The Sights & Signs of London

My husband Kurt and I returned Friday from London—the historic city that is roiling with the unanswered question of how the United Kingdom can maneuver itself from membership in the European Union and not wreck its economy. The jury remains out on Britain’s future as the clock ticks down and British politicians point fingers and live in denial. They have two weeks to come up with something remotely resembling a plan to go forward.

The day we left London, March 29, 2019, was slated to be the day Britain left the EU. Instead the United Kingdom, Europe, and the rest of the world wait for a Brexit solution.

Meanwhile in the streets, the Tube (the subway) and the pubs of London, life goes on. Here are the signs of the times as we found them in London last week.

//Anna ~ 3/31/2019

Posted in Autobiographical, Creativity, Ideas, Op/Ed Thoughts, Travel, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best of Knoxville

I am a native Knoxvillian who has lived here all my life, except for the three years I lived in Ft. Worth. I have also traveled with my husband to many far-flung places around the country and world, such as Alaska, Antwerp, Bruges (a picturesque city that still has the cobbestoned streets and village square from its 14th-Century heyday), Brussels, and Knokke in Belgium; Cairo (and other historic sites in Egypt); Austin; Calgary, Montreal, and Vancouver in Canada; Costa Rica; Houston; London; Mexico City and historic sites in Mexico; New York City; Paris and the South of France; Puerto Rico; Rio de Janeiro; Salt Lake City; San Francisco; Seattle, and St. Martin in the Caribbean. Phew! So, I know a thing or two about a good meal and a good deal.

What parts of Knoxville reach to the national and international levels of interest? Here are a few that will not disappoint visitors and natives alike. And, by the way, all of these are locally or regionally owned businesses.

Best Dinner Restaurant: Kefi

This new Mediterranean restaurant in Knoxville is simply the finest: innovative drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), delicious food, and an atmosphere to die for. Just the best of the best. Not only are the staff knowledgable and fabulous, there are many gluten-free and vegetarian options, and the menu states clearly which dishes are safe for patrons with dietary restrictions to order.

Photos taken in Kefi on December 28, 2018, and February 2019.

Best Lunch or Dinner Restaurant for a Quick, Delicious Meal: Yassin’s Falafel House

Not only is the food amazing at this Mediterranean/Middle Eastern eatery, this family-owned restaurant has become a phenomenon that has been heralded nationally. In October 2018, Yassin’s was named the Nicest Place in America by Reader’s Digest magazine and announced by host Robin Roberts on ABC’s Good Morning America television show.

Located in Downtown Knoxville, Yassin’s was started in 2014 by Yassin Terou, a Syrian immigrant who, along with his wife and two daughters, fled his home country.

In announcing the award to Yassin’s on national television, Bruce Kelley, chief content officer for Reader’s Digest said,

Everyone who hears his story and the story of the shop is moved, from the customers that nominated him, separately multiple customers nominated him, to us editors that vetted him, to the judges and to the Knoxvillians we talked to who said he has changed Knoxville. He has made this a better place. This is an important guy.

In response, Yassin said,

Yassin’s is a place where you can come and feel safe and feel welcome because we love everyone around this world.

Yes, it’s an honor; but America is the winner; Knoxville is the winner; Tennessee is the winner. When he sent you [speaking to Robin Roberts about her visit to Knoxville], I say this prayer to everyone around this country. What makes us a winner is the people in this country, not us. So thank you very much.

Yassin has opened a second location for of thriving business. Besides the original location at the corner of Walnut Street and Church Street (at 706 Walnut), Yassin’s also serves its delicious and economical food, at 159 N. Peters Road in West Knoxville. Yassin’s has many gluten-free and vegetarian options to please those with dietary restrictions. And the staff are soooo welcoming and friendly.

Best Garden Center: Stanley’s Greenhouse

Stanley’s was founded with one greenhouse in 1955 by Charles and Mary Kathryn Stanley on the family farm that had been in the Davenport-Stanley family since the early 1800s. At first the family was one of Knox County’s biggest wheat producers, then they began growing produce and cutflowers to sell on downtown Knoxville’s Market Square.

What began with one greenhouse is now over 190,000 square feet, with the addition of the 36,000-square-foot retail center opened in 2001. Stanley’s Greenhouse has won numerous local awards as this region’s favorite source for everything to do with successful gardening: trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, outdoor and indoor decor, containers, gardening tools, soil, soil conditioners, and fertilizers.

The family grows poinsettias, pansies, perennials, annuals, and roses on the family farm; supports local artisans; and partners with local charities such as the The Pat Summitt Foundation, The Ronald McDonald Charities of Knoxville, as well as a host of educational and community organizations.

Gardeners come from West Virginia, Washington, DC, North Carolina, Nashville, and all over East Tennessee to get their plants, trees, and shrubs from Stanley’s.

Best Ice Cream Shop: The Phoenix Pharmacy and Fountain

An old-fashioned soda fountain on Gay Street, Knoxville’s main street downtown, the Phoenix Fountain makes it own ice cream in house–and what a delight it is! Our favorite is the peppermint stick ice cream the owner makes for the winter season.

Best Shopping: Mast General Store

Mast General Store has been in Knoxville since August 2006. It truly is a general store selling everything from outdoor wear, old-fashioned candy, clothes for the entire family to regional decor, candles, shoes, and kitchenware.

The prices are good, the employees are friendly, and the down-home style has been a perfect fit for Knoxville’s small town-city vibe. At Christmas the store’s friendly manager was wrapping presents near the front door for Juvenile Diabetes. I know this because she wrapped several beautifully appointed packages for me!

Best Coffee Shop/Bakery/Lunch Spot: Wild Love Bakehouse

Three or four days a week–sometimes daily–we go into Wild Love Bakehouse for lunch or a hot or cold beverage. My husband Kurt and I are tea drinkers, but folks the coffees, lattes, and espressos are a work art too!

Wild Love is nearly always full because the soup and a huge array of bake goods are made fresh every morning by the owner and her staff of amazing pastry magicians. Each day the offerings are slightly different. Besides the amazing soup (with a crusty side bread), Wild Love offers a rotating variety of tarts, cookies, croissants, foccacia tartlets, cookies, gluten-free peanut oatmeal bars–and occasionally, the most creative salads I have seen in Knoxville.

Wild Love Bakehouse: the best coffee house, lunch, and bakery combination in Knoxville.

The tea is made fresh to order, hot or cold, with Rishi loose tea. I have them add some honey to mine, and it is divine!

And the staff are all young, friendly, and just fantastically welcoming. Wild Love has only been open a few years, but they are already a go-to location. For the late lunch and early dinner eaters, they are open on Sundays and till 6:00 p.m.!

The owners of Wild Love also have a sister location downtown, called Pearl on Union. Pearl has the same great baked goods and creative food within easy strolling distance of Knoxville’s Market Square.

Best Indoor Recreation: Maple Hall

A few years ago Maple Hall debuted as a brand-spanking new bowling alley, bar, eatery, and all-around fun urban experience in Downtown Knoxville’s historic JC Penney Building–and it is nearly next door to the Phoenix Pharmacy and Fountain. How convenient!

In 2013 Maple Hall’s visionary owners worked with a creative team of engineers, architects, designers, and contractors to reimagine a portion of the JC Penney Building as a hip bowling alley with good food, an extensive bar, an upstairs game room, and a relaxed, exposed-brick interior. Maple Hall is Knoxville most fun indoor playground.

You can’t go wrong in any of these Knoxville landmarks–and all of them are in Downtown Knoxville or within a quick 5 minute drive. Enjoy, the best that Knoxville has to offer.

~ Anna – 2/28/2019

 

Posted in Food, Gluten free, Joy (Joie de General), Knoxville, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blooming Out of Season

Nearly a decade ago I planted two camellias in container pots just outside the front door of our home. I never thought they would live for long–in containers, mind you– in the mercurial climate of East Tennessee. But my sister, Lisa Stanley of Stanley’s Greenhouse, who is an expert on plants that will grow in the Tennessee Valley near our Great Smoky Mountains, assured me the camellias would grow and “bloom in January when nothing else is in bloom”.

IMG_0333

Well, my sister was right. Besides my winter-hardy violas, nothing else seemed alive when the camellias bloomed with drops of rain on their faces.

January is the hardest time of the year for me–and many of my friends. Bleak, dark, nothing much going on, depressing. And then the miracle–for that is what it seems like every year–of white camellias with their winter-rose-like blooms.

I assumed camellias were tropical flowers that could only be seen in equatorial climes–like the gardenias over the ear of Billie Holiday in that classic photo of the peerless Lady Day, the most unique and finest jazz singer of them all. The way she phrased a song, ever-changing and ever new, was second to none–except perhaps the sublime Nat King Cole, who made every note a revelation.

Billie Holliday images

I read Billie’s biography which, even though it was written with her participation, has been dismissed as having little relationship to the realities of her too-short life. No matter the exact details, Billie undoubtedly lived her songs, you can see it in her eyes, you can hear it in her unmistakable voice.

According to Holiday’s friend and fellow jazz singer Carmen McRae, Billie’s signature look of wearing gardenias in her hair came about by accident. While curling her hair before a performance, Billie badly burned a section of hair and McRae ran out to find something to cover the injury. Voila, she found some a sprig of gardenias and a classic look was born.

Holiday bloomed in a time when even the most famous and talented black musicians were not welcome in restaurants, hotels, public restrooms, or the parts of town frequented by white folks. Unfathomable.

The Nat King Cole Trio.
Ad on page 187 of Billboard 1944 Music Yearbook [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Recently I watched the riveting documentary Nat King Cole: Afraid of the Dark  on Netflix. Director Jon Brewer interviewed Cole’s second wife Maria Ellington Cole and had access to Cole’s journals and family video footage that has never been made public before.

Just like Billie Holiday, Cole was a singular, once in a lifetime talent. whose  life was cut short. Beside his trailblazing television show and acting in Hollywood movies, Cole performed across the country and in the glitziest Las Vegas hotels and showrooms to mostly white audiences. The documentary recounts that Cole was the headliner on Vegas marquees, yet he was not welcome to stay at the hotels where he performed.  He was forced to travel outside the city to hotels where “colored” people stayed. Nat’s friend and fellow crooner Frank Sinatra was furious about these “just-the-way-we-do-things” Jim Crow rules that were enforced not only in the South, but were widespread in many areas throughout the country.

Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Photo: legends 24×36 Poster by Silverscreen, amazon.com.

Sinatra let it be known that if Nat Cole was not welcome to perform and stay in these Las Vegas hotels, then neither would he perform or stay there. The Vegas hotels did not want to risk losing Sinatra, so they changed their policies. I have never understood such racism that was rampant in the early and mid 20th Century and continues in too many ways to this day.

Curiously to my mind, some of the most wonderful, lively, amazing music was created in the 1930s and ’40s. When the Great Depression slapped people down and World War II brought unspeakable misery and oppression to most of the world. The millions who died quickly in battle were perhaps the lucky ones, certainly luckier than the poor souls in concentration camps: the Jews, Poles, academics, homosexuals, and anyone who tried to help them or attempted to fight Fascism.

In my experience, the best art seems to flourish in hard times. And people who have known hard times carry it always somewhere inside. People who have truly lived the bleakness of winter of the soul, can bring it forth when they sing or write about love, heartache, farming a few acres and a third goes to the bank, or the deaths of tiny children or women in childbirth. But the art from the hard times lives on and breathes.

My adorable grandson Lincoln discovers himself in a mirror: Here’s looking at you, kid!

For me, it’s hard to get through January, February, March, and (what they say is the cruelest month, perhaps because it raises your expectations, then dashes them) April, so I reprint here 10 Things Science Says Will Make You Happy, from the Winter 2009 Yes! magazine.

  1. Savor everyday moments that you would normally hurry through
  2. Avoid comparing yourself to others and instead focus on your own achievements
  3. Put material things low on your priority list; their satisfaction is fleeting
  4. Have meaningful goals since we require a sense of meaning to thrive
  5. Take initiative at work or home; it makes life more rewarding and you feel more in control
  6. Take the time to invest in close relationships and treasure your family
  7. Smile even when you don’t feel like it; happy people see possibilities
  8. Say thank you as if you mean it, write notes, express gratitude for people who have made a difference in your life
  9. Get out and exercise; it can be very effective in treating depression
  10. Give it away; give it away now! Do whatever you can to help others, and you get more health benefits than exercise: listen to a friend, help a neighbor, celebrate the successes of others, pass on your skills, donate to a cause you believe in

loreena b:w girl dancing

I would add that we should dance and play because there is far too little of that!

Yes, I know what you are thinking. We are caught in a polar vortex of Trumpian proportions. Our government doesn’t work; our planet is in jeopardy. I am no Pollyanna–although I did read the book when I was a girl. Not everything works out. Life is hard. People in power and people in everyday lives can be cruel, difficult, and impossible to understand or navigate. But I find meaning and happiness living with an open heart to the people I meet and the people I care about–with gratitude for the good and beautiful things and the small, wonderful things. I try in every way possible to make a difference in the lives of others. To make things better. It is the bane of my existence to chase the illusive better.

the hotel new hampshire cover

This way of living gives my life meaning and helps me to, as John Irving so eloquently put in in his 1981 novel The Hotel New Hampshire (as well as the movie that followed three years after), “keep passing those open windows”.

My aspiration is to be gracious as Lord Tennyson writes in the final lines of his poem The Lady of Shalott and as the incredible musician and Celtic-song-goddess Loreena McKennitt sings in her song of the same name:

lorrena windows

But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.”

I ask for Grace in the New Year–and all the years thereafter. And aspire always to bloom out of season.

~ Anna — 1/31/2019

[This blogpost was originally posted on January 16, 2013. Today I rewrote and added my thoughts in the light of our current situation in 2019. It is amazing how six years have changed our country and the world so much–and yet so little.]

Posted in Autobiographical, Backyard Nature, Beauty, Blooming, Dance, Happiness, Ideas, John Irving, Music, Op/Ed Thoughts, Stage, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

His Heart’s Eye Is Open

Little Man Lincoln sleeping ever-so-peacefully.

I grieve for each passing year that Daddy is not here to fervently hope that Clemson can beat Alabama for the NCAA football Championship. I grieve that he missed by 11 months seeing his great-grandson Lincoln’s endlessly fascinating face. I regret that Daddy will never know Lincoln’s baby sister Penelope who is due to arrive in just over a month.

I miss his dear Daddy-ness: his eccentricities, his incessant and irritating stirring of his coffee, how still he held his head when I cut his hair, how he advised that I should get home before dark. Most of all, I miss his enduring loving presence that reminded me of his unconditional and profound love for me. He didn’t seek to renovate me into a better version of myself because he thought I was perfect just as I am.

Bright-eyed Daddy, at his rehab facility, surrounded by our family on Thanksgiving 2016, a week before his died.

I am not perfect, but his love and acceptance of me has been a refuge for me from the rough patches of life and a solace from the people who make me feel I will never be enough, never be good enough, never be like them enough. Tired. They make me tired.

And Daddy was tired, I think, in the final years of his life. Frequently he mentioned his wretchedly abusive childhood as a motherless child living in poverty and neglect. And his body let him down more often than not as he aged. But he had a zest for life and a smile and a passion for those he loved and the things that interested him: sports, movies, the UT Lady Vols basketball team, the New York Yankees, the Detroit Lions, and his favorite music. Even in his final days, he knew who we were and his love was undiminished by senility and Alzheimer’s–if that is indeed what he had.

On December 2, 2016, a few weeks after surgery for a broken hip, Daddy died with a heart attack as he was peddling on an exercise bike at a rehabilitation center. He did not have to linger any longer in pain and fear his death—because he did not know it was coming—and thankfully Mama was with him when he died.

On Christmas 2015, Daddy proudly sported the Schlumberger cap my husband Kurt gave him.

In life we said goodbye to each other with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, but he did not like to be touched repeatedly or overmuch. I learned this when I was lovingly patting him on his arm as he was eating dinner at his senior living facility, and he asked me to stop because it made him nervous.

After Daddy died I got a call from my son who broke the news to me, and I raced to the rehab center where Daddy was laid out on the bed of his room. Thankfully his body was still warm. I sat down beside him and rubbed his shoulder as much as I liked and it did not bother him at all.

Daddy in his New York Yankees cap leaving my son Justin’s wedding, March 2016.

We had a beautiful service for him a few days later and sung his favorite hymns. During the prayer before I was to read his eulogy, I was shaking a bit, afraid I would botch it or break down. I had to take myself in hand and remember that moment was not about me, but was about telling Daddy’s story. It was important for his life to be held up and acknowledged and celebrated. His was a small life in the vast expanse of human history, but it was a huge life for me and for those who loved him. I did not break down when I read the eulogy, my voice rang out. I was proud to tell Daddy’s story and bring him to life for those who did not know him well. 

He was no longer in pain. He was safe from the dreadfully inadequate so-called care he received at his senior living facility. At times he was attended by teenagers who admitted they had received next-to-no training, and he was served mostly inedible food that he could not eat. Daddy no longer had to worry about the ruptured eardrum he suffered when his father neglected to have his tonsils removed when he was child. No longer did he have to endure from the broken hip he suffered the month before his death. He was safe from the vicissitudes of our country’s “health care” system and the well-meaning, but inadequate–and ultimately devastating–decisions made on his behalf. I was more-than-willing to give him up to save him from that fate.

Daddy and Mama at my son Justin’s wedding, March 5, 2016.

Yet he lives vividly in my imagination and when things go awry in life that are beyond my power, I pray to him, as well as my Mamaw (Mama’s mother) who died in 1991, and Daddy’s mother Darcus who died in 1935 when Daddy was 4 months old. They are my triumvirate of guardian angels who at the very least are alive in me because they had such an impact on my life. At most they keep me company in the darkest moments of this the beginning of the third year of the misbegotten Trumpian dynasty.

Daddy acting as best man at my son Justin’s wedding.

I grieve for my Daddy, and I grieve for my country that wanders in the wilderness, lost to itself in an oblivion of injustice, strife, prejudice, and ignorance of its history and purpose.

For the last hundred or so years many oppressed people sought in our country a safe harbor. Even as we turned away ships filled with Jews fleeing the Nazis at the first part of World War II, the United States was seen as a beacon, a lighthouse of democracy.

When I was in high school chorus, we sang the words of Emma Lazarus’s poem that is not only lyrics to a song, but written on the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Silly me to take seriously the notion that the democratic virtues our country has espoused around the world were not really meant to be practiced in our own land. We are no democracy if the winner of the minority of the votes in our presidential election serves as President which has happened twice in the last 20 years. Daddy would have said, “That’s highway robbery.” Because our country is the last remaining superpower, countries around the world and our planet are in jeopardy and hang in the balance. Yet our country continues to use an archaic system to decide our nation’s governance. The Electoral College originated as a salve for the slave states of the nation who worried about their future domination among non-slave states. It is obvious to me that our country’s Civil War did not solve our nation’s strife.

Daddy with his beloved grandson Justin in 1996.

My grandson’s name is Lincoln not because my son and daughter-in-law wanted to celebrate our 16th President Abraham Lincoln, but because Daddy loved his Lincoln Continental automobile and was absolutely obsessed with Matthew McConaughey’s 2011 movie “The Lincoln Lawyer”.

Abraham Lincoln was a fantastically adept politician, as well as a commanding orator, visionary leader, and the man who found a way to keep the United States operating as one country. But I believe President Lincoln did a great disservice to the country when he decided that war was the best response when the Southern slave states sought to leave the Union. I can only imagine that the South even if it had been a country apart from the North, would have eventually been forced to give up the horrible system of slavery. Self-determination would have been a better driver in this regard than having federal troops in the South for a decade followed by a history of lynching and oppression for the former slaves in this country. At some point the country might have come together again as one Union. There are very few wars–World War II being the most outstanding exmple in the fight against Nazi tyranny–where war is the best answer to solve intransigent problems.

My dear grandmother, Darcus Montgomery, with my grandfather Hodge Allen, on their wedding day in 1934.

The devastating poison and hatred of the war split our nation in two, and it has never fully recovered even to this day–153 years after the war ended. Our national government limps along in chaos and disharmony. The Union appears broken and the factions that govern our public life can agree on next to nothing about how our country should operate.

Over the past year alone, our federal government has shut down three times because its representatives cannot agree that it should pay our country’s bills. And of course, that is true of our government right now as well, as swaths of the federal government are shut down, unfunded, and federal workers go unpaid.

I am glad my Daddy doesn’t have to see how the reality TV star who got 3 million less votes than his competitor “runs” our country. A few weeks before he died, Daddy told me he voted “for the woman because she’s the smarter one”. Amen to that. Even in his final days, Daddy discerned the real from the artificial, the right from the just plain wrong.

Daddy on his grandmother Lucinda’s lap, 1936.

Today on New Year’s Eve 2018, I remember Daddy and all he has meant to me and still does. I wish his life had been easier and that I could travel back in time and hold him when he was a motherless child being raised by a stern, rather terrifying-looking grandmother named Lucinda.

We have only one baby picture of Daddy with the grandmother who raised him until she died when he was 5 years old. In the picture, Daddy sits on her lap looking uncertain and a bit troubled with a little sailor cap resting beside him. He wears the first walking shoes of a toddler and is wearing what looks like a dress–as young children regardless of their age did at that time.

His family was desperately poor and Daddy told us many bleak stories about his childhood. He is safe from all such problems now. No more violent alcoholic uncle in his home, no more being threatened with a hot poker, no more sneaking downstairs to get clean clothes to wear to school, no more hearing difficulties from not having his tonsils removed when they were diseased, no more living on cabbage, no more not getting to play his beloved sport of basketball because his father feared he would get hurt, no more getting thrown out of his home as a teenager and living at the Downtown YMCA after his second stepmother threw him out.

Daddy is free now from all the earthly fears and tensions that tied him down. He is alive in my imagination and memory and in that of all his family that loved him dearly.

The wind blows outside our house on this 70-degree, winter day in East Tennessee. The ribbon on our backdoor Christmas wreath flaps in the breeze. Not surprisingly I have a cold from this whiplash back-and-forth of winter, then spring-like, weather. Climate change is not only the future of our planet, but we experience it now.

However, Daddy is safe and as long as I live I will aspire to do as he taught me: to be myself. I will foment and inspire the same in my grandson Lincoln who is close to my heart and was named for the things that excited Daddy’s imagination. Daddy had a passion for life and, on his behalf as well as my own, I will encourage this calling in our much-adored grandbabe. I plan to continue teaching Lincoln the joy and eternal mystery of being himself.

As my favorite poet Mary Oliver writes, I will ask Lincoln to:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver

I will ask him to join me in this lifelong adventure of passion, laughter, and music:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
Mary Oliver

And I will remind him that his great-grandfather taught us to really live:

Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

And I thank Daddy for his gift to us his loved ones who are aware and have our eyes fully open to see.

The Uses Of Sorrow

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.”
Mary Oliver, Thirst

On this New Year’s Eve, I remember my loving Daddy, Roy Rotha Allen, lately of this world, always alive in mine.

~ Anna – 12/31/2018

Posted in Alzheimer's, Autobiographical, Childhood, Courage, Family, Happiness, Ideas, Love, Op/Ed Thoughts, Wonder | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What A Woman Needs: It Starts with Damn . . .

[On November 30, 2014, I wrote the following blogpost about how I grew up in a sheltered, no-cussing household, but found that, as I got older, I needed a few choice words to illustrate my life. Four years later I find this post is more relevant than ever since we now live in an alternative universe where up is down and a former reality TV celebrity is now President of the world’s only remaining superpower. If you don’t count China, that is. So I hope you enjoy this reposting of one of my favorite blogposts!]

When my sister and I were growing up, Mama told us under NO circumstances were we to use bad words such as phooey, silly, stupid, fudge, gosh, or heck. At our house, the Disney movie “That Darn Cat” became “That Blank Cat”. There was an unknown abyss of nastier words hanging around big-boy playgrounds and other foreign places outside, but as ancient maps noted the areas of the world uncharted before the age of exploration, beyond our trusted shores thar be dragons!

No matter how many four-letter words I saw scrawled on bathroom stalls at my school, I did not use what Mama would call foul language. So closely did I follow her line of thinking that when I played a kid’s game of switching the beginnings of my friends names around and Kitty Shronce became Shitty Kronce, no one was more surprised at what came out of my mouth than me. Well, Kitty was none too pleased. And I was quite sure I was going straight to hell.

Evangelical Christian writer Maribel Morgan holding her bestselling book (circa mid 1970's). Get a load of that hair.

Evangelical Christian writer Maribel Morgan holding her bestselling book (circa mid 1970’s). Get a load of that hair.

In my late teen years, I attended a Southern Baptist church which was full of Total Woman handbook study groups.

Written by an Evangelical Christian woman named Maribel Morgan, The Total Woman taught that the husband is the king of his household, and if the properly Christian wife worships and obeys him in all things–and occasionally meets his sexual fantasies by greeting him at the front door wrapped in nothing but Saran wrap–a happy marriage and all good things will come. I kid you not. Here’s her Wikipedia page, read it, and weep:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marabel_Morgan

Okay, I was raised in a sheltered home. I was young and ignorant of the ways of the world. Guilty, guilty, guilty. But I compounded my quite shocking naiveté by marrying a man I had only known for three months when I was two weeks shy of my 19th birthday. Yeah. Breathtakingly stupid.

When he took off his nice-guy facade on the honeymoon, I was amazed at this man I did not know. He was, as it says in the dictionary, “marked by egocentric and antisocial behavior”. He did not want me to have friends or spend time with my family, wouldn’t speak to me for days if I lost one of his socks at the apartment’s laundry room, and said he would not drive me back to work until I ate food I didn’t want at McDonald’s. My crime: he wasn’t able to find a parking place at the McDonald’s near my office, and he had drive to the one two miles away.

As you can well imagine, The Total Woman handbook was NO help with this king of his household. After five years of living hell, not only did I leave him, but I found that I really needed to let loose with an occasional damn from time to time. And so I did.

As a single parent in my mid 20’s, working for a pittance on a secretary’s salary while I worked on my degree at the University of Tennessee, I continually bumped up against the rules and life ways of the good ole Southern boy culture. It may have been the 1980s when “we” were supposed to be liberated, yet we of the female persuasion were instructed to refer to our male co-workers as Mr. Jones or Dr. Smith, while we were called by our first names, Cindy or Kathy or Connie or Sue.

One morning I arrived at work earlier than anyone else at work, and the management assessment director who I knew only to say hello to and not much more, walked up to me and kissed me on the lips. No “good morning”, no “how ya perkin’, pardna”, just a good long kiss right in the smackeroo.

I had no context for this behavior, couldn’t really myself believe what had happened,  so I told no one and kept my head down. Not too long after that he left his wife, married his secretary, and I was left to ponder the sexual harassment that guys in my workplace took for granted.

About this time, I found that I needed a more colorful vocabulary, and my son heard me say shit more than once when my ex didn’t send the child support, and I still had to pay bills and put food on the table. Shit a brick.

don't mess with texasAfter I finished my bachelor’s degree, I married a young engineering graduate, and we moved to (Don’t Mess With) Texas for him to accept his first post-graduation job for a defense contractor in Ft. (Beginning of the West) Worth.

We found a place to live that we could afford that had a school within walking distance, and I began cross-stitching Christmas presents for my family back home in Tennessee. Happy New Year, Happy Valentine’s Day, and hel-lo I am pregnant.

We had one car without air conditioning, in the sizzling miasma of the holy terror tumbleweed of Southwest Ft. Worth where the fire ants were most surely a-jumpin’, and I was hauling my hugely pregnant self around Ft. Worth with the car windows open, and praying we would not have to stop at a red light.

foat wuthAbout the time I was carrying my second baby boy in the vaporous humidity of Foat Wuth (how it was pronounced by the natives, y’all), Jim Wright, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives–who brought home all kinds of lovely defense contracts to his home district of Ft. Worth–came under scrutiny by Newt Gingrich and his Republican minions.

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Jim Wright of Ft. Worth, Texas.

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Jim Wright of Ft. Worth, Texas.

According to his enemies across the aisle, Wright’s wrongs apparently were to write a book called Reflections of a Public Man (I will admit it is a weak title), devise a scheme to keep more proceeds from the profits of the book than he was allowed as a member of the House, and give his wife Betty a job. Interesting aside: Some observers say the Jim Wright ethics investigation by the GOP, and the resulting scandal and recriminations ending in Wright’s resignation as speaker of the House, was the opening salvo of the legislative stalemate that has paralyzed our nation for the last 25 years. Yep, the beginning of our ends, so to speak.

Anyway, the seemingly endless drip, drip, drip of bad news for our once powerful representative was even worse for Ft. Worth as half or so of the defense contractor jobs evaporated. Boarded up, repossessed homes were up and down our neighborhood–bad timing, we had just bought a home–and no one knew how long anyone would have a job at my husband’s employer.

Soooo, as I struggled womanfully to make ends meet, raise two children, and scrounge to find a job in the wake of cataclysmic political disaster, I found there was only one word that described my situation.

The word I speak of is a magical word that can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, and maybe a few other parts of speech that I have forgotten since Mrs. Decker’s seventh-grade English class. It is also the word that best illustrates what continues to go on in Washington as stalemate reigns year after year in our houses of Congress. We poor Ft. Worth residents were fucked, my dear citizens. And so apparently are we by our national houses of legislative non-cooperation and strife.

Women have not only achieved the vote, but they can find their voice as well.

Women have not only achieved the vote, but they can find their voice as well.

However, I say to you boldly, women who find yourself in similarly dire straits as I have during my own lifetime. You are not without recompense and remedy in your hours of need. You may have been reared as a lady, and you do not want to let lose with a torrent of loose verbiage.

But I say to you, ladies and women of all ages, if you find yourself rear-ended at the red-light of life as I have oh so many times, you can have at your disposal an arsenal of words that have quickened the pulse and braved the heart of many a weary female traveler. You have damn, shit, and fuck–with an occasional hell, if you like. Go forth, ladies, and use these words wisely, yea discriminately, and they will serve you well.

A timely reflection before the holiday shopping season.

~ Anna – 11/30/2014

 

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Finding Darcus

My grandmother and her siblings around 1911: Stephen age 5, Darcus age 11, Regina age 9, Luva age 6.

Since at least 1992, I have been searching for my grandmother, Darcus Montgomery. She gave birth to my father in April 1935, and only four months later–in early August–she died. Naturally I assumed Daddy’s mother died from childbirth complications, and perhaps in a particular sense that was the case, but the more I have learned about my dear grandmother, I found that her death was not as clearcut as I had imagined.

Daddy’s maternal grandparents, John and Cordelia Montgomery in Carroll County, Virginia.

I probably would not have discovered much about my grandmother, who was born in Carroll County, Virginia, in 1903, if her mother, Cordelia, had not heard the call of Mormon missionaries and converted three years before Darcus’s birth. It so happens that Mormons, who prefer to be called Latter-Day Saints, revere family ancestry. Through their online ancestry esources, I found my grandmother’s death certificate and my husband was able to contact two of my cousins who now live in Utah.

My grandmother’s death certificate said she died of insanity from Pellagra psychosis. I had never heard of pellagra psychosis, but it is a severe nutritional deficiency that plagued many American Southerners in the wake of the Civil War. Apparently their diet relied too heavily on corn that had not been enriched with lime as the Native Americans had done to fortify it with niacin. According to Wikipedia, 100,000 Southerners suffered with pellagra in 1916, which was characterized by the four D’s: diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia, and death.

The photo we mistakenly thought was Daddy’s parents, Hodge and Darcus. It actually is a photo of my grandfather Hodge with his second wife Eulenia Brown, presumably on their wedding day, probably in the mid-1940s.

The death certificate notes that my grandmother died in the George Maloney Home. After research in the East Tennessee Historical Center, we discovered the Maloney Home was Knoxville’s version of the poor house where the souls consigned there worked in the fields under conditions so notorious that the state of Tennessee closed the place in the early 1950s. What my grandmother was doing in the poor house while her husband lived on Jones Street in South Knoxville, as stated on her death certificate, is a mystery we have not been able to solve.

Daddy had never seen a photo of his mother. However when he 80 years old, he and Mama visited a relative from Daddy’s father’s family and Mama noticed a photo of Daddy’s father, Hodge, with a woman they assumed was my grandmother.

Only last week did I learn the woman pictured with Hodge was actually his second wife Eulenia, and not my grandmother. My dear cousin Linda, whose father Stephen was Darcus’s younger brother, gave me the original photo of my grandparents which appears to be on their wedding day in 1934.

Finally the original photo of my dear grandmother, Darcus Montgomery, with my grandfather Hodge Allen, on their wedding day in 1934.

Even though my dear grandmother would be dead just a year and a half after her wedding and I never met her, I feel my life is whole now that I actually see her and know where I came from. I never felt that I exactly fit in my mother’s family. Although I loved them dearly, I felt as if I was a tiny alien. I loved to read and no one in my mother’s family read books. Daddy’s father, Hodge, was actually illiterate. It was a homecoming of sorts to learn that my great-grandmother Cordelia (Darcus’s mother) was an avid reader and named her children for characters in the novels she read.

Finding my grandmother, after all these years of searching for her, has made me feel at peace with myself in a way I have not known before.

Seeing Darcus’s dear face, and learning more about her from her family, has helped me understand there is a reason I am my own quirky, sensitive self–I am following in the footsteps of my dear, singular, beloved grandmother.

My paternal grandmother, Darcus Nickaline Montgomery Allen.

If she had not risked getting pregnant with Daddy– despite her sensitive physical and mental nature–my father, my sister, and I (along with our children and their children) would never have been born. Because she lived–even for just 31 years–she gave us life. As the amazing inspirational Fred Rogers of Public Television’s Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood said:

Who we are in the present includes who we were in the past.

Thanks to Darcus’s family, I now have seen her lovely face and I am home.

~~ Anna – 10/31/2018

 

 

Posted in Autobiographical, Childhood, Courage, Dementia, Family, Happiness, Home, Knoxville, Love, Uncategorized, Women, Wonder | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fearful Things

The last week has been excruciating. With tears in my eyes, I watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, an outstanding professor and psychology researcher, testify before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee of her gut-wrenching story of being sexually assaulted when she was 15 years old by President Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.  When she was asked what aspect of the assault she recalled most clearly, she said it was the laughter between Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge who was in the room watching.  Yes, her memory returns time and again to the uproarious laughter of the two inebriated, 17-year-old boys of privilege shared as the would-be Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh lay on top of her trying to remove her clothes.

Dr. Blasey Ford explained how she escaped Kavanaugh when his pal Mark jumped on top of them and Kavanaugh fell off of her.  She was terrified that day, the trauma has never left her, and she was terrified again on Thursday as she had to tell her story to the Judiciary Committee and, through the broadcast media, to the world. She and her family have been forced to move several times and hire bodyguards due to death threats against her life.

For Kavanaugh and Judge, that day when they were 17 years old was just another day of drunken revelry on their way to bigger things. Of course, it would not be too surprising if they can’t remember all the details of their drunken escapades. Drinking to excess was the kind of behavior that was encouraged among their prep-school, alpha-male peers who were being groomed for the top echelons of American society and governance. Mark Judge went on to write several books about his alcoholic life, and Kavanaugh became a federal judge on one of the most powerful courts in our country: the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. circuit.

Interestingly the chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals is Merrick Garland, the prestigious judge with unblemished credentials who was lauded by conservatives until President Barack Obama’s chose him as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. Since the Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, refused to hold a hearing on Garland’s nomination, the court seat remained empty for over a year. If the Republican leader of the Senate had done his job and allowed his peers to seat Merrick Garland, Kavanaugh might never have been considered for the Court.

For me and so many other women who have been sexually, physically, and mentally abused, this unfolding national tragedy had caused us to relive our own traumatic experiences of being American girls and women.

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Our house with the big old trees in the front yard.

I have a hard time figuring out how to characterize what happened to me when I was 5 years old. It was fall of the year and my parents were raking leaves and preparing the house for winter. How Daddy hated raking leaves and the trees that made gathering them necessary. I have always loved them. The leaves smelled wonderfully pungent and my sister Lisa and I loved to jump into a pile of them.

Although I was only 5 years old, I had just begun first grade because I would turn 6 before January 1st of the next year, which was the cut-off rule. I was the smallest in my class, as well as the youngest, and I was very shy.

Here I am, a tiny 5-year-old, when I started first grade.

My memory is of being in the basement of the house next door with a neighbor boy who was a little older than me. We were alone in the basement. He said he was the doctor and I was his patient. I was lying on a work table made of wood when he stuck a stick inside me and asked if it hurt. I do not know why I said the stick did not hurt, because it did. Perhaps it was because I was brought up not to be unpleasant with anyone, but to always seek approval from others.

Although I had no context for what had happened, I knew it was a shameful thing. I felt guilty that I had allowed this ugly thing to happen to me, and I instinctively knew my parents would have blamed me as well–so I told no one. I could not understand the experience and buried it deep inside. I am sure, however, that it affected how I felt and acted toward boys, and how I felt about sex.

The photo on my UT identification card in 1975.

I was in my 30s when I remembered what happened and sought therapy to talk about it. At that time and since then I have thought about how the event affected me as I developed from a young girl to a teenager. Most especially I wonder if it had anything to do with my decision to marry at the age of 18 to a man I had only known for three months.

No one in my family had ever attended college and I was only able to do so due to my freshmen-year-only scholarships and the federal Basic Education Opportunity Grant (BEOG) that was given to poor students who wanted to go to college, but had no means to do so. I lived at home with my parents while going to the University of Tennessee so naturally I met no one during my freshman year.

For my wedding day in December 1976, I had borrowed my Aunt Helen’s wedding dress and my cousin’s veil.

After my first year of college, my one-year scholarships ended and I only had the funds from my federal grant. Growing tired of never having enough money, I got a job at a financial services company checking credit. A couple of the bill collectors asked me out, but one was quite insistent that we should date seriously. Being sheltered, lonely, poor, and, yes, a virgin–I took his solicitous attentions at face value and thought he was a good man. I desperately wanted to get on with my life and stop living in my parents’ house. Daddy, who never finished high school and grew up without a mother, was constantly losing jobs. The uncertainty and helplessness in the household was an awful load to bear, so two weeks before my 19th birthday, I married this man who was divorced and five years older than me.

On our honeymoon I met an altogether different man. He was brusque, brittle, angry, demanding, and stiflingly possessive. He did not want me to have friends or spend time with my family. Most especially he wanted me not to have a relationship with my sister who I was very close to.

His cruelties were so numerous that I have blocked most of them out of my memory. The ones I do recall include the time he attempted to teach me how to drive a manual-transmission car. When I couldn’t immediately get the hang of the clutch, he told me to get out of the car and walk home.

When I ran out of gas on the way to work early in our marriage, he refused to come help me so I walked to a gas station and the attendant drove me back to my car with a gas can.

When he couldn’t find a parking place at McDonald’s, he blamed me and drove to another McDonald’s a few miles away. He ordered food he knew I did not want to eat, and said if I didn’t eat the food, he would not take me back to work.

Here’s my son Justin in our rap-trap, bought-for-$300 Vega in 1981. Of course, my ex-husband drove the good car.

Then there was the time when my son Justin was a baby and my ex-husband started a fist fight with a gay couple who shared our duplex. Understandably the men who lived downstairs from us called the police and more might have come of that horrible altercation if the policeman who answered the call had not been a boy I went to high school with. When I finally left my first husband–with our 2-and-1/2-year-old son–he broke into my apartment, followed me on dates, and stalked and terrorized me for 8 years–even after I had married a second time and moved from Tennessee to Texas.

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When I worked as a secretary in the vice president’s office at the University of Tennessee, an administrator who had an office on our floor came into work early one morning when I was only one in our office. Saying nothing before or after, he came right up to me and kissed me on the mouth. Again I had no context for his behavior, we had only said hello and made small talk in the past, so I had no idea why he would think I would welcome such an action. I was a single parent, full-time employee, going to school part-time, and if I had told anyone about this unfathomable kiss, I knew I would not have been believed and might have been fired for causing trouble. A little later this married man had an affair with his secretary, left his wife, and married his secretary.

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My graduation day from the University of Tennessee in 1987 with my sweet Mamaw and my dear son Justin.

After I earned my degree and worked my way up to a director-level position at the university, the UT president hired a new vice president for our department. He came with excellent credentials, and we assumed he would have high expectations. When he visited our office, he met my co-workers and me, and sized us up for the plans he had in mind. He asked me to consider applying for a promotion to lead a new communications team to provide material for our next fund-raising campaign. I applied, and won the position. However, he had decided that my two co-workers–both men–would not be a part of this new communications team. I fought to keep them in our department, making a good case that we needed them, but my boss was adamant and sent them to work in another department. The two men were, understandably, upset. And, I’m sure, they blamed me.

I put together a great team of three, we worked together seamlessly, but our communications team was placed on the organizational chart under an unrelated administrator’s command so he could receive a large salary boost by having more people report to him.

Worse was to come as our vice president came up behind me in the office and hugged me in front of mid-level male administrators in our department. I would be talking with my colleagues and my boss repeatedly undermined my credibility by hugging me in public. He hugged me in private too, but that was more measured. Still I knew I was being placed in a situation where my co-workers could construe that we were having an affair, which was not true, but perception is often stronger than reality.

During this unfortunate time in the university’s history, we had a string of ineffectual presidents who were forced out of their positions due to scandals. When the latest president was set aside, his vice presidential choice–my boss–was endangered as well and left the university for a position at an academic institution in the Southwest.

After the vice president who promoted me left the university, the interim team of male administrators decided to take revenge and force me out of my job. I have never completely understood their motivations, and they certainly did not explain them to me. However, from their actions, I came to the conclusion they must have thought I had slept with my former boss in order to get a promotion. Further they must have erroneously decided I engineered moving my two co-workers to another department. In any event, they wrote me up on trumped-up charges two weeks before Christmas–and nine months before I was to reach 30 years at the university and full retirement. They hounded me incessantly during my final months at UT and nearly ruined my health.

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I’ll admit it: I have been angry about the cost of being a girl child and a woman in America. Most of the time I can do nothing about my anger except push it down inside where it grows into depression. Why try, why fight the forces of injustice? That’s what the powerless feeling brings to mind: soul-crushing sadness.

When the winter of my soul takes over with wave after wave of desperation, I fight for the surface to breathe again because people need me. My husband, my sister, my mother, my son, my friends, and most especially my 11-month-old grandson and his baby sister who is due to join this world in February of next year. I cannot give up being my joyful self and wallow with the forces of evil, no matter how strong they are.

Last week I rewatched the award-winning Netflix mini-series Godless which tells the story of a 1880’s town in the American West full of women who have been widowed by a mining explosion. The women in this story are strong and resourceful as they battle a murderous outlaw gang of 30 men and the gang’s mercurial leader bent on revenge after the town sheltered his adopted son who abandoned him. This is one of the best series I have ever seen about the power of women working together to save their lives and the lives of their children.

After the climactic showdown, the remaining townspeople mourn and begin burying their dead. As they stand around the grave of the teenage boy who was their deputy, the town’s new preacher arrives in time to say a few words about the risk of living and loving in the face of evil and death.

It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing to love, to hope, to dream, to be.
To be, and, oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this.
And a holy thing.
A holy thing to love.
For your life is lived in me.
Your laugh once lifted me.
Your word was gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
‘Tis a human thing, love.
A holy thing to love what death has touched.

~ Scott Frank in Godless

To live beyond the dark veil of sexual assault and to somehow find a way to forgive ourselves, for being human and vulnerable, is a hard life’s journey. To witness injustice and be dragged back to the physical and emotional pain of the past is real and can be debilitating. To risk loving again is indeed a painful joy.

Please may our country find a way to heal itself enough to allow its women to rise to their full height and live full lives without fear. We won the right to vote some 100 years ago, but we have not come far enough, not by a long shot.

~ Anna – 9/30/2018

Posted in Autobiographical, Childhood, Courage, Ideas, Op/Ed Thoughts, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments