Down to the Root

I go on crossing rivers,
Roaming forests,
Loving the sun
Every day I go on pulling thorns
From the far depths of my inner heart . . .

Look at time gone by
You will know that there’s no way I have forgotten . . .

I carry you within me, to the very root
And though I may blossom, still you will be here

Natalia Lefourcade, Mexican singer/songwriter, 2015

What is it like in our corner of the world here in East Tennessee during the Global Pandemic of 2020? This holiday season, we have had a ring-side seat to watch our bantamweight-level state battling it out with California–the most populous state in the union–for the highest per capita Covid rate in the world.

Here in Knox County, we have the triple misfortune of ineffective leadership at the county, state, and national level. Where are the public relations ad campaigns reminding Americans about safe practices? Why wasn’t each American sent a mask found to be safe and effective at keeping this respiratory virus from getting into our bodies? Early in the crisis our Knox County Board of Health enacted a mask mandate and some local businesses enforced it for their customers. However our county mayor, a wrestler by trade, voted against the mandate, and the county sheriff plainly stated he would not enforce it. Our city mayor cannot enact a mask mandate because Tennessee’s governor gave that power to the counties, not our major cities.

Only a few weeks ago, our Knox County Commission voted 6-4-1 to abolish our Board of Health. If the Commissioners vote similarly at their next meeting in January, the Board of Health will be defunct, and our public health decisions will be determined by the director of the Knox County Health Department who reports to the county mayor.

As politics, politics, and more politics reigns supreme over our public health issues, loved ones we knew personally, and loved ones we knew through their public service or music or acting or writing have died of Covid. Among the victims this year were legendary singer/songwriter John Prine and strapping 6-foot, 5-inch-tall, Broadway star Nick Cordero who was struck down in the prime of his life at the age of 41, leaving his devoted wife Amanda Kloots and their sweet baby boy who they called Elvis.

Broadway actor Nick Cordero. died on July 5, 2020, of Covid complications. He is shown here with his wife Amanda Kloots and their baby Elvis Eduardo.

For us in South Knoxville, we mourn our dear friend Herb Cover who was a humble, kind, and gentle man (and gentleman) who always led with a smile. Although Herb was devoted to teaching special education at Dogwood Elementary School, it was his passion for music that he shared with his students and in so many facets of his life. He was a singer, songwriter, musician, and minister of music at his church.

As a young man, Herb started his music career playing in bands here in Knoxville. He started writing songs are soon as he could play an instrument. As he wrote on his songwriter’s page on ReverbNation, “I’ve played in many parts of the world, thanks in part to the U.S. Navy. Most of my career has been in Knoxville, Memphis, Jacksonville, and Washington, D.C.”

The photo below shows Herb accompanying the South High School Alumni Chorus on his guitar, along with pianist Belinda Carter Hammond. This 2015 concert was a tribute to our former chorus teacher, Harold Mays, who directed us in 2015 as he did when we were in high school many decades ago.

Musician, songwriter, and elementary school teacher Herb Cover died on December 14, 2020, of Covid-19. He is shown here in 2015 accompanying the South High School Alumni Chorus on his beloved guitar, along with pianist and alumni choral director Belinda Carter Hammond. Photo: Kurt Weiss.

Herb was devoted to Harold Mays–who passed away in June 2018–and to the alumni high school chorus. He was at every event that his busy schedule would allow. In addition to singing with the chorus, Herb sang with the popular men’s octet that provided entertainment at South Knoxville events.

Herb and his wife LeeAnn fell ill with Covid in October, and Herb got seriously ill in early November. After over a month in the hospital, Herb died of Covid complications on December 14, 2020, at the age of 68, leaving his beloved wife LeeAnn, his son Travis, and his dear sister Nancy.

It has been hard to get our heads around so many Americans dying, often alone in intensive care units, deprived of the solace of family members, not getting to say good-bye to their loved ones.

It is heartbreaking that many of us feel we have been pulled up by our roots.

My sweet Irish grandmother Jerushia at far left, in her kitchen, with my son Justin, me, my grandfather Tom, my sister’s son Zach, and my sister Lisa, Christmas 1986.

What do my roots mean to me? I am proud of all of my cultural backgrounds, but I feel most naturally kin to my Irish ancestors. My dear Irish grandmother was like a second mother to me. She was an excellent cook who was a short sprite of a woman with a round belly and a small lap. When we were little, she would slip us chewing gum (Dentyne) or peppermint candy to keep us happy during the Sunday sermons at our church. For Mamaw everything revolved around family, food, and church–nourishment of the body and the spirit.

A plant’s roots give it nourishment as it moves toward the light. Without roots a plant or tree cannot grow. Uprooted, it cannot thrive. For most of us, this virus has taken us away from many of the sustaining forces that bring us joy: gathering together without fear, singing together, experiencing live music, hugging our friends and loved ones, and seeing our relatives who live across the world, country, or even just across the city.

Christmas Eve 2020 in Old North Knoxville in East Tennessee. Photo: Kurt Weiss.

Mother Nature must have decided to intervene on our behalf. Knoxville and parts of East Tennessee had a white Christmas this year for the first time that I can ever remember. I mean a real White Christmas with six inches of snow at our house and the peace that seems to come with it. Somehow there is a great silence and serenity around a heavy snowfall that is infinitely profound.

Having snow on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day seemed to be a special gift to cheer us as we grieve dear ones that have died over the last year such as our friend Herb–as well as the loved ones who died during all the years of our lives that came before it.

To these loved ones, and especially to Mamaw who passed away in 1991, and my dear father who passed away in 2016, I say through the words of the magnetic Mexican singer/songwriter Natalia Lafourcade in her song, “Hasta la Raiz” (meaning “To the Root”):

I carry you within me, to the very root
And though I may blossom, still you will be here . . .

I will carry you within me on this New Year’s Eve, and forward into the this new year of vaccines, a new President–and hope.

~ Anna – 12-31-2020

About aamontgomery

Seeing new possibilities in everyday things
This entry was posted in Autobiographical, Beauty, Childhood, Courage, Family, Home, Ideas, Knoxville, Music, Op/Ed Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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