okra. Issue 12 Preview

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Wandering Display until November 29, 2020

GREAT ROAD TRIP Eat : See: Do : Stay Hit the road for adventure HEIRLOOM LEGACY Virginia’s oldest handmade artisan furniture maker

SOUTHERN NATURE Monica Kaufman Pearson Gives Back to Her Community ALL FIRED UP Cooking a Vegan Meal for Two In a Wood-Fired Oven



Renew your spirit and hit the road on our Great Southern Escape

78: SOUTHERN CHARACTER Journalist Monica Kaufman Pearson gives back to the community she loves

Photography by Tyler Darden






Vegetarian feast cooked in a wood-fired oven

Looking for the beauty in everything around us to keep our spirits high



The people who make our stories come to life

Mee McCormick teaches you to listen to your gut in her new cookbook, My Pinewoood Kitchen



Chef Bill Briand spans the Gulf for shrimp with a great shrimp and rice fritter recipe

David Waltenbaugh found his way back through darkness to help others


Pecans evoke the smells and flavors of the South with these Cathead Vodka cocktails









Virginia’s oldest artisan furniture maker

Visit the City with Soul, Jackson, Mississippi

You’ll want these finds made by locals


North Carolina native Billy Beasley releases his third novel The Girl in the River.


Dirk Powell draws on his musical legacy

Photography by Bree Brincat



Step inside a bayou treasure at Lapeyrouse Grocery in Chauvin, Louisiana


Appomattox Court House National Park


Wonders never cease atop Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina Photography courtesy of Visit NC

The “turtle whisperer” keeps up with turtles at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina


Our readers submit photos of their special Southern places and people


STAFF Scott Speakes Publisher Genie Gaither Jones Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Cashwell Design Director Steve Ransom Digital Imaging Specialist Matthew Magee J. M. McSpadden Liesel Schmidt Contributing Editors Richard L. Jones Copy Editor

Advertising Sales Specialists Kris Schultz North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia kschultz@cherokeemediagroup.com Brittany Sanders Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas brmcdonald45@gmail.com All other requests Scott Speakes scott@okramagazine.com

CONNECT WITH US facebook.com/okramagazine @okramag contact@okramagazine.com

Published by Southbound Publishing, Inc.


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Read okra. to find out what’s happening in the Real South— who to meet, what to eat, where to go, and what to buy. In each quarterly issue you’ll get beautiful photography and inspiring stories about the people, places and cultures that shape the Real South. okra. delivers without sacrificing the traditional essence of the Southern identity. Subscribe at okramagazine.com

The South...where roots, place, family and tradition are the essence of identity CARL N. DEGLAR


Pick up your camera, get in the car and go somewhere. It sounds so simple, and just a few months ago, it was. Getting out of the house and going on a trip has always been a balm to soothe our troubled minds. If you’re like us and have been maintaining social distancing, cabin fever has been creeping in. It’s time to reward yourself. Our destinations of choice tend to focus on outdoor activity. We like hiking, boating and camping. Plus, it feels safer in the great outdoors than being inside with large crowds. But we still enjoy a nice weekend at a spa or charming lodge. And who doesn’t love a great meal at one of the many outstanding restaurants in the South. This issue gives you plenty to choose from. Some of our greatest pleasures have been driving to nearby places. With camera in tow (don’t forget the snacks) we pick a road and look for unique sights. How many times have we stopped the car to jump out and take a photo of a horse standing beside a fence or


an old truck parked on a town square? And once you’re walking, you’ll notice so many interesting things. Photograph them. Download them. We made little books out of all our trips. And when you receive that book in the mail, it

makes you feel like you really were on a vacation. What wonderful memories they bring, even in a time of trouble! Plan before you go. Don’t assume you will be able to find a place to stay or eat at the last minute. You might, but with restrictions on the number of people allowed, it’s more important than ever to make sure you have a place to stay, or eat, before you arrive. But the biggest dilemma–everything is not open. Don’t forget the hand sanitizer. You can’t go on a road trip where you touch nothing. Your car is your safe place when you travel, but whenever you step outside, keep your distance from everyone. That means you may need to be patient. That crowded scenic overlook may require you to wait a few minutes for your turn. A crowded hiking trail that doesn’t have enough space may have to wait. But look for something different—that place you passed on the road may turn out to be a special place that no one else has discovered, yet. So get in the car, and go. A good road trip can teach you something and help your soul.

Scott Speakes // Publisher

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Genie Gaither Jones // Editor-in-Chief



JENNIFER STEWART KORNEGAY is a freelance writer and editor based in Montgomery, AL. Her work has appeared in Garden & Gun, Southern Living, The Bitter Southerner, The Local Palate, thekitchn.com, Bake From Scratch, Paste, Travel&Leisure.com, Nashville Lifestyles, Birmingham magazine, Alabama magazine, Georgia Magazine, Alabama Living magazine and more. She’s interested in everything, will write about almost anything but most often reports on Southern culture, food and travel. jenniferkornegay.com

J. M. MCSPADDEN is a freelance writer and roots music enthusiast whose work has appeared online at theflamestillburns.com, and at mbird.com, a journal that examines faith in the real world. His love for roots music led to a gig at nodepression.com, where he reported on live music from The Birchmere, the famed music hall in Washington, DC. He is fascinated with the way words and music impact our lives and can be used as a vehicle for healing. Host of The Village Night Owl podcast, an interview show featuring musical artists. He lives in Virginia with his wife Suzanne where he is at work on his first novel.

ERIC J. WALLACE is a writer, avid lover of the outdoors, and devotee to the ongoing search for the Good Life. His work has appeared in many noteworthy publications, including Outside, Backpacker, Canoe & Kayak, WIRED, Atlas Obscura, Modern Farmer and more. He is presently a contributing editor for the internet’s greatest fount of culinary wonder, Gastro Obscura. drericjwallace@gmail.com

NINA RIGGIO is a visual storyteller who lives to tell the stories about human connections to the natural world and all of the flaws that go with it. She is passionate about uncovering overlooked corruption and abuse, with a focus on the Anthropocene, climate change, and houselessness. As a born and raised Southerner living in the West, Nina’s work is driven by an urge to connect people from drastically different backgrounds and beliefs.

LIESEL SCHMIDT lives in Florida, and works as a freelance writer for local and regional magazines, web content writer, and book editor. Having harbored a passionate dread of writing assignments when she was in school, she never imagined making a living at putting words on paper, but life sometimes has a funny way of working out. Follow her on Twitter at @ laswrites or download her novels, Coming Home to You, The Secret of Us, and Life Without You @ amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com

DEBORAH BURST is a New Orleans native, author, and award winning writer/photographer with a portfolio of more than a thousand articles and photos including national covers. She has written five travel/photo books featuring the South, its people, critters, landscapes, mystical legends and historic architecture. From hidden graveyards and sacred temples to the shrouded bayous and forests, Deb gives a voice to all the spirits. deborahburst.com

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A nationally recognized cookbook author whose career in the food and hospitality industry spans nearly four decades, Vera Stewart is also the host of The VeryVera Show now syndicated across the southeast in 30 markets. The VeryVera Show combines Vera Stewart’s natural teaching ability and etiquette insight with modern twists to your grandmother’s favorite recipes.

M A R K ET S AL : Mobile • Huntsville • Dothan • FL : Tampa • Pensacola • GA : Albany • Augusta • Columbus • Cordele Macon • Savannah • IN : Indianapolis • LA : Lake Charles • MD : Hagerstown • MS : Jackson • Hattiesburg SC : Myrtle Beach • Charleston • Greenville • NY : Watertown • OK : Oklahoma City • TX : Austin • Dallas • Harlingen Houston • Victoria • Waco • VA : Richmond • Roanoke • WI : Madison





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Finding a Way Through the Darkness DAV I D WA LT E N B AU G H A N D R O OT V R Written by J. M. McSpadden / Photograph Courtesy of Root VR The fear and isolation began in earnest in his senior year in high school. Over

tyranny that drove him to get top grades in all of his classes. He graduated with

a period of a couple of months it became more powerful, more intimidating,

a degree in Economics and entered the working world.

and more pervasive. For David Waltenbaugh it was his first skirmish in an

After several years Waltenbaugh began to feel something was missing. He

ongoing battle for his mental health. Fortunately, his parents were attentive

soon realized he had been neglecting his creative side and began to seek ways

and receptive enough to get David in to see a mental health professional.

to express his muse. He was initially drawn to music. “My dad had raised me

“I had begun to notice some changes in my

on The Who, The Beatles, and The Stones.”

thinking patterns. I was eventually diagnosed

He began to circulate around some of Rich-

with generalized anxiety and Major Depressive

mond’s local recording studios, with an eye


on audio production.

None of this is apparent when you meet him.

It was on this journey that he stumbled onto

Thirty-six, with long blond hair he often wears

virtual reality. He approached it as a way to

in a ponytail, Waltenbaugh has a boyish face

do something new with audio production. As

that makes him appear ten years younger. He

he began to investigate VR he discovered that

is kind to a fault. He is also on a mission to

research labs were looking at the technology

help children and families struggling with

as a possible treatment for a variety of mental

mental health issues, a struggle he still faces

health issues. It was an epiphany of sorts, an


intersection of his own personal battles and

“I started noticing a lot of irrational worries

an outlet for his creative passions.

that were dominating my thinking. I spiraled

Today, Waltenbaugh is the Founder and

into some pretty dark places. Once I was able

CEO of Root VR, a startup company that has

to put into words what I was experiencing my parents got me into therapy.

developed therapeutic software programs aimed at helping children and fami-

I was dominated by the fear of losing the people I loved and the life I had

lies cope with anxiety, phobias, and other mental health issues.

come to know and cherish. That fear drove me into my own thoughts and into myself. It was very isolating.”

“I saw the research that was being done in these labs, and because of my own experience I could see how incredibly useful this technology could be

It took David a while before he was able to see a pattern develop. He saw

in the hands of those who could be using it every day.” Currently Root VR

that the fear began to manifest itself whenever he was facing a major life tran-

has four program offerings, three proprietary and one they licensed from an

sition. That first transition was graduation, and life beyond high school. “The

outside developer.

onset was very acute and quite rapid.” He had another onset his junior year in

One of the basic principles these programs operate on is called “exposure

college. He is quick to point out that he had a good home life that he describes

therapy.” Exposure therapy is one of the tools therapists use in Cognitive Be-

as normal, without any traumatic or triggering events. Now, married with chil-

havior Therapy. The idea is simple enough. Let’s say you have a fear of dogs,

dren, Waltenbaugh admits, “I have continued to deal with this throughout my

or perhaps a fear of heights. Using Virtual Reality tools you can expose yourself

adult life.” Milestones that should be a source of joy, such as the impending

to the source of your fear in the safety of your therapist’s office, or your own

arrival of a first child, became major stressors.

living room. The use of this therapy can have remarkable results, helping re-

For college Waltenbaugh stayed close to his Richmond home, attending Vir-

train the brain, and the body, to respond to triggers differently. The use of VR

ginia Commonwealth University. After a high school career as an average stu-

can greatly reduce the time it takes to transition a patient to a real time or “in

dent, he discovered he had more potential than he realized. “I got an A on my

vivo” experience.

first exam.” But that new accomplishment soon became a sort of self-imposed



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Photo: Andrew Shurtleff


Photo: Andrew Shurtleff


HEIRLOOM LEGACY HOW CUSTOMERS RESCUED VIRGINIA’S OLDEST ARTISAN FURNITURE MAKER AND MADE IT BETTER THAN EVER. Written by Eric J. Wallace / Photography by Camden Littleton It was the spring of 2016 and Troy Coppage, president of Virginia’s oldest

before. And each had a story to tell.

continually operating furniture maker, Clore Furniture, had just made a heart-

For instance, a 38-year-old lawyer from Richmond, Virginia, reminisced

breaking decision. He’d tweaked budgets and crunched numbers, but there

about sharing Christmas dinners around Grandma’s twelve-seat oak table. The

was no way around it. Clore’s handmade early-American-style hardwood ta-

piece now belonged to her uncle. A mother of two young boys, she hoped to

bles, dressers, hutches, chairs and four-poster beds weren’t selling.

recreate the tradition in her own home.

“People seemed uninterested in fine artisanal furniture,” says Coppage, 53. The family’s Madison-based business had been handed down for six gen-

Within days, Clore had backlogged about a year of orders. Plans of closing were happily abandoned.

erations and nearly 200 years. Now it was

“It was humbling to see all the lives this

closing for good.

company has touched,” says Troy. “It re-

“Orders tanked during the [Great Reces-

minded me of why I fell in love with this

sion] and never fully recovered,” says Cop-

business in the first place: I wanted to be

page. “We tried everything to turn things

part of something bigger, to carry on a tra-

around, but nothing worked.”

dition and, however small, bring people just a little bit more happiness.”

Coppage called a meeting with his 17 coworkers. Four generations of family mem-

Clore is known for being one of the oldest

bers were present. He addressed cousins,

furniture makers in the South, but it’s also

uncles, great uncles, his father. They had

one of the region’s finest. Since opening in

no choice but to liquidate inventory and

1830, time-honored techniques have been

sell the 40,000-square-foot factory and

passed down from father to son, great-un-

surrounding property—including the farm-

cle to grand-nephew, and so on.

house built by Coppage’s great-great-grandfather, E.A. Clore, in the early 1900s.

LR: Karen & Troy Coppage, Billy Coppage, Sara Clore Utz

“The craftsmanship is beautiful, durable and impeccable,” says Artisans Center of Virginia president, James Dye. Like Old-

“That was a tough meeting,” says Coppage’s wife, Karen, Clore’s marketing coordinator. “Everybody was crying and

World pieces of antiquity, products are conceived of as heirlooms that will last

hugging. It was like a funeral; we were losing something precious.”

for centuries.

Karen announced the closure on the company’s Facebook page and went home to mourn. Yet, the morning brought a miracle. “We got this huge influx of calls, messages, emails,” says Karen.

Visiting Clore Furniture is, accordingly, a bit like stepping into a time capsule. The building stands on the site of the family’s first official factory, which

Would-be customers reached out from New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chi-

was built in 1921—and catered to affluent clients like Herbert Hoover. Its

cago, Los Angeles, you name it. Patrons formed lines at the showroom doors.

showroom eschews staged living spaces in favor of whitewashed walls and

Surprisingly, few were prior clients. These were relatives of loved ones that’d

heart-pine floors. Long rectangular rooms are lined with rows of handcraft-

bought furniture from Clore decades, or, in some cases, more than a century

ed dining, living, bedroom and office furniture. Bookshelves, mirrors, clocks,



footstools, end tables, lamps, desks, bedframes, rocking chairs, chests of drawers—each exudes the warmth of a 19th century antique. A tour of the adjacent production area explains why. Products are all crafted from air-seasoned or kiln-dried hardwoods. Most are made of locally

The momentum from Clore’s 2016 return-from-the-brink has largely continued. Related newspaper coverage brought orders from area businesses, including boutique inns, restaurants and historical nonprofits like James Monroe’s Highland.

harvested walnut, oak, maple, cherry and poplar, though some mahogany

“I heard about the Coppages and knew I wanted them to make our

is imported. Furniture is built with exact mortise-and-tenon detailing and

stuff,” says Dave Simpson, owner of Charlottesville’s C&O Restaurant. The

dovetailed drawers. Finishes are hand-rubbed.

farm-to-table fine dinery is located in a historic building downtown and

“We do everything by hand the old-fashioned way,” says Coppage. “Our goal is to build quintessential American furniture that’s beautiful, functional and enduring.”

focuses on locally sourced seasonal cuisine. Simpson bought about 100 Clore chairs and a number of tables around 2017. These pieces helped us to really nail down a sense of being rooted in

The factory is divided according to task. There’s a work area for soaking and bending, one for shaping and sanding, another for assembly, still anoth-

place, says Simpson. “They’re so simple and elegant. And the craftsmanship is just remarkable.”

er for finishing and polishing. Each more closely resembles a home wood-

Troy Coppage says the comeback boosted confidence and inspiration. By

working shop than a commercial factory. Hand tools far outnumber powered

2018, Clore had overhauled its website and added an online store. Now

ones. There’s zero automation and no computers in sight.

it’s developing new product lines.

We encounter Billy Coppage, Troy’s father, carving a bouquet of magnolia

“We’re looking to apply our traditional techniques to some sleeker, sexier,

flowers into a cherry headboard using chisels and a small pocket knife. The

more modern designs,” says Coppage. The goal is to appeal to a broader

tableau feels plucked from Norman Rockwell: The white-haired septuage-

spectrum of tastes and attract more gen-Xers and millennials.

narian wears blue jeans, a tucked-in denim shirt and spectacles; he leans over a bench, blowing off wood shavings and studying his work. “Takes a lot longer to do it this way, but it’s the right way,” Billy says, smil-

Considering the future, Coppage is optimistic. Though younger family members have yet to express interest in assuming the mantel, Clore has been hiring new apprentices.

ing. Composite materials, robotic assembly lines and computerized lasers

“The biggest thing is to pass on the ethos,” says Coppage.

can’t match the quality of a handcrafted piece. When it comes to making

Fine furniture-making is an endangered art form. Climate change has

heirloom furniture, “there aren’t any shortcuts.”

made sustainable purchases more important than ever. Purveyors of heir-

Troy nods in agreement. He became company president when Billy ‘re-

looms crafted with love and precision are few and far between. And unlike

tired’ to the workshop around 2009. Troy began working at Clore alongside

corporate throwaway products, Clore furniture is the product of a human

Billy and his grandfather at age 13.

story. Customers add to the narrative through decades of use, transforming

“I started out making minimum wage, unloading lumber and sweeping up sawdust,” says Troy, with a laugh. Initially it was just a job: “I didn’t intend to stick around.”

pieces into something altogether priceless. “Nothing would be more satisfying than to pass on the torch,” says Coppage. Like his grandfather and great-grandfather before him, he’d “like to

But like it or not, he learned the family craft. One day, Grandad might pull

know I’ve done my part to ensure this beautiful tradition will live on long

him aside for a lesson in applying lacquer finishes. A few days later, it was

after I’m gone.”

curing, hand sanding and waxing. And with maturity came appreciation.


“At some point I realized that what we were doing wasn’t the norm,” Troy says. Department store furniture was engineered to break after a few years and be replaced. Family businesses and apprenticeship models were exceedingly rare. “I fell in love with the idea of being a part of this long artisanal lineage,” says Troy. “It blew my mind to know I was making furniture that could be handed down through families for hundreds of years. That was alluring. That was very, very special.”

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Clockwise from upper left, 1: Products are all crafted from air-seasoned or kiln-dried hardwoods. Most are made of locally harvested walnut, oak, maple, cherry and poplar. 2: Billy Coppage, Troy’s father, leans over a bench, blowing off wood shavings and studying his work. 3: Having lost two workshops to fire, the Clore Family was instrumental in forming the Madison County Volunteer Fire Company in 1946, and, since then, family members have held the position of Fire Chief. Breathtaking views of valley farms and the Blue Ridge Mountains can be seen from the large bay doors of their Virginia factory. 4: Furniture is built with exact mortise-and-tenon detailing and dovetailed drawers. Finishes are hand-rubbed. 5: At every step, and for every component, there is a skilled hand at work. 6: Each piece of furntirue maintains a sense of being rooted in place. Simple and elegant with wonderful craftsmanship.


Photo: Andrew Shurtleff




A L L E G I A N C E F L A G S U P P LY “I pledge allegiance to the flag…” keting; he, with an MBA from the College of Charleston and an innate They’re words recited daily in schools, hand over heart with eyes ability for sales. Together, they sought out a textile partner; and in trained on a symbol that represents our hard-fought, hard-won freeearly 2018, they began working with a third-generation, family-owned dom. Those stars and stripes are a source of comfort, a factory in Georgia. representation of all that we, as a nation, stand for. In “We take pride in the fact that many of the seamstresses times of war, they speak strength; in times of uncertainty, who currently sew our flags were once the very same they bring reassurance that we will triumph. ones who saw their jobs disappear as textiles mass-exAs a veteran Eagle Scout, Wes Lyon learned early the ited the U.S. in the ’90s. They now have steady work significance of flying a flag as well as proper flag etiagain, and we’re proud to do our part to contribute to quette, instilling in him a respect for our nation’s symbol the resurgence in the American textile manufacturing that sent him ever in search of quality flags that seemed industry,” says Wes. “For us, this brings extra definition to elude him. Most were made overseas, many deterito the meaning behind the words ‘American Made.’” orated or wrapped around their flagpoles, and all were Since their launch in September of 2018, Allegiance mass-produced using cheap materials. Flag Supply has been creating flags and accessories Inspired to create a flag that was truly worthy of nationthat are 100 percent American-made from beginning to Wes & Katie Lyon, al pride, Wes and his wife, Katie, decided to start their end using only the highest quality materials. “We take Max Berry own company and went about finding all the pieces that several additional steps to reinforce the flag from the would make their venture a success. Max Berry, Katie’s elements and overall damage,” Wes explains. “As an childhood friend and Wes’s fellow classmate from business school at example, we employ bar-tacking and double-needle lock stitching to the College of Charleston, was brought in as the “back-end wizard” ensure that they last. We are the only company that adds these levels focused on the operations, forecasting, and efficiency. His skills were of reinforcement to our flags, and it’s part of what makes our flags complimentary to both Katie’s and Wes’s—she, with a master’s degree unique.” from the College of Charleston and experience in business developDedicated to giving back, Allegiance currently works with Boot Camment that gave her knowledge of all facets of the consumer goods paign, a non-profit that serves veterans and military families by proindustry including management, sales, community outreach, and marviding life-improving programs. showallegiance.com LS

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DOWN SOUTH HOUSE & HOME Southerners are known for their hospitality, hosting many a dinner parone. “A lot of dishtowels and similar products that you see in stores ty or impromptu gathering or simply sitting out on the porch with a cold are shipped in from overseas, mass-produced and pre-printed,” Reece drink as the hours melt away in the company of friends. As a child of notes. “I prefer to make our goods by hand. We make them with love in the South, Stacy Reece fell in love with the ceremony of the hope that whoever buys them can feel the same love that hospitality: the tables set with linens and dishware, when they get them.” the stories passed back and forth like hot dishes, and— Southern to her core, Reece has created a company most of all—the dish towels. founded on pride and deeply rooted in traditions of the Drawing inspiration from the dishtowels she loved so South. “I am as Southern as they come, and it’s abunmuch, she took screen printing classes and launched dantly clear that our products are, too,” she says with a Down South House & Home in 2016, using the little red laugh. “Our customers are women who love being Southbarn behind the home that she and her husband shared ern but don’t necessarily have the time and energy to in Clarkston, Georgia, as her base of operations. From create the perfect decorator home. They still love the there, she began to create the types of dishtowels that beauty of entertaining and tradition, and they want their had been her favorites as a child, printing witticisms and home to show their kindness, generosity, and compasclever sayings on plain fabric that would fit well with any sion. We hope our products help them do exactly that. décor. “I take a lot of pleasure from clean, classic deOne thing I’ve always told our fans about our products Stacy Reece signs,” Reece says. “That’s why Down South House & is to get them dirty making memories. Those towels and Home has always made products that we believe fit well napkins and coasters soak up the stories of their lives.” on any Southerner’s table, regardless of whether the table is set with Stories are an increasingly big part of Down South —especially now fine china or Chinet. As long as the table is set with love, that’s what that Reece’s husband, Chuck, has joined the business full-time. The matters.” founding editor of The Bitter Southerner, he now contributes his writNaturally, other products joined her selection of dishtowels, and the ing skills to a blog on downsouth.house, where all products can be purcompany now offers equally charming napkins, totes, masks, coastchased. In support of the community, Down South works with the Refers, and even apparel—all bearing that brazen Southern humor and ugee Sewing Society for the creation of their flour-sack napkin rings. the same dedication to quality that she’s been known for since day Written by Liesel Schmidt



Photography by Kathryn McCrary



Photo: Morgan Beatton

Every family has them: Christmas traditions that are passed down ble Stocking,” Stice Stewart admits. from generation to generation, filled with memories that make them Holding fast to the tradition that had been such a special part of all the more cherished as time goes on. For Kate Stice Stewart, one her Christmases growing up, Stice Stewart officially launched Bauble of her most treasured Christmas traditions lies with a Stockings and took her very first order in June 2018. miniature stocking that was present every year on the Throughout the process of creating her company, howtree throughout her childhood—a special ornament that ever, her original mission changed and became someher family called a Bauble Stocking. thing far greater. “Initially, I focused only on giving peoOriginally made by her mother and adorned with needleple the opportunity to have this tradition in their home; point embellishments, the Bauble Stocking became the but as I learned about the personal work that goes into place where the very last Christmas present—or some creating needlepoint pieces, I decided that I wanted to clue alluding to it—was tucked away, awaiting discovery create meaningful work for others,” Stice Stewart says. by its recipient. In Stewart’s house, that final gift was Over the past two years, the Atlanta-based company has always given to her mother, a symbolic gesture of appreaccomplished that goal in remarkable ways, employing ciation for the many ways she’d been a gift in their lives. a core group of 107 women in Haiti—most of whom “My dad called that miniature needlepoint stocking her are single mothers—to stitch and finish the stockings. ‘Bauble Stocking’ because, on a good year, the gift inFor these women, the fair trade operation is an invaluKate Stice Stewart side was a bauble—a piece of jewelry,” Stice Stewart able opportunity to provide for their families. “I wake up explains. “The tradition of brainstorming for this gift with each morning knowing that there are people depending my dad and older brothers was always my favorite part of Christmas, on me to share my story and spread the news of Bauble Stockings. and seeing Mom’s face was an added bonus!” They are my motivation,” says Stice Stewart. It wasn’t until she was an adult and on the brink of marriage that From the intricate needlepoint patterns created in Fairhope, Alabama, Stice Stewart realized that the tradition of the Bauble Stocking was to the needlework done in Haiti, the stockings are a labor of love not a widely held one—in fact, a Google search and a phone call to touched by many hands before they become a part of a new family’s her parents quickly revealed that her family had actually started this traditions. baublestockings.com Written by Liesel Schmidt particular practice. “I’d always thought that every mother had a Bau-

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TRUBEE HONEY It’s amazing to see what happens when inspiration is given wings, and Among their most popular offerings is their Barrel-Aged Honey. “We in the case of Laura Kimball and Jeff Otto, it created an empire…one get used bourbon barrels from Nelson’s Greenbrier Distillery here in populated by bees. the Nashville area and fill them with honey for a few months, after “I first learned about bees while I was working as a rewhich they reclaim the barrels to age more bourbon in porter and did a feature story on a beekeeper in coastal them, creating one of their most popular aged bourNorth Carolina, where we lived for ten years before we bons,” Kimball explains. “While there’s no alcohol in it, moved to Tennessee,” recalls Kimball, who had absolutethe honey absorbs the smoky taste of the barrel, giving ly no interest in insects of any kind at the time. “Learnit a hint of the taste that folks associate with bourbon.” ing about the bees was completely intriguing to me. It With such a unique item in production, their growth was fear meets beauty; beauty meets order and intricacy. outside of the middle Tennessee market was inevitable; I was becoming fascinated by all of it; and I didn’t know and they now have shelf space in independent retailit at the time, but my husband entertained a secret hope ers across the country. Still, the best place to buy their to get into beekeeping one day, since, as a kid, he had products is at their farm shop in Eagleville, Tennessee, delivered newspapers to a man who kept bees.” where much of the magic happens. The site of their Determined not to become people who lamented the office and warehouse, the farm is also where they proloss of their unfulfilled wishes for “someday,” Kimball cess the honey, though the hives are spread out over Laura Kimball & Jeff Otto bought Otto a hive and protective gear for Christmas, the area: some, at their home in Arrington; some at the never imagining that the simple hobby would ever be farm; others at various local farms throughout Bedford, more than just that. But as their hives multiplied, so, too, did their Rutherford, and Williamson counties. supply of honey and beeswax. Like any good entrepreneurs, they took Over the past nine years, Kimball and Otto have only fallen deeper their goods and sold them at local farmers’ markets, street fairs, and in love with the inhabitants of their hives. “We never get tired of the festivals, gaining a following that inspired them to officially launch intricacy and organization of nature,” says Kimball. “I love taking a TruBee Honey in 2011. walk in the late afternoon when the sun is getting low and seeing the Now a fully realized business, TruBee Honey offers a variety of honey bees rushing to and from the hive. They never lose focus.” Buy their and beeswax products whose quality and purity are their hallmarks. products online at trubeehoney.com Written by Liesel Schmidt







North Carolina native releases his third novel The Girl in the River. Written by J. M. McSpadden

As an author, Billy Beasley champions the everyman. His protagonists

didn’t want to self-publish, nothing against those who do. I think I needed

face the sort of challenges that his readers face. At the core of his stories

the validation of someone saying that they believed, that they wanted to

are characters grappling with disappointment and loss, and trying to find

publish my book.

their way in a fractured world. Beasley’s work is informed with personal experience and combines his love of sports

Q : What was that journey like? A : It was 2013 when I was finally offered

and a focus on race relations. Each of his

a contract. I had given up a few times

books are set in the area around Wilmington

along the way. I had just gotten married

and Carolina Beach, North Carolina.

and Julie was going through my stuff and she asked me when the last time I had

Q : Were you a reader as a child? A : Yes, mostly sports books. The dream

sent anything out was. I told her it had

was to be a major league pitcher. I just

to try again. I had a list of a few publishers

needed to be able to throw the ball about

and I picked one out, just to appease her.

50mph faster than I was able to. But I will

And they offered me a contract within a

say, there was one person who had a ma-

few months.

jor impact on my life, my old little league

Q : Was it difficult to get a publisher’s

coach. When I was eighteen I went to see


him. I had no direction in life. I showed

A : At the time, in the late 90s, I ran into

up at his practice one day and asked if he

a number of publishers that were telling

needed help. He told me to come back the

me they were not accepting new authors.

next day. I am sure he caught some flak for

No new fiction, no new authors. That was

it, having a long-haired kid who had been

with my first book, The River Hideaway.

in trouble helping him with the team. Be-

My second book, The Preacher’s Letter,

cause of him I went on to coach a basket-

was finished in in 2001. The first draft of

ball team, same age group as little league,

it anyway. But that story changed over the

been about three years. She convinced me

for 20 years.

years before it came out.

Q : When did you first start to dream of writing a book? A : It was always in the back of my mind, but with no plan or even an

Q : All of your books are based in and around the Cape Fear region of

idea of how to begin. I guess I started thinking about it seriously in the

A : My first book, The River Hideaway, is about a rich white kid and a

mid-90s. I still run into people who stop me and say “Remember when

black kid who meet and become friends when they join a basketball team.

you used to sit on the beach and dream of being a published author?” I

The racial tension of that day will challenge that friendship. I think the ex-

24 okramagazine.com


North Carolina. How has that region shaped you and your work?

perience of being bussed from the suburbs to a previously all black school

mystery in it? Yes, probably. I just hope that they say it’s a good story. I

in the city of Wilmington, and the racial unrest of that time definitely gave

know my strongpoints and my weak points. One of my strong points is I

me ideas and informed the book.

write characters well and develop them well. I write emotion well. Some

Q : Where do you draw your characters from? Where do you draw your

of my reviews on Amazon say that the books should come with a box of

female characters from?


A : I get asked that a lot. Some are completely fictional. Some are real. I did this a little more with my latest book, The Girl in the River. It started

Q : Do you use a story outline when writing? A : I’ve never used an outline. I get an idea and then I will see if it grows

as a joke. A lady had asked to be in one of my books. She’s a huge sup-

in my head for a while. Then at some point I sit down and start writing.

porter of mine and so I created a character for her. There is a character in

I have an idea of how to start the story and a pretty good idea of how it’s

the new book, a politician. Someone asked me who he was based on, they

going to end. The challenge is bridging the middle of the story and keep-

had an idea. I told them the character was completely fictional, which

ing the reader interested.

was true. Most are completely fictional. Where do I get female characters?

Q : What’s next? Do you have sequel in the works? A : I’ve been asked why I haven’t written a sequel. I didn’t want to. I

(Laughs) I have no idea.

Q : The Preacher’s Letter was your second book? A : The main character has experienced what his friends call the trilogy

wanted to leave The River Hideaway standing on its own. However, several

of tragedy. Three events neatly spaced seven years apart. He is just go-

to need some help. It seemed to make sense to reintroduce Bret Marin

ing through life. He has given up on anything better. He goes to church

from The River Hideaway. He doesn’t play a lead role, but he is a support

chapters into The Girl in the River I realized the main character is going

to the character of Clint Hurley. The first

to, and, being a good southern boy he com-

book takes place in the 1960s and in the

plies. The preacher levels this heavy judg-

latest book Marin is older, a man in his

mental sermon. The main character reaches

mid-sixties. It gives readers a chance to

out to him and receives this letter. And that’s

see that character in his later life and find

where the title comes from. The letter sets

out what happened to him.

off a chain of events.

Q : What is it like now, having written your

Q : The newest book is The Girl in the River.

third book, compared to when you started

What is it about?


A : Clint Hurley is a widower, he’s lost

A : As you grow, you change how you

the love of his life a year earlier. They

write. I remember when I first started back

had dreamed of building a cabin out in

in the 90s computers were more expensive

the country in Rocky Point. The book

and out of my reach at the time. I used to

starts with Hurley, who has decided to

get up at four in the morning and go in to

build that cabin, down by the river on

work and write until work started at seven.

Christmas day. It is a snowy day and

I carried The River Hideaway around on

you know, snow is very rare down here.

a floppy disk. Now, of course, I have an

He’s out walking with his dog and he sees a flash of something yellow up the

Photo: Will Nobles

one Sunday, because his mama wants him

office right here at home. A lot of the promotion of the book is left to the author so I

river. On second glance he realizes it

thank God for social media. It gives me the

is a child in a runaway kayak. Hurley

chance to make an event, a book signing

realizes he needs to try and save the little girl, and that sets off

for example, on social media. I am grateful to be able to say that I have

a whole chain of events and brings a lot of chaos to his door. It

a very tight, loyal following. I love it when a reader says that they hated

also brings opportunity.

for the story to end. Fortunately, I have been blessed to hear that a lot.

Q : So this sounds like a mystery. A : What I always hope is that, when someone finishes a book of mine,


they say it was a really good story. Will it have love in it? Yes. Will it have


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