January 8, 2021

Arley, Harriett and Sally Eaves at Home on Eaves Street


Just inside that window on the left is where I first saw the light of day—on a warm Sunday in January.  I should have been born in the local hospital—but the doctor who delivered me couldn’t get hospital privileges.  He wasn’t incompetent—but he was refused privileges because he had a diagnosis of epilepsy.  When the family doctor told my mother she couldn’t carry a baby and would need surgery to correct a “tipped uterus,” she looked elsewhere for help. She heard of a new doctor in town and Dr. Harrison told her he thought she could carry her baby to term—but it would be a home delivery.  She took the risk—and he not only delivered me that Sunday afternoon, he kickstarted my life when I didn’t immediately start breathing on my own. 

Our house was on a street named for my father—on the second highest hill in town.  The sprawling white structure had been expanded over the years as my father’s first family grew.  He and my mother lived there after their marriage and I spent most of my first decade in this house.  I loved the mimosa and maple trees, the mysterious covered cistern where we played, the sharp bend in the street at our yard’s edge, my bedroom, the sunroom, and my mother’s rose garden. 

Of all the houses I lived in while growing up, this is the only one still standing. I drove by it three years ago—still well-kept, sprawling, and on the hill on Eaves Street in Athens.

Most of all, I loved the view surrounding our house—a circle of mountains. My Eaves brothers called it Mount Sinai.  And for the first few years of my life, I actually thought those mountains were at the edge of the world.  If you went over the mountains, you fell off the earth.  Everything I knew or loved or wanted was here. It was home.

January 7, 2021

Oneida Perry and Sally Eaves Go To Washington


At 10, I was a mini-adult—much preferring to talk with the grown-ups to playing with my classmates.  Oneida was a sweet, red-haired girl from “the country” who went to work in my father’s office at the Athens Table Company after graduating from high school.  I enjoyed talking with her—and she became like a “big sister” to me.  She would sometimes come home with Daddy after work on Friday and spend the night with us.  We would stay up all hours talking—about our dreams, about her boyfriend Jack, about our families.

One day she told me that she’d found out she was to have a week’s paid vacation from work—her first.  She well knew that my parents didn’t really take vacations—and that I’d never gone on a trip except to visit relatives.  “How would you like to go with me on a trip?” she asked.  “And you can decide where we will go.”

I spent a few weeks looking at maps—and came up with my top choice:  Washington, D.C.  It sounded perfect.

My parents were skeptical because Oneida had never traveled before.  Finally, Daddy said we could go if my half-sister Tootsie “chaperoned.”  She was a 29-year-old war widow with three sons—and they lived in a garage apartment adjacent to our home.  He and Mother would keep the boys—and pay her way.  Of course, she hadn’t ever traveled either, but at least she was older.  

I spent a month or so planning our itinerary.  I ordered maps and travel brochures, read up on all the guided tours of Washington—and had each of our seven-day trips scheduled full.  We consulted my half-brother Easy, who was an FBI agent during the J. Edgar Hoover era and had some contacts in Washington. 

We would go by train—leaving Athens late on an August Saturday afternoon and arriving in Washington early Sunday morning.  We made reservations at the Raleigh Hotel (corner of 12th Street, N.W. and Pennsylvania Avenue). Finally the day came and we three “country bumpkins”—10, 19 and 29– headed off to our nation’s capital for the first time.

As the train rolled into the city, I was enthralled at my first glimpses of the skyline–so many marble buildings I recognized!  We checked off everything on my itinerary that week—even taking a boat on the Potomac to visit Mount Vernon and a bus tour of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. The hotel wasn’t air conditioned and the temperatures were scorching.  It seemed that all the glistening marble buildings just made everything hotter.

One day we visited the U.S. Capitol—and it was awe-inspiring—massive, secure, the very heart of our national government’s legislative branch. I remember standing in the Rotunda staring up at the ceiling fresco (The Apotheosis of Washington, painted by Constantino Brumidi in 1865). Was this a temple or a government building?  The planners must have had both ideas in mind.

Yesterday the views inside the U.S. Capitol were unbelievably different.  Words used to describe what happened there include “mobs desecrated this hallowed building,” “breached,” “unprecedented,” “attack on democracy.”  Marble and frescos do not make a nation—people do.  And sometimes we try to destroy it. 

January 6, 2021

Windsor Castle, November 30, 1993


On Thanksgiving Day, 1993, Heather and I flew to London to visit Patrick. He and his friend Brent were on a four-month BUNAC work abroad experience. Patrick was working in the bookstore at Westminster Cathedral and Brent was in Men’s Fragrances at Harrod’s. 

Our last day there, Heather and I went to Windsor Castle, where the grounds spoke of a long history—towers of stone resisting the forces of change and human suffering for almost 1,000 years. The tour guide pointed out the vicar’s home and garden behind this crumbling brick wall.  She said the vicar’s young son had recently died in an automobile accident and that this was a very sad time for his family.  I spotted a pink rose clinging on—which spoke of the history, the memories, the sorrow and the hope more clearly than the gray towers of Windsor.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from…. The moment of the rose and… the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

-TS Eliot, Four Quartets

January 5, 2021

Chimmy, Sally, and Patrick

Chimmy Lee at the Welcome Table

Each year, there was the obligatory family photo shoot for our church directory in South Carolina. One for the directory, one free photo—and then the big sales push by Olan Mills to sell you an expensive photo portfolio. Stiff poses, forced smiles, bad hair— not exactly what you had in mind.

After my daughter Heather left for college, our family photo was just going to be my son Patrick and me. Then one day I got a surprising request. 

Chimmy was from Taiwan and his parents sent him to live with his uncle and family for middle and high school. They lived near us and Chimmy became good friends with my son—at school and then as part of our church youth group.  He was in and out of our home often—just hanging out, roughhousing, eating meals.  

“Could I be in your family photo for the church directory this year?” Chimmy wanted to know.  Of course! He didn’t have to have a photo alone—and we were the richer for having him with us. We proudly posted the photo on our refrigerator door—which Chimmy often opened to get a snack as he made himself at home in our home and hearts. 

Welcoming others into our family photos is a great blessing. Over the years I have delighted in hosting people from China, Taiwan, Brazil, Reunion Island, Turkey, Spain, Great Britain, Germany, Korea, Rwanda and Honduras around my table. 

I’m Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table

All God’s children going to sit together
All God’s children going to sit together
One of these days, hallelujah
All God’s children going to sit together
God’s children gonna sit together one of these days…

I’m going to sit at the Welcome Table
I’m going to sit at the Welcome Table
One of these days, hallelujah
I’m going to sit at the Welcome Table
Sit at the Welcome Table one of these days.

January 4, 2021

Aunt Jenny, sister of Charles L. Ensminger

What’s Your Cup of Tea?

Little girls notice women who are different from the norm.  Aunt Jenny was a sister of my mother’s maternal grandfather Charles Ensminger.  Like many family members, she had migrated to Texas but returned to Tennessee for occasional visits.  This is the only photograph we have of her—taken by a Texas photographer.  In her 80’s, Mother identified the woman in the picture—and had just one memory of her.  “When she came to visit, we served her hot tea!” And that was different.

Southerners are famous for their love of “sweet iced tea.”  Hot tea—not so much.  In the first decade of the 20th century, tea bags were used and iced tea became popular at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Loose tea was the norm before 1900, and Southern cooks might boil water in a teapot on the wood stove in the morning, add loose tea and leave it until suppertime. Then the cooled tea would be poured through a strainer into a pitcher.  To serve, ice and a spoonful of sugar would be put in a glass with some ice, and the cooled tea poured over.  A squeeze of lemon was the finishing touch. Aunt Jenny had other taste preferences.

Did Sarah Ensminger (my mother’s maternal grandmother) get irritated about her husband’s sister with the “fancy” tastes?  Or did she enjoy the novelty of making a cup of hot tea—and serving it in her best china teacup? Did Aunt Jenny add sugar and milk to her hot tea? Sugar and a splash of lemon juice? Did anyone join her for a cup of hot tea?  None of that is known—but I do know that her unusual ritual of enjoying hot tea made her memorable for a little girl who was watching her.  You never know what if anything you will be remembered for a century later. It could just be your cup of tea.

January 3, 2021

Harriett Cate Eaves 90th birthday, January 3, 1988

Birthday Cakes

A birthday cake says you are special—today is all about celebrating that you are alive.  The cakes come in many varieties—some homemade with decorations that reflect the birthday person’s interests, some store bought with fancy icing designs, names and messages. The shapes, flavors and sizes vary—the message is the same.  You are loved—and honored today.

Harriett’s traditional birthday cake was unmistakable. She made them for all the family (even her black sheep uncle), for friends and sometimes for strangers. This was a three-layer cake—containing a cupful of her beloved Crisco shortening to make it dense and five stiffly beaten egg whites folded in last to make it lighter. But there was a surprise.  The middle layer was always tinted pastel pink.  A snobbish stranger once asked, “And just what is the significance of the pink layer?” It seemed obvious to us—it was for your delight.  The cooked white icing was thick and generously topped with coconut.  The cake looked elegant on a crystal cake stand—and it never disappointed.

Other years, other birthday cakes.  Sometimes the chocolate delight of Wacky Cake was the choice.  One year a cake cut into the shape of a bunny and decorated with coconut icing and jelly beans for a daughter whose birthday fell on Easter—or a bakery cake decorated with Clemson logos for a son in Gamecock country.  Always with candles, singing, making a wish—and love.

January 2, 2021

A family picture

The bride turned 39 the day after their January 2, 1937 wedding; the groom was 47.  He had three sons, a daughter and two grandsons.  She had one son.  His first wife had died two years earlier—her first husband about fourteen years ago. And now—at the beginning of a new year—they are ready to start over again.

There are no wedding photos.  Their honeymoon was driving 60 miles to Chattanooga to spend their wedding night at the Read House Hotel downtown. It was probably the only night they ever spent together at a hotel. There was no big celebration—but Harriett and Arley were happy to have found each other after years of heartache and loneliness. Now they could face life together.

Their new marriage was often complicated.  Imagine his 17-year-old daughter Tootsie adjusting to having a stepmother and her 18-year-old son Glenn move into her house!  And the most surprising development was that another daughter Sally was born two years later!  Harriett persuaded Arley that her childbearing options had ended far too soon—and she wanted another child.  Skeptical at first, he was delighted with their baby girl. By that time his daughter had had enough—and she eloped with her high school sweetheart and began her own family. 

And so today, a toast to the happy and brave couple! I am grateful that Harriett Cate Hurst and John Arley Eaves took this bold step to establish a home together. It was far from perfect—but it was filled with hope and love.

January 1, 2021

Juanita Cate Underwood, January 1, 1928-March 12, 2005

This framed photograph was always at the left corner of the living room mantel at 936 White Street SW, Atlanta. Juanita at her loveliest, so full of hope and joy.  This was her graduation photograph from a post-high school business school.  The beautiful long white dress—still in her bedroom closet when she died—was the only long dress she ever wore. The extravagant bouquet of red roses—did she ever have another bouquet just for herself? And her diploma—that was her ticket to a career. 

Shortly after graduation, she went to work in a downtown office for an insurance company.  Every day she rode the bus to and from work.  She remained with that company until she retired early—mostly because her office relocated to the suburbs and computers were coming.  It was just too complicated.   

Her job wasn’t exciting but it gave her independence.  An only child, she lived with her parents in her childhood home—and remained there alone after their deaths.  She never had to pay rent or a mortgage—but provided the main income for the family for many years. Her two greatest extravagances were buying a new car (usually a Chevrolet) every few years and taking her mother (my Aunt Della) on a vacation every summer.  They went to Charleston, Daytona Beach, Williamsburg, Hot Springs, Savannah and enjoyed sightseeing, eating out, staying in motels and the road trip.  

Somewhere along the way she became a hoarder and a hermit. Paranoid  and fearful of her changing neighborhood, she stayed up all night listening to the radio and slept all day.  Her last car sat unused in the driveway for years—as she continued renewing her driver’s license and paying car insurance on it until the city condemned and removed it. Distrusting doctors and hospitals, she died alone—found by police who broke in after her neighbors couldn’t get a response when they knocked. 

The promise of the photograph on the mantel—where did it go and why?