Notes from a pandemic….

“On my way to Charlotte, I had to stop at a convenience store for the restroom. I walked far around one employee on a smoke break outside the store. I was the only person of perhaps 20 inside who was masked and was clearly being given the stink eye.

“I brought a drink to the counter to pay and the employee behind the plexiglass screen asked me if that was all. I said yes, and he said, ‘Take it.’ I was like, ‘Oh thanks, happy Mother’s Day?’ And he said, ‘No, your mask is scaring us.’ ”

— Facebook commenter Kay West of Asheville, cited in “What It’s Like to Wear a Mask in the South” by Margaret Renkl in the New York Times (June 1)


‘I am made of iron… and Uncle Sam needs me’

“A captured German cannon was gifted to the city [of Asheville] by returning soldiers at the end of World War I. At first, residents couldn’t agree on where to display the weapon. For a time it was unceremoniously stashed in the rear of the former courthouse yard before veterans won approval to move it to Pack Square in front of the Vance Monument.

“The cannon remained there for nearly three decades before mysteriously vanishing — not once, but twice. The final disappearance was reported in the Asheville Times on Oct. 29, 1942. No one, the paper noted, claimed responsibility. But a note (supposedly written by the cannon) was found at the Pack Square site. ‘There is another World War on, fellow citizens,’ the cannon proclaimed, ‘and this time I am on your side. I am made of iron and steel and Uncle Sam needs me.’ ”

— From “Local historians uncover Asheville’s hidden past” by Thomas Calder in Mountain Xpress (July 24, 2019)

The cannon story, attributed to retired head librarian Laura Gaskin, is among those compiled by Zoe Rhine in “Hidden History of Asheville.”


Did chestnut blight originate in Rockingham?

“If you look at a book on trees or on Wikipedia, it will say that the [American chestnut] blight was first spotted in 1904, or came over ‘ca. 1900,’ through certain Long Island nursery men, but I found old newspaper clippings suggesting… that the blight had begun much earlier, either right before or right after the Civil War, and had begun in the interior, not on the coast and not in the Northeast but in places like Georgia and Virginia, the Carolinas.

“The first manifestation I could find of whatever it was occurred in Rockingham, North Carolina…. I started finding these newspaper stories, first from small-town papers around Rockingham and then from a widening radius. People would be meeting in these towns, having meetings basically to ask, ‘What are we going to do about the chestnuts dying?’ ”


Forest-harvested ramps — the new truffles?

“Ramps are wild onions that Native Americans have harvested for thousands of years. They’re also a staple ingredient in traditional Southern Appalachian kitchens. Over the last several years, the bold-tasting green has become wildly popular among foodies, apt to appear on the menu of a trendy restaurant or bunched at farmers’ markets.

“[Forest resource specialist Tommy] Cabe said forest-harvested ramps fetched as much as $50 per gallon last year. ‘That’s a pretty good economy for someone who can spend a day in the woods,’ he said. The website listed the retail price of one pound of fresh ramps for $15.95, though currently out of stock in the off-season.

“While a permit is required to harvest ramps from national forests, not everyone follows those regulations, which can be difficult to enforce. As a result, Cabe and other gatherers must go deeper into the forest to find healthy plants….”

Wouldn’t Thad Eure be tickled!

‘Intertidal zone of the linguistic South” — that’s us

“The Tar Heel State is the intertidal zone of the linguistic South: Overwhelming forces wash in and out, but weird, fascinating little tide pools remain….”

— From “Why North Carolina Is the Most Linguistically Diverse U.S. State… But it might not be that way for much longer” b at Atlas Obscura (Dec. 11)

Cited at length: N.C. State’s Walt Wolfram, “one of the great American linguists of the past 50 years.”


Hushpuppy Corporation of America, R.I.P.

“In 1948, an entrepreneur named Walter Thompson from the tiny coastal town of Swansboro, North Carolina, decided to take hushpuppies nationwide. He concocted a ready-mix blend of cornmeal, flour, and seasoning, packaged it in pasteboard tubes, and branded it Thompson’s Fireside Hushpuppy Mix. ‘Just add water,’ the label promised. ‘A delightfully different Southern hot bread.’ It sold for 30 cents a can.

“Thompson ambitiously named his company ‘The Hushpuppy Corporation of America.’ He struck deals with distributors throughout the South, but his big score was landing John R. Marple & Co. of Westfield, N.J., which became the national distributor for Thompson’s Fireside Hushpuppy Mix and promoted it through a series of newspaper and radio ads.

“Thompson got out of the business just a year after launching it, selling the Hushpuppy Corporation of America to several investors, who moved it to the larger town of Jacksonville, North Carolina. They kept Thompson’s Fireside Hushpuppy Mix on the market for at least two more decades. The Hushpuppy Corporation of America was purchased around 1970 by House-Autry Mills of Four Oaks, North Carolina, which still sells two varieties today: Original Hushpuppy Mix and Hushpuppy Mix with Onion.”

— From “The Real History of Hushpuppies” by Robert Moss at Serious Eats (Aug. 10, 2018)

Salisbury prisoners worked hard to sleep, escape

“In an empty lot owned by the Historic Salisbury Foundation, archaeologists led by Timothy Roberts, project director for Cultural Resource Analysts, found bits of rubble, mortar and brick….

“Artifacts, mostly dating to after the war, [included] medicine bottles from a local drugstore known as Kluttz’s and… a piece of bone with a copper pin in it. Roberts believes it was part of the case of the type of folding knife prisoners used to dig their sleeping holes and escape tunnels.”

— From “Cotton Mill, Prison, Main Street” by Daniel Weiss in Archaeology (July/August 2019)


‘Avoid over-indulgence’ — with Lucky Strikes!

“A 1928 advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes said, ‘Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet,’ until the confection industry threatened legal action. In 1930, the ad was rewritten to say, ‘We do not represent that smoking Lucky Strike Cigarettes will bring modern figures or cause the reduction of flesh. We do declare that when tempted to do yourself too well, if you will “Reach for a Lucky” instead, you will thus avoid over-indulgence in things that cause excess weight and, by avoiding over-indulgence, maintain a modern, graceful form.’

“There is some truth to this claim, says George Bray, professor of medicine at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, since cigarettes do ‘stimulate energy expenditure’ (or burn calories) and probably do substitute for snacking for some users. And those who quit smoking do tend to gain weight when they replace the oral gratification of smoking with eating. But no one can call cigarette usage a healthy approach.”

— From “From Lucky Strikes to tapeworms: 7 of the oddest weight-loss schemes of the past were also unhealthy” by Debra Bruno in the Washington Post (Jan. 27)


DC antislavery petition ignites NC congressman

“Public opinion! What class of men have an immense preponderance over the
rest of the community, in their power of representing public opinion in the
legislature? The slave­ owners. They send from their 12 States 100 members,
while the 14 free States, with a free population nearly double, return but
142. Before whom do the presidential candidates bow down the most humbly,
on whom do they fawn the most fondly, and for whose tastes do they cater
the most assiduously in their servile protestations? The slave­owners

“Public opinion! Hear the public opinion of the free South, as expressed by
its own members in the House of Representatives at Washington. ‘I have a
great respect for the chair,’ quoth North Carolina, ‘I have a great
respect for the chair as an officer of the House, and a great respect for
him personally; nothing but that respect prevents me from rushing to the
table and tearing that petition which has just been presented for the
abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, to pieces.’­ ”

— From “American Notes for General Circulation” by Charles Dickens (lightly edited)

North Carolina had 13 representatives during Dickens’s 1842 visit — I’m not finding which of them so respectfully restrained himself. 


‘…annoyances to which a President of the US is subjected’

“Among others who called this morning was rather an elderly woman who said she lived in Alexandria. She wanted money to pay her rents and for other purposes. She brought no letters. I did not learn her name. She said she had lived in Alexandria many years. She had a genteel appearance.

“I endeavored to waive her application by treating her civilly and telling her she should apply to her neighbors and friends, who knew her. She became more and more importunate and I was forced at last to give her a positive denial. This did not satisfy her, and she named a sum which would satisfy her. I declined to give it to her and was compelled at last to tell her plainly that I did not know her or that she was worthy. I informed her that I contributed to objects of real charity as far as my means permitted, and asked her again why she had not applied to her neighbors in Alexandria, to which she replied that she did not wish to expose her necessities.

“I note this case to show some of the annoyances to which a President of the US is subjected.”

— From the diary of James K. Polk, Jan. 19, 1849

h/t Winston Blair