June 14, 2021

THE RED-HAIRED QUEEN

I wish this photo were in color!  My cousin Edanna was a charmer—with the kind of bright red hair that is seldom seen today.  I often wonder why there seemed to be more red-haired and platinum blonde children when I was little—and not as many now. Is it climate change? Genetic modification? Perhaps we were just more fortunate in rural East Tennessee to be blessed with such diversity!

Edanna and I were classmates beginning in first grade at North City School. In high school we were joined by another Ensminger cousin, King. We all had a vague notion of how our parents were cousins but the details weren’t clear to us. I really admired their names—Edanna was named for her father Edward (Ed).  King was the older son of Neal Ensminger, and had a brother named David.  King and David—seem to fit together well, don’t they?

I’m not totally sure why Edanna was given this crown—maybe in the third or fourth grade.  I think it might have been for May Day.  Our school always had a pole on the playground with strands of pastel ribbons attached on May 1.  All the girls would wear special dresses and flowers in our hair while we held on to a ribbon and danced around the May pole to music.

Edanna looked great in her homemade white net gown, carrying a bouquet of net and roses and proudly wearing a gold paper crown atop her beautiful red curls. 

By the time we were in the sixth grade, I would go spend the night with Edanna and her mother Adelia would give me a home permanent. She had a small beauty shop in her home and would “work me in” every few months for an after hours appointment.  We all had to have curls—and if they didn’t come naturally, arrangements must be made.  

In high school, Edanna began dating Freddie Ross, who’d been my neighbor.  They eventually were married.  He became a physician and they lived in Canada for many years.  And to think it all began when she was Queen of the May at North City School!

June 13, 2021

SOME THINGS OLD, SOME THINGS NEW!

This photo is from June, 2015, on the day I surprised the four cousins with their very first smorgasbord for lunch.  By the time Sam and Eli were 6 and Charlotte about 5, we launched Camp Grandmama.  The first few years it involved Charlotte sleeping over, the three of them lined up in sleeping bags on the floor in the garage den.  Patrick and Julia would be here but when Camp Grandmama was in session, all usual limits on snacking, staying up late, and fun and games were suspended!

By 2015, Ezra was 5, Sam and Eli 10 and Charlotte 9 and we were ready to expand Camp Grandmama.  For the first time, the boys stayed in Nashville several days without their parents.  In this photo, they are wearing their 2015 camp t-shirts. They began putting on skits and having intense games of hide and seek all over the house. We took “field trips” and always drove downtown to see the tall buildings and tourists.

The second photo shows the Camp Grandmama kids in Chattanooga in June, 2019!   With three teenagers in the group for the first time, Heather helped me take this week to a new level. Since we both have compact cars, we rented a big SUV for our road trip. It was an amazing week in Nashville, Chattanooga and many points in between.

And then came 2020.  Remember the pandemic? For more than a year, we were limited to Sunday afternoon visits on Zoom.  The cousins still were able to talk and have fun, but there was no 2020 in person Camp Grandmama. I missed it terribly!

And then came 2021—and COVID vaccines! Ezra’s the only one still a bit too young to get the vaccine—but everyone else has had both doses.  This next weekend, we’re gathering in Nashville for the reunion Camp Grandmama!  Sam and Eli are 16 and I can’t imagine how much taller they’ve gotten over the past 15 months—Charlotte is 14, and I’ve gotten to see how she’s grown up this year.  Ezra is almost 11 and even on Zoom he looks much taller!Plans are almost finished—and we’re all looking forward to a fun-filled time!  Three requests from the campers—be sure to have apple chips (a favorite snack since the very first), salmon patties, and deviled eggs.  Check.  My favorite part will be those hugs!

June 12, 2021

FEET UNDER THE TABLE

There are a few times when you might want your feet to be featured in a photo—and this must have been one of those!  Here’s a candid shot of mother-daughter feet under the table at the Illinois wedding reception of Jesse and Stephanie.  Heather had gotten a pedicure and loved her  new pink sandals.  After many years of wearing high heels with pointed toes, I was just thankful to find a pair of closed toe shoes that didn’t hurt my feet.

Feet take a lot of abuse—from ill-fitting, poorly designed shoes mostly.  When I was a little girl, the Buster Brown shoe stores all had small x-ray machines you could slide your feet in and get an inside look. Surely that was a foolish experiment—and of course they disappeared after a few years. 

The designers of pointed toe high heels must have had a cruel streak.  They started all my foot woes for sure. A few years after this “foot photo” I started going to a podiatrist.  The next step was to have custom orthotics for my shoes.  And then, only flats.  When you have a few crooked toes, sandals lose their appeal.

After a delicious dinner and many loving toasts to the bride and groom, the dancing began.  Heather and Paul joined in—and her feet had a delightful time on the dance floor. Perhaps this photo is a good reminder that you should dance every chance you get—make your feet happy while you can!

June 11, 2021

AN UNFORGETTABLE DATE

Bob spent a summer on staff at our church and formed many deep friendships there. He was about 7 years older than Patrick and became something of a mentor to him.  I loved having him to our home for meals and deep conversations.  We talked about books we loved and our spiritual journeys. He was honest and passionate about continuing to grow in his faith and serving others. 

When I was caring for my mother at my home the last few years of her life, he often sent me cards and notes of encouragement—including quotations from various writers.  My favorites were from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets—

“To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,

You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy” and

“And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one.”

In June of 1994, he and Jill were married in the church in Gainesville, Florida, where he was on staff. Knowing he was struggling financially, the women of the church told him they wanted to host the rehearsal dinner.  They also provided wedding flowers and the reception at the church.

I drove down from Columbia and Patrick came from Orlando where he was in seminary.  Bob assured us that his church friends also were hosting all the out of town guests overnight.  I was to spend the night after the rehearsal dinner with a couple who lived in a lovely home in a gated community.  Patrick went with me to meet them and drop off my luggage. They weren’t going to be at the rehearsal dinner.  We had a lovely evening and stayed quite late talking with everyone.  Patrick was driving me back to the place I was staying and then going on where he was staying with some of the wedding party.  Surprise!  Since it was so late, the entrance gate was locked and my hosts had not given me the code.  We tried several strategies that didn’t work—and finally drove back to find Bob.  He called another woman who was already hosting several guests and she kindly agreed to take me in.  I didn’t have so much as a toothbrush!  I was just settling into bed when Patrick returned.  He and Bob had managed to contact my hosts and they let him in to get my suitcase.  What a relief that was!

The wedding was lovely—and at the reception, Bob was overwhelmed by all the love his church family had shown them in making their day so special.  He said he was sure he would never forget his wedding anniversary—because it was also his 30th birthday!  

In this photo, I’m with Bob and Jill a summers after they married.  They were in the Asheville area at a vacation home with her family and met Patrick and me at a coffee shop for a visit.  In 2002, Bob officiated at Patrick and Julia’s wedding in Annapolis. So congratulations and love to Bob and Jill today on their wedding anniversary—and his birthday! 

June 10, 2021

NEVER A DULL MOMENT!

Randy always seemed to be a bundle of energy.  He, Patrick, Joseph and several other friends from church lived together at what they called the “youth house” the year after high school.  Most of the guys scrounged around their parents’ homes for some old furniture or other household supplies.  Randy’s mom had other ideas!  

She brought high quality furniture, quilts and decorative items to set up Randy’s bedroom at the “youth house.”  He took some teasing from his housemates about his luxurious furnishings—and a favorite target was this decorative painted goose his mom brought.  Randy enjoyed his comfortable room and was a good sport about the teasing. Not sure how the goose felt about all the fuss!

When we were planning our trip to Nashville for Heather’s graduation from Vanderbilt, Randy said he would like to go along.  Bill and Jane were hosting a pre-graduation party at their Castlewood home and they agreed to this extra houseguest.

Driving from South Carolina to Nashville via Asheville is one of my favorite drives—especially the Asheville to Nashville section.  And that trip with Randy and Patrick was one of the best.  I still remember laughing until we cried at some of Randy’s stories. 

This photo shows Patrick and Randy at the front entrance to the Connelly home. We had a wonderful time at the party with so many of Heather’s friends and their families celebrating this important milestone. Graduation morning was sunny and bright.  Tootsie and Kim drove over from Athens to join us that morning—and sat outdoors on the Vanderbilt lawn with Patrick, Randy and me to cheer for Heather’s big day. 

Randy came back to Vanderbilt two years ago.  He’s now a Presbyterian pastor in Maryland and he and his wife Kate have a lovely, talented daughter Caroline.  He was taking Caroline on a tour of colleges and arranged to meet with Heather on the Vanderbilt campus.  She’s now a faculty member in Human and Organizational Development. Almost 30 years after Randy came to her graduation, she enjoyed talking with his daughter about her choices for her college education.  Caroline eventually chose the Honors College at University of Alabama.  But the link to Randy continues.  

June 9, 2021

“MY DARLING GRANDCHILDREN”

Harriett sent this snapshot from April, 1971, to her sister Della and on the back she wrote: “Me and my darling Grandchildren.”  She’d been with us in Columbia for a few weeks before Patrick was born and stayed for a month afterward.  Tootsie, Katie and Emily drove over from Athens to take her home—and to meet our sweet new baby boy!

Emily was Glenn’s only child—and 19 years old in this photo. Heather was three years old, and Patrick about a month old.  Her three grandchildren—each of whom she loved unconditionally all her life. One of the great things about being a grandparent is that you can be more relaxed and delight in your grandchildren without too many distractions.

Emily proved to be a very complicated grandchild. Only 8 years old when her father died, she seemed to live on a rollercoaster of physical and emotional highs and lows. She married briefly at 15 and by this time, was married to her second husband, Kenny.  He was a kind person and loved Emily. We hoped her life was on an even keel at last. During this visit, she said she wanted to have a baby and the next January, she and Kenny welcomed their baby boy Robert.

Harriett would live to enjoy her darling grandchildren another 21 years!  She spent increasing amounts of time in South Carolina with us—and was such a tremendous help after I became a single working mother. Cooking, cleaning, raking leaves—but most importantly, being present when Heather and Patrick got home from school.  And sometimes having warm Snickerdoodles ready for a snack! She loved getting to know their friends who came over and was happy to celebrate their birthdays and graduations.  

Emily’s life spiraled out of control again and again. Her grandmother grieved and worried and prayed—and never stopped loving her.  She adored little Robert, her first great-grandchild—and rejoiced when his first son Johnathan was born—a great-great grandson.  And when Emily married Ronnie and they had a baby girl Katie, she was delighted.  After she was ill and needed sitters, Emily and Katie (about 8 years old) flew to Columbia to stay with Harriett when I went to Heather’s Vanderbilt graduation.

There was never any doubt that these grandchildren were cherished.

June 8, 2021

BE WHO YOU ARE

When the Rouse family joined our church in Columbia (Irmo, to be exact), they were enthusiastically welcomed as far as we were concerned. Mark was a State Farm insurance agent, Janice a nurse—Ivy was their daughter, and her younger brother was Stanley. This photo is Janice with Ivy and Stanley at our house for a Christmas Eve brunch. 

Mark and Janice joined the church choir and he soon was part of the popular men’s quartet and also played trumpet for special music.  Janice was a loving and firm mother and seemed very self-confident, never hesitating to speak her mind.  

After they’d been our friends for several years, I remember asking once if it ever bothered them to be the only African Americans in our church.  They laughed and said no—that it seemed to be a pattern for them. This was in the mid-eighties. During the past year, I’ve wondered if this would be the case now.

 Although I haven’t seen the Rouses for many years now, I have every reason to believe they still have that self-assurance and love of family.  Mark is still with State Farm and very active with ColaJazz. They were actively providing great music for people during the pandemic—I enjoyed watching this 2020 YouTube video of Mark Rouse and Friends. Just look at the face of little Ivy in today’s photo.  You can see that she’s a strong person, confident and that she will speak her mind.  She married Adrian Tillman whom she met while they were Clemson students. They have four sons—from ages 5 to 21! Her firstborn son is at Kennesaw State University and his youngest brother just graduated from high school and will be his roommate at college in the fall. Ivy is the Institutional Review Board Office Director and Human Protections Administrator at Augusta University, where she is working on her doctorate in Educational Innovation. She is passionate about her family, her faith, her career and racial justice.  She took a day off from work to watch the Biden-Harris inauguration.  What a woman!

June 7, 2021

A DOG’S LIFE

Over the years, I’ve loved some family pets—but I’m just not an animal person.  Thankfully, as adults both Heather and Patrick have had some wonderful pets!  But I have to admit we had a few mishaps with their childhood pets.

When Heather was a toddler, one of Tom’s students had some Siamese kittens and offered us one.  The kitten’s cry sounded like another baby in the house—and when she scratched Heather badly we decided to return her to the student. Later a stray male tabby cat showed up in our yard and we “adopted” him.  We called him Beauregard.  He remained independent—and once brought home a little family.  The baby kitten seemed very ill and I took it to the vet where it died. We loved Beau!

One year we went away for a week’s vacation and our neighbor Cathy promised to look after Beau for us. When we returned, she said he’d disappeared. She’d called and looked for him with no luck.  Heather and Patrick were distressed and another neighbor Jess said he’d look for Beau.  He had gone off into a remote part of the yard to die.  Jess buried him and we grieved.

We first got a Brittany Spaniel puppy because J.R. Reynolds loved that breed and we liked his dogs.  She had butterscotch spots and we named her Candy.  That dog was 100% energy—truly ready to go hunting!  I’d go out the back door to feed her and she’d jump all over me with excitement, occasionally knocking me flat on my back. We were at a loss as to how to train her.  J.R. took pity on us and took her to live with them.  He later said she was a real challenge for him to train—but at least she had a good home.

After we moved to our new house on King George Way we tried to have a dog again.  This photo shows Patrick playing with Luke, our black cocker spaniel.  The theory was that Heather and Patrick were older and could be the primary caretakers.  The downside of that was that they were very involved with school, extracurricular activities and their friends—with not so much time to play with a dog.  Our back yard faced the pond (which we called a lake) so we couldn’t have a fenced in yard for Luke. 

A few years later, Mother’s health was declining and she moved in with us.  We kept Luke downstairs in the unfinished part of our basement.  There were windows looking out on the lake, and he had a cozy bed near the washer and dryer.  We kept him well supplied with food and water and took him out for walks once or twice a day.  Eventually we had a sitter stay with Mother while I worked during the day.  I really felt bad to have so little time for Luke.  Finally, the sitter mentioned that her daughter had a nice fenced in back yard, loved dogs and had recently lost one.  She was interested in giving Luke a home!  It seemed best for Luke and our situation.  The afternoon she came to pick him up, Patrick and I both shed a few tears—but it was good to know he’d be with other dogs and people who would give him the time and attention we couldn’t.  Good dog, Luke!

June 6, 2021

WHO WAS THE REAL ROBERT E. LEE?

This is a photo from late fall in 1962—of young Emory Thomas from Virginia. He and his wife Fran were guests at a holiday party at our Houston apartment on Austin Street. Emory and Tom—as well as most of the friends there—were graduate students at Rice University. They lived, breathed and discussed all things related to the Civil War, its generals and battles. Their beloved faculty advisor was Dr. Frank Vandiver, who’d written a definitive biography of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.

With Emory, Robert E. Lee was always top of the list.  Those Virginians had grown up revering Lee as a great man and general. Tom’s thesis and dissertation both focused on the less glamorous Army of the Tennessee instead of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. As he continued teaching and writing over the next decade, he decided to write a book shattering some of the myths about Robert E. Lee.  By the time The Marble Man was published in 1977, we were divorced and he was remarried.  

Many scholars and amateur Civil War buffs were outraged at Tom’s portrayal of their hero.  But the book seemed to open the door to considering a more human version of Lee. Almost 20 years later (in 1995), Emory came out with his own biography of Robert E. Lee. It seemed to garner more favorable reviews, and to be more of a balanced view of Lee’s greatness. John Eisenhower reviewed the book for The New York Times. Emory and Fran also divorced—sometime before his Lee book.  Seems like an uncanny parallel.

Those graduate school years and friendships were very special.  Emory and Tom always stayed in contact and he was one of the speakers at a Columbia memorial service after Tom’s death in early 1991.  He referred to Tom’s book on Lee.  Lee remains an enigma—as does Tom.

June 5, 2021

RISING ARTIST

Today was my first glimpse of the new downtown 5th & Broadway development. It’s certainly a far cry from the old Nashville Convention Center that it replaced.  Food halls, upscale retail and restaurants, and anchored by the National Museum of African American Music.  And don’t forget the crowds of tourists—so many people.  That seemed like old times for downtown Nashville—but 5th & Broadway was a totally unfamiliar sight and didn’t have much of a Nashville feel about it.

But as we were leaving, I spotted the Swipe Right Art Gallery.  And while glancing around at their featured artwork, I saw this display of Aaron Grayum’s paintings.  Then I felt like I was downtown at last!

I started working with Aaron just a few years after I moved to Nashville.  He was a graphic designer and did freelance work for us at the Nashville Downtown Partnership.  He was very soft-spoken and easy to collaborate with on our projects.  He did excellent work for us and gradually began focusing more on his painting.  I love the whimsical style of his work and he’s recently also done some more impressionistic paintings. It’s wonderful to see that he’s a featured artist at this new gallery in this new downtown development.

Tonight is the monthly downtown art crawl and the gallery owner said Aaron would be there painting live tonight. She sent him a text to tell him I said hello! 

This is one of Aaron’s prints I bought early this year.  He and other artists did murals for windows along 2ndAvenue North that were damaged by the Christmas Day bombing. I loved the hope expressed in Aaron’s mural. Less than six months after that devastating event, recovery is well under way.  Much more remains to be repaired and rebuilt but now it seems possible again.  Artists like Aaron are part of the resilience that defines Nashville.