Highway Haiku # 17
Like a dog’s old bone
Real truth takes some sniffing out
Then some digging up
Digging up the past — it’s something historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, journalists, private detectives and crazy guys with metal detectors have in common.
In America, it is especially necessary because we have buried so much of that past — sometimes out of shame, sometimes in the name of progress. We tend to bulldoze our past, literally and figuratively, replacing it with big box stores and new spins on history.
In North Carolina, my desire to hurry up and get home disappeared. That was partly due to the realization that – structure-wise, anyway – we didn’t have one anymore; and partly due to the fact that North Carolina, state of my birth, was always kind of home anyway’ and partly because I had some things I needed to get to the bottom of.
Ace and I would make stops in the mountains, reconnect with chums in Charlotte, consort with graying college pals at a beach near Wilmington, and pop in on my mother in Winston-Salem. We’d venture into the past – distant and not so distant – going back to the site of the last house I lived in, before college, and seeking out the final resting place of my great great great great great great uncle.
He was buried — in whole or in quarters, with his bowels either intact or not — after being hung from a tree in Hillsborough.
Before seeking him out, before delving into some disputed family history, I wanted to take Ace to where I lived 40 years earlier, in what was, indisputably, my 17th year.
They say home is where the heart is. When it comes to North Carolina and me, that much is true. In my case though, home — or at least the little house in Raleigh where I spent my last year before college — was where the Hyatt is.
It was a tiny house on Wake Forest Road, with a massive pasture for a front yard, just a few blocks from the beltline. In 1970, the road was a sparsely populated stretch with lots of woods. Now, it’s a lot less forest-like, with a lot more hotels and restaurants, including a Denny’s, a Day’s Inn, a Marriott, a Hilton Inn and — behind the massive parking lot that used to be my front yard, where our house once stood — a Hyatt Place.
My plan was to spend a night in the Hyatt Place, seeking out the room closest to where my old bedroom had been. But, upon calling, I was informed that dogs weren’t allowed, and haven’t been since the hotel’s earlier incarnation, an AmeriSuites.
Instead, Ace and I wandered around what’s now the turf of Hilton and Hyatt and a restaurant called Bahama Breeze, searching for anything that might have been around back when the parcel of land had a much more plantation-like aura. I hoped to find my initials carved in a tree, even though I don’t remember ever doing that.
I only spent a year there, having moved with my mother and brother to Raleigh from Houston. That meant attending a new high school for my senior year — too short a stretch, I must have decided, to invest any time in making friends.
Instead my best friend, other than Otis, our unpredictable border collie, was probably the basketball goal in the side yard, at the end of the long dirt driveway that ran to our home. Every day, after school, I spent hours shooting hoops on a court of dirt and patchy grass, playing against imaginary opponents that included Walt Frazier, Pete Maravich and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Most often I would win, most often by an astounding buzzer-beating shot.
For real conversation, I’d turn to Luther, a lean, unrushed and highly agreeable soul who was our landlord’s gardener and fix-it man. He lived with his wife, who he called Sister, in a small house down a dirt road from our landlord’s stately home.
Our little brick house, a rental, was wedged between two mansions, both of which looked liked they’d could have been plucked out of “Gone with the Wind.” All three are gone now.
To one side lived our landlords, Herbert B. Ruffin, retired owner of the Capitol Printing Company, and his wife Eva Belle, who — from her two-name first name, to her regal looks, to her leisurely drawl — seemed the epitome of southern aristocracy. Childless, they always seemed glad to have my younger brother and me around.
On the other side, was a house so big it had its own name — Hardimont. Its matron, Margie Biggs was the widow of James Crawford Biggs, who, in addition to serving as dean of the University of North Carolina’s law school and being founder of the state’s bar association, served as solicitor general under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
When her husband was still alive, they entertained the likes of FDR, Adlai Stevenson and William Jennings Bryan. Built in 1907, Hardimont served as the home of Biggs family from 1922 to 1975. When we moved next door, in 1970, Mrs. Biggs was in her 90’s — or, as she would often describe it, “older than the hills of Jerusalem.”
Mrs. Biggs lived on the estate with her handicapped daughter, her only child, also named Margie. She was about 70, though still in most ways an infant. The staff included Minnie, younger Margie’s nurse and caretaker, and two brothers, Ernest and Hubert, who would take care of the grounds and drive them around in a limousine that was always well-polished.
Nearly every day, either Ernest or Hubert would push younger Margie in her antique (even then) wicker wheelchair across our backyard for her visit with the Ruffins. Younger Margie had a face free of wrinkles, and her hands were always curled up into fists. She liked to hold on to your finger and would make gurgly noises when she was happy. Younger Margie would eat lunch with Mrs. Ruffin, then be wheeled back home.
My brother and I would visit Hardimont from time to time, first stopping to greet the Biggs’ ancient mule, Molly, then entering the mansion, where Mrs. Biggs would regale us with stories of days gone by. Mr. Biggs had died in 1960, at age 87. After Mrs. Biggs died in 1975, Hilton bought Hardimont, leveled it and took down all the trees but one — a Lafayette Oak that remains at the hotel’s entrance.
After sniffing around the grounds, I put Ace back in the car and wandered first into the Hyatt Place, through a lobby that features a mini-Starbucks. I walked up and down the hallways, trying to figure out where within its framework my house used to sit.
Then I walked over to the Hilton and had a quick beer in its bar and grill.
I was thinking, as I sipped, about how quickly and completely history can be erased, and how sad it is – even in the name of progress — when that happens. If dog is man’s best friend, history has to be a close second. It might even be the other way around. I wondered about whatever happened to younger Margie. I wished that – even though 17-year-old boys aren’t prone to focus too keenly on the ramblings of old women — I had listened more closely when Mrs. Biggs was reminiscing.
Then I got sidetracked by all the bar’s TVs, and decided to count them.
There were 28.
In 2005, two women got together and opened a bar that takes “dog-friendly” to new and unfettered bounds.
At The Dog Bar in Charlotte’s NoDa neighborhood, it’s not uncommon to see a dog behind the bar, a dog on top of the bar, a dog on top of a dog on top of the bar. They can romp, run, drool and even flirt a little bit – all off-leash.
J.P. Brewer and Audra Hartness say they faced no insurmountable hassles when they made plans to hang up their bone-shaped shingle and open for business. “The city kind of scratched its head, like, ‘OK, I guess.” said Hartness, who was tending bar when we dropped in.
In many cities and counties, health departments are quick to crack down on dogs in bars, and even more so in restaurants, amid fears that they might contaminate our food. Many restrict dogs to outdoor dining areas, if they allow them at all.
With The Dog Bar, the health department’s only concerns — since the bar doesn’t serve food — were the bar’s glassware and the temperature of the water used to wash it. When, about a month after opening, the bar did away with glassware entirely, opting for plastic cups and beer served only in aluminum cans, those concerns went out the window.
The bar was Brewer’s idea, and, as you might guess, it started with a dog.
Brewer adopted Foster, a Weimaraner, after his owner passed away from cancer. When she decided the doggie day care she dropped him off at was not providing a loving enough environment, she started one of her own — Club K-9. There, she noticed, dog owners picking up their pets tended to hang around a bit to socialize, and she started thinking there should be a place where both dogs and owners could do that, enjoy both inter- and intra-species interactions, and have a beer.
She formed a partnership with Hartness, one of her daycare customers who had a background in running bars and restaurants. The bar charges a $10 lifetime membership fee. There are no breed restrictions. “As long as the dog is friendly off leash, there’s no problem,” Hartness said.
On a typical night, there might be 15 dogs in the joint, on Fridays even more.
We dropped in on a Sunday. Ace and a black Great Dane named Dungy were the first to arrive. Dungy was ready to play. Ace, who takes a while to warm up to dogs bigger than he, mostly kept his distance. Soon more dogs arrived — a boxer named Dempsey and two more Great Danes, one blind, one deaf.
The bar has a fenced outdoor area — complete with plastic palm trees and beach umbrellas — where dogs can run, play and sip from troughs of water. Sometimes, when the crowd gets too big, they fence off the parking lot as well. Humans and dogs can sit inside the bar or outside, ordering their drinks through a window that opens onto the patio. Ace was quick to jump up, place his paws on the counter and peer inside.
The presence of dogs — four-legged icebreakers that they are — means conversations start and flow easily at The Dog Bar. If there are any awkward silences, a dog generally drops by to help fill them.
At The Dog Bar, human pretensions seem to fade – mostly, I think, because of the canine presence. At The Dog Bar, dogs can be dogs, and humans can be humans. When we’re around dogs, we somehow become better, truer and more honest representatives of our own species.
It took a couple from Germany to show America the true meaning of dog-friendly – at least when it comes to campgrounds.
It doesn’t mean fencing in a small strip of grass and calling it a dog park. It doesn’t mean welcoming dogs in exchange for a fee.
Dog friendliness isn’t simply tolerating dogs, but adoring them, as the proprietors of Four Paws Kingdom, outside Rutherfordton, N.C., seem to do. Meik and Birgit Bartoschek call it America’s first “dog-dedicated” campground.
It has eight dog parks, a lake and a creek, all fenced in to allow dogs to play in them off-leash. There are two agility courses, bathhouses for both dogs and humans, and regularly scheduled activities for both species. Dogs can take part in obedience classes, agility training and massage sessions (as the recipients), while humans can attend pot luck dinners, trivia quizzes and assorted festivals, including one in which Meik performs a dead-on tribute to Dean Martin.
In an unusual variation on a theme, Four Paws Kingdom, while a haven for dogs, doesn’t allow children.
The Bartoscheks, owners of two corgis, left their native Hamburg in the 1980s. Both had corporate careers, working for a consulting firm that trained employees for jobs in resorts. As part of those jobs, they’d visited 60 countries, but not America. So they chose it for a vacation.
“It was the only place that didn’t remind us of work,” Meik explained. Liking what they saw, they quit their jobs and decided to stay, settling in Florida, where Birgit worked as an artist.
They’d travel a lot to attend art shows, always taking along the other corgi they had at the time. “Schroeder went always with us, and that’s how we started camping,” Birgit said. “We brought a trailer so we could bring the dogs, because at that time dogs were not all that often allowed in motels. We saw a lot of campgrounds and we thought there was something missing.”
After several months scouting locations, they settled on a property outside Rutherfordton and started mapping out their dog-themed campground.
“We didn’t want to do the corporate treadmill anymore, we wanted to do something for ourselves,” said Meik, a chef by trade. “We wanted to be the first. We knew there were corporations with more money than we had who could have put it out faster and even better. But, interestingly, after seven years we are still the first and only dog dedicated campground.”
Birgit, both an artist and dog trainer, holds training sessions for visiting dogs. She’s also responsible for painting the paw prints that run across the bathhouse walls, and the hind ends of dogs that are painted on the toilet seat lids.
The campground doesn’t permit tent camping because a running dog can very easily knock one down, but it has 41 RV sites, three cabins and three fully equipped rental trailers, one of which Ace and I stayed in over the weekend.
About 95 percent of visiting campers come with dogs, and of the 5 percent who don’t, many are former dog owners who — though they don’t see another dog in their future — still like to spend time around other people’s.
The Bartoscheks don’t feel the need to grow or franchise their business. Instead, they’re determined to keep it small.
“With 35 acres, we could put in lots more campsites. We could pave parts over, but then we’d be like a Wal-Mart parking lot. Lots of peers say we should expand, but life isn’t all about bringing in money,” Meik said. “It’s about having a product or something you feel good about, where you get up in the morning and love what you do, and not just look at your bank account.”
Ace, while he started of slow, excelled in agility class. At first, rather than leaping over a series of six-inch high hurdles, he found he could just as easily walk through them, knocking the rail down on each. On the third try though, and after the rails were raised, he began leaping. Beckoned by a treat, he walked gracefully across a narrow raised beam.
He managed to pass every test but one. When the tunnel was rearranged from a straight line into a curve, he refused to enter.
Maybe that was because he saw no light at the end of it.
On this point I think Ace and I are in agreement: Our favorite place is the beach.
The beach, like Ace, is the perfect mix. Nowhere else, in my book, do soothing and stimulating come together so perfectly as they do where the water, in most rhythmic manner, meets the land. The beach engages all our senses, and I think we – human and canine — are happiest when all our senses are engaged.
It was an invitation from some college friends that led to our biggest freeloading coup to date, on Figure 8 Island. It’s a gated paradise near Wilmington, not accessible to the beach-going hordes, private enough that celebrities find solace there, and dotted with mansions that seem to think they’re big enough to defy hurricanes.
It has served as part-time home to many of North Carolina’s rich and famous – from good old boys like Andy Griffith to less well-behaved ones like John Edwards, both of whom have left some pawprints on its sandy beaches.
My college classmates, Steve and Louise, are year-round residents of the island, and they were holding a mini-reunion for some friends, some of whom I hadn’t laid eyes on since we finished college — 35 years ago, as someone felt it necessary to point out.
Steve and Louise are hard core dog lovers, and hard core people lovers. Earl, their Cavalier King Charles spaniel, is the latest in a long line of rescues. If rescuing dogs weren’t enough, Steve, a lawyer, has also hauled some flailing humans out of the ocean, and I’m guessing Louise, as a psychotherapist, has pulled a few humans back from the brink as well.
Despite having become respectable adults, they were still about as wacky as they were in college. Louise once chased Paul Newman down on the island and talked him into posing for a picture. They also seemed to remain — despite all you hear about the vanishing idealism of my graying generation — just as committed as they were then. Maybe even more so. If there’s a liberal cause, or a Democratic candidate, you can probably find its, his or her bumper sticker on the back of Louise’s car. (“Who Would Jesus Execute?” was my favorite.) Beyond lip service, beyond financial donations, both seem to still be up for a fight when it comes to what they think is right.
That, to me, was even more refreshing than the pounding surf, soaring pelicans and getting slapped and tickled by cold ocean waves. Ace and Earl hit it off immediately — Earl being a low key little dog who likes to sit in a lap, or other comfortable spot, and observe the humans, often with a quizzical stare that makes you think he’s still trying to figure them out.
Ace, though he’s not big on swimming in the ocean, preferring to wade, was in his element, too, meaning he had lots of humans with whom to bond. There’s nothing he likes better than having lots of people around to lean on, lay atop, hold hands with and work his soulful-eyed, treat-seeking magic. I think he gained a pound a day.
When the time came to leave, he didn’t want to go.
For the first time on the trip, he didn’t immediately leap in the back seat when I opened the car door. Instead he walked back to the front door of the beach house and sat down. It wasn’t the momentary, “ready-when-you-are” sit, but that determined, “just try-and-budge-me” sit dogs do, as if what you were suggesting was against their principles, as if they were drawing a line in the sand.
Five years before the American Revolution officially began, under orders from North Carolina Royal Gov. William Tryon, James Pugh was placed atop what was, at least by some accounts, a barrel.
The noose of a rope secured to a tree limb was looped around his neck, and he was permitted what was supposed to be a generous 30 minutes for his last words.
He was my great-great-great-great-great-great uncle. He’d been convicted for his role in a pre-Revolutionary War uprising – a grass roots rebellion by backwoods farmers against corruption and unfair taxation — and sentenced to die in Hillsborough, North Carolina.
In a most unpleasant way.
The court had prescribed not just that he be “hanged by the neck,” but that “he should be cut down while yet alive; that his bowels should be taken out and burned before his face; that his head should be cut off, and that his body should be divided into four quarters, which were to be placed at the king’s disposal, and may the lord have mercy on your soul.”
Where he and five of his cohorts were buried, in whole or in pieces, isn’t marked, but there’s a grassy area behind the Orange County Board of Education building, where a small memorial to the executed members of a group known as The Regulators stands.
I’d become mildly interested in great uncle James 10 years earlier when I learned that he was a pre-Revolutionary revolutionary, and I’d researched it sporadically since then. Our trip – to both the battlefield and the site of his hanging — was a chance to finally pay him, or at least his shared memorial, a visit.
Ace, once we found it, respectfully refrained from christening the memorial, and we spent a few silent moments there, Ace pondering the wrought iron fence that surrounded it, I pondering the often thin line – if one exists at all — between revolutionary and nut case, or felon and folk hero. Did I spring from righteous activist stock, or rowdy outlaw stock?
Folk hero/outlaws are like dogs that way – idealized and vilified, often far beyond what reality merits.
The history of the Regulators has been written and rewritten, and over the centuries they’ve been viewed as everything from thugs to heroes to hillbillies to the true instigators of what would become the Revolutionary War. There are some who have described the bloodshed at the Battle of Alamance – great uncle James being responsible for much of that spillage — as that war’s first battle.
On the ground of the battlefield, there’s a statue of great uncle James — a gunsmith who’s said to have been the sharpshooter of the ragtag band of insurgents. Most accounts have him mowing down a dozen or more members of the governor’s militia.
The Regulators, of which he was one, were revolting not so much against the British crown, but the local courthouse — those provincial government officials and other fat cats who, as they saw it, were padding their own pockets at the expense of citizens.
In 1770, the Regulators rioted in Hillsborough. They dragged government officials through the streets, beat up lawyers, Col. Edmund Fanning included, and left a pile of human waste in the chair of a judge, historical accounts say. They also vandalized Fanning’s residence, destroying his furniture and drinking all of his alcohol.
They were frustrated with illegal fees, dishonest sheriffs, obstacles to establishing legal ownership of land, and a lack of representation in an assembly controlled by the eastern half of the province. The Regulators, mostly of Scotch and Irish descent, mostly Quakers and Baptists, had formed in 1768. They held meetings, wrote letters, distributed pamphlets and filed petitions seeking redress of their grievances — not aimed at the form of government, or its rules, but at abuses of them by provincial officials and their cronies.
One of the biggest sore points was the governor’s new mansion. Paid for by taxes on citizens, what would become known as “Tryon Palace,” in the provincial capital of New Bern, was a huge and opulent residence that took four years to build. Tryon moved into it in 1770 — the same year as the riot in Hillsborough.
The Hillsborough unrest prompted the legislature to pass the Johnston Riot Act the following year. It required any group of 10 or more people to disperse within an hour of being ordered to do so by government officials.
One of Tryon’s last acts as provincial governor of North Carolina — he was named governor of New York not long after moving into his comfy new mansion — was to order his militia to confront the Regulators “and reduce them by force to an Obedience to the laws of their country.”
Getting word that the militia was on way, the Regulators — except for the Quaker members whose beliefs kept them from taking part — gathered and encamped in what’s now Alamance County, bringing with them what weaponry they had, which wasn’t much compared to what Tryon’s militia was toting.
The Regulators, most historians say, were hoping that a big show of numbers might sway Tryon into agreeing to a compromise. They sent a message urging him once more to hear their grievances and avoid a battle. The message Tryon sent back ordered them to lay down their arms and “submit yourselves to the laws of your country” to “prevent an effusion of Blood, as you are at this time in a state of war and rebellion against your king, your country and your laws.”
On May 16, 1771, the assembled Regulators received one last warning from Tryon to surrender before his militia opened fire. “Fire and be damned,” was their reply.
The militia answered with five cannons, leading to an exchange of gunfire that lasted, at most, two and a half hours. The outgunned Regulators retreated into the woods. At one point, Tryon ordered the woods set on fire.
“There was such confusion as cannot well be described,” read one newspaper account. “Some who had no guns attempted to rally those that had; and some gave up their guns to such as were willing to face the enemy … They all soon fled and left the field except James Pugh from Orange County, and three other men who had taken a stand near the cannon.
“They were defended by a large tree and ledge of rocks. Although half the cannon were direct against them, they could not be driven from their position, until they had killed fifteen or sixteen men who managed the cannon. Pugh fired every gun, and the other three men loaded for him, but at length they were surrounded…”
The battlefield statistics vary, depending on which historian you believe
Some say there were nine killed on each side, others say about 70 members of the governor’s militia were killed, and more than 300 Regulators.
Twelve of the Regulators were tried for violating the Johnston Riot Act, convicted and sentenced to death, though half of them would receive pardons. Six were hung on June 19 — James Pugh, Robert Messer, Benjamin Merrill, Robert Matear (sometimes spelled Matter) and two whose identities have been lost to the ages.
In the news coverage of the day, the Regulators were roundly portrayed as ruffians and thugs. But harsh public sentiments toward the Regulators lightened up somewhat after the one-sided battle. The Revolutionary War, which came along five years later, served as further proof that rebels can sometimes be right
I’ve come to conclude, 240 years later — after reading some books, and attending a seminar — that the cause of the Regulators was just, that their motives were noble, and that their methods were sometimes a little over the line. They might have been a little revolting while they were revolting.
Historical accounts, started shifting in their favor after the Revolution, and more so in the late 1800, by which time North Carolina seemed to have chosen the version in which the Regulators were heroes who paved the way for the American Revolution. In 1880, a monument was erected at the site of the battle proclaiming the Battle of Alamance the “first battle of the Revolution.”
Great uncle James was convicted not of murder, but of violating a government order aimed at quelling uprisings, he was taken to the hanging tree and given a chance to voice some last words, which, it is said, he did most eloquently and dramatically:
“The blood that we have shed will be as good seeds sown in good ground — which soon shall reap a hundredfold!”
In his speech – and who could blame him, under the circumstances, for wanting to take his full 30 minutes – he reviewed the causes of the conflict. He explained that the Regulators were seeking only a redress of grievances. He reiterated the call for an end to unfair taxation and local government corruption. He was still well within his time limit when he worked in a jab at Col. Fanning, who was present for the execution. He called him “unfit to hold any office.” It was about then, according to historical accounts, that Fanning ordered a soldier to kick over the barrel.
Great uncle James was later buried somewhere along the peaceful green banks of the Eno River.
Names: Skyler (named for her sky blue eyes) and Pierce (named after actor Pierce Brosnan)
Breed: Great Danes
Encountered: At The Dog Bar in Charlotte, and later at their home
Backstory: Given one was born half blind, one was born deaf, and neither had the distinct black markings breeders prefer to see in harlequin Great Danes, Skyler and Pierce were headed to the kind of future “defective” dogs often face.
They were part of a larger litter affected by a strain of distemper and, because of their additional handicaps, the breeder decided they should be put down.
That’s when Laura Moss and Fred Metzler stepped in. Laura was working at an emergency animal clinic, where the litter of Great Danes ended up. She already had three dogs at home, so she asked Fred, her friend of several years, to adopt the “handicapped” dogs.
Fred, a sales manager for a company that makes automatic doors, agreed. But, because he traveled a lot, he often called upon Laura to pet sit the duo — Skyler, the 106-pound deaf one, and Pierce, the 175-pound blind one. At Fred’s house, Laura noticed, the two pups stayed at each others’ sides, just as they had at the hospital. When they went to sleep, Skyler would lay her head on top of Pierce.
“That way, if he hears something, he’ll react. Then she’ll be the police dog and go check it out. They’ve been that way since they were babies,” Laura said. “There’s no way we could separate them.”
Despite their disabilities, they manage, with help from each other, to do all that dogs do.
Fred and Laura came up with a system of sign language to communicate with Skyler, including more than 20 commands. The two dogs have become a striking and familiar sight in Charlotte’s NoDa neighborhood. They even march in the local St. Patrick’s Day parade.
After teaming up to care for the dogs, Laura and Fred became a couple. They now share a residence with all five of their dogs.