Hard work and humility lead to gardening greatness for Cacci Green

By Lauren Moody

“As a child, my dad let me drop the beans in the rows,” Catherine Green said with a soft and sweet Southern twang as she recalled memories of growing up on a tobacco farm in Alamance County during the 1930s and ‘40s. “I got the privilege of dropping a bean every couple inches and covering it up, and that was just fun for me.”

Alamance County was a small farming community where families worked in the fields under the sun during the day and enjoyed one another’s presence on their porches during the cooler evenings. There was a main street where teenagers could be found sipping Coca-Colas at the soda fountain, but what sticks out to Catherine — at 91 years old — is the time spent with her family on the farm.

She is the youngest of six brothers and sisters, and from a young age, she helped her mother in the garden or the kitchen cooking and canning the foods their farm produced.

A little hobby sparks a big tradition

For Catherine or “Cacci,” pronounced like khaki, as family and close friends call her, her passion for gardening turned into a lifelong hobby. It’s a passion that passed to her granddaughter Catie, and also unites Cacci’s retirement community with an annual tomato sandwich party for which Cacci grows tomatoes and hosts each year.

Cacci is the oldest person in her retirement community with a garden plot. She plants 11 different types of tomatoes each year with a plan to share them with her 35 neighbors. The tomato sandwich party is the annual event that they plan their vacations around, and it has become a tradition that began 10 years ago and won’t stop as long as the tomatoes keep growing.

“A tomato that you’ve grown yourself has more flavor,” she said. “I don’t buy tomatoes in the winter. To me they taste like cardboard. But it’s just the sweetness—the longer you leave them on the vine to turn and ripen, the sweeter they are.”

The idea for the party came to be when Cacci’s dining room table, which seats 12, was overflowing with containers of ripened tomatoes because, as Cacci says, “You never put a tomato in the refrigerator.” One day, a neighbor came over and said, “Make me a tomato sandwich,” to which Cacci responded, “We’ll just have tomato sandwiches for everyone.”

To please the abundance of opinions at the party every July, Cacci ensures there’s lettuce and an array of breads, although her classic sandwich is composed of white bread and Duke’s mayonnaise. Due to the debate over mayonnaise between her neighbors, she also buys Hellmann’s and a gluten free brand. Another neighbor argued you can’t have a tomato sandwich without bacon, so they provide the bacon and someone else brings a dessert.

“I didn’t realize it would amount to anything,” she said. “It was just something that I enjoyed doing for the court and they all pitch in and help, and they look forward to it every year.”

Cacci’s love of hard work and busy days

Doing something for others isn’t a once-a-year event for Cacci. Her entire life has been devoted to helping and serving others.

“Her nature is one to always work,” her son Rick said. “We visited Catie, and she stayed in the kitchen the whole time. Her personality is ‘I’m going to contribute via my work effort.’”

During the week, Cacci volunteers her time at her church and the local hospital in Burlington. She also attends five exercise classes a week, including Zumba, core and a high intensity “workout-of-the-week” class.

Her dedication and work ethic inspires her family and everyone who knows her. Last Christmas before her 90th birthday, she held a four-minute plank in a planking contest against her grandchildren.

Cacci passed her “gardening gene” to her granddaughter 

The tomato doesn’t fall far from the vine. The work ethic and gardening gene passed to Catie, who lives on a farm in Monterey, Virginia. She and her husband, Jim, got into the chicken business and plan to have over three thousand chickens this summer. Her passion for gardening developed in college when she decided to go out and dig up the backyard to plant a garden.

“I would definitely say Cacci was my role model when I was younger,” Catie said. “We would talk about gardening and be able to connect even that much more, and I felt like I had more than just the name in connection with her—I had this passionate hobby that we both loved.”

Cacci visited Catie and Jim at their farm in Virginia this winter. She held chickens, drank raw milk, walked their property and saw how they trade with neighbors to ensure freshly sourced food.

Cacci remembers her roots by observing her granddaughter’s future

“She was connecting in all of these great ways that I know is therapy for her,” Catie said. “I know that all of that kind of stuff is therapy for somebody in an older age range to bring back those roots and childhood memories.”

Just as Cacci provides fresh tomatoes to a community who doesn’t have access to a garden or the skills to grow them, Catie and Jim provide chickens to a community that lacks in the poultry department. One day, they hope to bring their community together to host a chicken barbecue just as Cacci throws the tomato sandwich party.

“It’s amazing that she’s chosen to do this,” Catie said. “She pulls together more than just her community—she really tries to get people involved. I love that she’s not just trying to age through life, but she’s actually trying new things at a later stage in her life and she’s continuing very strong.”

The tomato party will go on this year as Cacci’s neighbor offered to help her with the garden by completing the manual labor of digging up the holes. Her strict exercise routine may be re-prioritized behind gardening, or in Cacci’s determined yet humble words, “Either that or get up early and work late.”

Edited by: Savannah Morgan

West Franklin Street’s VibeHouse 405 draws “creative rebels”

By Caroline McKinley

Their eyes were level with his sneakers planted firmly on the black platform. The crowd craned their necks and looked up past his dark pants and denim jacket to rest on the microphone in his hand. They tracked the trajectory of the mic to his lips.

“More sauce, 506, more sauce,” he said.

Kevin “Kaze” Thomas addressed the crowd at Local 506, a bar and concert venue on West Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The sauce? Well, that’s up for interpretation.

Thomas’ performance on Friday, February 23, was part of the second act of the grand opening of VibeHouse 405, a recording studio, art gallery and “home for creative rebels.” The concept evolved to fill a gaping void: Thomas needed a place to play music.

“I didn’t have anywhere to perform and it felt like…kryptonite,” Thomas said. “Like for real. I felt myself turning stuffy and dying. That was a thing that I needed, that I knew that other people needed.”

Thomas owns half of VibeHouse 405. The woman who claims the other half was one of the bopping heads on the dance floor beneath him.

Wendy Mann’s unruly black curls bounced as she moved with the bass. She shimmied next to her 19-year-old daughter, Adela. Mann wore blue jeans that she splatter-painted herself—she’ll make you a pair if you want. She lifted her phone to take a video of Thomas.

Cosmic intervention

They might be the most unexpected business partners. Thomas is a 40-year-old African American rapper whose album on Soundcloud is titled “Black Kennedy 2.” Mann is a 50-year-old white real estate owner who used to run a private counseling practice. A few years ago, no one would have guessed that they’d own a business together, much less finish each other’s sentences.

“Well hello universe for bringing us together,” Mann said.

Kevin “Kaze” Thomas (right) and Wendy Mann met in what seemed to be an act of cosmic intervention. A few years later, together they opened VibeHouse 405, a recording studio.

Thomas had just left L.A. and needed a way to pay the rent while he wrote rhymes, so he got a daytime gig at the front desk of Mina’s, a boutique salon across from Whole Foods. The day Mann walked in to make an appointment, Thomas handed her a CD.

“Do you listen to hip-hop?” said Thomas, extending the silver disc across the counter.

“Yeah,” Mann said, accepting the offering. “My daughter does. And I do too—if it’s good.”

She squinted at the print on the cover before looking back at Thomas.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “Are you doing something at the Local 506? That’s my club.”

The duo has been inseparable since the cosmic intervention. The recording studio is their latest joint business venture.

“I’ve been trying to get a format like this for eight years now,” Thomas said. “Where it would be all genres of music, all types of people, all the artist community together on one level. Exchanging that energy. Friday night.”

“We saw it all come [together],” Mann said. “It blew me out of the f—— water. It was everything we have been envisioning.”

Open house night a success

The event was twofold: An open house in the gallery portion of the studio followed by live performances at Local 506. It began at 5 p.m. that evening, when the sun was clocking out with the working folks, and the glass door between Perennial Coffee and a vacant smoke shop was unlocked. A sign was placed out front.

Neon pink capitals swaggered across the slick, black billboard: ART GALLERY OPEN HOUSE. A man carried a metal tree hung with empty perfume bottles up the narrow stairs. ‘90s hip-hop buzzed into the front room from Thomas’ phone. Mann arranged the table under the window. Bowls of Oreos, chocolate-covered almonds and Twizzlers plunked next to a plate of deviled eggs and chicken salad sandwiches. Bottles of pink champagne sweated in a bucket of ice on the ground. These were just the final touches. Mann had spent the better part of the day arranging works from 11 artists in the gallery. She gestured to the purple walls with a bejeweled finger.

“It’s like white, super punk chick, to white older guy with black woman friend,” Mann said, pointing at each canvas and indicating the artist. “You know it’s just white, black, Hispanic, mixed.”

While Mann adhered the last wall labels, the first guests of the evening arrived. It was her 70-year-old neighbors, Eleanor Rutledge and her husband Dr. James Lesher. Lesher is a semiretired philosophy professor at UNC-Chapel Hill who couldn’t keep his hands off the chicken salad or stop talking about his upcoming trip to Greece.

Event-goers consisted of a range of demographic groups

As the night went on, the average age in the gallery declined. Young professionals, students and even Thomas’ 6-year-old son Quaran perused the artwork and peeked into the recording studio. For the timid first-timers, Thomas was their guide. He ushered patrons into the booth’s hushed padded walls and let the chorus of “wows” lap over him.

“It’s like I was giving tours of Disneyland,” Thomas said.

Around 8 p.m., the crowd in the gallery meandered down the staircase and out onto the pavement, veering left. The doors of the Local 506 opened and a bearded man with a septum piercing waited at the front to check IDs and stamp hands.

Initially, the bar was more popular than the dance floor. People were inquiring about India pale ales on draft or ordering mixed drinks from the chalkboard menu when Benjamin Clancy, also known as sea brain, took the stage. The lanky young white kid in a blue and white striped sweater half-sang half-spoke an eclectic set list self-described as “music for whales.” And the crowd was into it.

“How many of my homeboys that came there for just the rap part saw sea brain and they were like, ‘Man, yo, I like the homie,’” Thomas said.

Thomas’ humble beginnings turn into success

Thomas has a crew now, but it wasn’t always packed bars and neon lights. He remembers his time as a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, standing in the Pit, getting laughed at while passing out flyers for Hip Hop Nation. He still remembers the chorus of naysayers’ voices: “What are you trying to do? Are you trying to make a rap club?”

Friday night’s third act was the UNC Student Hip Hop Organization—perhaps today’s iteration of the rap club Thomas was spurned for trying to form. Five young men in assorted baby blue jerseys took the stage and wooed the crowd with their hit “Venmo,” named after the money-sharing iPhone app.

The crowd pumped their arms up and down in a move Thomas describes as “gigging.” Onlookers in faux fur coats and pastel fraternity T-shirts alike removed themselves from the periphery and claimed spots at the edge of the stage. The lineup built to a crescendo—just as Thomas designed it. During the final act, Durham rappers Defacto Thezpian and Lil’ Bob Doe spit tracks from their album “Facts about Bob.”

Thomas bounced behind the rap duo. Even without the mic, his hands waved the beat into the crowd. And even when the stage lights cut out, he kept his sunglasses on.

“It just felt crazy; I was like, ‘Oh my god,’” Thomas said. “It was like everybody’s in here glowing. It was crazy like that.”

Six hours after the gallery opened, the last stragglers slapped skin and called Ubers in front of the Local 506. Some embraced the mild February night and retraced their steps down Franklin Street.

“This town was always an artist community. Indie-based, rock, alternative—whatever. Just cool s— here,” Thomas said. “We didn’t want to see that die. This is a part of bringing that back—that energy back.”

The aftermath of open house night

Sitting together in the studio the next day, Thomas and Mann are still running on fumes of giddy energy. Thomas offers Mann a Blow Pop before he unwraps a cherry one for himself. He leans back into the windowsill to describe his takeaway from the night.

“I feel like it’s inclusive and open,” Thomas said, after the suction smack of the candy leaving his mouth. “It’s more like come get in the pool. Come get in the sauce.”

According to Thomas, more sauce means more energy. More swag.

“It’s getting in the flow of what feels good and amplifying that even higher,” he said.

Edited by Savannah Morgan. 

Hip injury results in loss of final rowing season for Harr

By Margaret High

The bow of the Spirit pushed through glassy lake water in the pre-dawn haze. Caeli Harr was on stroke 400 of 1,000 of the morning’s workout. The sun hadn’t risen yet to show her wincing with every repetition. Something was wrong.

She struggled to stand on the dock after finishing her hour-long morning workout. A teammate asked if she was OK.

“I don’t know; something just isn’t right,” Harr said.

Her left hip had been painful for the past month, but the last race in the fall 2017 season for the UNC women’s varsity rowing team was two weeks away. The pain could wait to be addressed. Winning was more important.

The senior scholarship rower knew what was wrong as soon as the pain hit. It was the same injury a fellow recruit from her class suffered from freshman year. A year later, another teammate from her recruiting class also medically retired from the injury. The same fall Harr’s hip hurt, another rower had surgery for the injury and was beginning her eight months of recovery.

Harr tore her left hip labrum sometime in the fall. The labrum is a ring of fibrocartilage. It secures the ball part of the hip’s ball-and-socket joint within the hip socket. It also helps to stabilize the hip joint.

Torn labrums: a common injury, but a relatively new medical discovery

Despite prevalence on the UNC rowing team, torn labrums are a new medical discovery. Roughly 15 years ago, doctors believed the symptoms meant arthritis. Surgery has low success rates, and few orthopedic surgeons know how to do the procedure, which involves reattaching the torn labrum back to the disc within the hip socket. In extreme cases like Harr’s, cadavers are required to replace the shredded labrum.

“The first time I heard it was a torn labrum, tears were just streaming down my face,” Harr said. “I was distraught. I didn’t know what to do.”

In addition to a torn labrum, Harr suffers from a stress fracture in the top of her left femur and a cist within the stress fracture. The daily pain Harr feels from her injuries pushed her to decide to opt for surgery.

Dr. Joseph Barker, a hip specialist in Raleigh, told Harr they would try microfracturing to get rid of the cist. Just like the labrum replacement, it’s a controversial surgery. Microfracturing involves poking holes in the femur to trigger the body’s natural healing responses to a broken bone, increasing blood flow to the area and hopefully healing the stress fracture and cist at the same time.

“I wish I had known how serious it was. I thought it was just another injury,” Harr said. She would’ve stopped sooner had she realized the severity of her issues.

Harr’s history of injuries and passion for sports

Her inevitable surgery will be scar number five on her 5’7” body. Her right knee has two major scars on either side. The left one is from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear in eighth grade from a non-contact soccer injury. The botched surgery resulted in the right scar.

Harr was a sophomore in high school, just back from three month’s recovery from scar number three that rests beneath her jawline from jaw surgery. It was her third day back at practice. The freckle-faced 15-year-old was running when she tripped and tore her ACL for a second time.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Harr said as she looked down at the ground. “It just tore.”

Soccer was Harr’s passion. It consumed her since first grade. When her parents divorced in middle school, Harr stayed after soccer practice to work on her technique. When only one parent could attend her soccer games instead of both, Harr worked harder to be the best on the field. In between different homes on the weekends, she threw herself into the sport.

“Sports give me a purpose,” Harr said. “When I don’t have structure, I just feel lost. I feel all over the place.”

Discovering rowing

The San Jose, Ca., native needed a sport to satisfy her. Harr’s favorite running trail overlooks a water reservoir, which houses the Los Gatos Rowing Club. Rowing was a sport that could get her into a good university and let her continue to be an athlete without ruining her knee.

“When I first started, I was so bad,” Harr laughed. “I’ve never been so bad at something.”

Her long legs helped propel her body in the boat, but her disproportionately short torso created a litany of technique issues. Six days a week, three hours a day, the Los Gatos head coach, Matt Pinschmidt, berated Harr. The 5’2” former national champion would turn his sharp nose up at Harr, displeased eyes shaded by the baseball caps he always wore.

“I would come home sobbing,” Harr said. “My coach was screaming like bloody murder at me every single day.”

After practice one day, Pinschmidt sat Harr down and told her she should quit. She wasn’t fast enough to be recruited.

Harr worked harder than ever after that day. She shaved off almost a full minute on her 2,000 meter score. She raced every teammate and won. There was no amount of pain Harr couldn’t breach in order to prove Pinschmidt wrong.

“It was really satisfying. I just had this whole ‘screw you’ mentality toward my coach,” Harr said. ”He was absolutely shocked. He had no clue I could actually be that good.”

Soon after, Harr received a scholarship offer for the UNC women’s rowing team.

A year later, Harr was in a four-man boat racing down the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia with more than three seconds between the stern of her boat and the bow of the next. Her Carolina blue unitard swung back and forth quickly in the boat, propelling her to a first-place finish in the largest collegiate regatta in the United States.

She continued to enjoy success as a sophomore, racing in the ACC Championship in the top varsity eight-man boat. Pinschmidt, her former club rowing coach, even sent her a text message before the 2015 ACC Championship, congratulating her success.

“It was like something out of a movie,” Harr said. “We went from hating each other to learning to love each other.”

Hip labral tears are a common injury for UNC’s varsity women’s rowing team

As a junior, one of Harr’s best friends on the team medically retired from a hip labral tear.

Nina Luker, a member of the freshman four-man boat and Harr’s best friend on the team, decided to not undergo surgery after learning of her torn hip labrum. She weighed the options of dealing with the pain or dealing with recovery. Unlike Harr, her labrum doesn’t bother her as intensely every day.

“When I heard it was a labrum tear, I left the doctor in full tears,” Luker said. “You have the idea that something can be kind of a sport-ending injury. But hearing those words come out of someone else’s mouth triggered those emotions. Hearing that I wouldn’t be a student-athlete anymore… that was my identity.”

Alex Davis, another teammate with a torn labrum, felt surgery was her only option.

“I didn’t really have an option,” Davis said. “Basically I needed surgery to resume normal daily activities.”

Davis underwent a six-hour surgery and received a cadaver iliotibial (IT) band to replace her labrum. She was on crutches for three months and has five more months of limited mobility.

Originally, Davis thought she’d just need to have her labrum reattached, the mildest form of surgery for labral tears. However once the surgeon saw her labrum, they found it too damaged to repair. Cadaver was her only option.

“I woke up and thought everything went well,” Davis said. “I was on a lot of drugs, so I think when they told me my recovery would be longer and I’d be on crutches I was a little dazed. But I do remember crying a lot.”

The three rowers, Harr, Davis and Luker, all describe the pain the same: it’s a catching feeling in your hip; it’s always throbbing and constantly commanding attention.

“This whole journey with Caeli is kind of bringing up my memories,” Luker said. “I know the mental struggle that comes with this injury.”

Pushing through their pain resulted in worse injuries for the rowers

All three could’ve avoided shredding their labra had they not continued to push through the pain. It’s their desire to never stop working hard that put them in these positions.

A couple of weeks after the end of her senior fall season, Harr was running up a hill with 47 other teammates on a cold November afternoon. Leaves crunched underneath her feet as sharp pains ran from her hip. Harr began breathing harder with fear that her hip would give out mid-run. The next day she could barely stand.

Harr knew without a doubt her labrum was torn. She had pushed too hard for too long.

Since her initial visit to the doctor in December 2017, Harr has gone through two MRI’s and an arthrogram. The results are all the same: arthritis, stress-fractured femur, bone cist, torn labrum.

Now as the bow of the Spirit cruises through murky lake water, Harr has been replaced. When her teammates wake up, she stays asleep in her bed. The senior lost her last season on the rowing team.

“It really sucks,” Harr said. “Finishing meant I proved everyone wrong.”

Edited by Savannah Morgan