February 7, 2021

Dinner with International Students at USC
Columbia, SC

TREATING GUESTS LIKE ROYALTY—EVEN WHEN DINING ALONE!

One of my favorite compliments ever from a dinner guest was, “You’ve made us feel like royalty with this meal!”  That’s my heart’s desire as I love poring over recipes and planning menus, preparing the food, and creating a festive table setting with flowers and the best dishes and silver. To offer more than is expected—to delight and surprise. My mother modeled that same extravagant approach to “company meals.”

A special delight has always been to give guests from other countries a taste of Southern cooking—with menu items like country ham, sweet potato biscuits, cheese grits, fried okra, homemade cake and iced tea punch.  And to ask them about their favorite foods from their home country. Dinner guests have included a dentist and his family from Brazil, international students at the University of South Carolina, Fulbright scholars from Turkey, Germany and Spain who were at a Vanderbilt conference, and a refugee family from Honduras living in Nashville.

When I was married, we always enjoyed hosting dinners for other graduate students, university professors, authors (including one Pulitzer Prize winner), and friends from church. After my divorce, I more often hosted dinners for other women on their own and their children. As my children grew older, I loved preparing special meals for their friends. Celebrating family gatherings with food, and later “helping” my grandchildren prepare meals for their parents bring great joy. During the 2020-21 pandemic, I’ve prepared occasional meals for others whenever possible. I’ve tried quite a few new recipes and added them to my Quarantine Collection for future reference. And I intentionally have made all of my solitary dinners a special occasion—with candlelight, flowers, good china, a glass of wine, classical music and a carefully prepared meal to savor slowly. 

Isak Dinesen’s Babette’s Feast is such a beautiful story.  In South Carolina in the 1990s I hosted a movie-dinner party for seven women friends.  I prepared a French meal with candlelight and wine—and between each course we moved to the living room to watch a portion of the Babette’s Feast movie with subtitles.  Our conversation about the movie always led back to Babette’s extravagant grace in the meal she prepared. As she said, “When I did my very best I could make them perfectly happy.”  One can always try!

Dinner for Fulbright Scholars, Nashville
( from Germany, Turkey and Spain)

February 6, 2021

Glenn Hurst 
Going to War, 1942

GLENN WENT TO WAR AND BOB CAME HOME

By the time I was born, my half-brother Glenn’s life was turned upside down.  Our mother Harriett married my father Arley during his senior year of high school and they moved to his home.  After so many years as an only child cared for by his widowed mother, his Grandmother Cate and Aunt Della, the change must have been traumatic.  He was thrilled to have a baby sister a few years later!  

College seemed out of the question for financial reasons and war was imminent.  He first joined the Civilian Conservation Corps for a year or two and then was drafted as a Private in the U.S. Army.  He became a medic and spent over three years in the Pacific theater. He wrote long, detailed letters to his mother, Aunt Della and other family members.  Mother kept every letter—often riddled with holes where censors cut out words that might reveal his location—in an old black purse. 

The Pacific theater covered one-third of the globe, and he spent much of the time in the tropics and jungles, with extreme heat, rain and insects. The combat soldiers in the Pacific usually spent longer times overseas than those in Europe—and Glenn never had a single furlough. He was in battles at Saipan Island, Okinawa, the Marshall Islands and others.  

His letters show his discouragement and loneliness.  And yet in the horror of all he experienced, he felt compassion for the enemy too.  As was the norm during the war, he refers to them as “Japs” but sees them as suffering fellow human beings.  In 1944, he wrote about the horrors of the fighting on Saipan Island.  “…we were 200 yds  behind the front lines and worked all day under fire…received a commendation from the Colonel…Even the women were fighting—one woman sniper was brought in…she had on a uniform and sneaker shoes and had a tight band around her breasts so she would look like a man…One old Jap woman was captured and came through—she didn’t even have clothes but she had a box she was holding on to—in it was a picture of her son who was a soldier. Well, Mother, I thought of you and I said ‘I know my mother would be the same way’…all you can have is pity for the heartbreaks of war.  Surely they have the same feelings as all humans of flesh have.”

His best friend in his company was killed at Saipan. He wrote, “War comes close to you when you see a dog tag on a white cross that you’ve picked up a dozen times in the shower and found on the floor or hanging on the bed.  Only hope I can bring mine home with me if I get to come home.”

In December, 1944, he tried to imagine what it would be like if and when he returned.  “Maybe you won’t understand me—I’ve changed so much—I’ll be like a stranger in a foreign land. Maybe I haven’t a place where I’d fit in anymore—who knows…I don’t look like the boy you kissed good-bye so long ago.  But Mother please be kind—I’m nervous and easily turn moody and my emotions aren’t all they once were.  Most of the normal human emotions have been warped and died one way or another.”

It was as he imagined. He returned home in 1945, thin with graying hair, nervous, chain- smoking cigarettes, and often drinking to block out painful wartime memories.  Also, he asked us to call him Bob and not Glenn.  The Army had called him by his first name—Robert or Bob.  Glenn did not come home after all.

Private First Class Bob Hurst, 1945– the older, thinner version

February 5, 2021

Robert and Harriett

Robert and Harriett

Harriett usually had a very sober appearance in her young photos—that is, until she fell in love! As she told it, there was a farm auction in their community one Saturday and everyone took a picnic lunch and made a party of it. A new family had recently moved there—the Hursts.  Harriett went to the party with a young man she’d been seeing.

A few nights earlier, Harriett said she’d had a puzzling dream. In it, she saw a young man coming across a field toward her, carrying his straw hat and jacket and wearing a striped shirt.  He smiled as he came to the fence between them, then jumped across to come to her.  She woke up then but had a fleeting thought, “That is the man I will marry.”

At the auction everyone was buzzing about one of Mrs. Hurst’s sons—Robert—who had just gotten out of the Army. He was personable and eligible.  “Della, you need to set your cap for him,” they said to Harriett’s older sister.

Just then Harriett looked up to see the man in her dream—walking across the field toward her.  It was Robert Hurst.  “No, he’s mine!” she thought to herself.  And so he was to be.  Soon there were photos of the two of them together—and Harriett’s smiles were full of joy for the first time ever.

They were married in 1918.  Robert worked at the local hardware store and within a year, their son Glenn was born.  Harriett loved the Hurst family who were much more fun-loving than the Cates.  Robert’s widowed mother Emily Belle welcomed Harriett and was thrilled with baby Glenn.  Robert’s sister Nannie Belle became like a second sister.  They were poised to “live happily ever after.”

It would not be so.  After a few years, tuberculosis struck Robert—and there was no known cure.  Soon his condition deteriorated until he as a last resort went to a veterans’ sanitarium in Kerrville, Texas. He died there a few months before his 29th birthday.  Harriett was a widow at age 24. Glenn was just three years old.  

Harriett lived another 70 years—and always smiled when she recalled her first dream of her first love Robert.  He was her dream come true.  On her last day, I told her it was September 17 and she immediately responded, “It’s Robert’s birthday, you know.”  She passed away that night, just fifteen minutes before midnight.  I picture him walking toward her just as in that long ago dream.

February 4, 2021

Papa’s little girl and Monte

STANDING IN FOR THE FATHER OF THE BRIDE

It was difficult to look at this tall strong man 30 years my senior as a brother—even a half-brother.  And it was even harder for him to see me as a little sister.  When I was in high school, friends and I went to a Friday night football game.  I spied Monte standing with a group of business men friends smoking cigarettes at half time and ran up to say hello to him.  As the men all looked puzzled, he stammered hello and explained to them, “This is Papa’s little girl.”  

I was the first member of my immediate family to have a church wedding—and Monte’s wife Isobel said her church was the best choice—Keith Memorial Methodist Church.  Our church didn’t allow instrumental music even for weddings and I wanted my nephew George to play the organ for my wedding.  She also let me have my wedding portrait made in their lovely living room.  Then came the question of who would give the bride away—since my father had died when I was 14. “Monte would be happy to do that,” Isobel said.  And he agreed.  

He looked so tall and handsome and strong in his dark tuxedo—and seemed genuinely pleased with his role in the Saturday early evening ceremony.  It was the best possible arrangement.

Some years later he and Isobel were divorced—after over 40 years of marriage.  Successful in the hosiery business, he was able to retire before he was 60 and looked forward to traveling, playing golf, going dove hunting and enjoying life.  That wasn’t her lifestyle, and she opted out.

And then a few years after that, I too was getting a divorce.  On one of my first trips back to Athens with the children, Monte took me out to lunch.  As we drove around town in his big Lincoln, we talked about our heartaches and regrets. I was looking for a job and needed money to pay an employment agency in Columbia.  He wrote me a check.  I got the job. And finally, I felt like I had a brother for real—from that day forward. 

February 3, 2021

George Williamson and Eva Lee Cate
Late 1920s

THE SALT OF THE EARTH

All my grandparents died before I was born.  George and Eva Lee (or Evalee) were Papa and Mama to my mother.  They married in 1889 and had four children born between1890 and 1904. After 41 years of marriage, Eva Lee died in 1930 and George in 1932.  He was diagnosed with heart failure in the late 1920s and Mother always said Eva Lee “worried herself to death about Papa.”

Mother adored her father.  After she was widowed he helped her buy some property and they all lived together in the black and white log house on Decatur Pike.  Mother saved the 1932 newspaper clipping of his obituary.  

“G.W. Cate, prominent and highly respected citizen of this city, died at his home on the Athens-Decatur drive this morning (June 25, 1932) at 12:45 o’clock, of heart trouble, of long standing. . .Thruout the day, and until a short time after midnight, he remained conscious until the last few minutes and left words of consolation to his loved ones who were at the bedside when the end came.

He was a member of the Christian church, was a devoted Christian man, an honor to the community in which he has lived. Mr. Cate was married to Miss Eva Ensminger, March, 1889, who preceded him to the great beyond two years ago. “

This newspaper obituary is striking in describing a simple but good man, deeply loved by his family and greatly respected by his community. The tender memories of his final “words of consolation” confirmed how much he loved his family.  Then he followed his Eva Lee “to the great beyond.”

February 2, 2021

Dorothy, Juanita and Sally
936 White Street, Atlanta

THREE GIRL COUSINS IN THE CITY

The four Cate siblings—Clifford, Della, Harriett and Jack—had 9 children among them.  Clifford and Abbie had 5 sons and 1 daughter, Della and Richard 1 daughter, and Harriett 1 son by Robert and 1 daughter by Arley.  This rare photo of the three girl cousins shows a united front for the minority! Each of us was our mother’s only daughter.

Dorothy was several years older than Juanita, and I was an afterthought—over a decade younger than they were.  I thought they were beautiful and ever so much fun!  Our home lives were very different—Dorothy living with her parents and five brothers on a large dairy farm on the outskirts of Athens, Juanita living with her parents in the West End neighborhood of the growing city of Atlanta, and I living as an “almost only” child with my parents in Athens.

Dorothy was a petite blue-eyed blonde—I thought she looked like a movie star.  Just as pretty with her hair in pigtails and no makeup, she was glamorous when she curled her hair, polished her nails, put on makeup and a stylish skirt and blouse and flats. She had a wonderful almost musical laugh. She loved going to the “picture show” downtown with friends, kept up with all the latest popular music, which she liked to play on her upright piano. 

The brick bungalows on Juanita’s street were very close together.  Everyone had a front porch where they congregated during warm weather.  The McCaulley family lived next door—and their daughter Lulabelle was Juanita’s best friend. She had an older brother Don who was also a friend and I think he had a crush on Dorothy when she came to visit. 

Juanita’s city life was much different from her “country cousins” and we loved visiting Atlanta.  We would walk up the street and take a streetcar or trolley downtown to shop at Rich’s, visit the Wren’s Nest in West End (the home of Uncle Remus author Joel Chandler Harris), go see the Cyclorama at Grant Park, go to a movie at the Fox Theater, and walk to the Big Apple supermarket in West End. Juanita had a record player—and all the latest 78s. As an only child, she enjoyed reading popular novels and kept a diary.  

In this photo, Dorothy and I were visiting—probably with my mother–and we probably were headed for a shopping trip!  Dorothy and Juanita both have on stylish pleated skirts. About 6 years old at the time, I thought it was wonderful to be “one of the girls” in the big city!

February 1, 2021

Emily, Clark, Amy and Dan Furlong
1974

ONCE UPON A TIME

It was a very difficult year—Tom’s first job as chairman of the History Department at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. If you weren’t wealthy and/or Presbyterian, it was difficult to gain traction there.  And for Lipscomb grads with traditional Church of Christ family histories, the strangeness was made worse because there wasn’t a local congregation.  So we drove to Greenville every Sunday to attend church there.

The first week we visited, Tom Furlong invited us to lunch with his family.  And from that day on, we spent every Sunday afternoon with the Furlongs.  A successful executive at Monsanto, Tom was handsome and intelligent.  He had engineering degrees from Auburn and MIT and even studied theology at Harvard.  He and his beautiful brunette wife Iris were from Montgomery, and had married quite young.  They were a decade older than Tom and I, with four delightful children—two sons and two daughters.

They had a lovely large home in Greenville, with the newly popular open design—kitchen, dining area and family room with fireplace.  Sometimes they would take us to lunch at Capri’s but usually Iris prepared a hearty meal of beef stew, lasagna or fried chicken.  Dan was the oldest (about 10) and looked like his dad, Emily was next and she looked like Iris.  Next was Clark—who was such a funny and lovable kid that I wanted to name our son Clark—and the sweetheart of the family was little Amy (about 5).  At lunch one Sunday, Amy suddenly piped up, “Sally, you don’t have any moles!”  Her dad patiently explained that I was fair-skinned and not everyone did have the tiny brown spots they all did.

We would spend afternoons playing bridge, working puzzles and talking for hours. Sometimes Tom and Iris drove down to Clinton for dinner with us.  They saved our lives that year.

Although they were a picture perfect family, there were serious undercurrents.  Tom had been in a serious auto crash a few years earlier and had a severe concussion.  Since then, he had undergone a major personality change.  He became much less conventional in his lifestyle, and the changes were painful for Iris.  He began drinking, pushed her to learn to dance (strictly forbidden in their church) and go to company parties with him.  She was making a valiant effort to be what he wanted her to be—but eventually, it was too much for her.

After we moved to Mississippi, we stayed in touch—Iris would call to talk about their growing estrangement. She decided to take the children and move back to Montgomery.  In 1968, they stopped by our home in Starkville as they were driving to Alabama—and they loved seeing our baby daughter Heather.  That was the last time I saw them.

Both Iris and Tom eventually remarried. This photo of the Furlong four was in a Christmas card from Iris in 1974. A few years later, she wrote that Clark had gotten married—and took his bride to the Chattanooga Choo Choo on their honeymoon—staying in the caboose! 

We lost touch sometime in the seventies—after Tom and I also divorced.  Yesterday I found a 2011 obituary for Tom Furlong, still in Greenville.  And a fascinating 2019 article from a television station in Searcy, AR about Amy.  In 2006, she was a medflight nurse at a Little Rock hospital when she had some type of sudden psychotic break.  She couldn’t remember how to do her job, had dark episodes, and then fell from a second story window of her home onto a brick patio.  Injuries left her paralyzed from the waist down.  A woman who was a Pentecostal pastor came to her hospital bedside. Convinced that Amy was demon-possessed, she performed an exorcism, after which Amy said her mental state cleared up almost immediately.  In this interview, Amy said she wouldn’t have believed it if it hadn’t happened to her.  Sweet little Amy.

January 31, 2021

A party at our Austin St. garage apartment in Houston, TX

APARTMENT LIVING

The second year after we married, Tom and I lived in an artsy garage apartment near the University of Houston while he finished his dissertation at Rice University.  Marilyn Duro, a single friend I had briefly worked with the year before at the Fondren Library at Rice, told us about the vacancy. She and her bulldog rented the upstairs, and we moved in below.

Two bachelors had remodeled the place a few years before—and it was a significant upgrade from our previous two Houston apartments.  The galley kitchen had modern appliances and a spacious refrigerator-freezer, there was a working fireplace in the living room, a black tile sunken bathtub, one bedroom, and sliding glass doors across the front opened onto a brick patio with a tall wooden privacy fence surrounding it. 

Marilyn was from the Ozarks and had come to Houston hoping to become an opera singer.  She did get parts in the Houston opera choruses and we enjoyed hearing her singing from upstairs.  Charles and Annis McCabe were an older couple who lived in a big house across the street and they were very hospitable and generous to us.

We brought furniture in a U-Haul from Tennessee—and the wall décor was decidedly Confederate!  There was a large framed print of Stonewall Jackson in the bedroom.  And everything on the living room wall was a framed print or painting related to the Civil War.  The painting over the fireplace was supposedly a scene from the Battle of Nashville.  Our friend Gail Holt from Nashville gave it to us for a wedding gift.  The horses were amazing, but Tom said it wasn’t historically accurate.  After our divorce, he got custody of the painting and I don’t know what happened to it.  Gail’s mother contacted Tom’s mother to request it back but that didn’t happen.  Here it had its moment of glory! I’m seated on the floor beside Tom’s prized possession—a trunk that belonged to General Don Carlos Buell.  How that came to be his is another story.

It was fun entertaining our grad student friends on Austin Street, as we are in this photo.  Snacks and hot buttered rum—future university professors, writers and even opera singers.  Here we hosted our first visits from family—Tom’s parents and brother Bill brought my Mother with them for Tom’s Ph.D. commencement; my sister Tootsie and sister-in-law Katie came to pick Mother up after a monthlong stay; and one weekend, my sister-in-law Mildred and her teenage son Buzz surprised us when they came on a company jet with friends from Ashland Oil for a quick visit.

We also spent our first Christmas away from Tennessee here.  We bought a small aluminum tree, and decorated it with blue lights and balls.  Since it was so warm in Houston, we turned on the air conditioning and built a fire while we played “Blue Christmas” by Elvis!

January 30, 2021

The Cate Girls: Harriett and Della

SUNSHINE AND TEMPEST

The two sisters couldn’t have been more different—in looks and disposition.  Della was four years older than Harriett.  Della (like their younger brother Jack) had dark hair and dancing brown eyes. Harriett (like their older brother Clifford) had blonde hair and pale blue eyes.  Della was fun loving and cheerful.  She had no interest in sewing or quilting, and wasn’t very interested in school or housework. Harriett was sickly as a teenager, loved school (she longed to become a nurse), gardening, sewing and quilting.

An elderly neighbor used to see the sisters walking down the road past his house and he nicknamed them Sunshine (Harriett) and Tempest (Della).  Tempest and Sunshine was a novel by Mary Jane Holmes that was published in 1854.  To reflect the personalities of the two sisters in the novel, the benevolent sister Fanny was called Sunshine and her deceitful sister Julia was Tempest.  I’m not sure what led him to attach these labels to the Cate sisters, but likely it was just how different they were.

Harriett would go spend a week every summer with her father’s two unmarried sisters. She saw this as a personal sacrifice—and the one highlight of the week was when her Aunt Tine would open the cedar chest and show Harriett all the lovely quilts she had made.  She secretly hoped Aunt Tine would give her a quilt someday.  However, it was Della who received a lovely handmade quilt for a wedding gift—which she didn’t fully appreciate.

Harriett married Robert Hurst when she was 20. When the Hurst family moved to their community a year or so earlier, everyone said Della should set her cap for Robert!  This time Sunshine prevailed. Within a year, Harriett and Robert had a baby boy, Glenn, and three years later, Robert died from tuberculosis.  The young widow and her son lived with her parents—as well as Della and Jack.  Harriett went to work as a clerk in Miller’s Department Store and her mother and Della took care of Glenn.  He always adored his Aunt Della.

Della didn’t marry until she was 30.  She and her husband Richard Underwood moved to Atlanta and had one daughter, Juanita.  Over the years, the whole family loved visiting Aunt Della in her West End bungalow.  City life, close neighbors, streetcars, Rich’s department store, the Fox Theater—it was magical. She loved to laugh, would host picnics on the front porch, tried new products like cake mixes and instant tea, and got a television set years before we did.

The two sisters wrote long weekly letters to each other for many years and visited by phone or in person often.  Always different, each was uniquely lovely and beloved.

January 29, 2021

Geraldine, Beulah and June
Late 1940’s visit to Eaves Street

AUNT BEULAH WAS ANOTHER HALF!

I was constantly reminded that I was a “half”—half-sister, half-aunt for sure– and sometimes I worried that I might even be a half-daughter!  So I was delighted to find out that Aunt Beulah was also a half.  Arley’s half-sister, she was born to his father Jasper Eaves by his second wife when Arley was 13.  After the death of his mother Sallie, Arley and his younger sister Pearl periodically lived with relatives because Jasper worked on the railroad. I don’t know if or how long they ever lived with their stepmother.  

But Arley always loved his little sister Beulah.  She developed diabetes as a young adult, which Arley said was brought on by drinking several Coca-Colas every day! Since then, she’d had daily insulin injections, watched her diet and still had frequent health problems.

In 1921, Beulah married Charles Perry, and they had two daughters, Geraldine and June.  They lived in Hickory, North Carolina, and her father Jasper spent his final years with them there.  

it was always fun when they came to visit us in Athens. They obviously enjoyed each other—and after Gerry married Bill Moser and June married Avery Wilfong, the whole crew (including grandkids) came along. 

We only made one trip to visit them in Hickory.  Arley decided on a rare family road trip one summer, and somehow we crammed four kids (Jerry, Joe, Bill and me), Tootsie, and my parents into our non-airconditioned Dodge for the trip.  It was a grand adventure—at least from our point of view—but one that Arley never repeated.

Aunt Beulah died at 57 (six years after Arley died) when I was in college. My oldest half-brother Monte drove Tootsie and me to Hickory for the funeral. It was another very hot trip—just like our family visit years before. On the way home late that day, we stopped for a hamburger at a roadside restaurant.  Monte said he just had to have a cold beer—and I decided to have one too (my first).  Tootsie didn’t approve! I think Aunt Beulah would have—although she would probably have wanted a bottled Coca Cola instead!