September 5, 2021

A PHOTOGRAPH THAT SAYS ALMOST EVERYTHING

This black and white photograph was taken by my friend Spears, who is a wonderful artist. To me it is an image that speaks great meaning and truth. Spears seemed to discover his artistic gift first through his photography.  Later he began painting watercolors and creating other works of art. But in photography he captured angles, lighting and beauty in unique views.

Around 1986, I served on our church Building Committee.  One of my key responsibilities was developing materials and publicity for a capital fundraising project and ultimately, for the dedication of the new building. I hired Spears to do the photography for a full color campaign booklet and then for the dedication program. 

At the beginning of the process, our church family chose a new name—Cornerstone. The architectural design was a two-story spacious modern building with all the usual features—sanctuary, narthex, offices, classrooms, and fellowship hall. But my favorite aspect was the separate stone wall at the end of the building with a simple wooden cross at the top. The stones were from the North Carolina mountains and the placement reminds you of the name Cornerstone.  The cross reminds you of Jesus Christ our Cornerstone who gave His life to rescue us from sin and death. In this black and white photo, the angle of sunlight creates that brilliant radiance linking the building and the stone wall—Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

We had prints of the photograph made and framed for many who were involved with the building program and dedication.  Over 30 years later, I have this framed print hanging in my Nashville home—reminding me of Spears’ artistic vision and the deeper meanings of this single photograph.

September 4, 2021

THE CONTINUUM OF CHANGE

Oddly enough, this weekend I began thinking about the 1920’s brick bungalow in West End Atlanta where I loved visiting the Underwoods.  When my cousin Juanita died there in March of 2005, the house was in terrible disrepair and hopelessly cluttered.  As administrator of her estate, I spent many months tracking down records and clearing the house.

Matt was a friend of Patrick’s who lived a few blocks away and had considerable experience in renovating properties in the neighborhood.  I hired him to complete the cleanup and he referred me to someone who might buy the property in “as is” condition. 

A year or so afterward, Matt was talking with two young women who were customers at his Bell Street Burrito restaurant.  One of the mentioned she and her husband had just bought a house on White Street.  He asked the house number and it was Juanita’s address! The sisters (who were identical twins) told him they had a blog called “Asian Cajuns.”

He passed along the information to me and I began following their blog.  Their mother was a Cajun from Louisiana and their father was Chinese.  Lar (Lauren) and her husband Matt had bought the house; her sister was Cath (Catherine).  They posted about Atlanta events, fashion, and food.  Soon Lar began posting about some of their renovations at the White Street home—including the kitchen photo above.  Once she had a video of her and her sister dancing and singing in front of Aunt Della’s mantel!  It was such a joy to see this house I loved being restored and enjoyed again.

Lar soon announced that she and Matt were going to Scotland for a few years where he was getting his Ph.D. in bioengineering.  His parents were moving into their White Street home while they were gone.

That was about 10 years ago—and today I learned more about the Cajun Asians and the White Street house!

This website photo promoting their new company Semaine Health is of Matt Crane, Ph.D., Lauren (Lar) Lee-Crane and Catherine (Cath) Lee.  I read a recent Forbes article in which the sisters describe their painful history of endometriosis.  As a bioengineer, Matt was able to develop a plant-based supplement that could help women experience less painful periods.  When both Lar and Cath had great results using the product, they started a fundraising site and in 2020 launched their company Semaine Health.  Semaine is now sold at Target stores, Urban Outfitters and other retailers. 

And the Zillow real estate website today is listing the White Street property for sale again—at four times the value we sold it for in 2006.  There were 20 exterior and interior photos on the website – of what is now a cheerful and cozy home. I’m grateful for the Cajun Asian who helped transform the house—and for her work as an endometriosis warrior!

September 3, 2021

BRICOLAGE AT THE ALABAMA MONASTERY

Cullman, Alabama, hardly seems a likely place to establish a Benedictine monastery—but St. Bernard Abbey has been there since the 1890s. On the first day of our road trip, we stopped by to stroll through the monastery’s Ave Maria Grotto, located on the site of what once was a stone quarry.  

Brother Joseph Zoetl was born in Bavaria and when he was 14, he began his monastic life at St. Bernard Abbey. Working in the power house, he shoveled coal into the furnaces. When he was 34, he began a lifelong creative project in which he lovingly constructed 125 miniature buildings. He completed his final one when he was 80 and died three years later.

The structures represent many Bible stories, well-known basilicas, grottos and shrines, as well as sacred buildings of the Holy Land and Rome.  He had seen very few of the actual buildings but read extensively and used his creative imagination.  The photo below shows many buildings in Rome.

Heather used the word “bricolage” to describe Brother Joseph’s handiwork. It comes from a French verb meaning “to tinker” and describes construction or creation (in art or literature) from a diverse range of available things. He used stone, cement, marbles, broken plates, seashells and more. The unique end products are surprisingly fascinating. Even inspirational.

September 2, 2021

A LITTLE GIRL AND HER BIRTHDAYS

Today is Charlotte’s 15th birthday—and she’s had a really good day with a four-day hiatus from high school to follow it!  This photo is from her very first birthday party—after she’s dug into the miniature traditional pink-layer cake I baked for her.  That first cake must be confusing—with the adults actually giving the child permission to dig in and smear icing all over her hands and face!  She also managed to eat her first corn on the cob that day.  Culinary milestones for sure.

By her 2nd birthday, Charlotte was obsessed with yellow buses. She was thrilled to spot any school buses on the streets and loved singing “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round.” She said she wanted a yellow bus birthday cake and Heather created one. In this picture she’s getting ready to tackle it—surely she feels like a pro by now.

But that wasn’t the only surprise!  The Nashville Downtown Partnership operated a fleet of shuttles to transport downtown employees from remote parking to their office buildings.  Happily, they were bright yellow with a colorful “smiley P” logo for Park It Downtown. Best of all, a shuttle could be rented for small weekend events.  I arranged for Chico to drive a yellow shuttle to Charlotte’s house that Saturday afternoon and take the party guests for a ride.

The look on her face when she saw that yellow bus pull into her driveway was priceless!  Parents, grandparents and kids all piled on for a ride.  Everyone was singing the “Wheels on the Bus” song at the top of their lungs—and Chico bravely finished the short loop before depositing us back in our driveway.

September 1, 2021

WHERE DO DREAMS GO?

I always liked seeing this photo of my brother Glenn enjoying an outing with the family horse and buggy.  It looked like fun and that was something he didn’t seem to have very much of growing up.  He had no clear memories of his father Robert Hurst, who died of tuberculosis when he was three.  Although he was doted on by his mother Harriett, his Aunt Della, his grandmother and even a great-grandmother, he said they were overprotective.  He longed to have the kinds of adventures little boys enjoy, but they were too afraid he would “get hurt” or “ruin your clothes.”

He was an excellent student and dreamed that he would become a physician.  About twenty years after he graduated from McMinn County High School, I was a student there and had several teachers who would recall what a good student Glenn was. Miss Maude Smith, our Latin teacher, was one of them. He actually found a few of his Latin exams from her class that he showed me!  

In this high school graduation picture, I can imagine his dreams—including marrying his high school girlfriend Juanita, working his way through college and medical school, and working in a hospital far away from Athens.  World events changed those plans, and like so many young men of his generation, World War II stole his youth and many of his dreams.

After four years on the front lines as an Army medic in the Pacific, he came home very different from the boy who left. He was painfully thin, with gray hair. He had trouble sleeping and was very anxious. He smoked and drank too much. He couldn’t see how he could go back to the old life.  He decided he was too old to start college and then medical school—and didn’t think his nerves could take the stress.

He had fallen in love with a Japanese-American woman in Hawaii and planned to bring her to America after he saved some money.  At the last minute, her mother refused to let her leave and broke off any communication with her.  

He gradually moved on to Plan B for his life.  He married a quiet, sweet neighbor named Katie, worked several years at the local hospital, and then decided to become a mortician.  He had so much empathy and compassion for families and devoted himself to helping them through a painful time.

After six years of marriage, he and Katie had a baby daughter, Emily, whom he adored. He worked for funeral homes in Clinton (Kentucky), Henderson (Tennessee), and Gallatin (Tennessee)—and then came back to work for a hometown funeral home. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage shortly before his 40thbirthday, and was working for a Chattanooga funeral home at that time.

His all too short life was marked by loss and disappointments, but he loved and enjoyed people so much, and always went the second mile to help anyone he could. We all were blessed by his love and compassion.

August 25, 2021 (belated)

MEETING A HERO OR TWO

This civil rights icon from Nashville—Dr. Ernest “Rip” Patton, Jr.—died at age 81 this week. As a student at Tennessee A&I (now Tennessee State University) in 1960, he attended nonviolence workshops led by Rev. James Lawson and participated in the sit-ins to desegregate downtown Nashville lunch counters.  The next year, he was one of the first group of Freedom Riders who went by Greyhound Bus to Jackson, Mississippi, were they were arrested. They spent 40 days in the notorious state penitentiary at Parchman Farm.  He and 13 other A&I students were expelled from the school after their release.

About ten years ago, the Metro Arts Commission got funding to create an art project commemorating the 1960 downtown sit-ins.  The proposed location was a small green area outside the former F. W. Woolworth’s store on Church Street.

They set up a public committee to work with their staff on selecting an artist proposal for the small space. I was invited to represent the downtown area.  There were a series of meetings—and I was thrilled that “Rip” Patton and John Seigenthaler were both on the committee.  Seigenthaler had retired in 1991 after many years as editor of the Tennessean.  He was a close friend and staff member of General Attorney Robert Kennedy, and was sent to Alabama to quell any violence against the young student Freedom Riders.  In trying to help a student, he was hit over the head with an iron pipe and hospitalized several days.

Over the years, he and “Rip” Patton had become friends.  Patton told me that the two of them often traveled across the state together to talk to public school students about the civil rights movement, what had been done and what still was to be done.  It was delightful to watch them laugh and talk together.

Patton had worked as a truck driver and jazz musician much of his life.  He talked about how important music was to the civil rights movement and how the Freedom Riders sang in their jail cells. In 2008, his friend Seigenthaler worked with Congressman John Lewis (who had also been a Nashville student activist and Freedom Rider) as they successfully lobbied Tennessee State University to award honorary doctorates to the 14 Freedom Riders (including Patton) who had been expelled after going to prison in Mississippi.

These two heroes insisted that the proposed art project was far too small to commemorate the downtown Nashville sit-ins, and they prevailed.  The committee was disbanded, the Metro Arts Council went back to the drawing board and in 2017 the Witness Walls were unveiled in a more spacious area on the Metro Courthouse grounds. Seigenthaler died in 2014, but “Rip” Patton enjoyed visiting the Witness Walls as one who had an active role in those historic actions.  And just this summer, part of downtown’s 5th Avenue was renamed Rep. John Lewis Way.  

Heroes deserve significant memorials. I’m grateful to have been in the same room with heroes like Dr. “Rip” Patton and John Seigenthaler. Like Rep. John Lewis, they both got into some “good trouble.”

August 31, 2021

ISOBEL WITH AN O

This photo of my oldest brother’s family was taken when I was about two years old.  Monte and Isobel had two sons, Farrell two years older than George. Isobel was as petite as Monte was tall.  She had short black hair and dancing brown eyes, and loved to talk and laugh. We always called her Isobel (sometimes Belle for short) but never realized she spelled it with an “o” instead of the more familiar spelling Isabel until she made that clear many years later.

She was an only child and her parents divorced when she was a little girl.  There was always an air of mystery about her father who was nowhere in sight.  Her mother Mrs. Dobson was a lovely woman and very protective of her daughter.  Apparently, the father had taken Isobel away without permission once and her mother remained vigilant after that When she and Monte married the day she graduated from high school, there was some concern the father might appear and interfere. He didn’t, and when they returned from their honeymoon, Mrs. Dobson moved in with them.  

Monte loved her and when the boys were born, she was a wonderful babysitter and housekeeper.  She was a great cook and we have many recipes of hers including one for divinity candy and one for homemade fudge.

When I was about 8 years old, Isobel asked if I would like for her to give me weekly “elocution lessons.”  She had had that training as a girl and thought I would enjoy it.  It was just my cup of tea, as I loved public speaking.  I would go to her house every week for an hour or two to practice my diction and vocal expression.  She gave me two paperback books of recitations to study.  We would choose one or two selections each week for me to memorize and then recite to her the next week.  She helped me project my voice, speak clearly and with expression. I was hooked from then on, and all through college and beyond, entered speaking competitions.

This later photo of Isobel was taken at my wedding reception.  When I got engaged, she was very enthusiastic about helping me plan the wedding details.  She arranged for us to have the wedding at her church, Keith Memorial United Methodist.  When it came time to have my wedding portrait taken, she offered her lovely living room for the setting.  And she twisted Monte’s arm to agree that he would put on a tuxedo and escort me down the aisle at the wedding.  She was a classy lady—and I especially appreciated her elocution classes and her wedding planning!

August 30, 2021

THE MIDDLE SON

My sister’s three sons were like my little brothers!  That was especially true for the six years or so we lived next door to each other.  The older two brothers, Jerry and Joe, were only 11 months apart, and practically seemed the same age.  Bill was a few years younger.  

The brothers were close but very different in appearance and personality.  The middle son Joe certainly marched to his own drummer!  I especially love these two Olan Mills photos of him—the first an adorable babyish face that already shows his determination not to fit the mold.  The second is an All American boy for sure—with his hair neatly slicked down, the striped t-shirt and coveralls.  He looks confident and ready to take on the world.

We always teased Joe about his temper.  It seemed to be especially evident when he wore his little red shirt.  Whenever he came out to play with that on, we tread carefully.

Joe had an independent streak and wanted things a certain way.  He didn’t like to have different foods on his plate touching each other, and when asking for seconds, would point to the spot each food should go!  

When he began earning money for allowances and chores, he didn’t like to make loans—not even when his mom was short of cash.  He never wanted to be the center of attention.  An excellent student, he learned he was on track to be high school valedictorian.  Knowing he did not want to make a speech at graduation, he made sure that didn’t happen.

He left home for college and really never looked back.  After graduation, he got a good job at Enka near Asheville, North Carolina, and worked there until his retirement. He met his wife Joyce there and together they raised daughter Missy and son Kenny.  

After I was a single mom living just four hours away, we often stopped by to visit Joe and his family, sometimes going for a weekend, sometimes meeting them at a restaurant to share a meal. Joe loved being a husband and dad—and made them his top priority. Yet he had room for us also.

There have been tragic losses and heartaches in his life, but Joe remains quietly steadfast.  I talked with him today on the phone to wish him a happy 80th birthday!

AUGUST 29, 2021

PAT OR ELVIS?

During my high school years, this was a big question—were you a Pat Boone fan or an Elvis Presley fan?  In Tennessee, we were pretty fond of both of them.  But I generally preferred the clean-cut smooth crooner’s voice of Pat Boone.  After all, he grew up in Nashville, was a member of the church of Christ and went to Lipscomb High School and briefly, Lipscomb College.

I started following him when he was on the Arthur Godfrey and Friends daytime television show while finishing up at Columbia University.  At 19, he married Red Foley’s daughter Shirley, and they had four little daughters. 

My brother Glenn got this autographed photo of Pat for me when he appeared at the famous Randy’s Record Room in Gallatin to promote his latest record.  Glenn’s little daughter Emily (about 2 or 3) sat on a stool to have her photo made with Pat that day.  I passed that photo along to her daughter Katie a few years ago.

The Connellys knew Pat and Shirley when they were in high school, and Inez often provided a listening ear for Shirley whose mom had died several years earlier. During my Junior year at Lipscomb, Pat came to give a concert in the gym and Tom and I went. When he had his ABC Chevy Showcase television show, a group of us from Lipscomb got a backstage tour when we were in New York City for a journalism conference.

This photo of Elvis’ statue was taken on our recent road trip when we stopped by his birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi.  Elvis of course outstripped Pat in his musical career—and has continued to be even more famous after his premature death. Heather, Patrick and I made a pilgrimage to Graceland in Memphis. His ex-wife Priscilla has devoted her life to continued promotion of his musical legacy.

The Pat-Elvis competition in the 1950s was fun.  Today I would most likely say Elvis is my favorite. Things change.

August 28, 2021

LITTLE GIRLS AND LITTLE RED WAGONS

It was so much fun to get a little red wagon for little Heather!  She looks pretty pleased to be taking a ride with her Raggedy Ann doll and a teddy bear.  She’s wearing one of many sweet little dresses her grandmama Harriett made for her.

Of course, the Radio Flyer little red wagons have been around since 1917 and enjoyed by generations of children.  So of course, Heather and Paul made sure their daughter Charlotte enjoyed a similar experience.

Charlotte seems pretty happy with her own wagon—and there are definite safety features for younger children.  She may have some alphabet blocks in there with her, but there’s not much room for dolls or teddy bears. But there is another definite link to the earlier photo.  Charlotte is  also wearing a dress her mom’s grandmama Harriett made.  We had saved several of those little dresses, which were just as bright and sassy as when Heather wore them.  Seeing them on little Charlotte was a special joy!