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Rhino Times - 2017-12-28
Magazines / Newspapers | Government 2017-12-28 00:00:00
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    Vol. V No. 52 Greensboro, North Carolina www.rhinotimes.com Thursday, December 28, 2017

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    2 RHINO TIMES | Thursday, December 28, 2017 | www.rhinotimes.com RHINO SHORTS by John Hammer Happy 2018. This is the last Rhino Times of 2017, which seems incredible. One thing I’ve learned putting out a weekly publication for more than 25 years is that a weekly deadline makes time fly. Last week I had to look up an article I had written earlier in the year. I thought I wrote it in October, but it turned out it was August. Later this week I’ll sit down with all 52 papers we have produced this year to do a review, and I will annoy everyone in the office by calling out a story and saying, “Guess when we covered that?” I do know that the City Council primary was Oct. 10 and the general election on Nov. 7, but otherwise it’s always confusing. Some people expected Rocky Scarfone and his attorney Amiel Rossabi to have already filed a lawsuit against the city over the parking deck that the city plans to build on East Market and Davie streets, which will eliminate Scarfone’s easement to the back door of Cone Denim Entertainment Center. But that lawsuit has not been filed because the courts are closed for Christmas. Court reopens on Jan. 2 and Rossabi has already sent a letter to the city asking that all correspondence in the city’s possession about the planned parking deck be preserved, which is a good indication that the lawsuit will be filed. Mayor Nancy Vaughan said that she was still hopeful something could be settled outside of court, but considering the fact that the city has been negotiating with Scarfone and Rossabi since July, and they have not been able to reach an agreement, that seems unlikely. The NFL has not been attracting crowds to the games or the television audience it had before the national anthem protests, and this week it is cancelling its Sunday Night Football. It falls on New Year’s Eve and the NFL has evidently decided that the attendance and viewership would be embarrassing. Following the lead of President Trump, the NFL released this information in a tweet. Dec. 26, Boxing Day, isn’t an official holiday in the US as it is in the British world, but it might as well be judging from the number of people who were at work Tuesday, which was nearly none. Even among people who claim to know such things, the origin of the term “Boxing Day” is in dispute. It evidently has something to do with servants getting the day off and getting a box of presents to take to their families, or perhaps is the day that folks like delivery people got a gift either in the form of a box of presents or cash. In the US it is simply the day after Christmas and most people are recovering from the day before, or traveling back home, but most aren’t at work. Sudoku Solution From last week’s issue The Muse and I were in St. Louis for Christmas and were lucky enough to have a white Christmas. I learned the weather people in St. Louis aren’t any better than the weather people in Greensboro at predicting snow. But it did make for a beautiful Christmas morning. Several years ago I realized I was about 25 pounds overweight and had no idea how it had happened. I have since started weighing myself every day and now I know what happened. We went on vacation in November this year and I gained a little over three pounds, which is not a lot, and then over Christmas I gained another pound. However, if I hadn’t been keeping up, I would have ended the year four or five pounds heavier than I started out. And I wouldn’t have noticed until maybe I’d gained another five pounds and my pants got too tight. But I lost the three pounds when we got back from vacation, so I’ve only got the pound I gained over Christmas to lose. And losing one pound is so much easier than five. For me the key is weighing myself every day, so things don’t get out of hand. According to a press release, National Bacon Day is Saturday, Dec. 30. So I may have more than a pound to lose next week. Crossword Solution From last week’s issue A W A L K S H E L I N N O T I M E T O M E I T A L I B H O T L I N E S O W I E S E V O K E S EAR T H A K I T T M E G A S T A R E L W A Y V I T A E D O N C HEAD L E S L A L O M I L E N A V J O H N LEG U I Z A M O Z A P M O I R A O N E N O L O E T O N C O I N O P B A N G O R E L S A L A N CHEST E R P O R K A D O B O A T B A T A T T U N E S O I R I N D D E N Z E L W A SHIN G T O N K G B S T O P B O N S A I V I S I T T A C O S T A N D M I C H E L L EYE O H S C H E M E H E A L E R Y A D A K I E V T E E T E X T S R O T R Y A N P H I L LIP P E I A N U S E S A V I O R O LIVER P L A T T R E N A L N O T R E P A S T R I E S B I T P A R T S E T C H E D C U L P A A N T I G O N E S U T R A O T T E R N E O N S I G N T S A R D O S E S

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    www.rhinotimes.com | Thursday, December 28, 2017 | RHINO TIMES 3 table of CONTENTS 2 RHINO SHORTS BY JOHN HAMMER 4 RHINOS AROUND THE WORLD 5 GUILFORD COUNTY INTERNAL AUDIT TURMOIL DRAWS SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT, LEADS TO RESIGNATION BY SCOTT D. YOST 6 CITY SETBACKS MAY NOT INTEREST YOU NOW, BUT WAIT UNTIL YOU WANT TO IMPROVE YOUR HOME BY JOHN HAMMER 8 PLEASANT GARDEN IS HAVING A BLAST, NOW THAT QUARRY APPEAL DEADLINE IS PAST BY SCOTT D. YOST 9 UNCLE ORSON BY ORSON SCOTT CARD 21 YOST COLUMN BY SCOTT D. YOST 31 UNDER THE HAMMER BY JOHN HAMMER 2 PUZZLE ANSWERS 7 SUDOKU 15 REAL ESTATE 16 NYT CROSSWORD 17 CHILDREN’S SCHEDULE 19 SOUND OF THE BEEP 24 NEWS OF THE WEIRD 26 LETTERS TO THE EDITOR Cover by Anthony Council PUBLISHER Roy Carroll EDITOR-IN-CHIEF John Hammer managing editor ELAINE HAMMER county editor SCOTT D. YOST GENERAL MANAGER Joann Zollo creative director ANTHONY COUNCIL advertising consultant DONNA GOODWIN contributing editor ORSON SCOTT CARD 216 West Market Street, Greensboro NC 27401 P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro NC 27429 | (336) 763-4170 (336) 763-2585 fax | sales@rhinotimes.com | www.rhinotimes.com

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    4 RHINO TIMES | Thursday, December 28, 2017 | www.rhinotimes.com Send your Rhinos Around the World to letters@rhinotimes.com or 216 W. Market St., Greensboro 27401. Gary Brewer and his daughter Merritt in Harrison’s Cave, Barbados Robbie Bald and Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan going through the locks of the Panama Canal Martha and Rob Rau, Myron and Cindy Kidd, Jeff and Jeannie McClintock and Scott Fancett (from left) cruising on the Viking Forseti in Bordeaux, France Independent Thinker Chris Rees caught one of Leeds Town Hall’s lions in West Yorkshire, England, catching up on Greensboro’s news.

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    www.rhinotimes.com | Thursday, December 28, 2017 | RHINO TIMES 5 Guilford County Internal Audit Turmoil Draws Sheriff’s Department, Leads to Resignation by Scott D. Yost After over a year of strife and turmoil, problems in the Guilford County Internal Audit Department have exploded and now Internal Audit Director Deborah Alston has resigned. According to one high-ranking county official, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department is investigating some aspects of the dispute between Alston and her staff. An email that one Internal Audit Department senior staffer, Julia Courts, sent to the Guilford County commissioners a day before Alston resigned stated, “The Internal Audit Department is boiling over with conflict. It is a hostile, unsafe work environment. There are frequent shouting confrontations between our director and employees.” It added, “We have attempted to go through the chain of command for help, but tensions have worsened.” The email said that, on Tuesday, Nov. 21, the Guilford County Security Department was called to respond due to a heated dispute in internal audit. Courts ended with the plea, “Please help us.” That email was sent at 5:37 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 13. On Thursday, Dec. 14, Alston resigned. According to several sources, there’s been bad blood between Alston and some of her employees in that small department for at least a year and perhaps even since she arrived as director three years ago. The most recent explosion of tensions boiled up to the level of the county commissioners, and some commissioners said that Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing had been attempting to calm things down in the department but that his effort was to no avail. The senior employee’s email sent to the Guilford County commissioners made scathing accusations against Alston and seem to have played a role in Alston’s departure. Some county officials said this week that Alston was an excellent auditor who worked very well with county departments when they were audited or processes where checked. Alston, who was making $88,057 a year when she resigned, did not respond to an email sent to her LinkedIn account or a phone call from a number provided by an online directory. Lawing did not respond to a voicemail. The Internal Audit Department provides consulting and auditing services intended to help Guilford County government reduce its risk in order to prevent fraud, improve government efficiency and address special concerns of department heads and the county manager. It examines internal controls in departments and makes recommendations on how to improve operations. Internal Audit also manages Guilford County’s “Fraud Hotline,” which allows county employees and citizens to call the department and report suspected cases of fraud in Guilford County government. The department only has five positions including the director; however, for a small department it’s apparently been making big waves inside Guilford County government for a long time. Three years ago, Alston took over a position that was held by former long-time director Martha Rogers. For years and years before Alston’s arrival, internal audit was an extremely quiet department with virtually no news coming from it. Alston took over and some sources say that, nearly from the start, there was friction between Alston and the staff. Before taking the job with the county, Alston served as a senior financial analyst for the City of Greensboro. When Guilford County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman was asked about the recent turmoil and Alston’s resignation, she said that, from all the signals coming out of the department, it was hard to tell exactly what was going on and who was at fault. Coleman compared the controversy to the one over former Apprentice star Omarosa Manigault Newman, who quit her job as President Donald Trump’s assistant earlier this month and the two are now in a he-said, she-said back and forth battle of accusations and retaliations. When Coleman was asked her impression of whether the problems in internal audit emanated from Alston or from her staff, Coleman said, “Who knows; it’s like Omarosa.” One high-ranking county official familiar with the situation said it was his understanding that the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department has been called in to investigate an “email hacking situation” within the department. It’s not clear if the investigation is a case of an employee trying to hack into Alston’s email or vice versa. The Rhino Times asked Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes if he could comment on whether or not there was in fact an investigation pertaining to internal audit. “No,” Barnes said, clarifying that that “no” meant that he could not comment. When asked, Barnes said that his department does investigate internal county matters at times when it is called on to do so. Another source familiar with the Internal Audit Department battles said the county manager had been trying to (continued on page 7)

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    6 RHINO TIMES | Thursday, December 28, 2017 | www.rhinotimes.com City Setbacks May Not Interest You Now, But Wait Until You Want To Improve Your Home by John Hammer There is a good chance that your house is nonconforming because of the minimum front setback. It may not seem like much of an issue, but it could cause a lot of problems if you decide to make renovations to your house. In the past year, so many people have been in front of the Board of Adjustment requesting a variance to enlarge or improve their front porches that the City Council revised the zoning ordinance at its Tuesday, Dec. 19 meeting. The problem is that the City Council’s revision will allow some people to improve their homes without going through the time, cost and trouble of appearing before the Board of Adjustment to ask for a variance, but it does nothing about the underlying problem. The real problem is that Greensboro has a ridiculous ordinance for the minimum front setback for singlefamily residential zoning. The minimum front setback is the distance of a house from the curb line or edge of the street in front of the house. Up until 2010, it was 20 feet – a distance easy to measure and understand. Most homes in Greensboro were built with this or a similar minimum front setback. In 2010, every piece of property in the city was rezoned with a new citywide zoning ordinance. The first time this zoning ordinance, called the Land Development Ordinance (LDO), was presented to the City Council, City Councilmember Mike Barber said the best thing the City Council cold do was throw the entire document into the trash can and start over. But, instead, the LDO was revised and revised and finally the City Council got tired of dealing with the LDO and passed it. Unfortunately for homeowners, one of the nutty things left in the LDO was the minimum front setback for singlefamily residential houses. The problem is that the minimum front setback in single-family residential zoning is not a set distance, like the minimum side setback or the minimum rear setback. According to the LDO, the minimum front setback varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, and even from house to house, because the minimum front setback in Greensboro is determined by measuring the front setback of the two houses on either side of the house in question and calculating the average. The average setback of the two houses on either side is the setback for the house in the middle. Without actually going out and measuring the setback of the two houses on either side and the house in question, no one knows whether a house is conforming or nonconforming. But because most houses were built when the minimum front setback was set at 20 feet many houses, nobody knows how many residences are nonconforming. If you live on a street with deep lots, the minimum front setback for your house could be 100 feet or more, which means if your house is closer to the street than that it is nonconforming, and a trip to the Board of Adjustment may be required before you can make major, or in some cases not so major, improvements. Even the city has difficulty determining the minimum front setback under the current ordinance. For one new house, the city came up with three different minimum front setbacks. After the third, the property owners decided to build their home elsewhere, probably somewhere where the minimum front setback could be determined with a measuring tape and wasn’t dependent on where their neighbors had decided to build their homes. But on Tuesday night, instead of fixing the problem by establishing a definite minimum front setback for houses in the single-family residential zoning, the City Council – on the advice of the Planning Department, which created the problem in the first place – passed an ordinance that will allow some people in nonconforming houses to renovate their front porches without having to go to the Board of Adjustment and request a variance. This text amendment to the LDO comes at the request of the Board of Adjustment, which found itself dealing with people who wanted to improve their property by adding to or renovating their porches and who had discovered, when they applied for a building permit, that their houses had become nonconforming when the ordinance went into effect due to the placement of the two houses on either side. They discovered the city wouldn’t grant them a building permit without a variance, sometimes for what were minor improvements to their porch, like adding columns, when those improvements increased the size. The Board of Adjustment, to its credit, almost uniformly granted these requested variances. At one Board of Adjustment meeting when this was discussed, it was brought up that on streets that are straight, having all the houses set back the same distance from the street might make sense if you think all houses should look as much alike as possible, but on streets that curve, as many residential streets in Greensboro do, it doesn’t look uniform because the street isn’t uniform. Also – as members of the Board of Adjustment noted when dealing with one of these requests for a variance to increase the size of a front porch – the ordinance doesn’t take into consideration the lot size. The Board of Adjustment had a request from a person whose lot was 100 feet deep when the houses that determined the setback for her house were 150 feet deep. When the builder constructed the house in question it made sense to move it closer to the street so the house would have a backyard. Under the previous ordinance this was perfectly legal because the house was more than 20 feet from the street. Under the current ordinance the houses with deeper lots made her house nonconforming. What the City Council did without discussion was pass a text amendment to the LDO that doesn’t change the encroachment allowed for an uncovered porch or stoop, which is 5 feet with a maximum of 35 square feet. It is the same as it was in the previous zoning ordinance. But the text amendment will allow a covered porch to encroach 10 feet into the front setback along the entire front of the house as long as it does not encroach into the side setbacks. If anyone on the City Council had been interested, they might have asked what this does for a house that – due to the 2010 ordinance radically changing the front setback – already encroaches into the front setback. Some houses, because of the current ordinance, already encroach 10 feet or more into the front setback. For some houses, because of this radically different front setback requirement, building a carport beside the house would encroach into the front setback. The solution to the problem with people wanting to improve their homes, which because of the front setback requirements are nonconforming, is to make the houses conforming by changing the front setback back to 20 feet like it was when most of the homes were built. If one person on a street decided to build their home much further back from the street because they have a deeper lot or because they like large front yards and don’t like backyards, it could make all the other houses on the street nonconforming. This is simply a case of over regulation by the city. What the City Council did was put a bucket under the leak instead of repairing the hole in the roof. But the City Council expressed no interest in the matter and simply accepted without question the solution proposed by the very people who caused the problem. As the economy continues to improve, more building is going to be taking place in Greensboro, and this issue is going to become more of a problem. Putting a bucket under the leak isn’t going to fix it.

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    www.rhinotimes.com | Thursday, December 28, 2017 | RHINO TIMES 7 audit (continued from page 5) resolve the ongoing issues for months and added that Lawing had instructed Alston to put together a plan that would help the group to get along. After that, months passed and clearly peace in the office wasn’t established. One commissioner who asked not to be identified said the Board of Commissioners will frequently get a complaint about a director or supervisor from a county employee but added that it’s usually an anonymous email. “What was surprising about this one is that it was signed,” the commissioner said. Despite the clear troubles with her internal audit staff, it is not hard to find others, outside of the department, who have worked with Alston and have very good things to say about her. One county official said Alston was “very professional” and said he’d had excellent experiences working with Alston and the department. That county official said, “Deborah, on substance, in my opinion, was spot on,” and suggested it may have been that Alston wanted to take the department in a new direction – with more of an emphasis on auditing the finances of the county departments than on operational efficiency and other non-financial matters – and staff didn’t want to go in that direction, the official said. One Guilford County employee said that, whatever the reason, her employees appeared to be “actively trying to undermine her” and “went around her to Marty Lawing.” When that didn’t resolve the issues, one of those employees sent a letter to the commissioners. That letter claims the Guilford County Human Resources Department was unable to resolve the issues and stated that, last month, security was called when things got heated. Commissioner Skip Alston (no relation to Deborah Alston) said he’s heard positive things about her work. “I didn’t know that much about the operations under her,” Alston said, “but my understanding was that she was doing an excellent job.” Commissioner Alston said he’s heard about some of her battles with staff, but at this point, he added, he wasn’t sure what to make of all the commotion. He said the email from the internal audit employee was the only one he’d received regarding that office and the apparent tension in that department. He added that there are “two sides to every story.” Commissioners Alston and Coleman over the years have been very vocal about the county’s need for more woman and minority department heads and Deborah Alston, a black female, was one of the few minority directors in Guilford County government. While Alston’s work in some cases got very good reviews from department heads and others in county government, it’s crystal clear from the email sent to commissioners that she didn’t get rave reviews from everyone in her department. The senior staff employee wrote: “In August 2017, we reported our department director, Deborah Alston, to the county manager for fraud, waste and abuse.” The Rhino Times has no knowledge whether any of the grievances and accusations in the email are true. County staff will not comment on personnel matters, the commissioners don’t know the specifics and Lawing has not spoken with the Rhino Times about it. The email states, among other things, that Alston deceived Lawing about the department’s budgetary needs and artificially inflated line items “with the plan to later divert funds to buy furniture.” It said that, in order to conceal her deception, Alston locked doors to offices that already had furniture, so the county manager would “give her $6,000 more in the new fiscal year for more furniture.” The accusations also include “instructing her employees to use a county car to go shopping,” and it speaks of “bullying and harassing behavior.” It claimed that one employee had been “mercilessly bullied and harassed by Deborah for six months.” Others outside the department say that Alston was a by the book auditor who did a very good job. They say she came in to a well-established staff with a new vision for the department that changed the nature of the work, creating friction from the start. Hyper-Sudoku The New York Times

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    8 RHINO TIMES | Thursday, December 28, 2017 | www.rhinotimes.com Pleasant Garden Is Having A Blast, Now That Quarry Appeal Deadline Is Past by Scott D. Yost Much to the relief of thousands of residents in the Pleasant Garden area, the time and date of 5 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 19 has come and gone. The reason there was so much happiness over the 2017 calendar marching past that date is that it was the last day for Texas-based construction materials company Lehigh Hanson to file an appeal of a November decision by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners not to allow a granite quarry at a proposed site near Pleasant Garden. Last month, the board voted 8 to 0 not to rezone the property, a vote that prevented Lehigh Hanson from moving forward on the project. That decision was met with thunderous applause, shouts of joy and a public prayer of thanks in the Board of Commissioners meeting room in the Old Guilford County Court House. However, despite that celebration last month, there was still a good deal of uneasiness among the project’s opponents because the board’s decision could have been overturned by Guilford County Superior Court on appeal. However, based on the fact that the Dec. 19 deadline has now come and gone, Lehigh Hanson has presumably decided not to pursue that course of action and instead chosen to let the land remain as is. Lehigh Hanson supplies aggregate, cement, concrete, asphalt and other building materials for construction projects in the US, Canada and Mexico, and the company gets its product from quarries such as the one proposed for the site near Pleasant Garden. On Thursday, Nov. 2, the commissioners shot down the company’s rezoning request. Had the board approved that request and a subsequent specialuse permit for blasting at the site, it would have allowed blast mining on about 60 acres of a 350-acre area in southeast Guilford County near the corner of McClellan and Racine roads. If the commissioners had approved that zoning request, it seems likely that property owners in the area would have appealed the case to the courts. In 2000, the land was rezoned to be used as a clay mine for Boren Brick. That rezoning, which is still in effect, designated the land “heavy industrial.” However, that zoning limited operations to mining clay; it didn’t permit a granite quarry. Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne wrote in an email a few days before Christmas, “It does, in fact, appear that it is past the deadline for appealing the decision. I am not aware of any appeal that has been filed.” Guilford County Planning Director Leslie Bell also confirmed that nothing had been submitted to the Planning Department as of Dec. 22. It’s possible Lehigh Hanson could file an appeal after the deadline, but that’s a rare move and, if it happens, the company would face a new legal hurdle since the appeal wasn’t submitted by the court’s deadline. Payne wrote, “To my knowledge, the county has not dealt with any request to PHOTO BY SCOTT D. YOST Comissioners joined quarry opponents in prayer after the Board of Commissioners voted to deny the rezoning request on Nov. 2 accept an appeal out of time but I think we would handle it the way the courts do. I.e., filing an appeal out of time will be denied except upon a motion to waive time and such waiver is only given upon a showing of extraordinary circumstances justifying the lateness.” The Rhino Times asked Lehigh Hanson’s attorney Tom Terrill, of Smith Moore Leatherwood, about the company’s decision not to file an appeal by the deadline and he responded in an email, “I have no information to pass along.” Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said he was something of a goat in the Pleasant Garden area these days because he made some positive comments about the mining operation before recusing himself from the discussion and the vote. (Branson would have been a lot more vilified by the residents if the Board of Commissioners hadn’t rejected Lehigh Hanson’s request.) Branson said that, since the commissioners’ Nov. 2 decision, he “hadn’t heard a lot of anything or anybody.” He said the decisive vote by the board may have discouraged an appeal by the mining company. “My guess is that a unanimous 8-to-0 vote led to that,” Branson said. “If it had been split down the middle there would have been some fireworks going on.” Branson said he thinks now that there may be an effort to develop some of that quarry property into residential neighborhoods, especially if the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite gets a giant tenant that brings a lot of jobs just south of Guilford County. “If the megasite hits, they may put some of that land on the market,” Branson said. Attorney Chuck Winfree, of the firm Adams & Winfree, led the citizenbased opposition. Winfree said he and the residents who fought the rezoning were relieved when the Dec. 19 deadline came and went. “We checked the courthouse Tuesday at 5, and, as of that time, we didn’t see anything, so I believe it’s dead right now.” He said that “technically,” Lehigh Hanson could try to refile a project in modified form or come back in a year to refile the same proposal, but he added that since the commissioners had a unanimous vote against the request, it was unlikely the issue would be revisited. Like Branson, Winfree said that if the vote had been split down the middle, there may have been an appeal. Winfree said the residents in the Pleasant Garden area had done a very effective job in fighting the proposed mining and blasting project. He said that a citizen-made video showing traffic concerns and other concerns of the resident had really helped in the appeal. In September, the Guilford County Planning Board had voted to allow Lehigh Hanson to move forward with the request, which was one that county planning staff recommended as well, but the Board of Commissioners has the last word within Guilford County government. Lehigh Hanson argued that the quarry would bring jobs and provide construction materials for area projects without disturbing the lives of people who live and work near by. However, the commissioners said they were concerned about the potential effects on well water supply and quality in that part of the county, as well as about the increased trucking traffic on narrow roads in that area.

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    Uncle Orson Reviews Everything UNCLE ORSON Reviews www.rhinotimes.com | Thursday, December 28, 2017 | RHINO TIMES 9 by Orson Scott Card As we were about to start opening the Christmas gifts on Monday morning, my wife told me that the first gift was for me. It was a small gift box of the sort that is always used in Hallmark Christmas movies – you know, the kind that looks gift-wrapped, but in fact the lid comes right off. In movies, that kind of wrapping serves the essential purpose of letting the package come open instantly, without tearing any paper. That means the scene will move more quickly – not so much unwrapping time – and also, you can keep using the same prop no matter how many takes the scene requires. Nobody has to keep rewrapping it with the same paper. A definite budget saver. But my wife’s purpose was simpler. That package needed to come open easily, because what was inside needed to be refrigerated immediately. She had taken it out of the fridge only moments before, and there was no way it should sit around waiting for me to get to it in the course of Christmas morning. So I pulled off the lid, and knew instantly that my wife had won Christmas – that is, once again she had found a gift so thoughtful, so perfect, that none of my poor attempts could possibly compete. It’s hard to be disappointed at “losing” in such a way – because she really had given me a perfect gift. It was a small jar labeled “Nana Lu’s Mustard.” There wasn’t another person in the room who could understand what that meant to me. My dad’s mother, Lucena Richards Card (Nana Lu), had made, as one of her many kitchen specialties, a homemade sweet-hot mustard, thick but still Winning Christmas, The Last Jedi pourable. It was always pale yellow, nothing at all like French’s mustard – the only other kind I knew. As a child, I hated trying new things. But I really liked French’s mustard – I insisted on it for my daily tuna fish sandwiches that I took to school. So when I saw my dad and my older sister eat Nana Lu’s mustard with such pleasure, I resolved to give it a try. My first taste was all by itself, not on anything at all. I had feared it would sting, but not at all. The hotness of it crept up on me; the first taste was mostly sweet, yet full of mustard flavor. I became a real aficionado, but the problem was that since it contained almost no vinegar, it couldn’t be left out like other condiments. It had to be refrigerated. That meant we got it only rarely – way less often than the other family tradition, Aunt Delpha’s Fudge. Auntie Del’s Fudge was a birthday tradition. She was my dad’s sister, and also my mom’s sister-in-law, making her my aunt on both sides, and all her kids were my double first cousins. Aunt Delpha seemed to make a batch of fudge for everybody’s birthday. It would come in a onepound See’s Candy box, and it’s a testament to how brilliant it was that her fudge was the only reason we might ever hope that it was not really See’s inside. Four cylinders of chocolate perfection, that’s what her fudge was. My parents would refrigerate it, so it would be easier to cut. Then they would cut up half a roll at a time, fairly thin discs of fudge arrayed on a plate, and each of us would put a slice of fudge in our mouths and let it dissolve. You would never chew it, because that would make it go away too fast. Only the person whose birthday it was for got extra tastes and slices; that fudge would often last as long as three days. But it was never my fault if it lasted that long. I simply wanted to live the rest of my life with that fudge in my mouth. It was better than talking. It was better than singing. But eventually, the fudge stopped coming, and years before Aunt Delpha passed away. When she got older, and her husband, our Uncle Sherm (Mom’s brother, Dad’s brotherin-law) finally succumbed to yet another stroke, Aunt Delpha moved from the family farmhouse to a much more modern house on the same property, with two of her daughters close at hand. That new house, however, had the most terrible of all “improvements” – an electric range in the kitchen. My Affordable quality you can trust...for over 35 years Looking at Buying a Pre-Owned Car? Ask about our pre-purchase inspections! Synthetic Oil Change...$99 95 Includes up to 7 quarts Castrol Syntec 5w30, fi lter and labor Annual Brake Fluid Change..$99 95 Coolant Change...........$99 95 2629 Randleman Road | www.kormanautoworks.com 336.275.1494 cousins testify that Aunt Delpha tried to make her fudge on that range, but the preset temperatures were never right. On her old gas range, she knew exactly how the flame should look, but on the range you only got settings like low, medium-low, medium and so on. None of those was the right temperature for fudge-making. And so she eventually gave up and stopped trying. Rural electrification was a good thing. Except when it stopped that dependable flow of birthday fudge. In truth, she was too old to keep up the former pace. Too many children, grandchildren, great grandchildren; too many nieces and nephews and their children. It would have been fine with me if she had singled me out as the sole recipient of her fudge. Because I was quite certain that nobody else truly understood how perfect it was. (They all said they did, but come on, (continued on page 10) Available Jan. 1: Lovely 2br /1ba condo 1700 N. Elm St., Gso $900/month One mile from downtown, walking distance to Moses Cone Hospital. Hardwood floors. Lots of windows and sunlight. Views of landscaped 2-acre courtyard. Large living room. Includes washer/dryer, microwave and dishwasher. Unit on second floor. Private and secure. At the back of the complex, so no street noise. Lots of parking. Free Wi-Fi in courtyard and some rooms of complex. (No smoking) For more information, call (336) 601-6099 or email elwhammer@gmail.com.

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    10 RHINO TIMES | Thursday, December 28, 2017 | www.rhinotimes.com uncle orson (continued from page 9) I’m a reviewer, so I’m much more sensitive to quality. Right? Right?) I keep trying to find a fudge that’s fairly close to Aunt Delpha’s, or at least not disgusting by comparison (e.g., Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory). The best I’ve found is Fannie May’s fudge, and while it’s very good, it’s not really all that close. It makes me think about Auntie Del’s Fudge, but it doesn’t make me feel as if I’ve actually had fudge. There are recipes that die with their makers, even if we have a piece of paper with all the ingredients and instructions on it. That’s how it was with Nana Lu’s Mustard. Now, my wife had seen Nana Lu’s Mustard, though as a mustard hater she never tried it; and she had seen how much my dad and I delighted in it. After my father passed away last year, she also saw how much I missed him. And I believe she thought that if she could find a way to make Nana Lu’s Mustard again, it would be a kind of comfort. So she contacted many family members near and far. Nobody had the recipe. I suspect that it’s because there are only a few mustard-lovers in the family, so not everybody loved Nana Lu’s mustard the way we all loved Auntie Del’s Speed Bump Fudge. But my sister Janice had liked it, though perhaps not as fanatically as I did, and she knew that she had once had the recipe. Since she is the inheritor of our parents’ house, it has fallen on her to sort through all the possessions they left behind (as is the tradition, they had taken very few with them), and she had an idea which of the as-yet-unsorted boxes might contain it. And it did. She copied it and sent it to my wife. But having a recipe does not mean that you know how to make it. For instance, there were instructions like, “Add water until the consistency is right.” What was my wife supposed to do with that? Experiment, that’s what. Yet because my wife is not a mustard fan, she couldn’t possibly perform a meaningful taste test herself. She had to make small batches until it looked the way she remembered it looking, and then hope that she had gotten it right. That’s what I opened as the first gift on Christmas morning. The moment I saw the label on the jar, tears came to my eyes. My wife had given me back a piece of my childhood, and had gone to a great deal of trouble to do it. There was nothing in any of my by Dave Coverly packages for her that could compare. I was going to end this Christmas far more grateful to her than she would be to me, and so I conceded defeat right from the start. “You’ve won Christmas,” I said. Then I went into the kitchen and, while everyone else waited near the Christmas tree, I put some of the mustard on a bit of bread with a bit of turkey and tasted it. Yes, that was it, that was right. The only difference was that Nana Lu’s Mustard was just the tiniest bit runnier – but it was actually better this way, with a little more body. Still completely spreadable, but not so likely to spill. I wasn’t going to lose a drop. And it had just the right kick – not very hot at the first taste, but growing and building in your mouth until it was noticeably – but not unpleasantly – spicy. Yeah, there are super-hot Chinese mustards that make you cry. But my wife’s iteration of Nana Lu’s Mustard made me cry for a completely different reason. It was a taste of my childhood. It was a bond between me and my dad and his mother. It was a gift of love. .... Not everything goes perfectly on Christmas morning. Often, the biggest disappointment is when somebody makes a wild guess as to what is inside a well-wrapped present – and they’re right. We have one friend who is so notorious for this that for his own preservation as a living human he has stopped guessing, at least out loud. Then there are the gifts for children that they quickly abandon. We had two of our six grandchildren with us, and they gave the best “we love this gift” demonstration I’ve ever seen. Lots of squealing and screaming. Toys immediately got played with, and with such enjoyment that we sometimes couldn’t get them to pay attention to still-wrapped presents. In fact, their love of the first few hours of gifts was so great that when, at the end, my wife and daughter started remembering gifts that should have been under the tree, and weren’t, it didn’t seem like a problem. The little girls kept playing, we had lunch, all was well. Except for the mystery of the missing gifts. My wife, who has an excellent memory, thought back to several weeks ago when she and I spent the evening wrapping those gifts. We had divided them into two piles, and placed each girl’s gifts into one of the big plastic bins we use at Christmas time. Then my wife carefully put those bins in the family room, where the girls always play when they visit. She put the bins behind stuff so nobody would see them and get tempted to peek. Oh, yes, thought my wife on Monday afternoon. I never got out those bins on Christmas Eve. The girls had no concept of how many gifts Christmas is supposed to contain. And we had definitely committed the sin of grandparent overkill – though many of the gifts were ones that our daughter and sonin-law had bought for their daughters and had Amazon ship to us. In short, the overkill was a joint operation. So, exhausted by the day’s events, the girls went to bed Monday night without having been told that half their gifts remained to be opened. And Tuesday went by without any need to have a repeat of Christmas morning. We’ll get to it, mostly because a lot of these gifts won’t be appropriate for their age level a year from now. It’s nice to know that our daughter and her husband are raising children so happy and generous at heart that when they’ve received enough, they’re not greedy for more, It’s not reassuring to know that we can forget two bins of Christmas gifts – it especially bothered my wife because, of course, nobody expects me to remember anything ever. We all rely on her memory, so if it’s unreliable ... Neither my wife nor I has any symptoms of Alzheimers Syndrome; nor do we have any family history of it, though each of us lost one grandfather at an early enough age that we don’t know whether he might have developed the disease later on. We know that even non-Alzheimers dementia can be devastating to the life of an old person, so we would never dream of making fun of people who actually suffer from the condition. Still, our son-in-law had earlier joked with us about what he and others in his Irish Catholic family called “Irish Alzheimers,” which means that the person who has the condition never forgets a grudge. I realized that with precious little Irish ancestry, I have clearly suffered from that condition all my life – I’m still angry at certain teachers and authority figures who did spiteful, nasty things to me before I got (continued on next page)

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