Uniquely R’s and The Gladstone: A Local Treasure Gives Culture to WCC Students

Just beyond the curtain door at the back of a little shop, there is a special place for art and history in downtown Goldsboro, NC called The Gladstone. Dark wood walls and a crystal chandelier hanging from an antique tiled ceiling give this place a Golden Age feel. An upright piano frequently plays classical music and artists that serve coffee, tea, and pastries often sing along there. Occasionally a visitor pops in with his/her instrument, sits in one of the tall wingback chairs, and belts out a series of folk tunes.

Making a place for artists and people to feel welcomed and inspired was part of the owner’s vision. Her welcoming heart is present in every creative display, quirky item selection, and ornate fixture. Uniquely R’s offers customers an opportunity to experience a richer culture than their own and buy things they couldn’t possibly find anywhere else. Guests are drawn in by the quaint, enchanting floral patio entrance. They are curious about what lies beyond the water fountain and tables. They come to support a local business, but they end up transported to another time and place. The Gladstone gives guests an opportunity to sit and soak in that different time and place; it is the pride of the shop, Uniquely R’s, and the heart of its owner, Ruth Glisson.

In such a place, I get big ideas.

As an English teacher, I always struggle with making British literature relevant to my students. They have a hard time grasping the concepts and language of classics like Austen and Shakespeare. They don’t understand Victorian customs and practices; all things British seem old and unnecessary to them. How could I make them see the beauty in a bygone era? How could I make them truly understand and love the classics they had to read? The answer: let them experience it.

My big idea: bring students to The Gladstone and let them experience a foreign culture firsthand. l mentioned the idea to Ruth Glisson, and she loved it. Many months later, a travelling show was set to come to Paramount Theatre and present “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged”. It was the perfect timing and opportunity to take my English 4 students out for a cultural experience. I wrote a grant to the Foundation of Wayne Community College, and got approved! I was never so proud as when I got to walk into Uniquely R’s and talk business with Ruth. The party we planned was special, but the end result exceeded my wildest imagination. On April, 16, 2016, nine students and myself were treated like royalty.

My students had just read Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, so we made a high tea themed around Pride and Prejudice. We had custom menus and music from the movie version–which we had watched in class–of the book. Courses came out in shiny tiered trays as the host (me) gave the nod to move forward. Ruth explained the history of tea and tea parties during the Victorian era as well as the history behind each food choice in our course. We began with savories then sweets with three drink choices along the way.

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The students were encouraged to dress up for the occasion. While some were not able to do so, others dressed up in suits, dresses, and hats. Regardless of their dress, every person there sat a little bit taller and prouder that night. They felt special…treasured…loved.

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Much thanks to Uniquely R’s and the Foundation of Wayne Community College for making this experience possible.

 

Rockin’ Summer Row-by-Row Experience: My Journey Into Sewing & Quilting Part 2

As class ended, I didn’t want to leave my new friends…and new passion for quilting. I was midstream designing another quilt on our last day of class when I heard about Row by Row Experience 2015. Row by Row is a quilting challenge that happens annually across the US where quilters travel to various shops to collect patterns and make quilts. The first quilter to use eight or more of the 9 x 36 rows in a finished quilt, wins a stack of fabric. If they use the row from the store they turn their quilt in to, they win an extra prize from the store as well. This year, all fifty states and parts of Canada participated.

My Bobbin Robin (the mascot of the 2015 Row by Row Experience and a contest in herself) was branded by most of the shops I visited.

My Bobbin Robin (the mascot of the 2015 Row by Row Experience and a contest in herself) was branded by most of the shops I visited.

A collage of some of the quilting work I've done since class.

A collage of some of the quilting work I’ve done since class including my first quilt, a runner of drawings done by my nieces, and the start of my own Row by Row water themed quilt.

The idea of throwing travel and quilting together over the summer was a win-win for me. I bit hard on the idea like a fish on a hook. By summer’s end, I traveled all over eastern North Carolina, parts of South Carolina, and all over eastern Florida for patterns. Telling my friends and family members about it had patterns coming in from Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Oregon too. Some of those helpers have bitten the quilting bug themselves now as well. 😉 By summer’s end, I had over 30 patterns and the beginning of a water-themed queen size quilt.

One surprising fact about quilt shops: they are all uniquely different and all uniquely happy, even if they are close together. In one area of Raleigh, NC, for example, there were four shops within a few minutes of each other, but each carried very different materials and supplies from the other. Quilt shops are specialized to certain niche markets and maintain clientele through customer service.

A collage of shops and shopping with my mom and sister.

A collage of shops and shopping with my mom and sister. Notice the bus tour crowd in the bottom corner at Calico Station, FL.

I don’t know if it is the “your husband called and said you can spend all you want here” signs or the bright, colored fabrics, but I rarely found a sour faced, curmudgeoned quilter. Quilters invest in fabric and pattern stashes with pride. They shop in groves (even bus tours), little two-by-twos, or individually. Quilters are young and old, pop artists and antique traditionalists. We are a wide and varied group, but a happy one.

If we count the cost of how much we spend in quilting, we may not be so happy, but I believe we quilters are happy because we feel fulfillment when we sew…and there’s no price tag for that. We are also happy because quilting generates friends. From the old days of quilting by hand in large circles around a loom (which apparently my great-grandmother and grandma did) to going to classes and working on machines to shopping and sharing pictures and ideas with strangers, quilting is a universal language of love.

Reliving Civil War History in Bentonville, NC

Near Newton Grove, NC, over 150 years ago, one of the largest battles of the Civil War took place. Acres of farmland were overtaken in gunfire and the home of the Harper family became a hospital for injured soldiers.

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The Harpers were not your stereotypical Southern plantation family. They cared for the wounded on both sides of the war with equal charity. Many of the wounded that died were even buried in their personal family graveyard.

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Why would a Southern slave-owning family show such compassion? The answer may be in the long history of their family line.
Generations of Harpers, before and after this particular family unit, were in the forefront of important historical events. There were Harpers in the Revolutionary War, Harpers on both sides of the Civil War, Harpers in industry and trade, Harpers in education, and Harpers in religion. One such famous Harper was a preacher set to do a revival in America when he went down with the R.M.S. Titanic. He went into the water preaching the gospel of Christ and did not give up till he finally froze to death. So I have to think there is something in the Harper line, some great Christian heritage, that taught them to be industrious, strong, and kind people.
The Harpers of the Harper house did own slaves, though, so they must have been bad people, right? Wrong. One of the biggest misunderstandings about slavery is that those who owned slaves were immediately bad because they were buying and controlling other people as property. It is equally assumed that all slave holders mistreated their slaves. What we are missing is the fact that slavery was a way of life back then. Slaves were necessary to do manual labor that machines had not yet been created for.  They were paid in room and board and, in places like the Harpers house, education. Where it would have been a cause for beating to read elsewhere, Harper slaves were taught to read. Instead of the shanties on other plantations, Harper slaves lived in their own modest cabins.

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Most importantly, Harper slaves felt loved and valued by their masters. In letters to the Harper family after the war, slaves praised the Harpers for their kind treatment and shared fond memories of their time there. Though our modern minds cannot fathom any humanity in owning slaves, there are many things about the past that we cannot comprehend without living it.
Today, tourists can visit the Harper House free of charge year-round. There are also many activities to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Bentonville every year on the anniversary of the battle. The most exciting part of these activities is the reenactments of life and cannon fire during that time. It is an opportunity to relive history that you don’t want to miss.

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For more information about the historical site and how you can go visit it, check out their website at:
http://www.nchistoricsites.org/bentonvi/

Historical Downtown New Bern, NC

There is a place that I like to go to at the end of Highway 70 where time is frozen. It is a town once build by the Swiss, named for their beloved homeland, bearing its shield, and revealing its artistry in rooftops.

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An old church surrounded by dogwood blossoms and Spanish moss remembers the times George Washington visited its doors.

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Gravestones in its yard tell stories of valiant men, women, and children who died in a period of illness that swept the town.

Across from this, an old soda shop remembers when Pepsi Cola got invented there, and it still makes you floats with local ice cream and Pepsi at its bar.

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Commercialization creeps in–that’s to be expected. There are Pepsi company products at the soda shop, tours of the old church, and dozens of shops along the streets. But none of this bothers me. I am just excited to see downtown New Bern, NC alive and thriving.

Take a drive a little further down these downtown streets, and you’ll reach the inlet. Anxiously moving cars rush across criss-crossing bridges over water.

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Sailboats are often docked at fancy hotels along the water. A simple open park gives a patch of grass for paused reflection. A walkway around the grass leads to odd concrete steps into the water.

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Walk in and get your toes wet. Feel the water lap around your ankles. Feed bread crumbs to the gulls circling around you. But don’t jump in for a swim. Though the waterway is wide open for wading and one could easily jump into the deeper water from there, you can’t trust the current–or anything living in the water–from there.

It isn’t hard to love the culture of downtown New Bern. Whether for water, history, or shopping, there’s something in this little spot for everyone. Enjoy!