A few years ago, Heather’s improv group began having some shows at a new local comedy club at Marathon Village. The Sunday night shows sometimes had a theme or other performers joining in and the audience got to participate by giving challenges to the improvisers. This photo captures the tone of an evening at the club. This time the featured musical guests were The Ukedelics, Nashville’s favorite ukulele band. On the left, Heather’s chatting with her friend who’s a member of the group as the musicians give their attention to Charlotte’s own improvised dance routine. After the show was finished, she loved to get up on stage with all the performers and add her postscript to the evening.
Learning more about improvisation through Heather’s training and performance has been a good experience. To see her able to do things she previously thought impossible—like doing live improv routines before audiences (without any stage fright), writing and belting out songs onstage (when previously she insisted she couldn’t sing) and perfecting her clown persona—was entertainment at its best.
She’s also taught us (including the Camp Grandmama kids) to play some challenging and entertaining improv games. I’ve also used them at some group parties with friends.
Today in a podcast, my favorite contemporary poet Christian Wiman spoke about writing poetry as improvisation. He described the way his poems come to life—spilling out unscripted and freely. Creativity unleashed. Doing what you thought you never could do.
Growing up, I had four sisters-in-law in my life. Katie was married to my brother Glenn. The three Eaves sisters-in-law were Isobel (Monte), Tip (Pat) and Mildred (Easy). They were adults—I was just a child— and it wasn’t really clear how to relate to them. Tip was the most complicated one—and I always felt like we should tiptoe around her to prevent a possible explosion. She was definitely a strong-willed and outspoken woman—and when she lost her temper, we cringed.
Except for this photo of her with her baby daughter Patsy and a few others taken that same visit to our house “up on the hill,” I can’t find any others. She was attractive but didn’t seem to care much about makeup and clothes. She seemed nervous and was almost often smoking a cigarette. She loved the game of bridge and was very good at it. She played contract bridge in tournaments, was in several competitive bridge clubs in Cookeville and on visits to Athens, often sat playing autobridge.
She and my brother Pat seemed like total opposites in personality. He was soft-spoken, gentle, and never seemed to get upset. That seemed to irritate Tip—and she often began yelling at him angrily while he would just continue reading his newspaper or magazine without any response. I was just 11 months older than Patsy—and she probably thought I should treat her like she was my mother. Thinking we were sisters-in-law instead, I dared to disagree with some of her comments occasionally. Not a good idea! She would start scong me and Arley would spring to my defense. It was complicated.
She adored their only child Patsy and pressured her to be popular and beautiful, which she was. When I visited them, she always wanted all the details of Patsy’s interactions with her school friends and liked to hang around whenever they came to the house. When Patsy was named Miss Tennessee, Tip was thrilled and excitedly went with her to the Miss America competition in Atlantic City. Tip was not pleased when her girl didn’t win the Miss America title, and stirred up some controversy in her criticism of the pageant and judges!
After Patsy married and had her own two children, Tip finally seemed to relax and was able to enjoy her grandchildren! And they never had to tiptoe around Tip.
In my small hometown church, Christmas was never mentioned—and certainly not Advent. There were no wreaths or poinsettias or garlands—and no Christmas carols were sung. In their eagerness to follow the Bible literally, they found no mention of a specific date for remembering the birth of Jesus. Everyone had some version of the holiday in their homes—with decorations, carols and gifts—but not in the church services. To emphasize the point, we usually sang the Christmas carols in July.
As an adult, I associated Advent with counting down the days of December to Christmas by opening a numbered flap daily to remove a piece of chocolate candy. Things began to change after my divorce, when I moved into the Presbyterian Church. We became familiar with the Advent wreath with its four candles. On each successive Sunday of Advent, a family in the church would come forward to light the candles. We bought kits to make the candle wreath for our table at home. First grader Heather was thrilled to be an angel atop the stable in a live nativity scene in front of the church. Advent and Christmas took on new meaning.
This service bulletin from Al Souls in London marked a new twist to my concept of Advent. When Heather and I visited Patrick in 1993, we went to this evening service on the first Sunday of Advent. They emphasized the Second Advent—the return of Christ at the end of the age—as the one for which we are now waiting. And so it is.
The first photo above is of a set of Advent cards from Redeemer Church in Jackson, MS. While visiting Patrick’s family a few years ago, I was able to get what has become my favorite daily Advent resource. Compiled by Paul Rankin, a member of that church, each day’s card features a color image of a contemporary art piece and on the reverse, a daily meditation usually with scriptures or poetry. There is a list of the artwork titles, the artists’ names and type of media used. The beauty and simplicity of this repeated Advent practice enrich my season.
Once upon a time it was simple to get a Christmas tree. You walked out in the field and picked out a cedar tree of the right size, cut it down and brought it home to decorate with strings of colored lights, aluminum tinsel strands and maybe a little spun glass (angel hair). The smell of the cedar was wonderful.
Over the years the tree selection process changed—and we needed to buy a tree. Sometimes we got a tree at the grocery store, Home Depot, or a Boy Scout Christmas tree lot. Cedars weren’t available—varieties now included pines, spruces and the current darling, the Fraser fir. Even though many people transitioned to the artificial trees (which have become very realistic looking), our family has stayed with the “real Christmas trees.”
This photo shows Patrick choosing their tree at a lovely North Carolina Christmas tree farm. They were living in Swannanoa while he taught at Montreat College, Sam and Eli were about four and I saw an ad for a tree farm in Leicester. It was a scenic drive there on the cold morning we took the boys to enjoy the experience.
There were many acres of lovely Fraser firs at various stages of growth. The owners had a very efficient operation, with something for everyone. We climbed into a wagon with horses for a drive through the farm and then returned to the area with this season’s trees. They provided a saw for you to cut down the tree of your choice, then baled it for the drive home. The boys were wide-eyed with excitement as they ran from one tree to another—trying to decide on just the perfect one for them.
Then we stopped by the Christmas tree shop where they had wreaths, bows, tree stands, knit scarves, hats and gloves for sale. And there was hot cocoa or cider to drink! Patrick and family returned to the Leicester farm several years for their tree choice. What a great holiday experience that was!
This photo was probably made in May, 1956, when the Victory Memorial Bridge across the Cumberland River opened in Nashville. It recently popped up on Facebook from the Metro Nashville Archives and I copied it for a special reason.
When I started working downtown I did research tracing its history, decline and the revitalization our organization was promoting. I spent long hours poring over old boxes of photos made by various official city photographers. This was one I especially liked! I paid to have an 8 x 10 black and white copy of it, which I matted and framed for my office. When I retired a few years ago, I left it behind.
In the left background, the tall building under construction is the L & C Tower, which officially opened in 1957. It was the first major downtown construction project after World War II, and by far the tallest building in Nashville and much of the Southeast. At the corner of Church and 4th Avenue North, the building is no longer the tallest although it continues to be one of the most elegant and familiar marks on the skyline.
The headquarters of Nashville’s Life & Casualty Insurance Company, it was the center of much commercial activity by well-known Nashville executives. The summer after I graduated from Lipscomb, I had my very first downtown Nashville job there—working as receptionist for WLAC Radio. I met some of the station DJs of that era who were widely known across the country—“Hoss” Allen, Herman Grizzard, and John R. Learning the inner workings of a radio station, I often helped out in the Traffic Department (which determined what was live on the station every second of the day and night).
The See Cruiser in the photo is carrying Nashville’s Mayor Ben West (1951-1963) and other local dignitaries for an “open air” view of the new bridge and the changing Nashville skyline. Several times business leaders who stopped by my office would comment that they spotted a relative of theirs in the photo.
For the first 20 years or so, the 25-foot high neon letters L & C atop the building gave the local weather forecast! The meteorology department of a nearby airfield would give the signal to reset every four hours—if the letters were red, that meant rain or snow was forecast, if they were blue, clear weather was expected. The color rippled upward if temperatures were rising, downward if temperatures were falling. Eventually other sources for knowing weather forecasts became more common and the maintenance was costly—and this feature disappeared. Today those tall letters would be blue, with the color rippling upward!
This cute photo shows big sister Patty holding her new baby brother Raymond—the family Christmas card in 1978. They are the children of my niece Pat and her husband Mack. Over the years we visited them occasionally in Nashville or Franklin.
Size was always a big topic of conversation in the Eaves family. Tootsie was a wonderful cook and also loved to eat. She was usually considerably overweight—and once dieted for a year to lose 100 pounds. When we were pre-teens my niece and I both started getting “pleasingly plump.” Her mom Tip was alarmed and began limiting Pat’s intake, saying she didn’t want her to be overweight like Tootsie. Mother wasn’t so concerned about my weight, but others in the family were. Nephews George and Farrell would come home from college and their first comments were always about whether I’d put on a few pounds or seemed “thinner.” If I disappointed their expectations, I was miserable.
Pat yielded to her mom’s pressure about her weight (being a lovely majorette at UT and then Miss Tennessee) until she got her law degree, married and understood that her weight didn’t define who she was. As her children grew, both were overweight and it didn’t seem that their parents minded at all.
After graduating from University of the South, Raymond got an MFA in Acting from Rutgers, and enjoys a successful career as a professional actor. This is a photo of him with his bride Whitney . Heather and I had fun going to their wedding at St. George’s Episcopal Church here in Nashville and the reception at Belle Meade Mansion. He said later that he worked very hard to lose some weight before the wedding—and successfully lost 50 pounds.
In 2015, he wrote his first full-length play entitled Size Matters, with him as the solo actor and Whitney as Production Stage Manager. Lots of the family were able to attend a performance at the Franklin Theatre.
He used a screen to project photos of his parents and other family members as he explored the impact his size had on his life. He acted the roles of his parents, his sister, his wife and the key character was his nephew Morgan. Young Morgan idolizes his uncle, and was thrilled about the wedding and proud of Raymond for losing that 50 pounds. However, when Raymond regained the weight the next summer when Whitney was working away from their home in Manhattan and he was lonely, Morgan was heartsick. He told Raymond that when Whitney came home, she wouldn’t love him anymore because he’d gained back the weight. Through this experience, he was able to help Morgan see that love wasn’t based on a person’s weight. At the same time, he was honest about how his weight often negatively affected his self- image and also limited the types of acting roles he gets. It was better than a documentary!
This photograph is the only one I’ve ever seen of my maternal grandfather as a young man. He died years before I was born (as did all my grandparents) and so he is only known to me through family stories, this photo and one later photo of him with my grandmother Evalee Ensminger Cate..
Among the photographs Mother had of her younger life were many from relatives (most of them Ensmingers) who left Tennessee for new lives in Kansas, Texas and California. These distant family members often sent photos of their children or family portraits to the Tennessee relatives they loved but rarely could visit.
Perhaps my grandparents also sent family photos to their distant kin but if so, they apparently didn’t keep one for their home.
Mother always talked lovingly of her father, of his gentle and loving nature, and his high standards. He seemed to model the type of life he encouraged his four children to live. When Mother was left as a young widow with a little son, he partnered with her to give them as secure a life as possible.
The older photo of him also shows his neatly trimmed mustache. His dark hair and eyes were also characteristic of two of his children—Della and Jack. The other two—Clifford and Harriett—were blonder and had blue eyes like their mother and her family.
Photographs—tangible records of family and friends. Sometimes we have only one or two of someone we knew—or perhaps their annual photo Christmas cards—or albums (now often digital ones) full of pictures. They may be carefully identified and dated or randomly scattered in an old shoebox or two. Each picture has a story to be seen and told.
The Rogers family played a big role in my early life in Athens—and this photo of them as guests at my wedding is the only one I have! Bill was the nephew of Mr. Sizer, who owned the Athens Table Factory that Arley managed for many years. His mother Ruth was Mr. Sizer’s sister, and after college and a few years working on other family businesses in Missouri, Bill was sent to Athens to learn the table business.
He was rather shy and unassuming, and not yet married. Arley liked him and he was a frequent guest at our home for home-cooked meals. After a year or so, he told us he was getting married to a young woman from Mexico, Missouri. Her name was Joann, he said, but everyone called her Jodie. I was about 12 by that time and excited to meet the young bride. He shared one more bit of information about her—she had a prosthetic eye. When she was a baby, her mother accidentally put drops from the wrong bottle into her eye late one night. To her horror, her baby girl’s eye had to be surgically removed. Bill said she wasn’t at all self-conscious about her eye.
Jodie was very warm and friendly, and usually wore pastel cashmere sweaters and tailored skirts—always with a strand of pearls. She was working on learning to cook and often invited me over to their apartment to try out her latest recipe. She served spaghetti and meatballs or pizza—and those were dishes we never had. I thought she was really cool!
When their first child, a daughter named Leslie, came along (she’s the little girl with bangs in the wedding photo), I was delighted to babysit! And to think Jodie and Bill trusted me with her.
Years after I left Athens, Jodie opened a picture framing business on the downtown square. After Bill died and her children were grown, she expanded to add elegant gifts. The last time I went in to visit with her, her youngest son Billy had begun making handcrafted jewelry. I was delighted to talk with him and purchased a beautiful amethyst ring from him. It’s not every day you buy a ring from a craftsman you used to babysit!
This picture shows Della (left) and Harriett (right) busy doing the family laundry! Those dresses and sunbonnets alone are remarkable. They are outdoors with two large black iron kettles of water atop a wood fire to heat the water. They added homemade soap and used a stick to make sure the dirty clothes were thoroughly washed. There were also washboards for a more thorough scrubbing of each item. Then there would be the rinsing process to remove the soap—and eventually the clothes would be hung on clotheslines to dry. It sounds like a backbreaking job—and all the better when the labor was shared by the sisters. Monday was their traditional washing day—and probably took up the greater part of the day. I imagine they gossiped and laughed together as they worked.
By the time I was born, Harriett had a Maytag washing machine. It was more convenient of course but quite a terror for the children. It was out in our smokehouse and the plug was in the ceiling. It had a wringer attachment and seeing those rollers turning was such a temptation for little hands. Tootsie left it unattended a couple of times and first Jerry and another time Joe tapped the wringer rollers. Jerry broke his arm that way, and Joe was pulled into the washtub and had his arm dislocated before he kicked the plug out to stop the wringer action.
Della never owned a washing machine! In Atlanta, she often did the laundry (including sheets!) in their bathtub and hung clothes on racks on the back porch to dry or on a clothesline outside. She may have gone to a laundromat occasionally although I doubt it was often.
This photo is even more stark—Harriett bringing in the cows for milking! Another daily chore that probably was shared by most family members. As farmers, her family kept cows , pigs and chickens and grew their own vegetables. They drank the unpasteurized milk and churned to make their butter. Her father had a divided basket in which he carried fresh butter and eggs into town to sell. They canned fruits and vegetables and made preserves and jellies to use during the winter. Certainly a full and busy life for everyone in the family—and no shortage of hard work!
We had eaten our delicious traditional meal, cleared the table and Paul had loaded the dishwasher. “I meant to take pictures,” I said. So I drafted Charlotte and took this one! The lovely flower arrangement was sent by Paul’s mom, Judy. We ate at their new dining room table—initiating it—and enjoyed their extensive home renovations completed during the pandemic. We all had thankful hearts—that Heather’s knee replacement surgery on Tuesday had gone well and that, even with serious postop pain, she was able to get around using a walker. And that we were able to gather in person—unlike during the pandemic. Last year we ate outside on the deck and by Christmas, had our meal on Zoom at three separate locations.
This was the first Thanksgiving since Paul’s dad Lewis died—and we remembered him with love. We talked with the Mississippi Connellys after our meal and just as they were sitting down to their own traditional meal.
Charlotte and I coordinated our dinner menu—and she prepared some of her favorites—mashed potatoes, deviled eggs and pumpkin pie with whipped cream! Paul made a delicious fresh recipe of green bean casserole. I cooked my apple cider-basted turkey, made baked dressing and gravy, cranberry-orange relish, sweet potato biscuits and cranberry crunch pie.
Charlotte’s items all turned out perfectly, she started preparing early and seemed very relaxed. She said cooking really made her stressed out and she might just give it up! I don’t think so.
In 2018, the Nashville family spent Thanksgiving with the Mississippi family! This was our token holiday portrait that weekend. We had a great time celebrating together!
Enter his courts with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. –Psalm 100:4,5