Canter Closer Tiny Dancer

By Taylor Logeman – 2014

It was a magical place.

I’d never seen anything like it. An impossibly enormous equestrian facility, with the rich smells of manure and fresh leather wafting throughout the freshly cut lawns. Dozens of indoor arenas covered a vastness that stretched for several acres. Riders were clad in expensive showing habits – smart top hats, gold-buttoned jackets, tailored breeches, and shined black leather boots. And their steeds, no doubt of the finest breeding and bloodlines, brushed to perfection, their riders having spritzed Showsheen to glisten their manes and tails, sported the best quality dressage equipment. Vendors from near and far had campers set up selling merchandise from horse health products, to brand new tack, to clothing of all styles for riders.

Eliza and I hadn’t even planned to make the visit to the Bob Martin Agriculture Center. The first time we’d heard about it had been a mere half hour earlier, at the end of our “officially unofficial” tour of little Jamesville by the mayor himself. Eliza and I had asked the mayor what was worth checking out in Williamston, a neighboring town of Jamesville, and without missing a beat, he mentioned the active equestrian industry. In fact, he added, there was a dressage competition going on right then, and that we should definitely head over to watch it.

It didn’t take long to find. We first passed the town’s community college, which also boasted a quality equestrian program and riding facilities. An employee gave us simple directions that even we couldn’t butcher, as it was located just down the road. It certainly wasn’t difficult to spot: an enormous sign assured all visitors that they had indeed come to the right place. A long, fenced driveway flanked with freshly mowed stretches of lawn beckoned them down the path. The largest arena greeted newcomers at the entrance, and many others quickly came into view once the road veered right. Then the animals came into focus – greys, chestnuts, bays, and roans – then their riders. Considerable parking space, yet a minimum number of vacancies, implied that this was clearly a well-attended event.

Since I was a little girl, when I first began riding, scenes such as this one were my dream. I’d ridden competitively until high school, and continued forward in college. Though my preference was (and still is) the adrenaline-based style of cross-country competition, any experienced rider, no matter what their preference, holds high regard and appreciation for the discipline of dressage. Originally a French form of riding, like ballet, it involves a great deal of proper training and gracefulness, during which the horse beautifully yields to the rider’s every aid. Even several of the terms of movement are French: piaffe, renvers, pirouette. In fact, it is a practiced often referred to as “Horse Ballet.”

Needless to say, the entire experience was breathtaking. To start, it was a beautiful day, the weather without flaw. The horses were so incredibly well trained, acquiescent to seemingly every request of their rider. An air of professionalism and competitiveness settled firmly in the atmosphere, evoking excitement in even the greenest of spectators. If this was your discipline of choice, this was the place to be.

The further we walked, and the longer we stayed, the more that truth was confirmed. For instance, I spoke briefly with a woman named Lisa, who was volunteering at the snack bar in the main dressage arena, and like everyone else we’d encountered, spoke with a thick Southern drawl. And from our brief conversation I was given a glimpse into the value of this industry in this tiny North Carolina town…

This facility is much more sought out than I’d assumed. Lisa shared that the Bob Martin Center hosts competitions of all sorts throughout the year – not simply dressage. Western style (for the less knowledgeable, picture cowboys herding cattle), English style, barrel racing, dressage, show jumping – anything one could imagine that was horse-related, they had it.

Furthermore, the center attracted a major pull with out-of-towners – even out-of-staters. Riders seeking higher competition from as far as California, even Canada, traveled to this little town for this big horsey hot spot. I pressed further, asking Lisa if this meant that the town’s economic activity heightened considerably, to which she answered emphatically and affirmatively. In other words, this center alone, which surely was a tremendous investment on the town’s part, was more than paying for itself. Because of its presence and impact, the town enjoyed a great deal more liveliness – not to mention money – from foreign visitors. What was previously a glimpse of life along the great Highway 64 was now a point of great interest for a very specific but passionate niche.


Sunny Side Oyster Bar

By Taylor Logeman and Eliza Williams – 2014

Peering out the car window, camera poised against my face, I did my best to keep up with our unofficial tour guide’s rapidfire flow of synopses of each town’s point of historical interest.  It seemed that no sooner would he conclude one tidbit of the town’s railroad background, when he change gears and move straight into the role the Roanoke River played in the town’s history. Brent Kanipe, the leading PR figure for the little town of Williamston, had graciously offered to drive us around this quaint riverside North Carolina community.  He never ran out of fun facts and points of interest to share with us.  From the passenger seat of his jeep, Eliza continued to ask him questions, as I snapped photos and furiously scribbled notes in the backseat.

But as the afternoon reached its end, Brent announced, “Oh, and you simply cannot leave Williamston without checking out Sunny Side Oyster Bar.”  So there we went.  A small wooden – for lack of a better word – shack, which sat placidly off the side of a vacant road, appeared in sight minutes later.  Strains of classic rock instantly greeted our ears, and a colorful collection of neon beer signs stretched across the back wall.  To our left stood a wrap-around bar, with tables, chairs, and booths on our right.  Though the next room housed several pinball machines and other barfly classics, this front room had only a game of “hook and ring,” which would later keep several young men busy as activity would pick up that night.

Brent introduced us to the owner.  We began asking her questions, to which she had several long-winded responses.  They’d bought the bar years ago, and were most famous – obviously – for their oysters.  Patrons from hours away made the trek to little Williamston to enjoy this seafood delicacy.  Although in recent seasons had forced them to raise the price of their oyster dishes, business nevertheless remained consistent, and prices had begun dropping once again.

Then she offered to show us around in the back.  An entire other room lay behind the liquor bar, which held a centered horseshoe-shaped oyster bar that pointed toward the kitchen.  Walking around, I noticed buckets placed periodically around the bar – shucking buckets.  Then she opened a door on the right, and beckoned us outside.  A pair of small brick rooms, attached to the building only by the roof, housed all the oysters (buckets by the dozen!), a rinsing sink, and the steamer, an archaic, copper-colored mammoth that looked like a misplaced anachronism from the 1930s.  Given the owner’s tone, it was a miracle that it still even functioned.  We all laughed at its expense.

We vowed to return for dinner that night, and we did a few hours later, after compiling our findings from the day’s discoveries.  When we’d first visited, a mere dozen or so people had been in the building, probably ten of who were employees.  Now, the parking lot was packed, as were the entrance, the bar, and the tables – even the pinball and ring toss games.  This was definitely the town’s culinary pride and joy, and that Friday night was teeming with lively activity.

We were told the wait would be around forty-five minutes to an hour, and determined to join the experience – we plopped down to settle until they called our name.  We didn’t mind; we had grabbed our laptops to synthesize all of our photographs, not to mention attempt to make sense of all our scrawled notes from the past few days.  It didn’t take long for one of the older locals, a friendly gentleman named Francis, to come wander over to ask us where we were from (because we had clearly come from elsewhere).  We enjoyed a jovial conversation, sharing with him the reason for our visit and all that we’d learned throughout it.  Francis was fascinated, and he was happy to add his own two cents of knowledge regarding the town’s history.  I continued to pull together my notes, strewn among scrap pieces of paper and my notebook, rapidly typing away, adding occasional tidbits Francis would share.

After a while, one of the waitresses entered the room, and announced with finality that the restaurant’s capacity had lengthened the wait – to a minimum of two hours.  Most, crestfallen by this discouraging news, left.  Some, like us, stayed put.  At the very least, we reasoned, we’d be up that long working on our piece.  Might as well wait to be fed!

But only twenty more minutes passed until we were called to be seated at the shucking bar in the back.  This, as we’d witnessed earlier, this was where the magic happened.  The shuckers suddenly appeared from the kitchen, walking toward us to claim their own grouping of four customers each.  A well-seasoned looking gentleman, who appeared quite well accustomed to and not the least bit fazed by the madness of the scene, approached us to take our orders.  Floyd, we later learned, had been employed at this oyster bar for forty-one years.

Originally from the Eastern Shore of Maryland myself, and an avid lover of quality seafood, of course we would be ordering plenty of their oysters and shrimp.  In addition to our shrimp platter, which we generously doused in cocktail sauce, Floyd placed before us each a small porcelain dish, in which he would plunk a freshly shucked oyster, and here would continuously replenish our dishes throughout the meal.  He was quite deft – it was clear this certainly wasn’t his first rodeo.  The moment I finished an oyster and placed down the shell, before I knew it a new one had taken its place.

Our fellow patrons were wonderful.  I could go on and on sharing the conversations from that evening.  To my left was a couple that frequented the bar, despite that they were from Raleigh and drove three hours each way to get there.  To Eliza’s right sat a trio of duck hunters who visited the area for obvious reasons.  After they finished up and left, a younger couple replaced them, also regulars of Sunny Side.  Upon their suggestion, and continued prompting, Eliza tried what they referred to as a Red Rooster.  A Sunny Side specialty – a hot-sauce-drenched oyster atop a Saltine cracker, topped with a jalapeno pepper, and capped once again with their bright orange house habanero sauce – was a fiery favorite, at least among the select few who could handle it.  As if throwing back shots of liquor, the three of them tilted their heads back, downed their Red Roosters entirely, and waited as their mouths and throats were rendered afire.  The couple, heavily tattoo-clad, shared with us that they’d seen plenty of full-grown men dissolve into tears after braving the flaming hot dish.  (And, thankfully, I captured the entire ordeal on video.)
Thoroughly and happily stuffed, we thanked Floyd and returned to our hotel room.  I fell asleep that night, dreaming of dancing red roosters atop piles of bivalve mollusks.

Jenkins Antiques

By Noah Manneville, 2013

Along the route to Williamston, North Carolina by way of Highway 64, a house stands quietly alongside the narrow two-lane road. A large display reads, ‘Jenkins Antiques’ in cursive, and from one look at the building one is struck with an irrepressible idea that more than just history is housed inside.

The owners, Ronnie and Becky Jenkins, have owned the building for 28 years, having bought the house in 1985 and remodeled it from its previous usage as a bar and restaurant. Though they’ve owned it longer than I have been alive, the peg-built antebellum farmhouse has survived for many more generations than nearly any building in the area. It was erected in 1857, and survived through the American Civil War. Perhaps most astounding — and a testament to the love the Jenkins have for the house — the building remains in its original condition today, aside from minor renovations made to the interior by the Jenkins’ over the years. With over 10,000 square feet of space, the antique shop houses thousands of items spanning the past two centuries, and some items dated to even more ancient times. In a move of brilliance, the Jenkins decided to house goods on consignment; people bring in antiques they want sold, and for a fee, the Jenkins’ exhibit the goods.  When they sell, Jenkins Antiques receives a percentage of the profit. Often the antiques come in from professional appraisers, which ensure that the antique shop stays full of unique and interesting items that come from around the area.

Digging through the displays, I found an American army infantry helmet used during the Vietnam War, a Ku Klux Klan token from the early 20th century used to signify membership, a bottle of bourbon in the shape of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s head, and a string of Chinese coins and small tools that were remarkably dated to the 1st century CE. Unlike some antique stores, the objects on display were not tossed about in an unorganized fashion. Instead, they were arranged in precise aisles and designated areas that reminded me of a scene in an interior decorating magazine. Coca-Cola bottles and mason jars were set against a backdrop of lace with a soft light casting shadows on the objects, and for a moment it seemed I was in a coastal cottage, not wandering about an old antique shop. The neatness of the place was certainly a result of loving care, and, after nearly three decades, the expertise of the owners.

When I first opened the door to Jenkins Antiques, Becky Jenkins was measuring two boat oars that a man had brought in that morning. Ronnie, her husband, was reclining listening to headphones.   Becky’s initial assumption was that the oars, which were 16-feet long well-worn and splitting, had possibly been used on slave ships that brought Africans to North Carolina to work on cotton and tobacco fields. Ronnie removed his headphones to hear the hypothesis, and nodding his head in approval, returned to his music. Ronnie was listening to Dixie 105.7, a local country music station. He used to listen to classic rock from the ‘60s, but needed a change. Becky doesn’t like country, so instead of playing the music on the speakers in the store, Ronnie is forced to keep the music to himself).

It seems that without trying, the Jenkins’ have become antique experts by nature. After Ronnie retired, the Jenkins made the antique shop a full-time gig. Becky created a website for the store, which is constantly updated whenever new items are sold or brought in. Samurai swords are on display that their son, now married, contributed when he decided he no longer had the space or desire to keep them. There is furniture all around the house labeled and tagged with prices, ready to be sold at a moment’s notice. A box of objects brought in from a friend to be put on consignment sits in prominent display near the front door — the friend is an appraiser using some of his most sensational antiques to help pay for cancer treatment.

It would seem that after two centuries of history, the house itself has adopted a personality of its own. When I ascended the stairs to the empty second floor, the house seemed to greet me, creaking as if in memory of every step that came before mine. Perhaps the antiquity of the house itself has rubbed off on the Jenkins’, or perhaps the love for the job has brought the old house back to life. It seems that there is a symbiosis between Becky, Ronnie and the old farmhouse that can only come from prolonged contact and loving care. It is not something that can be understated, nor replicated. It is a true display of what a home can be, and what a homeowner can aspire to become.