by Deborah Miller
One of the things I already know I love about working here is when Joy starts a sentence with “We need to go …. ” Not one to need too much convincing, I can be ready to go in a split-second. And this time, she said “We need to go drive up to Roxboro to see this Sappony exhibit at The Kirby Gallery before it ends on Friday.” It was a beautiful sun-filled day driving up Hwy. 501 North as Joy told me more about the Sappony, one of the eight state-recognized Indian Tribes in North Carolina. Can you name them (see answers below)?
How did I, a Piedmont NC native, know so little about this area known as the High Plains Settlement (an area with one foot in NC, the other in VA) that has been home to the Sappony Tribe since the early 1700’s? Time to change all that and discover them through their artistic traditions. This particular adventure would include the Sappony, hot dogs, and the Titanic.
The exhibit, Sappony Art: Strength, though small, was highly personal. Past Community Folklife Documentation Institute participant and longtime Folklife Institute friend Shelia Wilson had a piece in the show – a winding road through snowy woods that looked as though you could step right into it. One wall held impressive photographs, paintings and quilts, the other a collection of hand-crafted walking sticks and dream-catchers.
Adorned with swatches of fur, beaded leather thongs, and feathers (some collected along the NC coast), the walking sticks were simple carved spirals that bore meaningful names such as “Heritage” and “Lean on Me.” Several were created by Melburn Harris, the others by Sappony Chief Otis Martin.
Harris also made all the dream catchers on display.
Lunch is a key to any adventure, so Joy asked Erin Ganey, Cultural Arts Program Director for Piedmont Community College, “What’s the oldest restaurant in Roxboro?” Without hesitation, Erin said “Toufie’s. It’s small and they don’t have a big menu, but it’s just around the corner.” And, as it should be, there’s a story there.
We walked in to discover she was not exaggerating the size. Two booths along one wall, while six stools lined the counter. Both booths were filled, but four gentlemen jumped up to give us theirs as we asked “What’s good?” Each had a different answer. “The hot dogs,” “the BBQ sandwich,” “the beef stew.” When Felina, the owner/waitress/cook, asked what we wanted, we asked back “What have you got?” She pointed to a menu board over the counter.
Joy, the napkinologist, scribbled quotes from Felina in between hot dog-with-chili-and-slaw bites. She talked about her love for Roxboro, and especially the history of Person County. Toufie’s is a good place to learn that, according to Felina: “People come in here and they talk and tell stories. I’ve learned more about history from people talking than from any book I’ve ever read.” We each ate two of those chili and slaw dogs, listening to Felina talk about life in Roxboro. Something about a hot dog is always better when there’s a little story-telling going on around it.
Toufie’s was named after its original owner, Toufielk Ameen, a Lebanese immigrant whose family has one of the town’s connections to a famous disaster. It’s hard to imagine a town as small as Roxboro, NC having two separate Titanic stories. Nassef Cassen Albimona was returning from a visit to Lebanon, bringing back with him an 11 year old charge. Booked in 3rd class, they boarded the Titanic in Cherbourg. Albimona helped several people into lifeboats, then floated in a life vest until rescue. He moved to Roxboro two years later to work with Toufielk Ameen’s father in the diner that was the forerunner of Toufie’s.
Roxboro’s second Titanic story involved US postal worker Oscar Scott Woody, who was ordered to serve as a postal clerk aboard the Titanic along with four others. The five refused to leave their posts, attempting to save the bags of mail, and perished in their heroic attempts. The post office in Roxboro is named after Woody (one of the very few US post offices named after an individual).
You’ll find Toufie’s just off Main Street in Roxboro’s historic downtown – you can walk from there to the Kirby Gallery complex or, if you’re feeling ambitious, on down to the Person County Museum of History, which Felina says is one of her favorite hang-outs (and yes, it has a Titanic exhibit).
WHEN YOU GO:
The Kirby Gallery
213 North Main St
Roxboro, NC 27573
Toufies Eatwell Café
16 Court St.
Roxboro, NC 27573
Eight state-recognized Indian Tribes in North Carolina:
Eastern band of Cherokee, Coharie, Haliwa-Saponi, Lumbee, Meherrin, Occoneechee Band of the Saponi Nation, Sappony, and Waccamaw Siouan (Learn more here: http://americanindiancenter.unc.edu/resources/faq/)