Love is… a many splendored thing

by the staff

“At the touch of love,” said our post-Socratic friend Plato, “everyone becomes a poet.”

And this year, as our publication date falls squarely on Feb. 14, we scoured the city to find examples of the poetry of love as it flourishes in our corner of the world. We went looking for love on the streets, in businesses and schools and family neighborhoods. We found it to be alive and well in couplings of every stripe, from teenagers to senior citizens, newlyweds to long-term spouses and even in one single woman for whom the holiday is an affirmation of the notion of romantic love. And while we don’t equate our own humble scribblings with poetry, we do believe that there is beauty in the love that these 10 Greensboro couples (and one single) share. Inspiration, too.

So, to paraphrase our Shakespearian friend Orsino, if words and pictures be the food of love, then please read on.

Betsy Blake, single

Do you remember what Valentine’s Day was like in the third grade? When kids, free from the romantic pressures of adulthood, bonded over store-bought cards and slogans stamped in sugar hearts?

As we age, Valentine’s Day becomes freighted with stress. Couples struggle with expectations that ratchet higher every year, and the fondue and greeting card industries take dead aim at the psyches of single people.

So, how do we make it through the holiday? Betsy Blake, a longtime Valentine’s Day fan, throws a smashing party.

“I love it,” she says. “It’s my favorite holiday. It’s the only holiday that’s completely about love.”

Blake, who is single, says the tradition started about eight years ago when her friends were complaining about not having plans. She scheduled a party to give people an opportunity to get together and hang out.

“There’s a certain tenderness that comes out around Valentine’s Day,” she says.

Tenderness yes, but also a bit of licentiousness. Blake threw a party in California soon after she moved there and most of those who came were men. The night culminated with the partygoers in complete darkness feeding each other chocolate cake.

“That was pretty good,” she says.

Another year, when she worked at a geriatric facility in England, Blake crafted cards for all the residents and employees. As it turns out, in Britain the holiday is strictly romantic.

“This elderly woman came up to me and said, ‘I don’t know if you’re my type,'” she said, “and all the cooks in the kitchen were winking at me.”

Blake has celebrated Valentine’s Day as both a single person and as part of a couple. For her, the holiday is more than a celebration of relationships.

“I don’t like to limit it,” she says. “It’s not just about romantic love.”

That said, she admits it’s a plus when she’s coupled.

This year’s party will feature handmade valentines and canapés made of aphrodisiac foodstuffs. There’s also going to be a giant chocolate cake, beverages and a makeout room.

“It’s gotta be PG though,” she says. “Otherwise that’s gross.”

– Amy Kingsley

Pete and Anne Schroth, married 6 years

One year before Pete Schroth married Anne, he had her name tattooed on his upper right arm.

“I pretty much just told her I was going to do it,” he says, “and then I ran out and did it.”

“It scared the hell out of me,” Anne says.

That was in 1999, and the outburst wasn’t enough to keep Anne from tying the knot with the newly-inked Pete at a backyard wedding in 2000. Their union has produced two children, 4-year-old Otto and 2-year-old Angus.

The family lives in an airy two-story on the bohemian side of Fisher Park. The house is filled with art, comfortable furniture and, on this morning, the strains of Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

Pete and Anne keep pretty busy with their respective projects. Anne, who got a graphic design degree from NC State University, owns and operates the Red Canary, a custom fabric design shop headquartered on Elm Street.

Pete, who owns the Green Bean coffee shop, is a downtown stalwart. After their wedding, Pete and Anne put a down payment on a downtown storefront instead of a house. The more Pete fixed up the downstairs section, the more he wanted to create a space for people to hang out.

“Back then there weren’t many places to go downtown,” he says.

They met through mutual friends at New York Pizza when Pete was in graduate school at UNCG studying art. He wasn’t planning on staying in Greensboro – until he met Anne.

Both have made their time in town productive. During the interview, for instance, Pete takes a few last-minute phone calls about something he’s got cooking at the temporarily reopened Flying Anvil.

The business of live music is not solely Pete’s purview. Before Anne moved back to Greensboro and met Pete, she owned Local 506 in Chapel Hill.

“I bought it after I graduated from college,” she says. “It wasn’t exactly the smart thing to do.”

They had just started discussing their shared interests – music, art and entrepreneurship – when Rancid shuffles onto the iPod.

“Then there’s things we just don’t agree on,” Anne says, referring to the band.

-Amy Kingsley

John and Robin Davis, married 19 years

“It was 1987.”

John Davis is speaking from the round table at the back of the retail space at Mack and Mack, the clothing design company he shares with his wife, Robin.

“That’s not true,” she says.

“I’m sorry,” he nods. “It was 1980 when she hired me to work for her in her food shop.”

Robin picks up the story.

“So I had this food shop,” she says, “in Charlotte, North Carolina called ‘Palatable Pleasures.’ I had just come from New York and I just had to get out of the design business, I just had to do… something else for a while. And food was it. I hired a baker and a staff. And so John comes on board….”

John chimes in here.

“I was doing the usual after college thing,” he says, “trying to avoid the real world by working in restaurants.”

And then, of course, love bloomed between the young designer and the educated slacker even as the food shop faded from memory and the dream of fashion design was resurrected.

The wedding was on Nov. 1, 1987 and a child, Tyler, was born four years later. The store they own together came after that, about seven years ago. And then came the dog, Esme, the friendly American boxer who stands sentry at the door.

The store/design studio/manufacturing plant is where Mack and Mack creations first come to life before shipping out to couture shops and fashion shows across the country.

Robin and her staff create the clothes. John handles the business side. They’re together all day, every day. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We do everything together,” Robin says. “We love to go to the grocery store together.”

Downtown denizens can attest that the two share more than just a last name, a dress shop and a penchant for panache. They’re frequent patrons of the downtown theaters and restaurants and also give their time on the volunteer circuit.

The whole thing is terribly romantic.

“Romance?” Robin says. “Do you think that’s gonna sell your magazine?”

On Valentine’s Day, we do.

– Brian Clarey

Melvin and Grace Sheldon, married 50 years

Melvin and Grace Sheldon celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in October. Grace recently read a notice in the bulletin for Greensboro’s Temple Emanuel about a marriage re-consecration ceremony on March 16 for any couples celebrating wedding anniversaries falling on five-year multiples.

“I called him up from Temple Emanuel and said, ‘Melvin, do you want to marry me again?'” Grace recalls. “He said, ‘Of course.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll have to think about it.'”

They sit on cushioned chairs together at the kitchen table. Grace, 75, elects to speak for them because Melvin, 79, is somewhat hard of hearing. He cheerfully agrees to the arrangement, and grins from ear to ear as she checks with him periodically to ensure that he concurs with her account of events.

“We got married on October 28, 1956 in Brooklyn,” she says. “It was a beautiful day. We had a chicken dinner because it was the cheapest.”

Melvin worked in textiles, Grace on Wall Street. They had two children in the 1960s. In 1969, they relocated to Greensboro because polyester production was at its height and Melvin’s company insisted that as a manager he should work at the plant location.

Grace remembers the first time she saw Melvin. She and some girlfriends visited a resort in the Catskills.

“We met a bunch of guys,” Grace says. “They said, ‘Gus is coming.’ Gus was like the leader of the group. Finally, this beauty comes up. He was standing on a hill with a torn bathing suit and a two-day growth of a beard and drunk out of his head.”

When she got back to New York City she spent half a week’s salary at Macy’s on a bathing suit and mailed it to her future husband Gus, AKA Melvin. They saw each other off and on after that, including one summer when they vacationed at a Jewish beach resort together. “We used to go down to the car and neck,” Grace says. “We were platonic friends, but we would neck.”

Another time some of Melvin’s friends invited him to a boat party, but only on condition that he bring Grace as his date. When he showed up empty-handed they turned him away.

“He said, ‘I’ll take her, but I will not talk to her the whole time,'” Grace recalls. “By the end of the party we were engaged.”

How do they sustain their marriage?

“It was meant to be that we should be together,” Grace says. “We do fight a lot. We yell and scream, but on the other hand we’re independent individuals. We wouldn’t be together if we didn’t want to, so it must be something good.”

And what qualities does Melvin appreciate in his wife?

“Your mouth,” he says.

“I think what he values about me is that I’ll be there for him and he can always depend on me,” Grace says.

To which Melvin replies: “One-hundred percent true.”

- Jordan Green

Connor Adams and Carmen Galloni, dating for 10 months

The high school dating scene is very different than it was just a couple generations ago. If we can believe anecdotal evidence we’ve heard, it has more in common with the pre-AIDS hot-tub era than the days of homecoming dances and spin the bottle some of us still remember.

In the era of “hooking up,” monogamous dating is anachronistic, a curiosity akin to 8-track tapes and the Atari 2600.

“It’s like, people have on-and-off relationships,” Connor Adams says. “They go out for three or four months and then break up and find somebody else.”

Connor and his girlfriend of 10 months Carmen Galloni are old school, a genuine couple in that sea of available singles.

“Right now she’s the only one of her friends with a boyfriend,” Connor says, “and I’m the only one of my friends with a girlfriend.”

And though it may be a bit out of style, it suits the two.

“I’m kind of a shy person,” Connor says. “It’s nice to know I have a girlfriend, so I’m not always looking for someone else.”

Carmen says: “If you’re just, like, hooking up, you don’t have anyone to go back to at the end of the night.”

Carmen plays volleyball and softball; Connor goes to all the games. They go to movies, have dinner together, take walks… it’s kind of a storybook romance, actually.

“It’s not getting old,” Connor says. “We still have fun.”

“It seems like we haven’t been going out ten months,” Carmen says. “It feels more like a month.”

– Brian Clarey

Todd and Alicia Woods, newlyweds

Things rarely run on schedule at the Guilford County Courthouse. Usually the delays are cause for consternation, but the well-groomed crowd in Room 214 on Feb. 2 is taking it all in stride.

In fact, while they wait some 20 minutes for the magistrate, one of the members of the party busts on Todd Woods about the business at hand.

“I hope you know what you’re getting into,” he says.

Woods doesn’t take the bait. He smiles and softly replies,”It’s been good so far, and it’s only gonna get better.”

He’s referring, of course, to his beautiful bride Alicia. She’s resplendent this afternoon in fitted white pantsuit, her scoop-neck blouse matching the powder blue of her fiancé’s necktie.

The magistrate arrives in short order and escorts the couple and two witnesses to a back room. Only the sound of a typewriter, clanging with Soviet bloc authority, cuts the silence. Todd and Alicia return with witnesses and magistrate in tow and the party shuffles out the door, into the hallway and around the corner.

They drop into seats in a narrow courtroom as the magistrate straightens the robe she tossed over her street clothes. Wire baskets labeled “Dismissals”, “Continuances” and “Driving School” sit on a balustrade near the bench.

Todd and Alicia have known each other for almost three years. A little more than a year ago, on Christmas Day 2005, Todd Woods dropped to his knee, ring in hand, and asked Alicia to marry him.

After all that planning and the day’s long wait, the ceremony itself moves quickly.

“…and to be mindful always that marriage is designed for the happiness and welfare of mankind and therefore to be entered into advisedly and discreetly and in good faith,” the magistrate says.

Todd and Alicia exchange vows and each slips a ring onto the other’s finger. They join hands and the magistrate says the magic, binding words that will seal their union under North Carolina law.

“I now pronounce you both husband and wife,” she says.

The party, which has been making post-nuptial celebration plans throughout the ordeal, applauds the new couple and moves forward in an ad hoc receiving line to pump Todd’s hand and wrap Alicia in hugs.

Todd and Alicia stand, as they have the entire afternoon, next to each other. Their faces catch the midday light. The wait is over and the rest of their lives just beginning.

– Amy Kingsley

Ches Kennedy and John Overfield, together 14 years

They met in 1993 through mutual friends at Sunday brunch in a late and lamented Winston-Salem restaurant called the Rose and Thistle.

“I was not looking for a relationship,” says Ches Kennedy, the proprietor of O’Kennedy’s clothing store. “I had just gotten out of a long relationship. I fought it.”

He holds Henry, a cuddly Maltese poodle, on his lap, as a Lhasa named Jackson sniffs an invisible trail around table legs in the West Market Street Tudor the clothier shares with his partner. Kennedy glances across the living room at his erstwhile brunchmate, John Overfield, a lawyer in private practice dressed nattily in a black suit, white shirt and red bowtie. Overfield is also co-owner of O’Kennedy’s and the contributor of the “O” to the business name.

The two possess an unflappable poise, though Overfield may be the more centered of the two – a compliment to Kennedy’s outgoing effervescence. The kindness, delight and consideration between them make it easy for Kennedy to summon the memory of his initial attraction to Overfield.

“I knew by the way he looked back at me,” Kennedy says. “I can’t remember what I did last week, but I can remember looking in his eyes and the room….”

“What was I wearing?” Overfield asks.

“You were wearing those corduroy pants that don’t fit you anymore,” Kennedy responds without hesitation.

Overfield easily names his other half’s winning qualities.

“Ches is a person that people want to be around,” he says. “A friend of ours said, ‘When Ches walks in the room everyone’s just better.’ I knew Ches was someone I wanted to be around – the way he made other people laugh and smile.”

Making the relationship last is work, but apparently graceful labor.

“It takes a lot of compromise and really understanding and knowing your partner or spouse, knowing what makes them happy,” Overfield says.

Kennedy adds: “There was a great security for me that he wasn’t going to let me go. When you receive that, it’s a hell of a lot easier to give.”

Though they wear each other’s rings, the couple resists the temptation of undertaking a commitment ceremony that lacks legal force.

“We’re both very active in the Episcopal Church,” Overfield says. “At some point in our lifetime we hope that we can participate in a legitimate ceremony.”

Kennedy rejoins: “In the meantime my accountant says we would be better off not married.”

They do not appear to be overly disheartened by the connubial exclusion.

“Both of us would agree that living in the Triad, Greensboro has been a good place for us,” Overfield says. “There is a very strong and supportive LGBT community….”

“… A supportive community, period,” Kennedy interjects.

“We’ve found ourselves being welcomed in mainstream society,” continues Overfield, who serves as co-senior warden on the vestry at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. “Greensboro’s been very tolerant – a place where we can be ourselves, own our own businesses, and serve on boards and committees.”

– Jordan Green

Mike and Terry D’Atre, married 36 years

I’ve known Mike and Terry D’Atre since the winter of 2000, when they hired me for a waiter position at the Exchange on Tate Street, where they had recently taken over.

It was shortly after I moved to Greensboro with my family, and I knew perhaps a dozen folks in town to whom I was not related. I grew to like the D’Atres very much in my time working for them. Terry had a soft spot for my infant son and developed similar affinities for the next two children as they came along. Mike, a Vietnam veteran and Culinary Institute of America graduate, was a great one for cooking tips and racy stories about the old Brooklyn neighborhood were he spent his youth.

They are also the cutest freakin’ couple I’ve ever seen.

Watch them work together in the kitchen – any kitchen, but their current digs at the Painted Plate will do; Mike focused on the grill or stove and Terry attending him like a surgical nurse, the two of them in their matching little chef outfits … it’s a form of poetry.

“She covers my back door,” Mike says. “She knows exactly what I’m gonna do, when I’m gonna do it. It’s like four hands working instead of two.”

It’s been like this since before ’76, when they worked side by side professionally at the old Emerywood Country Club, though Terry says the club had rules about women working full-time in the kitchen back then, and continued through a long run of the country club and hotel circuit before taking the plunge on their own restaurant, the aforementioned Exchange, which closed for good in 2005, afterwards finding a place in the Triad culinary empire of Brad Semon’s Painted Plate catering company.

That’s where they are right now, defrosting some nice meat in the sink and charming my daughter with the best cookies she’s ever had before posing for a portrait.

They’ve known each other forever, or at least since high school at St. Mary’s in South Amboy, NJ.

“We were not high school sweethearts,” Terry says. “He was my big brother. [He’d] put snow down my back, pull the car away when I’d try to get in it – you know, big brother stuff.”

“I got a ‘Dear John’ letter in ‘Nam and Terry got a ‘Dear Jane’ letter right before that,” Mike remembers, “and when I got back from ‘Nam we started voicing these things, started hearing each other’s stuff.”

They married on Aug. 22, 1970.

“Eight, twenty-two, seventy,” Mike says. “Add it up it equals a hundred. The date came to me in ‘Nam. Not a lot of dates add up to a hundred exactly.”

To remind them of its significance, Mike sets the alarm on his watch to go off at 8:22 a.m. each day. When it sounds, the two share a quiet, romantic moment. Then its back to scurrying around the kitchen, a man and a woman working as one.

– Brian Clarey

Bill Black and

Jamesina Hollingsworth, dating for 7 months

Greensboro’s Heritage Greens retirement community is a treasure trove of the human drama. All of the residents have lived rich lives, with more stories to tell than an entire classroom full of post-graduate creative writing students.

But their accumulation of experiences is far from over – they go on trips, have parties and learn new skills here. And some of them rediscover the art of romance.

Bill Black and Jamesina Hollingsworth moved to Heritage Greens within weeks of each other about seven months ago. Jamie came first, and Bill caught her eye one day when she was having lunch with a facility employee.

“I said, ‘Why isn’t he sitting at our table?'” she remembers.

“I was just an innocent fella coming in,” Bill says.

They finally met on the elevator, and in the telling they glance at each other and giggle, like there’s some inside joke.

“Don’t forget,” Bill says to her, “I have a lot of friends in Greensboro.”

They started taking meals together every day, started planning their afternoons around one another. Before long they were an item.

The rules of dating have changed a bit since the last time these two were on the market, and perhaps out of an old-fashioned sense of propriety they are still a bit coy about their relationship.

“Bill and I,” Jamie says, “we are especially good friends.”

Bill spent most of his professional life as the manager of Shelby Insurance Co., which once stood on Pisgah Church Road, and was married for 65 years before becoming a widower. He has three grown children, two of whom live in town.

Jamie was a High Point girl who was married for 62 years before her husband passed. And she has two grown children of her own.

“Every time I talk to my daughter,” she says, “she asks how Bill is.”

Tonight they’re having dinner together in the cafeteria – the buttermilk chicken with lima beans twice, hold the spinach. The cafeteria is the scene for much of their dating life, but they also take walks with Bill’s dog, a cockerpoo named Pepper, and watch the Fox News channel in one of their rooms.

“He has a TV, I have a TV,” Jamie says, “and the twain shall meet.”

– Brian Clarey

Walter and Yvonne Johnson, married 41 years

“I’m slightly older than my wife,” says Walter Johnson. “We didn’t travel in the same circles.”

The first he remembers their paths crossing was a time when Walter - one of the first two African-American students to integrate Duke University in 1961 - was back home in Greensboro. He threw a party in the basement. Walter’s high-school-aged cousin wanted to have a party too. He said, fine, “but they have to stay in the upstairs portion because we’re going to be doing college-aged things downstairs.”

Yvonne attended the upstairs party. Years later they went on a double date arranged by friends. Walter was in his first year of Duke’s law program then. Yvonne was a sophomore at Bennett College.

They kept seeing each other. Walter followed Yvonne to Washington where she pursued her graduate studies at Howard University. They returned to Greensboro to be married at Bennett in March 1965. Then they spent three years in Newburgh, NY while Walter was stationed at Stewart Air Force Base. One weekend they kept five children for friends. By the time they returned to Greensboro, where Walter practiced law with future NC Supreme Court Justice Henry Frye, Yvonne was pregnant.

“My mother told me, ‘When you’re dating you watch how the person treats other people’s children,'” Walter says. “And she gets an A-plus for that.”

They eventually had four children. Between them, the four cover the professions of assistant district attorney, teacher, boxing promoter, bail bondsman, middle school football coach, 4-H youth director and poet.

Of course, motherhood is not the accomplishment for which Yvonne Johnson is most renowned in Greensboro. An at-large city councilwoman, Johnson is widely considered a contender for mayor.

“My grandmother used to say that you ought to find someone that has something between her ears besides hair,” Walter says. “There’s the physical attraction, of course, but there should be more.”

Later he adds: “My mother was a college teacher. When you have been exposed to a brilliant woman you don’t want anything less. My sister’s husband said, ‘Having as a wife a PhD is a lot of trouble, but it’s worth it.'”

Just as the husband and wife each pursued careers, both took responsibility for parenting and cooking.

“Walt is a great father,” Yvonne says. “He did most of the sports stuff, taking the children to practices. I did most of the cultural things, like plays. Today, he’ll say, ‘Are you cooking? Want me to pick something up? Should I bring something?’ I love to cook but I don’t always have time.”

Communication, love, forgiveness and openness are the hallmarks of their marriage, Yvonne says.

“We learned early about forgiveness,” she says. “Both of us were blessed to have families that were loving families. One of our mandates is to pass that on to our children, and to other children.”

Yvonne Johnson started cultivating political allies early. One youngster who was a frequent visitor to the Johnson home was future Guilford County School Board Vice-Chairman Amos Quick.

“I’d get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom,” she recalls, “and he’d be lying on the floor after eating dinner with us.”

- Jordan Green

Patrick and Kristen Eakes, married 7 years

The starchy, clean-cut engineer wears a checked dress shirt and khaki pants. His wife sports a tweed jacket as part of a two-tone ensemble of muted earth tones. After dropping their kids off at daycare, they’re ready for work at 8 a.m. on this Thursday morning, he at his own company specializing in “custom metal fabrication,” “tanks and pressure vessels” and “mechanical contracting services,” and she at her job as controller for Pace Communications, Greensboro’s premier custom publishing house.

They met, appropriately perhaps, at the dry cleaners. Kristen VanBree worked there. Patrick Eakes, a recent NC State University grad who had returned to his hometown of Greensboro, stopped by to see her periodically.

“You’re seventeen and he’s twenty-four, it’s probably not going to be accepted by your parents,” Patrick says. “I knew she was a rising senior, but I thought it was college. I didn’t know she was in high school.”

The first clue came when he saw her driver’s license with the telltale blue background.

“I said to myself, ‘Uh oh, I’ve got a minor here,'” Patrick recalls.

He’s now 40, and she’s 33. They have a 3-year-old girl and an 11-month-old boy, not to mention successful careers of their own. The age difference doesn’t seem like such a big deal now. They’ve been married for more than seven years, and they dated for nine years before that.

“I knew what I wanted to do,” says Kristen, who took her husband’s last name. “I knew I wanted to be a CPA. For both of us it was important that we meet those goals.”

Patrick picks up the thread.

“It was really, really important to me to have an equal marriage,” he says. “As the older one and the male I thought it was important to get her on her own two feet. After college she was the one who wanted to go ahead and get married. I was holding back. That came from growing up in a family with strong women. If something were to happen to me, that would be terrible, but I wanted to know that she could take care of our children.”

What sustains their partnership? The two C’s: Communication and consideration.

“I think we try to err on the side of over-communicating,” Patrick says. “Leave nothing unsaid, negative or positive.”

Adds Kristen: “We try to be considerate of the other’s needs. Everybody needs time to do some of their own things. We try to allow each other the ability to follow our own pursuits. It’s important to not lose sight of who you are.”

– Jordan Green