May 5, 2010 12:00

A mother´s love

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A new generation

Geneal Matheny had just left the Women’s Hospital after the birth of her son, Zack’s firstborn. Zack Matheny, a Greensboro city councilman, is also the stepfather of Cameron, 9, whose permission he obtained to marry his wife, Lauran.

William Zachery Matheny was born on April 30 by Cesarean section. With Zack and Lauran resting at the hospital, the proud grandmother went back to the house to take care of things. Geneal described Zack as the “baby” in the family. Her second son, Matt, has two children, 6 and 1. The arrival of her third grandchild is just as exciting as the first two.

“It was just like it was with the first one,” Geneal said. “It’s an — do you have children? — it’s just unbelievable the love you have for them. That’s the same way for a grandparent. “We know those parents have to be responsible for them,” she added, “and we get to spoil them.”

Growing up as the youngest of three brothers in Statesville, Zack has been a natural leader, a sensitive companion and a protector for as long as his mother can remember.

“Zack has always been a people person, never met a stranger,” Geneal said. “Wherever he would go, he knew everybody. I knew he would be a leader, I just didn’t know he would go into politics. He has always had a following, one of those types of people who has that charisma. He is every mother’s dream.” Zack was the boy who organized the other children to go play water polo at the swimming pool. He played tennis and basketball.

Geneal’s description of the future councilman as a boy might sound familiar to his constituents, who have heard him passionately describe the sense of vulnerability felt by young mothers at aggressive solicitors and panhandlers, seen him show up for community meetings when residents are alarmed by burglaries and homicides, and has witnessed the way he works with competing constituencies such as developers and downtown business owners.

“He is very sensitive, very intuitive to what you’re feeling, and what other people might need to have to comfort them or to better their life,” Geneal said. “He is very protective of me. He makes sure his mother is taken care of, that she doesn’t go and want for
anything.”

Competitive and eager to make a mark, Zack Matheny is the very definition of driven.

“I was an elementary school teacher,” Geneal said. “That was instilled in me by my parents that you were put here for a reason and you do the best at what you’re doing. His other grandparents were the same way. I am very passionate. He got that from me. His dad’s passionate too, about life. I think he gets his strength from me. I think that’s true of a lot of mothers.”

During a difficult period of Geneal’s life when Zack was still in high school, he went out of his way to be there for her.

“He will call on a regular basis to make sure I was okay,” Geneal said. “He might just stay home a little more before he went our with his friends in high school. He would always call to let me know he was all right. I’m a worrier.”

The story Zack’s family always likes to tell is about how he got lost at a Wake Forest University football game when he was 4 years old. His parents came down from the field house and found Zack in a parking lot full of Winnebago recreational vehicles. Having made some new friends he was sitting in a chair and eating.

“I wasn’t worried,” Zack said. “I knew you’d find me.”

Looking back, more than 30 years later, Geneal said of her son: “He’s one of those resourceful people. He analyzes what’s going on, what he needs to do, and then he takes care of it.”

The day after his son’s birth, Zack and his mother went back to the house so he could take a quick shower.

The father, husband and councilman showed off the small vegetable plot where he’s growing tomatoes, basil and rosemary to set a good example for Cameron about self-sufficiency. He gave a tour of the house, opening the door to Cameron’s room, and gesturing towards the bunk beds where his stepson sleeps, purchased by Zack’s parents when he was a child.

The room at the end of the hall doubles as a nursery and guest room.

A painting by Lauran hangs above the crib.

Cameron has also made some drawings for the family’s newest member that hang in frames in the nursery. Far from feeling anxious about his place in the family, Cameron demonstrates with the drawings that he takes his responsibilities as big brother seriously.

One shows Cameron riding a giraffe, with baby Will behind him in a bucket seat. Another depicts Cameron as Sheriff Woody and Will as Buzz Lightyear from the Toy Story franchise, and says, “Have sweet dreams.”


Artistic lineage


These days Preston Lane is a known commodity. He came to Greensboro by way of the Dallas Theater Center and the Yale School of Drama to found Triad Stage in 2002 with Richard Whittington. As artistic director he has tackled everything from Tennessee Williams and David Mamet to original works like Beautiful Star and this season’s Providence Gap, An Appalachian Saga.

But before that, Preston Lane was a skinny kid from Boone with an artistic bent courtesy of his parents. His mother, Shelby Lane, served on the board of the Watauga County Arts Council throughout Preston’s youth, and she still holds a place in the finance committee.

“My husband and I have always gone to live theater,” she says, “ and we took Preston when he was old enough to go.” The acting bug bit, and as a student Preston landed the lead role in a Governor’s School East production of Equus. “His father] Arnie and I heard him talk about how he wanted to major in theater and be a professional,” she remembers. “And you know, that is not something that most parents are excited about as a career for their children because it’s so difficult to make a living.

“When we went to see him in that production,” she continues, “as we left the theater we overheard two women talking, and they commented that they had seen the play in New York and they thought Preston did a better job. So we said, ‘Maybe we were all wrong about this, and maybe we should support him. Maybe he has talent.’”

Before Preston went to Yale, while an undergrad student at DePaul University in Chicago, he abruptly decided he wanted to transfer to what is now the UNC School of the Arts. The first person he called was his mother. “He called me up and said, ‘When is the School of the Arts having auditions in Chicago?’” she remembers. “So I called and they said tomorrow and the next day, so I called Preston and told him that and he said, ‘How do you expect me to get an audition piece together?’

“I said, ‘That’s not my problem.’” And as Preston’s career has bloomed with accolades, awards and honors, his mother still remembers the young boy onstage in the horse head at Governor’s School East. “I think I’m most proud of how he approaches theater and how intellectual he wants to be with it,” his mother says. “We’ve seen Preston grow so much over the years, in his maturity and his self-discipline — it takes an enormous amount of self-discipline to do what he does. I’m amazed at how much research he does for each play.”

Triad Stage’s next production will be the world premiere of Providence Gap, written by Preston with original music by Greensboro composer Laurelyn Dossett. Preston’s mom Shelby Lane assumes it will be a smash, but hopes he will remember her influence. “He’s very good at what he does,” she says, “and I hope he comes across as polite. I tried to teach him to be polite to people even when he doesn’t agree with them.” !

Behind new councilman, a proud mom

September 15, 2009 is a night forever etched in the history of the Montgomery family. Derwin Montgomery, a senior at Winston- Salem State University, defeated Winston- Salem City Council member Joycelyn Johnson by 33 percentage points in one of the most improbable political victories in the city’s history. Derwin and his mother, Denise, shared a look that night that spoke volumes. Words could not begin to approach the bond shared by mother and son, a bond forged by a powerful emotional connection and a mother’s infinite love for her children.

“She congratulated and kissed me on the cheek, but it was more the look on her face,” Derwin said. “She got a little teary-eyed. A lot of times you can see in her expression rather than saying in words. I remember she called my grandmother and saying, ‘He won!’ with a sense of pride.”

Derwin’s older brother, Damion, and older sister, Dana, were also present at the victory party. Derwin cited his sister’s influence as the reason he got involved in politics. Dana served as student body president of her South Carolina high school for three straight years. Not to be outdone, Derwin earned the distinction of class president his freshman, sophomore and junior years at Lower Richlands High School in Hopkins, SC. But it was his mother who taught him that winners never quit. Derwin recalled a conversation with his mother that made an indelible impact, and forever altered the course of his life.

After spending years in scouting, Derwin said he became disenchanted and was ready to give it up, but his mother simply wouldn’t allow it.

“Because of that, I became an Eagle Scout, I reached that highest honor,” Derwin said.

Since the day he was born, Derwin has been full of surprises, Denise said.

“Derwin was not like his older siblings — he was totally different,” she said. “He was one of those kids that had to go to school because he couldn’t be quiet. He always lost his homework.”

Denise worried her son would struggle in school, but soon, his artistic talents began to emerge and his confidence began to soar.

“He surprised me doing things that I didn’t expect him to do,” Denise said. “He didn’t mind trying things. If he failed, he just dusted himself off and kept on going.”

The best example of Derwin’s resilience and downright fearlessness came after he suffered back-to-back defeats running for student body president at WSSU. Denise Montgomery clearly remembers the phone call that came last summer.

“He called me and said, ‘I’m thinking about running for city council,’ I said, ‘You’re thinking about doing what?!” said Denise.

After the initial shock, she encouraged Derwin to follow his dream. Dana offered her brother valuable input and Derwin took advantage of early voting, garnering hundreds of votes before the Sept. 15 primary. His brilliant strategy of capitalizing on the largest group of untapped voters in the city’s East Ward ultimately secured his victory. During the campaign, Derwin said he relied heavily on his mother’s wisdom.

“It all comes from my parents,” he said. “It was instilled in us that we weren’t allowed to quit anything. If we started something, we had to finish it.”

And Denise Montgomery was the first one to congratulate her son when he crossed the finish line that fateful September night.


Daughters with discipline

Olga Morgan Wright rises every morning at 5:30 a.m. without the aid of an alarm clock. The 50-year-old paralegal, Greensboro Republican activist and sometime political candidate retires at about 9:30 p.m. That’s the influence of her mother, who was raised in Gibsonville as the daughter of a mill worker.

Rubie Morgan wore a starched white shirt with a string of pearls as she received a guest on a recent Saturday in her immaculately clean home in Nettie Coad Apartments, the stately brick building that formerly housed Caldwell school on Martin Luther King Drive.

Morgan is a strong proponent of punctuality and order.

“You have to get up and have plenty of time to do what you need to do,” she said. “Make sure your children make their beds before they go to school. Make sure they pick up the floor — before they go to bed.”

Leaving a bed unmade “is shabby,” Morgan contended, “and it reflects on your personality.”

Bowonna, whom her mother addresses by her middle name, Fayette, is the eldest. Now married and having taken her husband’s name, Bowonna Smith is the Greensboro human resources manager for Duke Energy. Olga Morgan Wright is the youngest. Their brother, Hilton LaFayette, who was born in the middle, died of Hodgkin’s disease at the age of 10.

Rubie Morgan drilled in lessons about hard work, truthfulness and treating others as one would like to be treated early on, and her daughters have not forgotten them.

“Picking what’s best for one is not necessarily best for the other,” Morgan said. “Paying attention. Just listening. Please don’t lie.”

That last injunction will be uttered more than once during this conversation.

Bowonna remembers a time she was walking home from school and one of the neighbors spotted her holding hands with a young man, and by the time she got home her mother was standing on the porch with her hands on her hips, demanding a reckoning.

“You didn’t do that at our age,” Bowonna said. “That’s how old school we were. We were taught to sit just like we are right now, not touching.”

The sisters sat at either end of the divan, legs crossed, backs straight.

Olga and Bowonna both registered as Republicans when they turned 18. They did so independent of one another, without knowing each other’s choice.

“I guess that’s the fiscal prudent thing,” Olga said.

Bowanna serves as a Eucharistic minister at St. Pius Catholic Church.

“I’m a Baptist,” Olga said.” “I’m a Baptist. And a Democrat,” Rubie said. Olga’s political nature comes more from her father than her mother. Still living, Olga and Bowonna’s father was a member of the parentteacher association at Dudley High School.

Olga said she only reluctantly entered politics, and only later in her life.

“What drove me was not politics, but children,” she said, “that motherly love.”

Bowonna and Olga are different in that way.

“I’m not political,” Bowonna said, “but I support my sister.”

Rubie Morgan is less than enamored with the idea of her daughter being a politician.

“She don’t have enough time for me,” she said. I tell her: ‘Go get me something to eat.’ She’s going to a meeting.”

Bowonna keeps an immaculate house, like her mother, but Olga is more passionate about gardening. They both learned how to cook from their mother, who cooked three meals a day. She worked as a beautician before starting a family, and then as a certified nursing assistant after they were raised.

“I’m an excellent cook,” Bowonna said. “I’m the better cook,” Olga added. Their mother diplomatically handled the dispute, noting that Olga cooks with a lot of spices, but that she always wants to eat when she goes over to Bowonna’s house.

Her sister keeps cakes and other sweets around, Olga added helpfully. And tea.

“She’s like my mom with tea,” Rubie Morgan said. “She always keeps a pitcher of it in the refrigerator.”

Rubie Morgan (center) with daughters Bowonna Smith (left), Greensboro human resources director for Duke Energy, and Olga Morgan Wright (right), paralegal, activist and sometime poltical candidate. (photo by Jordan Green)


Recording it all for posterity

It is fitting that the company owned by Dustin Keene, Keen Innovations in Greensboro, began as an idea from his mother, Rhonda Powers.

“She was the original inventor,” he says.

”Schoolkid Chronicles was her idea. The Adoption Chronicles was her idea.”

Yes, when the company began in 2004, Keen Innovations was called Schoolkid Chronicles, and it was intended to film keepsake moments of children as they grew in Q&A-style interviews. “He called and said he had a camera,” Rhonda recalls. “He said he wanted to do something ‘uplifting.’ I thought of children, because people are always trying to remember what their children said.”

She also thought families might enjoy watching recollections from older generations, and so Legacy Chronicles was established. Dusty got started right away, recording his great grandmother as she recounted her life.

“That still brings tears in the family when it is played,” he says.

Rhonda’s brother, who works in law enforcement, saw another application for these sentimental recordings as identification kits for lost children. So they started taking DNA samples and recording other vital information as part of the service.

Rhonda then saw the service as having potential for helping older orphaned children to become adopted, and an alliance with

Children’s Home Search in North Carolina. Similar partnerships with other states are currently in the works.

The footage, she says, is invaluable as it accumulates for each child over the years.

“You can see what happened to a child in-between [tapings],” she says. “It’s not always happy, but it’s so telling.”

There’s a quote she repeats often: “A woman is a mother to every child she meets.” It came in handy during Dusty’s childhood.

“Dusty tended to adopt people,” she says.

He also discovered acting at an early age.

“I feel like Dusty kind of pioneered ADHD,” she remembers. “I had to warn his teachers. When he wanted to go into acting, everybody was all, ‘Of Course!’ He’s always been smart — he could speak in complete sentences when he was 1. Everybody knew that if he could focus he could do anything.”

The bug first bit when he was a kindergartener, and he came home and announced that he had won the role of Santa Claus in the class play because, he said, he was the only one with a Santa suit.

Rhonda remembers with a rueful smile.

“I said, ‘But you don’t have a Santa suit.’” She spent that night converting a pair of red pajamas into a St. Nick suit, and Dusty got his first leading role. Such are the trials and victories of motherhood.

“I am really just blessed to have been the vessel to bring him into the world,” she says of her son. “I think motherhood is a fabulous thing. I think it is great to be a mother, a stepmother, a grandmother and a mother in-law.”


Mother to a mayor

A childhood memory can be powerful and intoxicating. Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said he vividly remembers the aroma of hot biscuits wafting through his Wilkes County home each and every morning of his childhood. That unmistakable, heavenly smell meant that his mother, Maie, was preparing him a hot breakfast before he headed off to school. Many years later, the recollection of hot biscuits reminds Joines of how much his mother loved to cook, and how she could say, “I love you,” with the perfect combination of ingredients.

“I remember her being the happiest when she had a houseful of people and she had cooked for them,” Joines said.

Special occasions at the Joines’ residence normally consisted half a dozen different vegetables and a couple of meats, along with homemade pies and cakes. Maie said physical ailments prevent her from making those big meals nowadays, but she does her best to prepare something special for her son when he comes up for his weekly visit.

“I’ve always loved to cook and bake — not anymore, I’ve got two crippled hands,” Maie said. “I’m 90 and I feel every bit of it.”

Still, if she’s able, she’ll fix Allen one of his favorite dishes with fresh vegetables from the garden he tends for her.

“He’s always been a good son,” Maie said.

“His father’s been dead more than three years ago. All I had to do was call him and he would come. He was crazy about his daddy, and his daddy was crazy about him.”

Allen said his mother’s influence has been powerful and lasting.

“She reminds me not to get the big head,” he said. “She reminds me not to be a politician. When I first ran for office, she made me promise that I wouldn’t engage in any mudslinging.

She’s really been a good influence.”

Maie said she’s always tried to give her son good advice, which he doesn’t always listen to.

“I didn’t want him to run for mayor but all the reports I’ve heard, he’s done a pretty good job of it,” Maie said. “I pray for him every night.”

On Mother’s Day, Maie and Allen are planning on attending services at Cub Creek Baptist Church in Moravian Falls. Maie said she will walk with a cane. It doesn’t seem that long ago to her when she walked to church carrying Allen in her arms. Maie said she feels incredibly blessed to have such a devoted son, a wonderful daughter-in-law, Peggy, and two loving grandchildren, Jeff and Michelle.

“They’re my pride and joy,” said Maie. At the age of 90, she and Allen have switched roles. Now, she’s the one who needs to be taken care of. Once while Allen was working in her garden, she told him she thought he was doing too much for her. That’s when Allen stopped working, and explained the depth of his gratitude.

“He said, ‘Mom, I’ve not forgot how you worked all those years and put me through school,’ but it wasn’t a sacrifice for me because I was willing to do it,” she said.

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, with his mother Maie. (photo by Keith T. Barber).


Still best friends after all these years

Developmental psychologists generally agree that birth order profoundly impacts our lives and our personalities. The timing of our birth is equally important because it determines to a large degree our interaction with parents and siblings. Such is the case with Mary Dossinger.

Mary is 6-1/2 years younger than her older twin siblings, Reid and Laura. The age difference meant that Mary had the good fortune to spend a lot of time with her mother, Ginny, while growing up. Mary was born after Reid and Laura began the first grade so she had her mom to herself seven hours a day. When Mary turned 12, the Dossinger family moved to Alaska — a very difficult age to make new friends. That also marked the year Reid and Laura headed off to college, so Mary relied heavily on the support of her parents, especially her mom.

“We’ve always been best friends,” Mary said of her mother. “I would tell her everything, which was nice, especially when we moved to Alaska.”

Ginny said her three children resemble their father physically, but she and Mary have always had similar personalities. Mary agreed.

“We both talk a lot but we talk to each other a lot,” said Mary.

The Dossinger family bonded on countless summer road trips, and Mary attributes her love of music and film to the strong influence of her brother and sister.

“I was listening to bands that no normal 7-year-old would say they love,” said Mary. “The Smiths was my favorite band when I was in elementary school — bizarre. But I loved them, and it was because of my brother and sister.”

Reid is a talented musician and Laura is a gifted singer. Mary enjoyed ballet in her younger years, she said, but her height (5-9) severely limited her chances of pursuing dance as a career. Instead, she has parlayed her love of the movies into her dream job, program coordinator for the RiverRun International Film Festival. As program coordinator, Mary screens literally hundreds of films and she, along with executive director Andrew Rodgers, selects the very best cinematic gems for the annual festival held in Winston-Salem.

When Mary landed the prestigious position two years ago, it was a joyous homecoming for the Dossinger family. Ginny, a Winston- Salem native, and her husband, Jim, are understandably proud of their youngest child.

“We’re very happy that she’s doing something she enjoys,” said Ginny. “She’s always loved film and to be able to be in it, I think is a wonderful thing.”

Laura, a Salem College graduate, also resides in Winston-Salem, while Reid lives in Washington, DC. Despite the passage of time, there’s still a healthy sibling rivalry.

“They think I got everything I ever wanted,” Mary said of her brother and sister. “I got to do things they never got to do; we joke about it.”

RiverRun volunteers and staffers know that if you spend enough time around Mary, you’ll soon meet Ginny. Mother and daughter have been inseparable for more than 30 years, and fortunately for the Dossingers, some things never change.

Mary Dossinger, who as program coordinator for the RiverRun International Film Festival just finished up a very busy week, and her mother Ginny. (photo by Keith T. Barber)



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