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Tag: moravian

Stumped: How I turned my dog into a decorative lawn ornament

stump 006

It has been a year now since Ace and I moved into a little house in Bethania, North Carolina, and we’ve made a home improvement or two – even though we just rent.

One issue I hadn’t figured out though was what to do with the big tree stump in the front yard – which many might view as an eyesore.

Two years ago the whole property was an eyesore. The house was heavily damaged by a fire – a fire that, I’m told, killed two or three of the dogs that lived with the person who rented it then.

The little white house on Main Street sat vacant – amid a neighborhood of historic, pre-Revolutionary, mostly meticulously kept homes in Bethania, a community settled by Moravians in 1759.

It was purchased and renovated by the man who’s now my landlord, and since I moved in – and without spending too much of my own money – I’ve tried to make some little improvements here and there to the grounds.

As for the tree stump, I contemplated hollowing out the center and turning it into a decorative planter, but that would be a lot of work.

I thought about putting a plaque across it, the sort that a lot of the truly historic homes in town have. Mine’s just 1940s vintage, though.

I considered carving a Moravian star – sort of the town symbol – on the top of the stump. But that would be a lot of work, too.

For a good long while, I was stumped. Then it came to me. Rather than cover it up, I should use the big ol’ stump as a focal point – as the foundation, or pedestal, if you will,  for some artwork.

And that’s how my dog became a decorative lawn ornament.

You know those big mansions you sometimes see – the ones with big cement lions on either side of the driveway? I’m not sure what message those big cement lions are supposed to send – other than “Yes, I’m rich enough to afford big cement lions.” Or maybe, “Enter at your own risk; this area patrolled by big cement lions.”

Having no big  cement lions myself, and having a pedestal on only one side of my driveway, I decided upon a variation of that theme, and called upon my big ol’ dog.

It took only a day to teach him, with help from treats, to “Get on the stump,” and then sit still, and then stay there when I walk away.

(Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks, and even learn some your old self.)

Now, I can sit up on the front porch and command him to get on the stump, and then watch as people in cars whizzing past my otherwise nondescript house do double takes and point.

(Just as a reminder the speed limit is 35 in front of my house.)

Being a living lawn ornament, and given he has come to expect some treatage for getting on the stump, he’s not entirely motionless. If you watch carefully you can see the flow of drool that often cascades from his mouth while he’s up there, knowing that, in exchange for his toil, there’s a treat in his near future.

He’ll sit there for 10 minutes or more, though I usually don’t make him stay that long.

Of all the yard improvements I’ve made – flower boxes and flower beds and distributing pine needles to cover up the weeds on the front bank that’s too steep for me to mow – I think the Ace lawn ornament is by far my biggest achievement.

He is after all, the finest work of art I own, and I like to think – whether he’s up on his tree stump pedestal or just hanging out in the yard – he makes the bucolic little town of Bethania even more beautiful.

(Photo and video by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

 

I can’t drive 2.5

It’s one of the things you do when you’re in Winston-Salem. You see the giant coffee pot. You eat some Krispy Kreme Donuts. You take a picture of the big downtown building that looks like a penis. And you stroll around Old Salem, or in our case – given a mom that doesn’t get around like she used to and a still gimpy dog – you drive.

Since we were at the Moravian Graveyard, or God’s Acre, anyway — to place some flowers on the grave of a great aunt — Ace, mom and I decided to cruise around Old Salem, a restored Moravian settlement that, like a smaller scale Williamsburg, features old-time craftsmen and shops staffed by people in period garb.

Before Winston and Salem became one (in 1913), there was Salem to the south and Winston to the north. After the merger Winston-Salem became, for a while, the most populous city in the state, and enjoyed a major boom powered by tobacco and textiles.

In some ways, it’s still bustling; in some ways it’s sleepy. Its tobacco-based economy has given way, ironically enough, to a health-care based one. Hospitals, it sometime seems, are taking over the town. There’s a thriving arts scene. Still, overall, the pace is slow.

Even though I knew that, even though Old Salem is a pedestrian experience — and I mean that in terms of people walking — I was surprised to see the speed limit that was posted in Old Salem: 2.5 miles per hour.

I’d never seen a speed limit that low, and when I tried to drive 2.5, it was nearly impossible. It’s just a smidge, or a skosh, above being motionless. But, laws being laws, I did my best, creeping along like a snail in my red jeep, traffic gathering behind me, mother beside me and Ace in the back seat wondering, I’d guess, “What is this? Are we stopping or not?”

As we crept along, my mother showed me the house my sister born in, and, nearby, the building at Salem College where she worked in the public relations department. As we left, I insisted on pulling over to take a picture of the speed limit sign, for by then – even though I’m all for playing it safe and slowing down in life — I’d concluded that the the 2.5 mile speed limit was one of the most ridiculous things ever.

It was only then, through the lens of my camera, that I realized the speed limit wasn’t 2.5; it was 25, the dot between the 2 and the 5 being the bolt that affixed the sign to its post.

By that time, I needed a strong cup of coffee, for driving 2.5 makes one sleepy at an amazing speed.

I settled for the coffee pot, just a couple of blocks away and one of  Winston-Salem’s best-known landmarks.

The coffee pot is 12 feet high, 16 feet in circumference and was made by tinsmith Julius Mickey in 1858. In the town then known as Salem, Mickey opened a grocery store and, in its loft, a tinsmith shop.

The tin shop turned out to fare far better than the grocery. It was the source of cups, plates, pots, pans, coffee and tea pots, buckets and lanterns and more — items in such demand that a second tinsmith opened just down the street.

To distinguish his shop from it, Mickey built, of tin, an enormous coffee pot, large enough, it is said, to hold 740 gallons of coffee. He placed it on a wooden post in front of his shop on the side of the street -– in a way that it actually extended into the street. Over time it became banged up by horse-drawn buggies that bumped it.

By the time Mickey sold his shop to another tinsmith, L. B. Brickenstein, the pot was considered both a town symbol and a nuisance.

In 1920, a horse and buggy driver struck the pot, knocking it off its wooden post. According to a 1966 article on the coffee pot’s history, published in the Winston-Salem Journal, the pot landed across the sidewalk, and just missed hitting a woman and child who were walking by.

The Winston-Salem board of alderman – the two towns having become one by then — ruled that the pot was a traffic hazard and a violation of a town ordinance regulating advertising signs. The board ordered it taken down. It was stored, but only briefly. After an outcry from those who saw it as an important landmark, it was put back up — just a little further away from the street.

In 1924, the Vogler family bought the old shop, and decided to leave the coffee pot standing, even if it didn’t exactly go with their expanding business – a funeral home.

In the 1950′s progress dictated — and progress does have a way of dictating —  that the pot must go. Interstate 40 was coming through town, and the route went right through where the coffee pot stood.  Suggestions that the highway be rerouted to skirt the pot were overruled.

Instead, the coffee pot was removed from its location at Belews and Main Street and, early in 1959, relocated to an expanse of grass at the point where the Old Salem bypass enters Main Street.

Coffee pot lore is abundant, some of it possibly even true. One legend has it that the pot served as a mail drop for spies during the Revolutionary War – a little hard to swallow considering it wasn’t built until 1858.

Still percolating as well are accounts that, during the Civil War, the coffee pot, which does have a trap door built into it, once hid a Yankee soldier (caffeinated version), or a Confederate soldier (decaffeinated version).

People do move slower in the south, and I think that’s a good thing.

In my travels with Ace, I’ve found that decreasing one’s pace, avoiding a schedule, allows one to see more, hear more, experience more, meet people more, and make fewer misteaks. (If you didn’t catch that, you’re reading too fast.)

Maybe I’m getting old, or maybe I’m getting southern, but I think we’d all be well served by not trying to do everything so fast — even if it does cut into the profit margin. We’d be better off — and I’d bet the average tinsmith agrees –  to do our jobs more slowly and carefully, not to mention walk a little slower, talk a little slower, eat our Krispy Kreme donuts a little slower, even drive a little slower.

I’d highly recommend it — just not 2.5 mph.

An Easter tradition: Sprucing up the graves

One of the reasons Ace and I are lingering in this town – Winston-Salem, North Carolina – is so that I can reconnect with my roots here in my birthplace. An opportunity to do that arose last week.

I got a call from Aunt Edna Faye, who, though she’d visited from Raleigh just two days before, had forgotten to carry out one of the tasks she intended to: Placing flowers on the grave of Tan.

Tan, or Tan-NEE, as her nickname was pronounced in full, was Kathleen Hall, who, though not related by blood, grew up as a sister of my grandmother. As my mother’s aunt, she babysat me before I turned one – here in the very same house Ace and I recently moved into. Never married, she was a schoolteacher and administrator. She died in 1983, at the age of 92. An elementary school in town bears her name.

Putting flowers on her grave is a family tradition at Easter – one that, if I ever was aware of it, I had forgotten.

Aunt Edna Faye explained that Tan was buried in the Moravian Graveyard, in what’s known as “God’s Acre,” near the Home Moravian Church in Old Salem. She didn’t know exactly where the gravesite was: “It’s behind the church, on a hill sort of to the left, near the sidewalk. It’s on the side that’s towards Salem, not towards Krispy Kreme.”

She asked, when she called on Friday, that I get some flowers and place them at Tan’s headstone.

“There are no containers there, so it needs to be something in a pot, and not a very tall one because it would tip over. Just sort of press it in the ground and stabilize it as much as you can,” she said. Last year, Edna Faye got Tan a pink hydrangea.

When I told my mother – who is Edna Faye’s sister — of the mission, she said she had thought about asking me to do it, but didn’t want to bother me. When I finished reprimanding her for that – explaining that the main reason I’ve temporarily moved here is so she can bother me — she asked if she could come along and quietly watch from the car.

“Hell no,” I answered.

I didn’t really say that, but it’s the sort of thing that – as a joke – I might, which could be why she didn’t ask me in the first place.

On our way to buy the flowers, she told me a little about Tan, most of which I’d forgotten. She considered Tan one of her four aunts, and perhaps the one to whom, as an adult, she was closest. When my father shipped out to Korea, Tan was there for her, and for long after that. She babysat my sister and me – I being born about nine months after my father returned. She was a much beloved teacher. Her nickname, Tan-NEE, apparently derived from a young nephew’s mispronunciation of Auntie. Her favorite color was purple.

Leaving Ace and my mother in the car, I surveyed the flowering plants outside a grocery store, opting for a delphinium because it was purple, with shades of blue. Ace approved. More important, so did my mother.

At God’s Acre (or Gottesacker, in the old German) members of the congregation were there in droves. The day before Easter is what’s known as decoration day – a time when relatives and church members tidy up the graves, and place out fresh flowers – partly because it’s tradition, partly because a huge sunrise Easter service takes place there the next morning.

People were hauling in plants, pouring bleach on gravestones to remove grey mold, and scrubbing off the grime, some using toothbrushes. All of the headstones at the Moravian Graveyard are exactly the same shape and size – Moravians being big on simplicity and uniformity. The departed are buried chronologically, in the order in which they are “called home to be with the Lord,” and there are no statues or monuments to distinguish the graves of the rich from those of the poor.

Normally, that would have made finding Tan’s grave difficult. But I’d gone on the graveyard’s website the day before, typed in her name and gotten the precise location: Section 1AA, Row 02, Grave 04. Between that and the map the website provided, finding her was easy.

She was buried alongside other women — that, too, being the Moravian way. Men, women and children are buried in separate sections, which stems from the church’s “choir system,” introduced in Saxony by Count Zinzendorf, the renewer of the Moravian Church.

The congregation was divided into groups according to age, sex, and marital status so that each individual might be cared for spiritually according to their differing needs. At worship the “choirs” also sat together – boys on one side, girls on the other.

When death comes, members are buried not with their families, but by the same choir system.

God’s Acre is still used by the Salem Congregation, comprised of twelve Moravian Churches within the city of Winston-Salem. Members of the church gather there the day before easter to ensure that all of the graves have flowers by Sunday.

Other than her grave location, there’s not a lot of information on Kathleen Hall on the Internet, her death having preceded its rise. Even with an elementary school named after her, there are few references to be found, other than a 1939 Winston-Salem high school year book for sale on eBay – one page of which is dedicated to her for her “friendly, untiring and unselfish services.”

My parents left North Carolina when I was one, so, except for a few visits over the years, I never got to closely know Kathleen Hall, who my sister, with slight variation, was named after.

My mother says that when my sister Kathryn was an infant, and wouldn’t stop crying, Tan would take her for car rides, and that made her finally shut up. (I’ll need to remember that next time I visit.)

When my mother moved back to Winston-Salem, in the late 1970s, I’d gone off to college, followed by my first job, far away in Arizona. My younger brother got to know Tan better than me, visiting her, after her retirement, at the Moravian home, where he remembers she liked watching professional wrestling on TV, and drinking banana milk shakes, which he’d always stop and pick up on the way.

I was hoping to introduce Ace to Tan, as I introduced him a few months ago to John Steinbeck, but I decided to obey the “no dogs allowed” signs. I didn’t want him squirting while everyone else was sprucing. He waited patiently in the car, watching from the window, as did my mother.

At Tan’s gravesite, someone had already left a lily, I set our contribution next to it, pushing it down into the moist earth as instructed. Contrary to Aunt Edna Faye’s advice, I picked a flower that grows tall. But I figured even if it toppled, it would keep growing, albeit sideways.

The hillside was filling up with people, armed with scrub brushes, bleach and Comet, and flowers in buckets and wagons and wheelbarrows, paying respect not just with their presence, but with their sweat.

Slowly, the cemetery took on more and more color, as if blooming — with lilies and azaleas and hydrangea and tulips and geraniums and daisies and daffodils.

And, amid the crowd, at least one purple delphinium.