A Courthouse Wedding

By Katherine Makepeace – 2014

The Murphy Courthouse, an unexpected venue for romance – Murphy, NC
The Murphy Courthouse, an unexpected venue for romance – Murphy, NC


Love was the last thing I expected to witness as I walked through the cold, vacuous marble halls of the courthouse, expecting instead to interview the magistrate about local crime in Murphy.

A young couple approached us, “Hey girls, would you be witnesses for our wedding?” Shrill with excitement, we followed them to the magistrate’s office where he performed the marriage; his desk was the altar, littered with rose petal paperwork. Leaning against the wall, I accidentally bumped the light switch and the room went dark for just a moment.

We were over-enthusiastic about the wedding. We asked how they met, expecting a romantic or quirky story. Their response: “we’ve known each other a while and been friends.” The couple is from West Virginia and the bride (like many Murphy visitors) has Cherokee family roots in the area. Also, unlike in West Virginia, North Carolina does not require a waiting period for a marriage to process.

As they were on their way out, we were shown a glimmer of their quiet and reserved relationship: matching tattoos, with each other’s names wrapped around their ring fingers.

The Cherokee Matriarch: Rediscovering Roots

By Katherine Makepeace – 2014

Cherokee County Historical Museum with 3 generations tracing their lineage – Murphy, NC
Cherokee County Historical Museum with 3 generations tracing their lineage – Murphy, NC


Fate is a funny thing. We never know when a great coincidence will occur, nor can we foretell the extent to which an event will alter the course of history – in ways that are both tremendous and innocuous.

One of the great ironies of our trip began in Murphy, the night of our arrival at the Days Inn. After our long drive, I began to wonder how our interactions with locals would shape our travels. Now that we’re here, how will our itinerary work out? Will we have any significant leads? Will we have enough time in each town to hunt down some good stories? With a million questions running through my mind about how we should pursue our research, we entered the hotel lobby and approached the woman running the front desk for check-in.

Like most people we met in Murphy, she asked what the heck we were visiting for. She was suddenly excited when we described our research to her, and told us she had a great lead for us. An elderly woman and her family had just arrived at the same hotel, she said. The woman, from Oregon, has Cherokee roots in the area, and is doing some research of her own about her family’s origins. Unaware of the deep significance that Cherokee history held in this particular town, I was ecstatic about this lead because I grew up next to the other prominent Cherokee reservation near Maggie Valley, NC. Some of my old friends live on the reservation, and many more have at least some amount of Cherokee blood in their veins. I would argue, however, that 1/16 Cherokee blood does not a Cherokee make. Rather, the cultural significance of Cherokee traditions in one’s life is a more appropriate measure. This elderly Cherokee woman, I thought, was bound to have experienced Cherokee culture first-hand in her childhood. We left one of our cell phone numbers at the front desk for the woman, and I hoped that she would call.

 The next day, we loaded ourselves in my car for a trip to the Murphy courthouse and the Cherokee County Historical Museum. After we made an appointment with the magistrate, we went next door to the museum whereupon a family informed us that it had just closed. We were dismayed, but we stood there and talked with this amicable family for a few minutes before the great irony surfaced. “Are you that research group?” they asked. Stunned, I thought, wow. Our reputation precedes us! How do they know? It turned out that this family of four – a grandmother, a mother, a son and a daughter – were the ones researching the matriarch’s Cherokee family origins. And we had simply bumped into them on the street, like fate.

Stunned at the coincidence, we gathered and spoke for a while in front of this large, colorful bear statue. It was painted in the colors and imagery of the 7 Cherokee clans: the Bird, Wolf, Deer, Wild Cat, Wind, Paint, and Wild Potato clans. Cherokee clanship was passed down in a matrilineal fashion, and people always married outside of their clan since their fellow clan members were perceived as their family. The family matriarch stood in front of me, a gentle, quiet, and supremely kind individual, and I wondered about how her mother – keeper of her clan’s language and traditions – influenced her upbringing. She told me that she remembers her mother singing Cherokee songs to her in their traditional language, and she recalled being told a particular story about a rabbit that she loved as a child. Her ancestors, held captive by the American government in Murphy’s Fort Butler for the Trail of Tears, had survived the trek west and passed their traditions down to her.

And now, although she does not recall much of the language anymore, she is able to share this knowledge with her own descendants. Two generations of her own family had the opportunity to bear witness to their own matriarch’s journey of identity and self-discovery, so that the Cherokee legacy will never be forgotten. The immediate fate of those subjected to the Trail of Tears was atrocious, ripped from the lands that they loved, cherished, and protected by imperial forces. But – fate is a funny thing. Without fate, we never would have stumbled across this warm and fascinating family, or bore witness to the continuation of Cherokee history and culture – an act that gives me great hope for the future. Without fate, we never would have been a part of her journey, and she never would have been a part of ours.

Murphy through the Eyes of Cliff Owl

By Emilia Azar – 2014


“You’re going to change the world,” Alexa announced to me on our car ride to the mountainous terrain of North Carolina. Who knew the same concept would come up the next day with a complete stranger? And from a man named Cliff Owl, no less.

Cliff Owl is the kind of name you imagine for a fictional character in an old western movie. The good guy, the solid man, and the strong presence that keeps you feeling both safe and intrigued. Cliff Owl is not a fictional character – he is a real-life magistrate. He resides in Murphy and works both in and out of the courthouse, which is situated in the heart of downtown. My heavy interest in law and courthouses initially drew me to his place of work, and I had walked inside without a set of questions or even an idea of whom I would like to talk to. The young security guard who checked our purses upon entrance to the building was friendly, and he advised us to talk to the magistrate. “He’s been here a long time,” he said. “He can help with anything you want to know about Murphy.”

Cliff proved to be much more than a source of information about the crime in his town. Upon meeting him, I was struck by his unique, mountain-man/military veteran/police officer kind of look. He initially observed all of us kindly over his black rimmed glasses, but with a reserved look. His salt-and-pepper streaked hair and mustache was combed to perfection. I was almost embarrassed to be walking in with a messy French braid. He was also tan – very, very tan. His skin tone could be attributed to two things: the tendency to be out in the mountain sun, and the Cherokee heritage that coursed through his blood. We soon found out this was a common occurrence in the townspeople, as Native American heritage was strongly evident in both the Murphians and the land. “Do you live on Native American land?” Rachel asked Cliff. He looked at her with a small smile. “We all do.”

Many current residents have Cherokee blood within them. The Cherokee Museum was located right next door to the courthouse, but the day we met Cliff it was closed. It almost felt like this was meant to be – avoiding this touristy building instead allowed us to have a more authentic Murphian experience. We were able to chat with people like Cliff who could share both facts and opinions about the Cherokee influence in the area.

As interesting as the Cherokee information was, I found myself wanting to know more about Cliff, the man. He had a sad look about him and for some reason I just had to understand why. “How did you end up as a magistrate here?” I inquired. Cliff sat back in his seat and thought about his answer. This is how he responded to each question. He would first give the question some time to sink in, then ponder it in his head, and lastly articulate his response with both extreme intellect and careful word choice. This was a man who thought first, and acted later. Always. “I was born in Swain County on a Cherokee reservation,” he began. “I left the area for college, and while in school was drafted into the military.” This was during the time of the Vietnam War. Cliff spent about four years in Vietnam, and then was reassigned with other fellow marines to Hong Kong. After that, he returned to the United States, began working in the police department, and moved back to the town where his family had originated from – Murphy.

Now as a magistrate, he has seen several sides of the town. Most of his family is still here – almost all ten brothers and sisters. He raised three children with his wife in the area, and his mother is still close by. “My father just died very recently at the age of 94,” he said quietly. My heart broke. Here was a part of the reason I saw a grief-burdened man sitting across the desk from me. Yet, this man was both reserved and careful with his words. He had just shared with us a very personal bit of information, and I could not help but feel touched by his trust in four college students, four strangers essentially. He moved on from the subject of his father to his children. “My son graduated from Stanford and is now working on his doctorate. My youngest daughter just got in there.” The pride in his voice was just as powerful as the grief that had been evident only moments before. Looks like Cliff had picked a great town to raise his family in– homicides were not a top worry in the area. The most prominent crime is self-inflicted — prescription drug abuse. Later that night at a bar and restaurant, I would see firsthand what prescription drug abuse had done to a beautiful, 20-something woman I met. Despite the prominence of drug abuse in the town, Cliff seemed to be generally positive about Murphians and the future of their community.

As we were getting ready to thank him for his time, he turned the questioning on us.

“What year in college are you all?”

“We’re seniors.”

Cliff gave us his small, careful smile again. “You’re going to try to change the world, aren’t you? It’s not going to happen.”

Please do not misinterpret this statement. Cliff was not doubting our intelligence or drive. He was making an observation about the state of our world in the year 2014 – essentially saying it is a big, complicated mess. He advised us to not use our precious time on Earth attempting to force huge changes on those around us, because most of what we want to do will be out of our control. I will never forget his words, and they will continue to haunt me. And this is because, as Alexa noted, I am going to attempt to do just what he advised me not to.




Andrew Chastain: A Murphian Gem

By Emilia Azar – 2014

“All we want are cheeseburgers.” This statement was echoed by Katie, Rachel, Alexa, and I when deciding on our dinner location for the second day of our weekend mountain trip. Who knew that the best part of that night would not in fact be the meat, but rather the post-meal entertainment? Murphy’s own local up-and-coming country singer and guitarist Andrew Chastain played on a small stage for a group of his friends and customers like us eating at Chevelles Motor Sport Themed Restaurant and Bar. Andrew caught our attention right away with his sweet, southern twang and soulful original lyrics. Some of his best songs include “Catch Me If You Can,” “Sweet Summer Rain,” and the title track of his album “Carolina Hills”.



Richard Parr, Hot Air Balloon Pilot

By Katie Stewart – 2014

How many people can call themselves a hot air balloon pilot? Not many. Richard Parr of Pittsboro, North Carolina has been flying planes, balloons, and gliders for 55 years, and he doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. We found Richard and his friend John sitting in camp chairs next to their truck at the Carolina BalloonFest in Statesville. The annual October festival began in 1974 and each year it draws thousands of spectators to watch the launch of dozens of balloons. After 41 consecutive years, the festival holds the record for being the second longest held hot air balloon event in the United States. The festival has events for three days, including a spectacular Saturday night balloon glow. Each morning pilots fly their balloons into the festival, and in the evening they launch again to fly out of the festival. Gina and I made it to the final launch on Sunday to watch balloons flyout of the festival.

Richard Parr Hot Air Balloon

Although we started to feel a bit antsy waiting in the grass for the balloons to appear, it was well worth it to stick around and watch such a magical show. Plus, meeting Richard meant we had an insider’s look at what goes into flying a hot air balloon. When we asked why Richard flies hot air balloons, he gave a simple answer: it’s fun. He gave us some advice that everyone should hear: do what you like. He stressed how important it is to find something we enjoy because we will have fun doing it and it will make us happy. These are wise words worth remembering from a man who has clearly found his passion. He likes to be in the sky, flying towards the clouds, and he enjoys the challenge of navigating in changing air conditions, which can often prove very difficult. Richard explained that balloons are only flown in the morning and evening because wind conditions are more predictable during those times of the day. Pilots are given wind conditions for the day and steer according to the information available to them. Richard always has a print-out of the day’s wind conditions, but sometimes he uses his iPad to see the exact wind conditions when he is in the sky. Richard has two balloons, one for competition and one for passengers, and he flies them in Michigan, Indiana, Texas, and North Carolina. He participates in competitions in which balloon pilots are given a map marked with specific targets. The goal of one of the competitions is to fly in from at least one mile away and drop a small marker on the target. In another competition, pilots are given an area on a map to drop their marker and they must calculate the furthest point from the center. Once they find this point, they must drop their marker so that it is on the edge of the given area, but not outside of it. It sounds complicated, but Richard loves the challenge.

Hot Air Balloon Carolina Balloon Fest

The average hot air balloon is eight stories tall and typically flies at a maximum altitude of 2,000 feet, but Richard has braved heights of 11,000 feet in his balloons. Imagine standing in a hilly field on a beautiful sunny day, surrounded by giant balloons being inflated and taking off one by one. That’s exactly what we got to do at the BalloonFest. Wicker baskets were scattered in the grass, standing as tall as my shoulders, and pressurized fire was being blown into multi-colored balloons. The balloons came in all different colors, and some were even shaped like animals. There was a giant pink flying pig, an owl, and a cat. In the field, the balloons were at all different stages of the preparation process. Some were just being unfolded and laid on the ground; others were nearly ready to take off with pilots and passengers. Every time we turned around, there was another balloon flying away that was laying flat on the ground like a tarp or just half inflated when we last saw it.


Carolina Balloon Fest Statesville North CarolinaAlthough we spoke to Richard well before the hot air balloons took flight, we saw him again when all the pilots and their crews were preparing their balloons for the final launch of the weekend. His words about finding something fun that we love to do came to mind when I saw him standing in his wicker basket talking to his crewmembers as his balloon inflated. He looked absolutely ecstatic to be at the Carolina Balloon Fest with his friends, doing what he loves.

Richard was a true example of someone who follows his passions and focuses on doing what he enjoys. Seeing him so happy before the last launch of the weekend left a lasting impression on me that I hope I will always remember, along with his advice to do what I enjoy.

Need a lift? Visit Richard Parr’s ballooning company, Mystic Venture, to book a ride.

Blue Skies and Apple Butter

By Katie Stewart – 2014

As we merged onto Highway 64 to head to Taylorsville, one of the first things I noticed was how perfect the weather was. The best kind of day for a drive: Carolina blue skies without any clouds to block the warm sun. It was late October, but the dash read 74 degrees as we drove toward the orange and yellow-spotted mountains, the smell of campfire seeping through the car’s vents.

Our first stop was Deal Orchard’s, off of North Carolina Highway 16, where my first priority was to find some apple butter from the market. Gina bought a jar of apple butter in Bat Cave, but it had added sugar in it, something neither of us are a fan of. I made sure to grab a jar of freshly made apple butter with a “no sugar added” label on the lid when we arrived at the orchard. During our drive to Taylorsville along the straight, empty road, I bored Gina with a story about a realtor in my hometown who occasionally brings goodies to every house in the neighborhood. Every fall, I look forward to my favorite treat from him: apple butter. But this year he came by with pumpkin butter instead. To most, an equally good treat, but to me, a slight disappointment  Oddly enough, when I told my mom that I bought apple butter she happily told me that our friendly realtor had come by the same day that we were in Taylorsville with a fresh jar of apple butter. He must have been feeling extra generous this fall, because he doesn’t usually come by twice in one month.

As we got closer to our destination, we reveled in the beautiful fall-colored mountains that had seemingly grown larger as we drove, and I was in still disbelief of the perfect weather we had. We lost track of how many times I said how great of a day it was, because I simply could no  get over the gorgeous clear skies, the higher than average temperature, and the behemoth mountains looming over us, just out of reach.

We pulled into the parking lot of a modest white rectangular building, and when I got out of the car, I likely mentioned the perfect weather again. Sorry Gina. When we walked in, the market was crowded with customers looking for fresh apples of all varieties: Gala, Golden Delicious, Fuji. You name it, they probably had it. Each type of apple was labeled with its taste – sweet, tart, mild tart, extra sweet – and marked with its best use. Many of the apples are great for both eating and cooking, but some are better for just one or the other. For example, Red Delicious apples are “excellent for eating” and the dark, almost plum-colored Arkansas Black apples are best for cooking. The market also sold jams, preserves, butters, mixes for bread and muffins, cookbooks, and the largest sweet potatoes I have ever seen.

After standing in line for a few minutes with the long awaited jar of apple butter, we asked the woman behind the counter what she could tell us about the orchard. Deal Orchards was started by her grandfather, Brack Deal, and has been passed down through the family for three generations.With the help of a mule, Brack and his wife, Belle, cleared 15 acres of land in the Brushy Mountains to make way for their apple trees. Since then, the orchard has been expanded and replanted, but one of Brack Deal’s original trees still stands on the sloped land of Deal Orchards.

I have a personal appreciation for family-owned businesses, and I especially like learning how they were started. So many family businesses have stories of modest beginnings that reflect hard work, determination, and persistence. I like this story in particular because it reveals the possibility of continuing and improving family businesses through many generations. Today, Brack’s son Lindsay, and his son Alan run the orchard. They grow, harvest, and package the fruit grown on Brack’s land, while Lindsay’s wife and daughters manage the market nestled between mountains and the sprawling orchard.

As we left Deal Orchards, apple butter in hand, we looked across the street and saw rows and rows of apple trees lining the mountainside. I again spoke of how unbelievable the weather was. It was a beautiful day for enjoying this rural part of North Carolina that often goes unnoticed. Driving off with apple butter in the backseat, we smelled another trace of campfire and I watched as the mountains behind us slowly became smaller in the rearview mirror.



A Scoop from the Ice Cream Man

By Katie Stewart – 2014

In downtown Mocksville, Gina and I found a brightly painted ice cream shop called Scoops. Inside, one man stood at the counter, a football game played on the TV, and a couple of teenagers played air hockey in the arcade in the back. Monte, or the “Ice Cream Man” as one younger customer called him, immediately greeted us and offered samples of his many ice cream flavors. Gina went with two flavors, coconut and double vanilla, and I decided on strawberry. While we ate, Monte showed us his toy moose that dances and sings “Moves Like Jagger.” Monte is a toy collector, and he has some of his collection on display on a shelf above the picnic-style tables in his shop. He seemed to know everyone that came into the shop, except us of course, which I guess is why he referred to me as “Miss Strawberry” as we were leaving. The Ice Cream Man promised that if we return he will remember us, and we hope to take him up on that bet.

Scoops Ice Cream Shop

Scoops Ice Cream Shop



Mayor on a Mission: Mayor Bradley Davis of Jamesville

By Eliza Williams – 2014


“I never actually wanted to be mayor,” he states as we sit inside Jamesville’s Town Hall. Taylor and I are across the table from Mayor Bradley Davis, asking him questions about his role with the town and how it has developed over the years. Shockingly enough, he explains that he was coerced into the job by a group of townspeople who witnessed his devotion to the town during his early morning walks, when he would gather pieces of trash lying on the ground. Perhaps, he admits, it was the work of one elderly woman who began calling around the Water Tower Town (yes, I am referring to Scotty McCreery’s country anthem) in order to get people to vote for him – despite his name not even appearing on the ballot.


Upon getting off the “new” Highway 64 and entering Jamesville’s City Limits, Taylor and I followed our dependable GPS’s directions (honestly, what would we do without it?) and were surprised to find ourselves parked in front of a one-story brick building with the words “JAMESVILLE TOWN HALL” printed in white block letters on the front window. About a week or so prior to our NC road trip, I found Mayor Davis’ number on the town’s website and gave him a ring to see if he would be open to us interviewing him when we came to Jamesville. Given the hospitable southern culture in this state, the mayor graciously offered to meet us at the town hall. So, here we were. Unsure of what to expect, Taylor opened the door as I followed behind, notebook in hand and ready to write. A friendly voice greeted us before we were even through the front door and instructed us to “come on in!” We shook hands with the mayor, much younger than what I was expecting, and took a seat opposite him at the main desk.

We sat casually for a half hour or so, during which time we asked questions regarding the history and Highway 64’s impact on this small town along the Roanoke River. Similar to what we had heard from other interviewee’s in towns along the Roanoke, many of the benefits that Jamesville has seen came from being located right on the river. Thus, shipping and transportation to other towns were made exponentially easier. Another staple event for years was the Herring Festival, a fishing tournament and festival brought about by the abundance of herring in the river. Unfortunately the festival does not happen on the same scale anymore due to the overfishing of the species. After giving us a tour of the town hall building and giving us some more information on his duties, Mayor Davis wandered into a back room and, shortly thereafter, presented us with a manila envelope on which he had scribbled, “Herring Festival, 1949.” It wasn’t until getting in the car and driving away from this charming, riverside town that I had the opportunity to discover the time capsule of information that was contained inside.

Upon completion of the tour and receiving this generous gift, Mayor Davis pointed to his SUV parked out front next to Taylor’s Mazda and joyfully exclaimed, “Why don’t you hop in my truck and I’ll give y’all a tour of the town?” I’m pretty sure that he could read the excitement on our faces! For two students travelling to several places that we had never been to (or really heard anything about), this was the best gift we could have possibly received. We climbed up into his truck, backed out of the spot in front of town hall and rolled down Water Street, what used to be the main street in Jamesville prior to the fishing industry dying out.


Among the notable sites Mayor Davis pointed out to us were the Cypress Grille and River’s Edge restaurants, Weyerhauser & Domtar Paper Mill, Jamesville Middle School, and the newly implemented “NERSBA” school focused on educating students in the fields of biotechnology and agroscience. Two locations that truly captivated my mind were the oldest standing Civil War house, thought not to have been burned down by Union soldiers when they captured the town because the inhabitants at the time were secretly supporters of the Union, and the old African American-only church, which has since been converted and is still in use today. Mayor Davis’ tour provided Taylor and I with much more information about Jamesville and its history than we would have been able to gather independently and for that, we are forever grateful.

We ended our time in Jamesville with a stop down to the docks by the river. Keeping up with the times, Mayor Davis asked to take a picture of Taylor and I for the town’s Facebook page – naturally, we eagerly agreed. Being the mayor of a town with a small population has many perks – one of which being the ability to know your residents on a personal level. The mayor demonstrated this throughout the afternoon by stopping and rolling down his window to greet a passerby or with a jovial wave to someone in a passing car. Not much to our surprise, he was quick to converse with two little boys fishing off the docks that afternoon. Kindly enough, he introduced us to the boys, Noah and Colby. Their thick southern accents rolled off their tongue with each word smoother than butter. What an afterschool activity, I couldn’t help but think to myself. A few feet away from the two boys was an older man plopped comfortably in a foldable chair with a fishing pole between his palms and a crate placed next to him. He energetically waved us over. We approached him and introduced ourselves, following which he gave us an overarching life lesson about doing good work and praising God for what we are given in this life. He asked us if we accepted Jesus; having come from a Catholic family and attending a Catholic middle school, and Taylor being a Young Life leader, religion is one thing that is important to both of us. Uncertain of how we should approach this conversation, we said yes, with some hesitation. “Grace is what it’s all about,” I recall his deep and soothing voice proclaiming. After giving us some advice on how we can worship God and give thanks for all that we have been blessed with, he followed up a second time with the question, “have you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior?” To which we responded with a fervent, “YES!” His wicked laugh bellowed and a smile of joy spread across his wrinkled face. Taylor and I shared a glimpse and I couldn’t resist thinking that this was something we could only find in the South. Somehow, we had been blessed.

The mayor brought us back to town hall, where we exchanged contact information and planned to keep in touch in the future. Taylor hopped in the car, turned up the Country station, and merged back onto Highway 64 en route to discover our next town. As we pulled out of town, I began to open the manila envelope we had received as a gift, in which I was astounded to find black and white pictures from the 1949 Herring Festival with a detailed description and information on every person pictured. You know, I have seen first-hand how something so small can impact me in such a great way through several instances in my life; and this is absolutely one of them. And mayor, if you’re reading this, I hope you were serious about us coming back to Jamesville in the spring and riding down the Roanoke on your boat because that is definitely number one on my list of things to do before graduation.




Meeting an Old Friend in Robersonville

By Kyle Lynch – 2014

Carol’s Home Cooking sat right on the edge of the town of Robersonville, if you want to call it a town. With a total area of only 1.2 square miles, you are out of Robersonville as quickly as you went through it.

Carol’s was the local eating hole, known for their classic home cooking and friendly service. As I ordered my meal of fried chicken (my waitress said it was the best in North Carolina), I started chatting with my neighbor at the table next to me.

James was an older man, most likely in his early 70’s, who was born and raised in Robersonville. He said most people in town his age had been in Robersonville their whole lives, and it was apparent when every person who came into Carol’s seemed to be a relative or best friend of somebody already enjoying their southern comfort food.

Growing up on a farm on the outskirts of Robersonville, James lived the “regular life” of a boy in a small town: up early to help on the farm, off to school, back to the farm. In his free time, he played baseball on a local field that no longer existed, but James would tell you it was “right down the road there.”

It seemed like everything in Robersonville was “right down the road there,” according to James. He told me about Ann’s House of Nuts, which was of course, right down the road. The factory opened in 2002, a date he didn’t think twice about. Ann’s is an international company, and their website claims to be the number-one provider of trail mixes in the United States. Their factory in Robersonville holds the largest oil nut roaster. This fact allowed James to tell his “Robersonville has the biggest nuts in North Carolina” joke, one he had clearly told hundreds of times yet always seems to make him chuckle. There’s nothing like an older man with a child’s humor.

While Ann’s was the only real big business around Robersonville, it had only been around for less than fifteen years, a smaller part of James’ life in town.

For years before Ann’s came to town, there were local businesses that were passed down from generation to generation, something James said has stopped in recent times. He talked about the old drug store and local supply shop that no longer existed but were once run by men who James described as if they were his best friends. Everyone James knew was a “good man” or a “friend of mine.”

I couldn’t tell if that was the norm for a small town like Robersonville or if James was just truly the most popular guy around.

As I finished up my meal (the chicken lived up to the hype) I felt like I had just gotten the old “Back in my day” speech from my grandfather. And that was the type of guy James was, the town grandfather that everyone loved to listen to.

A Family Affair: Pork Chop’s Story

By Kelley Dodge – 2014

Driving into Siler City on a Sunday morning was like entering a ghost town. With most people at church, there were no cars on the street and no people to be seen. After driving two loops around the downtown area, we finally spotting some activity: a flashing neon “open” sign in the front window of a little restaurant named Sam’s Café. Upon entering the restaurant, the six employees and five guests stopped to stare. We are greeted with a “Good morning, y’all” in one of the thickest Southern drawls I have ever encountered. In a town where everyone knows each other by name, we were clearly out of place.

Sitting at the bar in a diner-style restaurant, we were treated to the story of Chris Dixon, owner of Sam’s Café. Chris, more affectionately known as Pork Chop to the locals, was a truck driver for Hart’s Furniture for many years. Opening a grill, however, was something he always hoped to do. About a year ago a little restaurant called Sidewalk Café went out of business in downtown Siler City, and Chris saw his opportunity. Buying the space without hesitation, Chris opened Sam’s Café just three months ago. Not only is it conveniently located in the heart of downtown Siler City, but the suite occupied by Sam’s Café also has a rich history of restaurants dating back to the 1950s. Originally built as a hot dog and beer joint, the café still sports the original wooden bar and blue and white floor tiles.CHRISDIXON

As we chatted with Chris he casually addressed one of his waitresses: “Stuffy, will you come take their order?” This friendly, familiar vibe could also be seen by the fact that one of the waitresses was casually stealing fries off one of the guest’s plates and gossiping about town drama: “She conned me out of my sparkly comforter!” Additionally, the family of three sitting at the booth behind us occasionally piped up, asking “Pork Chop” to grab them some more ketchup or another serving of hash browns. Chris told us that in Siler City, nothing is a secret. Because the same families have lived in town for hundreds of years, everyone knows each other by name and knows each other’s business.

Emphasizing his own family values, Chris proudly told us that the café is named after his stepdaughter, Sam, who acts as the manager and head waitress. Additionally, Chris leased the suite right next door to Sam’s Café for his girlfriend’s photography studio, so family would never be more than a few steps away. After learning that we were students at Elon University, Chris was excited to tell us that his son, a metal worker, was currently working on one of the new construction projects at Elon.

When asked about the key to success, Chris explained that you have to care for your customers like you care for your family. One example of this came up as we ordered water. Chris explained to us, “I don’t charge for water. I hate when places charge for water. So what if I lose a couple cents on the cup. I just want to make my customers happy. Gotta keep them keep coming back.”

Sporting locally made overalls, a green Sam’s Café t-shirt, a stud in his left ear, Chris is the epitome of a small town man. His humor was evident the minute we walked in the door and read his restaurant’s motto, proudly displayed on a sign on the shiny white walls: “It’s my kitchen and I’ll fry if I want to” (a motto he certainly lived up to, I might add). Another interesting piece of décor was a pot of fake flowers on the windowsill with a mechanical monarch butterfly fluttering in circles around it. Adding to the café’s eccentric atmosphere was a sudden burst of heavy metal, rock music coming from Chris’ pocket, which only stopped after he gave a hearty chuckle and answered his phone.

After checking out at the front register, we wished Chris luck with the future of the restaurant and hit the road. Next time you’re driving down Raleigh Street in Siler City, be sure to make a pit stop at this small-town diner.