September 15, 2021

HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS

Twenty years ago today these two got engaged!  On the Saturday after the 9/11 attacks.  And truly their love gave hope to us all during that tragic week.  This photo of Patrick and Julia was made during Christmas week of 2001 as they were finalizing plans for their wedding the following May. I’m thankful they got together!

They had discussed marriage and Patrick was waiting for just the right moment to surprise her with an official proposal.  He’d gotten an engagement ring and decided he’d bring Julia to Columbia for the weekend.  I was already working in Nashville and still going back to Columbia every few weeks.  I told him I’d be there if they wanted to come for the September 15 weekend.

Tuesday was 9/11.  By the next day Patrick called to ask if he should postpone.  I encouraged him to continue as planned—reminding him that their engagement would bring us hope and joy.  That Friday I drove on mostly isolated highways to Savannah, Georgia, for a business meeting.  After the morning meeting I went to a noon prayer service at the historic Independent Presbyterian Church there. Cities and towns throughout the country held noon prayer services that day.

On Saturday, Patrick, Julia and I went to lunch at local favorite Rush’s Hamburgers.  As prearranged with him, I then announced I had some errands to run and left.  Later that afternoon he gave me a call that I could come home and that she had said yes. Happy 20th engagement day anniversary, you two!

When Heather and Paul married in October, 2004, this was the cover of their wedding program.

Paul’s artist brother David drew the birds.  Emily Dickinson wrote the poem.  Hope sings on.

September 14, 2021

REAL AND IMAGINARY

This photo was taken when Heather and I stopped by Schuyler, Virginia, to pay homage to a family favorite television show of the 1970s and beyond, “The Waltons.” Earl Hamner, Jr. wrote Spencer’s Mountain in 1961, which was made into a movie two years later.  From that came first the CBS television movie “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story” followed by 9 seasons of the weekly television show “The Waltons.” Walton’s Mountain was an imaginary place (based on Hamner’s family home in Schuyler) and the Walton family was based on his family.

The closing scene of each show had the seven Walton siblings calling out “good night” to each other—and “Good night, John Boy” was a line familiar to almost everyone that decade.  When we stopped by to take a look at this little Virginia community, they were having a craft sale outside the country store (which was adjacent to the Hamner home). We strolled around, gazing at memorabilia of the television show and the family on whose story it was based. 

On another trip in North Carolina, Patrick and I once stopped by Mount Airy to take a look at the town that was Mayberry in “The Andy Griffith Show.”  This long-running television show seems never to end because of reruns. These places and characters seemed so real to us! 

We didn’t have a television set until I was in high school, but “I Love Lucy” was the show not to be missed.  I would go to my friend Barbara’s house almost every week to watch it!  And it too continues in reruns and popularity.  Granddaughter Charlotte is a big fan of “I Love Lucy”—although she mostly would find “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Waltons” a bit slow.  

September 13, 2021

VISITING MISS MAUDE AT BEERSHEBA

No one ever loved a place more than Miss Maude Hunter loved the little community of Beersheba Springs on the Cumberland Plateau!  She had dreams of dying on the mountain—maybe even getting picked up from there like Elijah by a chariot of fire.

She lived in an apartment in Nashville and worked. Every summer she would take young people from church to put on a Vacation Bible School at the Beersheba Church of Christ. Tom was one of those Nashville kids—and he caught Miss Maude’s passion for Beersheba.

Many well-to-do families from Nashville and Chattanooga owned summer homes on the mountain—some had been in their family for generations.  And there was a community of year-round residents, many of whom struggled to make a living.  

Maude became friends with Edna Davenport from McMinnville, who had renovated or built several log homes in Beersheba.  With her help, Maude finally was able to buy a small cabin just down the street from the church.  She spent weekends and most of the summer there, planning to come permanently after she retired.

This photo was taken one fall weekend in 1968 when she invited us to bring baby Heather to spend some time with her.  Tom had gotten the crazy idea that we should buy a summer place at Beersheba, too.

Her place was cozy and cluttered. She built a fire in the fireplace and made us feel at home. She cooked up some fried chicken and cornbread, and brewed strong coffee in a little percolator on the stove. Her specialty was bacon crackers—wrap a piece of bacon around saltine crackers and bake them in a 250 degree oven for about two hours.  So crisp and delicious—still a family favorite appetizer!

The next day we met Edna Davenport and within a few months, we had our own log home at Beersheba. Miss Maude’s love for this beautiful spot was irresistible.  The photo of the church there is from a book on Beersheba history.  I think they changed the name of the road in front of her house to Hunter’s Mill Road in her honor.  Even a statue of her wouldn’t be too much!

September 10, 2021

AUNT CHRISTINE COMES TO VISIT

Tom’s Aunt Christine was a lovely person!  She was one of his father’s two sisters—the other one being Connie. It always seemed that Christine had an interesting life, a bit more exciting than her siblings. As a young woman from Columbia in Maury County, she came to Nashville for a job as a ticket agent for Pan American Airways.  Her young Connelly nephews thought it was an exciting job and loved to visit her at the airport.

This photo was taken in the early 1970’s when Christine flew to Columbia, South Carolina to visit us.  My mother Harriett and little Heather are sitting with her in our living room. She always wore her hair up, polished her nails, and dressed smartly.  Her bright eyes and smile conveyed her friendly disposition.

At some point she transferred with the airline to work in the Philadelphia area, where she met her husband Norman Mathey. Unable to have children of their own, they adopted young siblings, Leslie and Jeff.  When the children were young teenagers, their father died suddenly.  Leslie and Jeff had many emotional problems from their earliest childhood and Christine felt very vulnerable and alone so far from any of her relatives.

She decided to relocate to Nashville and bought a comfortable home near her brother Marlin. She worked for several years and struggled to help her children through many painful adjustments.  Life continued to be very difficult for them both.  

I loved the fact that she made the effort to come see us in our South Carolina home. Her fun-loving, adventurous spirit spread light wherever she went. She understood that her children were scarred from their early experiences and showed them unconditional love through the years.  She never tried to be anyone except who she was—and that was her gift to us all.

September 9, 2021

CORN MAZE AT THE FOOT OF THE MOUNTAIN

This photo was a marketing gimmick at the corn maze at the foot of Lookout Mountain that we visited one fall—but who could resist after seeing those little faces? There’s a long history linking the Faulk and Connelly families together—especially through the close friendship of Brent and Patrick.  They were neighbors in Columbia, went to church and high school together, spent several months during their college years living and working in London, traveled in Ireland with Heather, and have celebrated each other’s marriages and families. Brent drove from Chattanooga to Atlanta to attend the Emory University Commencement when Patrick received his Ph.D. in History.

Brent went to Covenant College on Lookout Mountain and fell in love with the college and the community. He began investing in real estate there, worked several years as a college recruiter for Covenant and then began a career in financial services with his friend Robbie.  He married his lovely wife Ana and brought her and her little daughter Ale to join him on the mountain.

A few years after Patrick and Julia welcomed twins Sam and Eli, Brent and Ana also had twins—son Charlie and daughter Riley.  Since then both have had another son—Niko for the Faulks, Ezra for the Connellys.  How amazing that these two guys are both fathers of twins!  In this photo, Eli (green shirt) and Sam (navy and red shirt) are smiling broadly to show their missing front teeth.  Little Riley is cupping her chin in her hand, with the other hand on her hip—and mischievous Charlie is showing off his belly button!  Ale is a devoted big sister, and loved babysitting the little ones.

Lookout Mountain is a friendly and tightknit community, and the Faulks live on Peter Pan Road.  They moved there from Cinderella Road, I think.  And the kids have gone to Fairyland Elementary School. This mountain ridge is part of the Cumberland Plateau, and home of the highly advertised tourist attraction Rock City.  It’s filled with natural beauty, caves, ancient rock formations and historical sites as well as the fanciful motifs of Rock City. 

Brent and his family are happily established there—enjoying neighbors, their church and the country club.  It’s wonderful to visit people who love their community while living on Peter Pan Road and walking to the neighborhood Starbucks.

September 12, 2021

WEARING LOOKALIKE OUTFITS

Their Grandmama Harriett liked nothing more than making clothes for us!  She’d always sewn for me over the years until I was a “big girl” and wanted to buy my outfits like my friends did. So when Heather came along, she made many adorable little dresses for her!  She wasn’t too familiar with sewing for a boy, so Patrick was more of a challenge.  She did make him quite a few of these little “bubble sunsuits” and then gave up.  This purple and white print denimlike fabric was used for her only attempt at matching sibling outfits.  She made Heather more of a coverall pattern and Patrick the sunsuit.  This photo shows them posing in their “lookalike” outfits at our Beersheba Springs house.

The second photo shows Heather and me modeling our matching deep pink print long skirts Harriett whipped up for us!  We’re standing in the back yard of our McGregor Drive home in Columbia.  Earlier we had matching summer aqua dotted Swiss dresses.

I don’t recall that Mother ever made matching outfits for her and me.  Perhaps it just wasn’t the “in fashion” then.  She did make most of her own “housedresses” though.  Never one for dressing casually, she always had on a neat cotton dress she’d made, wore a girdle and hose always with medium heel shoes.  Anytime company stopped by, they would remark, “Oh, you’re getting ready to go somewhere!” Not so—that was just her “at home” look.  She only had one pair of Bermuda shorts when she went to the beach in her sixties and a few tailored pantsuits she wore in her seventies and eighties.  Small concessions!

September 11, 2021

LIGHT AND SHADOWS: A REMEMBRANCE

Today, the 20th anniversary of 9/11/2001, a date we cannot forget.  What image or photograph could ever depict that memory? I decided on this—a candle inside my metal lantern with the outline of trees and the shadowy reflections on the wall behind. 

On that beautiful Tuesday morning in 2001, I had just been working at my Nashville Downtown Partnership job about six weeks and was living in a room at John and kay’s home temporarily.  When the news of the plane hitting the first World Trade Center tower in New York reached our office, my two young staff members asked to go to another area where people were watching on television.  I just sat at my computer in shock, praying. As the tragic story continued to unfold, I got periodic phone call updates from John, Patrick and Heather. 

Thousands of people went to work that morning just as I had or got on a plane to go somewhere and never came home again. As seldom before, we all recognized our vulnerability and that any morning could be our last one on earth.  The stories of the people who were killed that day made us appreciate life itself and our loved ones, and we saw amazing courage and compassion among so many affected—people risking their lives to help others to safety, firefighters and police rushing into danger to save others, airplane passengers storming the hijackers to prevent destruction of another planned target, followed by the horrible days of digging through the rubble for survivors or to identify those killed. Incredible suffering has endured for many.

Many families of those who were killed that day have gone on to accomplish remarkable ways of remembering them that continue to help others. Memorials at the sites were designed to help heal those who remember the lost.

On this 20th anniversary, I feel there is much more to lament.  I listened again to words from people who warned us against vengeance that week in 2001.  Miroslav Volf (Christian theologian and author) was speaking on reconciliation at a prayer breakfast at the United Nations headquarters that morning as the first plane hit one of the World Trade Center. They evacuated the building immediately after he spoke, thinking it too might be a planned target of the terrorists. On a podcast today, he recalled his message on reconciliation at that prayer breakfast and grieved over the path of vengeance our country followed, with trillions of dollars spent and many thousands of lives lost in long unsuccessful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

I listened to a sermon called “The Day Jerusalem Fell” preached by Rev. Jeremiah Wright in Chicago the Sunday after 9/11.  His text was the last portion of Psalm 137—verses so hard they are seldom mentioned.  He grieved the loss of life on 9/11 and encouraged everyone to speak their love to each other. And he warned that America’s “chickens were coming home to roost” in this attack. 

I also listened to a sermon by Rev. Tim Keller at the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City from that Sunday.  He cautioned against several false narratives that were already emerging.  One was the narrative of “we are the good guys” and “they are the evil guys.”  No one could dispute that the terrorists’ actions on 9/11 were evil, yet we need not demonize a specific religion or nationality or think our nation totally good.

Lamenting and listening and remembering. Twenty years later.

September 8, 2021

FALL IN THE MOUNTAINS

Fall is my favorite season—and it always seemed most beautiful in the mountains of Western  North Carolina.  When Patrick and Julia lived in Swannanoa, we had some lovely day trips up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, at Chimney Rock and one weekend when Sam and Eli were about four, we visited Lake Lure for the first time.

In this photo I’m holding Sam (in dark jacket) and Eli (tan jacket) while we’re on a delightful (except for the bright sunlight making the boys cover their eyes) boat tour of Lake Lure.  For about an hour we slowly glided around the lake, with a guide pointing out summer homes on the banks and other sights of interest. 

The fall colors were brilliant, perfectly mirrored in the sparkling, clear water of the lake.

On shore, we walked through the lobby of the 1927 Lake Lure Inn.  Perhaps the most exciting event for this tiny resort area in recent years was the 1987 filming of the movie Dirty Dancing. Many of the stars and production crew stayed at the Lake Lure Inn during the filming.  Most of the footage was shot at a former Boy’s Camp. Posters and other memorabilia from the filming were displayed in the Inn.

Cool air, fall colors, clear water, mountains all around—and time spent with family.  Ingredients for a lovely day!

September 7, 2021

GOING TO A STORYTELLING FESTIVAL

I’ve always loved stories—whether listening to them, reading them or telling them! Going to the annual international storytelling festival in Jonesboro (or Jonesborough), Tennessee in the fall of 2009 was a wonderful experience!  This was our delegation—Mary Jo (right), Judy (left) and I from Nashville, and Earleen (kneeling) joining us from South Carolina.

Mary Jo and Judy had been before, so they knew what to expect.  And Earleen and I were definitely not disappointed. Thousands of people come each year to this historic little town at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains near Johnson City.  Founded in 1779, the town is older than the state of Tennessee—originally being part of Western North Carolina and later, the capital of the failed State of Franklin. 

The festival operates very efficiently—with storytelling events scheduled over several days in several huge white tents with hundreds of folding chairs.  The atmosphere is reminiscent of going to a “tent revival.” Programs list the schedules with details about each storyteller and you can move from tent to tent according to your preference.  We made our tentative selections when we got our programs a few weeks ahead, but often someone we sat by would have such an enthusiastic recommendation, we might change plans.  It was fun talking to people in the tents from so many different states.  Sometimes busloads of nearby school children came for several sessions.

I had heard one of the leading storytellers Donald Davis several times when he held storyteller workshops for teachers and students in South Carolina.  He has mastered the art of carrying the listener along with his stories, some hilarious and others heartbreaking. A new favorite from the festival is Sheila Kay Adams, from Western North Carolina.  She is a true daughter of Appalachia who carries on the traditional family stories of her region.  She also is an accomplished musician, playing the banjo and singing Appalachian ballads.  She was mentored by Lee Smith, another of my favorite Southern writers, and has published several books.  I read her My Old True Love after hearing her at the festival and enjoyed it very much.

This quote from her book seems to sum up many of the stories she told:

“Some people is born at the start of a long hard row to hoe. Well, I am older than God’s dog and been in this world a long time and it seems to me that right from the get-go, Larkin Stanton had the longest and hardest row I’ve ever seen.”  That’s Appalachia!

September 6, 2021

THINKING OF SISTERS

Today is the birthday of the little girl in this family photo from long ago.  She posted this photo on Facebook today—and she still very much loves her parents and baby sister.

The happy mother is Catherine Skelley, who was Inez Connelly’s younger sister (by 7 years).  The eldest sister was Ruby Woody (two years older than Inez).  They had a much younger brother Jess Gidcomb, who was 15 years younger than Inez.  Their parents were Luther and Nonie Gidcomb.

Inez was the only sibling who moved away from their home community of Santa Fe, near Columbia.  Tom and his brothers grew up in Nashville but loved visiting their mother’s family “in the country.” 

Catherine (or Cat, as her sisters called her) was the quietest of the sisters.  She and her husband Billy were married a couple of years after he got home from World War II.  Their daughter Carolyn was born the following year and there was an age gap between her and baby sister Susan. They were always a loving and happy family.  When Billy died in 1994, Cat died just six days later.  Carolyn didn’t marry and has delighted in Susan’s children and grandchildren.

Of the four Gidcomb siblings, Inez was the only one who had sons! Everyone else only had daughters.  Tom always loved spending time with the two cousins closest to his age, Ruby’s daughters Glenda and Katie.  After he was diagnosed with lung cancer, he spent lots of time talking with his Aunt Ruby on the phone.  He told her he wanted to be buried in the Santa Fe Cemetery with generations of the Gidcombs.  She saw to it that he was.