The house just wasn’t big enough for both of us. There’s only so much a man can take. It wasn’t so bad living in the chicken house.
Bill Short

The fishing guide on the Shuffletown Grocery Calendar is two-thirds wrong.

Reese Cleghorn

The calendar says today is a good fishing day and that means it’s poor.

Tad Rozzelle

Cotton said that if we let one more animal in that house, we were moving to the city.
Teeny Henderson

I figure our kids consumer enough sacraments those Saturday to thoroughly cleanse their heathen little souls.
Mutt Rozzelle

When he arrived and saw the flames he jumped out of his car cursing like a sailor. “Aw Hell,” he said, “I thought you meant you had a woman in your backseat on fire.”
Barry Smith

Once upon a time, there was a place called Shuffletown. A semi-scenic tourist trap, nine miles outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. These are my people.

Pat Hall, Sr.

He was larger than life; bigger than imagination; wealthy; and accomplished. His idol was General George Patton. He is an icon of a bygone era. He was to Charlotte what Judge Roy Bean was to the Wild West. If he lived today, he probably would spend most hours in court defending his uniquely, Pat Hall, actions. I am delighted to present, the founder of Carowinds, Pat Hall, Sr.

These are a few of the stories I have shared with two members of the once eccentric and unpredictable Carowinds marketing department. We were there. We experienced it. We survived and today they are the memories that still make us roar with laughter and wonderment. Because, someone could have been killed.

Before Carowinds, Pat Hall, Sr. made his fortune in textiles. He sold used textile machinery. And he sold them with a flourish and unlike anyone else. You see, Pat had a fondness for railroad cars. Think of the railroad car in the television series, “Wild Wild West,” with Robert Conrad. Remember how lush it was with velvet curtains, leather couches, and other grand touches. Well, that comes close to describing Pat’s railroad car.

Pat Hall’s railroad car was decorated to entertain dignitaries and Chief Executive officers, but he did not limit it to them…he threw open the doors to police, fireman, and friends such as Huge of Crescent Land and Timber, his best friend, John Belk, and many others who were just plain folks. Pat made everyone feel at home.

His standard for entertaining included the best champagnes and liquors. All the beverages including soft drinks and packs of cigarettes were offered free. Back then cigarette packs were perfectly acceptable.

Two were the finest gentlemen you’ll ever meet were Hosie and Moses. Whether in their tuxedos or everyday clothes, they were the caliber of courtly English Butlers, mindful courteous, gentle, and, always, they had a twinkle in their eyes. It was probably because they were suppressing laughter.

Gail Anderson was the cook and head bottle washer. Gail Anderson was soft and fluffy and a genie in the kitchen. Gail was a friend and she knew everyone’s secrets. They were part of the Pat Hall inner team, but still, Pat would shoot at them on occasion. But I digress.

Pat Hall’s approach to sales began with his love of railroad cars. When he attended textile shows, he would hire a handful of beautiful women to attend to his booth. He preferred women with titles, Miss South Carolina, Miss North Carolina, beauty queens.

Pat was always there, but he rarely attended the textile market shows; instead he had his ladies pass out invitations to selected guests. These were invitations to his railroad car on the tracks just beyond the show grounds. It was an honor to receive an invitation. Invitations were as desired as entrances to today’s select clubs in New York and Los Angeles. Every one knew that a great time was to be had by all.

Then, one night, when he was ready to move on and I swear this is true, he made the statement often to thousands. He had a dream. He dreamed of a historically themed park on the state lines of North and South Carolina. He dreamed of Carowinds. When he woke, he set about to achieve his dream. The first step was purchasing the land. I was not involved in this part of his history so I will not try to address this era.

Still, I understand that his negotiations with the landowners were unique. When Pat had completed his land transactions he had acquired much more land than was necessary to build his theme park which was soon to be named Carowinds.

In this phase, Pat Hall became the essence of Cecil B. D’Mille, Walt Disney, and P. T. Barnum rolled up into one home-grown, down-home, self-made promoter. He was the masthead for such heralded promoters as Humpy Wheeler, formerly with Lowe’s Motor Speedway, and Stan Kaplan who set the pace in radio and publishing for Charlotte and beyond.

His next step was to hire the best executives and marketing professionals he could find. He began with Bill Hensley and William Veeder, two of Charlotte’s finest executives. Within a year or so, he set his sites on a young man who had established a name in marketing at the Six Flags Theme Park in Atlanta, Georgia, Bill Dawson.

Bill Dawson is also one of the founders of the internationally honored foundation called “People to People”, along with his best friend Rafer Johnson (yes, the Olympic Decathlon Gold Medalist in the 1960 Rome Olympics—Silver in Melbourne in 1956).

Pat traveled to Atlanta by plane and invited Bill to his suite where the door was opened to him by Moses and Hosie. Bill has told me that during that meeting it was not a matter of whether or not he was going to take the job, but when he could start. Bill Dawson became the head of the most untamed marketing department in the Carolinas.

The staff also included a wonderful man, C.J. Underwood, my first public relations boss. C. J. came to Carowinds from WBTV and was not prepared for his induction into business as Public Relations Director of Carowinds. Donna Ashcraft was Bill’s assistant, plus Patsy whose name eludes me who was the current Miss North Carolina. Patsy was a gracious spirit among this wild tribe who held us close to reality.

Let’s begin with Pat Hall’s beloved and well-chronicled, chrome-plated, 38 revolver/pistol. It was a gift from the Charlotte Police during a lavish banquet he gave to honor them. During the proceedings, he was presented with a replica of General George Patton’s favorite gun. General Patton was Pat Hall’s idol and they approached many things with a similar flourish…

These stories are recalled with help from Bill Dawson, who now lives in Long Beach, California, and Donna Ashcraft, who like me is still a living in and about Charlotte, NC.

These are some of our favorite recollections. Read them with laughter and remember before you blow your politically correct fuse, we are speaking of another time and it does not fare well when measured by the whole politically correctness of it. It was a time when there was no such thing as being politically correct.

Pat Hall was my first Chairman of the Board Boss and my first business experience. I thought all bosses took shots at you and I suspect I have never quite recovered from the years I worked in the Carowinds Marketing Department run by Bill Dawson.

The most anticipated times for the marketing staff were the Friday staff meetings with Mr. Hall in the conference room. Meetings always began routinely with everyone presenting their reports and discussion of promotions.

Around noon, Pat’s chef, Gail Anderson, would report that dinner (lunch, really) would be served in thirty minutes in the railroad car. Pat then would instruct Hosie and Moses to serve the Bloody Marys’s.

The meetings kind of went downhill from there. Thirty minutes allowed for two Bloody Marys’s each. In all, the Bloody Mary’s I have drank since then…I have never tasted any other Bloody Mary that was as good as the ones served during Friday staff meetings. By the time the lunch table was set, we adjourned from the conference room to the Lodge.

The Lodge, like his railroad car, was larger than life. It was decorated like an elegant hunt club complete with animal heads staring down at you. Here, Pat was the conductor of executive conferences and parties.

The fifteen or so of us would settle down to a great meal and more Bloody Mary’s–if we so desired. Lunch always ended with Pat addressing each of us individually with his instructions for the next week. After each instruction, if he felt it necessary to make a point, he would point his pearl-handled revolver and fire one or two bullets into the beams over your head. I know what it feels like to hear a bullet above my head. While it alarmed me, it certainly sobered me up; and looking back…I wouldn’t have missed it.

Later, after C. J. had returned to WBTV after his two years before the mast, I set up business in his former office; but it was not as tidy as Pat Hall would have liked. He kept complaining about it until one Friday he instructed me to have it cleaned within the week. He even offered to hire a Kelly Girl to assist me. The Kelly employee and I were sorting through stacks of papers in the morning when Pat Hall and a goat appeared at my office door. His .38 was drawn.
“Judy, I am going to leave this goat with you to help you with this #$%^ place. I will return at five o’clock for the goat; at which time, if this office is not clean, I will shoot either the goat or you.” He dropped the goat’s lead and closed the door. The Kelly temp’ climbed off my desk, picked up her purse and left.

I followed her down the hall trying to assure her that no one would be shot, not even the goat. She never looked back. Bill Dawson returned the goat; and I set about furiously cleaning and filing. Needlessly to say, both the goat and I lived to tell about another day.

Calls to my Sister

After more than a week of Governor Sanford’s Mass-like Latin liturgy of crap, don’t you feel like you need to wash a load of clothes, or wash a car? Why is this lunatic performing public surgery on his life? Out, out of my headlines, black spots and all.

I have South Carolina’s Governor and his political ambitions and his strategy all figured out. Governor Mark Sanford is going to crow of his nauseating love from high places because his confessions are his knight’s armor. Governor Sanford’s confessions are veiled-attempts to enamor the world with his larger-than-life love-story.

He offers hope. If this one adulterer has found his soul-mate, and then, you never know who’s next? And remember, love heals all, there are seasons of seed and harvest, etc. etc.

This is the bottom line: Governor Mark Sanford believes that his story of true love makes him a victimless hero. He believes there will be forgiveness when they understand the depths of his true love. Love loves voters and voters love Love.

In the spirit of the Duke of Windsor, Mark Sanford will give up the throne of South Carolina in the same ferry-tale fashion as the Duke of Windsor did for his soul-mate, Wallace…something. He leaves his office to prove to God and voters that his love affair is different. I have heard him compare himself to King David, but I cannot go there.

Sanford departs. He and his mistress forsake all others seeking only sanctuary for their love. Maybe a year or longer, maybe in the year 2011, the divine couple will come home to be met by an enthusiastic crowd of well-wishes. I would take a dollar bet on that happening. Thereby leaving the door open to all political ambitions, In politics there is life after adultery. Mark and Mistress Sanford will return as the American version of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

When I begin to conjure up creative scenarios for why people and politician make a fool of themselves with such swagger? I seek a time when I knew there would be supper on the table and homework.

I call my sister, Jill. She holds safe, my north star. There is a family myth that tells that I locked the front door and flushed the key down the commode when they arrived home. So you could say that as sisters we got off to a bad start. Not really. This is us. We are truly undeniably sisters and as the years sweep by…the more precious my little sister becomes.

I dressed her up as a bride in old white curtains. I painted her face, I cut her hair. I loved her like she was my little blonde doll. And there never were two sisters more different than Judy and Jill. As different as we are; we have a connection that no one else on earth shares. It is a core of memories that lives untouched among our collected memories. My sister guards yesterday, for me. She has known me since day one.

We were raised by Mama Jo and we were reared according to the tenants of her German ancestry. Mother taught us to act as if we had good sense and to always dress appropriately. She expected our friends and acquaintances to act accordingly.

I was born cynical, but Jill was born a saint. She raised three unruly boys and made so many trips to the emergency rooms she kept supplies and equipment in her car trunk. If the emergency occurred in the middle of the night, I suspect she broke the land-speed record. Like Mama Jo, she learned a lot along the way, but she held some things true. Jill does not suffer fools lightly. Whatever Jill says, whether it is about an ancient cure, an apple pie, bee bites, or world affairs, her answer will be what Mama Jo would have said. I called my sister and this is what she had to say.

“Governor Sanford, that stupid wimpy man. Can you imagine a man asking his wife’s permission to have an affair? I would chop off a few things and never tell anyone where it was buried.”