Local Paragons V: Old Salem St. Phillip’s Learning Center

Old Salem is a beautiful living museum and probably one of the most well-known tourist destinations in Winston Salem. I can’t even count the number of times I have been to this living museum myself having lived so long in this city, but I can say that every time I visit I learn something new. The St. Phillip’s learning center is a gem I discovered in adulthood. While I may have visited it as a child, I don’t recall it. It isn’t on the regular tour path, so when I discovered it I felt more enlightened than I ever had about our city’s history and past—particularly with regard to diversity and civil liberties.

Local Color:  <3 <3 <3 <3 <3                    Learning Opportunities: <3 <3 <3 <3

Food: N/A

“Faith isn’t just about following a bunch of rules.”

“Then what is it about?” The challenge had escaped Lucy before she even knew what she had said. It hung in the air between them.

Saul looked at her from across the breakfast table. Lucy looked down, lining up the remainder of her breakfast in little soldier like lines on her plate.

“It’s something you live,” Saul’s deep voice broke into her thoughts. He stood, taking the check in his left hand and extending his right to her. “Come on. Let’s go see.”

Lucy stared at his hand, then slid her small palm into his, marveling at how warm and strong his grip was as he lifted her to her feet and led her to the register so he could pay. She expected him to let go of her hand after lifting her form the table, but he didn’t until he had to pull out his wallet and even then he let go reluctantly. Lucy thought it odd how natural it felt to hold this stranger’s hand, but she tucked both her own hands into her coat pockets now as she waited and wondered what seeing faith at work could possibly mean.

They headed out together into the sunshine of the unseasonably warm February afternoon, facing one another.

Saul smiled. “Are you ready?” he asked.

“For what exactly?” Lucy’s brow lifted. She’d barely been ready for lunch, let alone any kind of crazy scheme he’d just cooked up in his half-baked, overzealous skull.

“I want to show you what faith looks like. Will you go to Old Salem with me? “

Lucy’s brow wrinkled. “So you want to show me what faith looked like in 1753?”

“No,” Saul laughed and leaned back on his heels.

“I’ve been there like a thousand times. What could possibl—“ Lucy stopped talking as Saul’s grin widened.

“I know, but you haven’t been with me.”

Lucy chewed on her lower lip and considered this. Finally she nodded. “Okay, let’s do it.”

“Great,” he reached over and pulled her toward the parking lot, stopping at a motorcycle parked just next to a handicapped spot near the entrance. He held out a helmet to Lucy whose jaw was on the cement in front of her. “Ready?”

“You’re joking, right?” She squeaked.

“Nope. You’ll love it.”

“When I’m dead, maybe. But there is no way I’m getting on the back of that…that…”

“Standard road cruiser?”


“Watch it now, you’ll hurt her feelings.”

“That’s highly unlikely.” Lucy crossed her arms over her chest and stared at him.

“Why won’t you ride?”

“Because I’m not stupid.” Lucy shoved her hands back in her pockets and shook her head. Saul frowned.


“Really, as a med student I’d think you’d be aware of the statistics about motorcycle accidents.”

“Statistics, schmatistics—“

“It’s not happening Saul,” she crossed her arms now—shutting out the unwelcome memory of Pete’s premature death and the gruesome scene. Lucky to have survived, miraculous even, having been thrown clear of the accident scene.

Lucy’s breathing was becoming much shallower; Saul noticed and he nodded.

“Fair enough. We’ll take your ride.”

Lucy nodded and led the way to her own car, grateful not to have to relive that particular memory—today at least.

Her hands were shaking as she reached to unlock the door and she dropped the keys, the clatter and clink shattering the silence between them.

“Hey,” Saul was beside, plucking the keys from the asphalt. He put his hand on her shoulder as he returned the keys. “You okay?”

Lucy didn’t trust herself to speak. She nodded and her fingers folded around the keys, feeling the cold metal melt into the warmth of her palm. She took a calming breath as she slid in behind the wheel and waited for Saul to do the same on his own side.

Once they were both securely in the car, Lucy managed to shake some sense into herself and she headed to Old Salem in an awkward silence, listening to the chatter on NPR, which Lucy had been listening to early but didn’t really hear now.

As she pulled into a space at the visitor center, she turned to Saul and flipped the radio off. “Look,” she said. “I’m sorry I was so short with you. I just, well, I just really don’t like motor cycles.” She finished the sentence lamely, looking away from him as she did.

“I take it your distaste stems from more than just statistical analysis,” Sauls’ words were kind, un-probing, stated just as fact.

Lucy nodded.

Saul did the same.

“Fair enough,” he said. Without hesitation, he reached over and rubbed her arm. “A story for another day.” His hand dropped and he climbed out of the car. Lucy stared straight ahead, still feeling the warmth of his touch in his arm, but oddly also through her chest and down her legs too. She could feel her heart beating in her ears and didn’t know why or how, but something akin to fear was creeping over each part of her being. Not fear of Saul—but of the intensity, the moment, the unknown…and she was definitely afraid.

Taking a deep breath, she got out of the car and followed Saul to the visitor’s center, hoping she wouldn’t live to regret this moment or the feelings tumbling around inside her stomach as she walked.

“So,” she managed, shaking off the building tension. “Where exactly are you taking me?”

“We’re going to the St. Phillips Heritage Center.”

“To the what?” Lucy stopped, her brow raised.

“Come on, we have to hurry they close at 4:30.” He tugged on her hand and the walked quickly past the kiosk in the front of the lobby selling tickets and hawking general information about the living museum they were both so familiar with.

“Don’t we need tickets/?” Lucy asked, breathless as her short legs struggled to keep pace. They breezed out the odor and past a family chattering and clucking about the best position to take a picture on the old wooden crosswalk.

“Nah,” Saul squeezed her hand and they walked faster and closer together.

“Lucy let out a breath and followed as he took a sharp right off the bridge down the uneven sidewalk. They stopped outside an old white building with a porch. To the left set back to the side was a little white church.

“What’s this?” Lucy asked. She’d been here a million times, but had never been back to this far corner of Old Salem. It was off the usual path and far from Winkler’s Bakery where she liked to snack on sugar cookies and sugar cake. She’d spent plenty of time pursuing the Single Brothers and Single Sisters and even the Blacksmith’s places. She’d been in and out of the Old Home Moravian Church, and had even toured Salem College once or twice, but she hadn’t been to this little corner.

“This is the St. Phillips learning center, maybe one day we’ll get a chance to go through it, but today, I want to go back there,” he pointed to the little church. “With you.”

Lucy opened her mouth to say something, but Saul was already heading up the stairs.

She followed, feeling a little like an intruder as they entered the small, quiet building—emptied as the last tour had already been given for that day.

A small robust woman came from the back room speaking as she walked, “Folks, we’re done with tours, but you’re welcome to—well glory be if it isn’t Saul. Child, where have you been the past few months? Get over here and give Polly a hug.”

“Hey Polly Wolly Doodle,” Saul’s now familiar laugh rang out as he hugged the woman, knocking her reading glasses from her head to the floor in his enthusiasm.

Lucy picked up the black frames—she was surprised to see rhinestones on the upturned corners of the rims.

Clearly this woman had a flare for ostentation.

“You ruffian, put me down,” she demanded, straightening out her now wrinkled blouse. She took the glasses from Lucy and settle them back on the top of her head, patting the rows of braids, which didn’t look ridiculous on a woman her age as it would on a Caucasian woman who might attempt the same beaded style.

“Thank you honey. Now Saul you must introduce me to this young angel you’ve brought in here. Would you just look at that beautiful glossy hair? It positively shines, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, Polly,” Saul was studying Lucy now. “I think you may be right. This is Lucy and her hair is gorgeous. We were just talking about it earlier today actually.

“A woman’s hair is her glory, hmm?” Polly nodded and reached out a hand to Lucy. “It is so nice to meet you, child.”

“Lucy, this is my dear friend Polly Smith. She and her husband Silas work here at the cultural museum and have for as long—“

“For longer than you’ve been alive sweet cheeks,” Polly laughed, a hearty noise filling the small space of the tiny cabin around them. “And you are welcome here. I’m always glad to meet any of Saul’s friends.”

Lucy didn’t miss the added emphasis to her final word, or the cutting way Polly’s eyes searched Saul briefly before coming back to rest on Lucy.

Saul either didn’t notice, or ignored Polly’s unspoken question as he asked, “Is Silas around?”

“He’s over at the church, honey,” Polly shuffled her way toward the back door. “Come on now, I’ll walk you over. We’ll just see what Silas has gotten himself into now.”

Lucy and Saul followed Polly out the door and back into the welcoming sunshine where the small, white church stood tall, proud and welcoming—just waiting for whatever they were to discover next.



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