Retro Communications


Fred Ridinger Jr., who served under Patton, taught Tennessee history at South High, and had some amazing stories to tell.

When I graduated from South (Knoxville) High School, I wanted to be a history teacher in the mold of my two favorite history teachers from South. My Tennessee history teacher Mr. (Fred) Ridinger Jr. served under General George Patton in World War II, but led his classes with humble good-humored example.

Mr. (Charles) Baum taught American history by telling us the stories of history and weaving them into the present. He also had devised his own version of the Risk, take-over-the-world board game and had us play against one another with the resources each country had during the Second World War.

Although participation in World War II had been over for 30 years when I graduated from school, the war’s values of serving your country and your community were still very much alive in our high school. But they were waning in the wake of the Vietnam War that ended two years before I graduated. We graduates of 1975 were something of a lost generation: a bit too young to understand the chaos and confusion of the Vietnam Era, but raised with the values of the generation that fought a world war and won. For a brief, shining moment, the American heroes, the G.I. Joes had made the world safe for democratic ideals over the Nazi machine that had ground Europe and Africa under its jackboot.


American history teacher at South High School, Charles Baum in 1973.

Mr. Baum taught that things were not so simple, explaining the oil crisis of 1973 in terms we could understand, if we were listening. I not only heard Mr. Baum, I wanted to learn everything I could, know for myself, and draw my own conclusions. I never wanted to be referred to as “Miss” Anna Allen, the salutation seemed so dismissive. Nor did I want to be among the women who subsumed their identities by using their husband’s names (Mrs. Joe Schmo) and gossiping and complaining in the kitchen while the men talked about weightier subjects in the living room.

Since my family had no money for higher education–my family’s income was $7000 or so in 1975–I  knew I needed to earn scholarships to attend. I was offered a full scholarship at Berea College in Kentucky, where poor kids such as me could get a free education while working at the college. What derailed that idea was a breakup by my long-distance Kentucky boy friend, and winning a one-year PTSA scholarship for writing a winning essay explaining why I wanted to be a history teacher. UT also awarded me a Fred M. Roddy Scholarship because I had a strong grade point average (7th in my class) and financial need. I also had a Basic Education Opportunity Grant (BEOG) given to disadvantaged kids who showed academic promise.


Check out the set of my chin from my university ID card from 1975-76.

Despite all my shiny-faced accomplishments, no one in my family had ever been to college, so I was a lost cause when I entered the University of Tennessee (UT) in the Summer of 1975. I hoped to get my feet wet at college before the fall quarter onslaught. It didn’t help me because I was still quite clueless through all the registering hoops of university bureaucracy. I lasted in the College of Education for two quarters or so before switching to the College of Communications. Apparently there was a glut of teachers at the time, and we were told that if we were graduated in education, we would not be able to get a job. And, as I well knew, I really need a job when I graduated.

I earned good grades in college, but after a year of being impossibly poor and lonely as a commuting student who had no opportunity to make friends, I dropped out of school. A few months later I took a job at a financial services company, and promptly met the sociopath that would become my first husband. Despite my academic success, I was raised on movie romances and novels where things worked out for good girls if you tried  hard enough and did your best. Our church youth group studied the virtues of The Total Woman handbook: if we were very good, submissive Christian wives our husbands would love us and treat us with respect and all would be well in our world.

Let’s fast forward through the emotionally abusive marriage, raising an adorable boy as a single parent while working full time at the University of Tennessee as a secretary while going to UT part-time to earn my degree (thank heaven for free tuition for two classes a quarter for employees). Ditto, fast forwarding through another failed marriage and raising two adorable sons as a single parent and working full-time.

AnnaGraduationScan-150831-0002 copy

My sweet Mamaw and adorable son Justin on the day of my graduation from college in 1987.

As I finished up my bachelor’s degree in English literature and writing–and just before I married my second husband–I met the enthusiastic, alive-in-every-way man who would become my third husband. He taught at the university, was married at the time to his college sweetheart, and was my dear male friend who was kind enough to came to my wedding. Coincidentally when my second marriage was falling apart, so was his marriage, so we commiserated and our friendship became love. We will have been married 22 years in September and is the love of my life.

After working 29 years at the university, I was director of communications for the system-wide development office at UT. We raised money for the university’s scholarships, professorships, research, and medical schools, and I simply loved my job. We had an amazing team, the four of us, as we told the stories of our university’s supporters. Despite the usual chaos of university politics, we believed we were making a difference in the lives of our students, alumni, and donors.

It simply was not to be. Office politics reared its ugly head, and I was the fall gal who was forced out of her job in 2011. They were “kind” enough to allow me to reach my 30th year of employment which at UT was full, vested retirement. Since this was before Obamacare, I was quite lucky to have reached vested retirement and health insurance since at the too-young age of 53 years (too young for Medicare), I had only one kidney and probably would not have been uninsurable at any cost.

For the last six years, I have been a freelance writer. Luckily my retirement funds–and having a husband who is a management consultant and photographer–have meant I can be choosey about the jobs I take. My sister, Lisa, married the younger son of the Stanley family that owns Stanley’s Greenhouse, and she is the customer service manager of the greenhouse, doing a phenomenal job. Two years ago when she asked me to handle the business’s social media and website communications, I was proud to do so.

A part of me regrets I never became a history teacher in the shining examples of my high school teachers Mr. Baum and Mr. Ridinger. But I have never forgotten their friendship and how they encouraged me to think for myself. Although being a young woman of my era was devalued versus a man, they taught me to take myself and others seriously, and to learn from the lives of the historic figures in our past.


One of the last public telephones in Knoxville, Tennessee.

I am a writer. It is the gift I gained from reading, reading, reading throughout my entire life. Communication may have changed from the rotary-dial phones of my childhood to the push-button extension phones of my teen years. Newspapers have been beaten down by the electronic cacaphony and iPhone-news flashes of the present, but communication and journalism remains central to the ability of our country to genuflect toward its democratic ideals. These days it does not seem we have learned much from history. If investigative journalists do not shine the light on the dark deeds and hidden corners of our nation, we cannot be the America that saved the world from the Nazis in World War II.

Yesterday I was sitting at a gas station in West Knoxville filling up my car when I saw a sight I had not seen in years: it was a public telephone. In the era of second-nature cell phone use, I mused about whether I could even figure out how to make a long-distance call on a public phone–something that used to be a common occurrence. Even though I had no use for that public phone just at that moment, there was something comforting about knowing that even one public phone still existed in my hometown.

//Anna ~ 6/30/2017



Posted in Autobiographical, Childhood, Ideas, Women, Work, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daddy’s Mountain Roots

The ‘Sweet Tea’ Mountain Gordlinia’s huge, sunny-side-up blooms.

Since my father passed away in early December last year, I have been considering what tree I should plant to celebrate the person he was, in gratitude for the life and values he gave me, and to remember the unconditional love and encouragement he poured into me that allowed me to be the person I was meant to be.

Every tree that came to mind did not ring true to Daddy–until a few days ago when I received an email from Nancy Schneider, the tree and shrub manager of Stanley’s Greenhouse. Nancy asked me to remind our customers that she had finally been able to get in a large supply of ‘Sweet Tea’ Mountain Gordlinia trees–the tree that Dr. Sue Hamilton, director of the UT Gardens, had enthusiastically written an article about in our local paper last year:

As I researched the tree for my Facebook post, I knew this was Daddy’s tree, the one that symbolizes my dear sweet father, the tree that would grow, healthy and strong, year after year and remind me of Daddy. The ‘Sweet Tea’ Mountain Gordlinia:

  • Shines in full sun, but prefers morning sun, not the searing heat of afternoon sun. Daddy was indeed a morning person and did not care for the heat of Tennessee’s increasingly hot summers.
  • Blooms with huge, showy, 5-inch-across flowers (that resemble a sunny-side-up egg: pure white with a yellow center) from summer through fall. Daddy was a bloomer, full of life, and exuberant about everything he loved: from the UT Lady Vols and the New York Yankees, his “girls” (my sister and me), and his fellow sports maniac grandson, Justin. He loved Mama too, of course, and she was the rock of his life that allowed him to truly have a home after losing his mother (who was originally from Carroll County, Virginia, a rural county of rolling hills, idyllic farms, and more than a few mountainous areas) when he was only 4 months old. Daddy also loved music and movies; and yes, he loved his eggs sunny-side up.
  • Grows to be 20-30 feet tall which was true for Daddy as well, since he was a rather tall, good-looking man at 6 foot, 2 inches.

From the Southern Living Collection, the ‘Sweet Tea’ Mountain Gordlinia is a hybrid of two native Southern trees.

The ‘Sweet Tea’ Mountain Gordlinia is a hybrid that possesses stronger qualities than its two parent plants. It is more resistant to Phytophthora disease than the Franklin deciduous tree and more cold-hardy than the evergreen loblolly bay. Sweet tea’s leaves are semi-evergreen, and it is more vigorous and more of a bloomer than either of its parents. This is also true of Daddy, as his sweet mother died at the age of 31, and his father was an ineffectual, illiterate man who did not protect Daddy from the deprivations that came his way as a motherless child. In contrast to his parents, Daddy lived life to the fullest, traveled widely, and followed his bliss in every way he knew how.

So yesterday I went to Stanley’s Greenhouse and bought Daddy’s ‘Sweet Tea’ Gordlinia; and today I planted it in a decidedly morning-sun location beside our house. The tree is full of buds, and I can’t wait to see the blossoms as they open over the next few weeks.

Daddy being irrepressibly himself at a 1996 wedding reception.

When I see this special tree growing year after year, I will think of all the ways that my Daddy is still with me.

Daddy is alive with us as long as we, his loved ones, remember fondly his eccentric, unique, adorable, exuberant ways, and how he showed us to live fully with great joy.

And yes, Daddy was a Southern man who liked his tea sweet.

~ Anna //5-31-2017



Posted in Beauty, Blooming, Family, Home, Op/Ed Thoughts, Tribute | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Do Justice to the Ones You Love

The abundantly joyous, life-affirming documentary film, “Kedi”.

A few weeks ago, my husband Kurt and I watched “Kedi”, a thoroughly delightful movie about the historic street cats of Istanbul, Turkey. These cats have no defined owners, they are not picked out at animal shelters or pet stores. They wander freely through Istanbul and choose which humans they will visit for food, companionship, and love.

This movie especially spoke to Kurt and me since we have been adopted by a neighborhood cat. One of our neighbors said the cat’s name is Stanley, and that he belongs to the horse farm near our house but visits a rotation of houses on our street.

Around the time my father passed away in December last year, this large black cat with mesmerizing gold eyes began coming to our backdoor several times a week. Increasingly over the first months of this year, he has decided we are his family and spends most of his time with us. Since he has adopted us–as the Istanbul cats have chosen their owners–we have adopted him as well and call him “Kedi”, which is not only the name of the movie we saw, but is Turkish for cat.

The cat has adopted us that we call Kedi. He adopted us, and we adopted him right back.

The cat-loving people of Istanbul who were interviewed for the movie were amazingly philosophical. Many of them saw their care for a particularly eccentric, gloriously individual cat as the bright spot of their lives. Others explained how they take food around the city to scores of cats and see it as a calling which has saved their lives. I jotted down some of their inspiring words that particularly spoke to me:

You can love if your heart’s eye is open.

Cats carry themselves so well. For cats, existence is enough; not for us, we always want more.

My friends will say that God will provide for the cats, but I say I am the middle man. I had a nervous breakdown, and I healed because of them. They make you fall in love again.

Their problems are like our problems. Solving theirs, we might work together, regain our fading sense of humor, and rekindle our slowly dying sense of life.

See how he comes to me. I thank God for that. I guess I am worthy of his love.

When a cat meows at you, life is smiling at you.

Our beloved Kedi that has already stolen our hearts.

To love is not to own, but to choose to abide in the same place at the same time–to smile and encourage and feed one another’s souls.

For those of you, who would like to smile for a full hour and a half of a movie, watch “Kedi” in its final week at Downtown West Theater in Knoxville, or preorder the video at the following link:

Or you may invite a four-legged loved one into your life to dwell together, and while solving his problems, you can forget the ones that keep you awake at night.

~ Anna 4/30/2017

Posted in Autobiographical, Courage, Creativity, Fabulous, Happiness, Ideas, Love, Op/Ed Thoughts, Screen | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Also Known As . . .

Four generations of Mama’s family in 1960: my mother Arzelia (holding me, far right) seated beside her mother Jerushia (holding my sister Lisa), and her grandmother Madge (left).

When I was born in East Tennessee, oh, quite a few years ago, my parents Roy and Arzelia Allen named me for a dear friend of theirs named Anna Marie. In the Southern way, their friend was called by both names, and so was I.

Mama was very close to her family so, along with my parents and my 15-months-younger sister Lisa, it was my maternal family that was my world.

As for Daddy’s family, his mother Darcus Montgomery died when he was only 4 months old. A handful of times we visited Daddy’s illiterate father Hodge and stepmother Sarah, but she was a hardbitten, husk of a woman who decided on a whim if she wanted to see the lot of us. When she was of a mind, we visited them to the horror of my sister and me. Both Hodge and Sarah were avid snuff-chewers, and tobacco juice would drip from the sides of their mouths as they kissed my sister and me on the cheek. Sticky cheek, truly revolting, made me want to throw up.

Daddy (Roy Rotha) and his father Hodge in the backyard of my mother’s childhood home, circa 1955.

Even though I was a naive girl with no experience with such things, Hodge seemed lecherous toward us, not at all grandfatherly, and I detested him to touch me. Sarah’s manner was mercurial, sometimes a raspy-voiced viper, and other times smooth as silk. However, when I was quite young, she decided she did not want to see my family anymore to my great relief.

Deep inside me there must have been a little alien girl growing because my instincts were not the same as any of the family members I knew. No one in my family was a reader, yet during the summer between my first and second grade years, I read more books than any other child in the book-reading competition at our local branch of the library.

I was fascinated with ideas, the people and places I discovered in books, politics, and history. I wanted to know, be educated, and decide what I believed for myself. That independent young girl that I was wrestling to become decided in the 6th grade, around the age of 11, that she really wanted to be called Anna, not Anna Marie which sounded childish. So my first name change was born.

Besides getting an education and making a difference in the world, my greatest aspiration was to be deeply known, understood, and loved by a young man of excellent character who would share my world. Wanting to learn, however, was not popular in my high school, and neither was being a good girl and waiting till you were married to have sex. Thus I was not considered a catch and no one wanted to date me. A new boy moved to town (just like in the movies!), didn’t know I was considered boring, and wanted to go out with me. We went steady, kissed all over the school, and after we broke up my stock value went up, up, up. But as you can imagine, not for the right reasons. I dated three boys at my high school–and the relationships lasted exactly three months each. I found that being a good girl had its limitations.

During the summer before my senior year, I was encouraged in my quest for love when I met a preacher’s son from Kentucky on a church youth group trip. Voila! He was interested in my fantastic mind! Ta-da! On the downside, our long-distance relationship meant I had no dates my senior year, but I didn’t mind as we wrote long letters to each other, and I dreamed of our future. When we were about to graduate, however, he thought I had become too serious and broke off our friendship.

Check out the set of my chin in my UT student ID. The blocked-out portion of the ID is my Social Security Number because, back in the day before they considered identity theft a problem, the university identified us with that number.

My family was poor, so I enrolled in the University of Tennessee with the assistance of two, one-year scholarships and a government grant, called the Basic Education Opportunity Grant (BEOG). No one in my family had ever attended college, so being a first-generation striver was a real challenge. I was fairly lost at the large, public university I attended, knew no one, and grew tired of being poor. So after my freshman year, when my one-year scholarships were over, I dropped out of school to get a full-time job.

At my first job at the age of 18, I met a man, dated him, and married him all within three months. [To those of you who are considering such a foolish move, let me just say, I’ve tried it, and it seriously doesn’t work!] My reasons for marrying were not good, and I had no idea what I was getting into. When I married, of course, I took my husband’s name, so I became Anna Marie Garrison.

No years of the marriage were good, and even on our honeymoon my husband was a different man from the one I dated. He was domineering, emotionally abusive, did not want me to spend time with my family, and was completely unpredictable. I tried to leave him many times, but my family did not believe in divorce.

My son Justin and me when he was around 6 years old. Check out the blue eye shadow!

I wanted children, so I got pregnant, hoping (I suppose) things would get better. But after I had my adorable son Justin, my marriage grew more difficult than ever. I worked full-time as a secretary at the university; did all the cleaning, cooking, and taking care of our son; and yet ir was never enough. When you are married to a sociopath, enough is never enough. My husband was such a good liar that I began to doubt things that I knew to be true. I wanted to shield my son from growing up in a home with such a man.

When I finally thought I could support Justin and me on my tiny secretary’s salary, I left my husband. However, women at that time were encouraged to keep their husband’s last name if they had a child. So even though he stalked and harrassed me for years after our divorce, I was still Anna Garrison.

A few weeks after I left my first husband, I was readmitted to the University of Tennessee. Luckily since I worked full-time at the university I could take two free classes each quarter so I attended school part-time until I earned my degree five years later.

In my final year of college, I met a fellow student, younger than me by seven years, and we grew serious rather quickly. So after we both graduated from UT, we married, and I became Anna Lane.

My sons: Justin age 10; Aidan age 1.

Our little family of three moved to Texas for my second husband to accept an engineering job with General Dynamics. A couple of years after we married, my second husband and I had a little boy who we called Aidan. Sadly our wee one had gastroesophagial reflux and he would cry incessantly after each time I fed him. My husband was attending graduate school part-time, we had two children, little money, and a sick baby. We also had no help since our families were in Tennessee, not Texas. Our marriage deteriorated. I got a job in Knoxville, and took my two children back home, leaving my husband in Texas to sell the house. I got a job as a technical editor at an engineering consulting firm, then returned to the university as director of communications in the development office. My husband got a job in Georgia, and moved there. We grew further apart, and divorced soon after.

Soooo, in a very Elizabeth Taylorian, many marriages, kind of way, my last name had been Allen, then Garrison, then Lane. Now with a second divorce, I did not want to return to being Anna Allen, that girl who was foolish enough to marry a man she had only known three months. Neither did I want to remain Anna Lane. So as a tribute to Daddy and his mother Darcus who died when he was 4 months old, I decided to take her maiden name and become Anna Montgomery.

A few years later when I married a man who is my best friend and soul mate, he agreed that I should not change my name and Anna Montgomery I stayed.

Nearly 20 years later, Kurt and I began searching for information about my long lost grandmother’s Montgomery family. Fortunately Darcus and her loved ones were Mormon, and we found a treasure trove of genealogical records available through the Latter Day Saints’ websites and search engines. And we were able to find Darcus’s family in Utah and Kingsport, Tennessee. In a few weeks Kurt and I will fly to Salt Lake City to meet my cousins, the children and grandchildren of my grandmother’s siblings. I am proud to bear the name of my grandmother’s family. And Anna Montgomery I am.

//Anna – 3/31/2017

Posted in Autobiographical, Books, Childhood, Courage, Family, Freedom, Home, Joy (Joie de General), Knoxville, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Give Me a Young Man’s Wisdom

BBC One's thought-provoking Inspector George Gently television show, available in the U.S. on Netflix.

BBC One’s thought-provoking Inspector George Gently television show, available in the U.S. on Netflix.

[I wrote this original blogpost two years ago. Though much has changed since April 2015, it is amazing how much has remained the same–and I find this post eerily relevant to our country in February 2017.]

Sometimes I find the most extraordinary inspiration and wisdom in the strangest places. My husband and I were watching a British TV police procedural set in the 1960’s called Inspector George Gently. In addition to the excellent acting, writing, and pacing of the series (available for viewing in the U.S. on Netflix), we enjoy the time-capsule quality of traveling back to the clothes, hair styles (beehives and sideburns), and font choices (even the credits look like ’60s TV shows) used in the era in which I grew up–a clueless child trying to figure out what the heck life was all about.

On dispensing useful guidance, the grown ups of my childhood were not particularly much help. They didn’t share the how-to’s I needed as they whispered together around the edges. My sister Lisa’s sixth-grade boy friend provided the rather shocking, news-to-us information about the who-does-what-to-whom particulars of the birds and the bees. I was in the eighth grade when she shared the gritty details, and I hoped to God that Lisa’s boy friend was wrong, because how you have sex sounded inordinately disgusting, not very sanitary, and a questionable way to carry on the future of the human race. But obviously I was not the manager of this worldwide inconvenience store: put P into Q and hope that the x and y chromosomes do a happy dance. I learned the more beautiful nuances of the situation much later.

Meanwhile back with George Gently the British police detective show, I found each episode offered music I should download or a poet I should read. And let me say as you roll your eyes, that I never made less than an “A” in English class–from first grade through my bachelor’s degree–until I took a poetry class in college. Not only was I not a fan of Wallace Stevens or T.S. Eliot, but it was obvious I could not extemporanously spout what the English professor saw in their mirky musings which led to my first “B+” in English. Hey, I was an English major and a writer Dad-gum-it, as my Daddy would say, so thanks for nothing, small-minded poetry prof!

Roger McGough,

In his early life, Roger McGough (left) was in a musical trio called The Scaffold with Mike McGear (c) and John Gorman (r).

Thus and so, I am not a big fan of poetry. Buuutttt, a particularly affecting George Gently episode featured the work of British poet Roger McGough and his poem Let Me Die a Youngman’s Death. McGough wrote this bread-and-butter-of-life poem when he was very much a young man himself.

Besides writing poetry, Roger McGough was one of three young men in a 1960’s British musical trio called The Scaffold. He has since written plays and children’s books, appeared on TV a good bit, and was interviewed by Eric Idle of Monty Python fame in a 1978 mockumentary of the Beatles–the latter, perhaps not surprisingly, since one of his Scaffold partners was Beatle Paul McCartney’s brother, Mike McCartnery, known professionally as Mike McGear.

In any event, I was reminded of McGough’s poem and the wisdom of young men when I read today’s headlines about the U.S. Supreme Court’s open arguments before their upcoming same-sex marriage decision. I find the use of the adjective “open” to be a specious one in this case.

Half of the court are old, gray Conservative Justices–mostly white men living pampered old, white-men lives (and yes, I am including you, Clarence Thomas, because you may be a black man, but you definitely have the soul and the Supreme Court voting record of an old white man). Beyond reason really is why these four or five men should decide whether Americans all over the country can love who they want to love and also have the right to marry them.

Give me instead the wisdom of young Americans–young men or women of all colors–and the majority of those wise young people will agree that the government should not be in the driver’s seat about who Americans can love and who they can marry.

Mildred and Richard Loving with their three children on the front porch of their Virginia home in the late 1960's.

Mildred and Richard Loving with their three children on the front porch of their Virginia home in the late 1960’s.

Up till 1967, white people and black people could not legally marry in every state of this country. To see how this sad state of events played out for two Americans in the mid-’60s, take a look at the gorgeous documentary called The Loving Story. The Lovings, Mildred who was mixed race and Richard who was white, married in Washington, DC, when it was illegal to marry and live together in their home state of Virginia. Nor was it particularly safe for a mixed-race couple to be together with the prejudice that was rampant at that time. Richard was arrested; the charge was living with his wife in Virginia. A young attorney took their case, and after lower court decisions, the Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s laws against people of different races marrying. And so it became the law throughout the land. [Note from February 2017: you can also watch an excellent movie version released in 2016, Loving, which also tells this moving story. Although I must admit I favor the documentary for its gorgeous simplicity and the joy of being in the presence of the real Mildred Loving!]

Another 1960's musical trio, the Supremes who share nothing but a name with the other Supremes.

Another 1960’s musical trio, the Supremes (which included Diana Ross on the far right), who share nothing but a name with the other Supremes (i.e., the Supreme Court).

The Supremes of 2015, however, are not the Supremes of the 1960’s–neither the trio of black women who had a string of number one hits, nor the U.S. Supreme Court Justices who overturned unjust marriage laws in the Civil Rights era.

Personally I’d rather have the three talented Motown singers decide who gets to marry than the 2015 court’s version.

But no, the 2015 Supremes are in the Bush League by comparison, quite literally. President George Bush #1 placed controversial judge, and reliable know-nothing, Clarence Brown on the court. President George Bush #2 placed two judges on the court, the salt-and-salt shakers of Chief Justice John Roberts and his close political bedfellow Samuel Alito. These three Bush men joined President Ronald Reagan’s, Catholic-voting choice of Antonin Scalia, to provide the bass notes to perennial swing-vote Anthony Kennedy (who was also provided by Reagan).

Yes, campers the decision about whether an American gay or lesbian couple can legally marry, and have their marriage legal in all 50 states, comes down to one old white guy, Anthony Kennedy, who was put on the court 27 years ago by quintessential old, white guy Ronald Reagan. And people constantly tell me that voting doesn’t matter in this country because the two major political parties are identical. Nope, not by a long shot.

It is three women Justices and one man put on the court by Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama who will provide the sanity and justice in this process. And who knows what the Supreme Court will decide. I wouldn’t want my life, happiness, or financial future to depend on them.

No matter what the Supreme Court decides, people of all colors and sexes will go on loving each other, and they will find the juice in life and drink it down. But I want to be on the side of the dancers, the musicians, the joy-bringers, the lovers. I want to die a youngman’s death–and more to the point, lead a young man’s life–as outlined so beautifully by poet Roger McGough.

Let Me Die a Youngman’s Death

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a clean & inbetween
the sheets holywater death
not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death

When I’m 73
& in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car
on my way home
from an allnight party

Or when I’m 91
with silver hair
& sitting in a barber’s chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
& give me a short back & insides

Or when I’m 104
& banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
& fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
& throw away every piece but one

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax & waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
‘what a nice way to go’ death

–Roger McGough

British musician and poet Roger McGough (second from left) standing beside Beatle Paul McCartney in this 1968 wedding photo.

British musician and poet Roger McGough (second from left) standing beside Beatle Paul McCartney in this 1968 wedding photo.

Amen and amen.

Near the end of this blogpost, I send a special shout-out to one of the wisest young man I know, my nephew Zach, on this the eve of his 30th birthday: May you have a happy and blessed birthday and may there be many more!

And instead of intoning Scalia and his backup group of three or four men in black judicial robes, may Supremes Mary Wilson and Diana Ross, Roger McGough (even though he is British), my sons Justin and Aidan, my nephew Zach, fictional detective Inspector George Gently (also British), my former poetry professor from the University of Tennessee, and the soaring spirit of the now deceased Mildred Loving get to decide who gets to marry each other in these divided states of America.

//Anna — 4/29/2015

Posted in Autobiographical, Childhood, Courage, Freedom, Happiness, Ideas, Joy (Joie de General), Love, Music, Op/Ed Thoughts, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Going On

Why are all the real things, the important things, so easily mislaid underneath the things that hardly matter at all?

— Jeanette Winterson, from “Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days”

Over the last year I have undergone advanced study of the really important things as I spent fall 2015 through December 2, 2016, helping my mother take care of my father.

Daddy being moved from the hospital to the rehab center. With my sister Lisa in the left foreground.

Daddy being moved from the hospital to the rehab center in October 2015 with my sister Lisa in the left foreground.

Daddy was hospitalized in October last year when his weight was a mere 134 pounds–a meager weight indeed for a man who was 6 ‘2″ in his youth. He was refusing to eat much and the outlook was grim, so we talked to the hospital’s counseling staff about our options which included hospice care. However, to our surprise and delight, Daddy responded to a change in his medication, and he began to improve, gain weight, and engage life in a more full way despite his dementia.

Although we needed to place him in a memory care unit of an assisted living facility, Daddy was able to join us for Christmas 2015 at our house and was adorably able to be best man at my son’s March 2016 wedding. Over the next few months–as many dementia sufferers do–Daddy’s ability to walk diminished and in June he fell, broke his hip, and needed hip replacement surgery. The surgery was successful, but Daddy’s strength was never quite the same.

Daddy holding onto Justin's arm after the wedding.

Daddy as best man at my son Justin’s wedding, March 6, 2016.

We knew we were on borrowed time and were grateful to have Daddy as long as we could. He was fragile, but he was still “in there” with his bright eyes: blowing me kisses, urging me to get home before dark, and occasionally saying something so amazingly on-point that we would wonder at his still playful and adventurous spirit.

In August he asked me, as he always did, where my husband Kurt was. When I said Kurt was in New York on business, Daddy said he would love to travel with Kurt to New York and added conspiratorily, “Talk it up with Kurt. See what he says.”

“I will, Daddy,” I answered knowing travel was not possible, but pleased that he still had an adventurous spirit.

A minute later, he said, “But I guess I don’t feel up to traveling.”

“Well that’s ok, Daddy.”

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

On Thanksgiving Day 2016, bright-eyed Daddy was surrounded by our family at his rehab facility. A week later he died.

I tried to be there every day I could manage for my precious extra year of Daddy. He continued to remind me what was truly important: people, not things; love, not jealousy (which he thought was the root of most destructive behavior); enjoying life through music, movies, and sports; spending time with family, not participating in self-destructive behavior; and standing up for what you believe is right no matter what other people say. And he always encouraged me to be me.

The things that didn’t matter in Daddy’s personal tally was how much money you had, whether you drove a fancy car, or what you did for a living. He was more concerned with substance not surface, inner fortitude not flash.

In early November Daddy was hospitalized again for an opportunistic infection and an open bedsore that would not heal. Then he was released to a rehab facility for transitional care. Again. Bless his dear heart. He was making good progress, loved the food, and was able to join us as we brought Thanksgiving lunch to him at the facility.

Daddy on the exercise bike at his rehab center, a few days before he died.

Daddy on the exercise bike at his rehab center, a few days before he died while riding this bike.

Although my intuition and all the evidence had told me he was dying–and I had said so to a few of my friends–I suppose I thought perhaps I was wrong, and he would live on. But I will remember 2016 as the year with the biggest losses of my life, as Daddy’s death on December 2, during a physical therapy session, shocked us all. We thought we were prepared, but his sudden death while on the facility’s exercise bike was a shock all the same. According to his death certificate, he died of a heart attack and “failure to thrive”.

As our family waited for the funeral home guys to come and take Daddy’s body, I sat by his bed and placed my hand on his chest. He had been dead about an hour I guess, and it was comforting to feel that his shirt was still warm. I wanted to as my Mamaw would say “love on him a bit”–although I knew he was gone. By rubbing his shirt, I hoped somehow to communicate to him that he was ever-so loved and not alone.

Daddy on his grandmother's lap, early 1936.

Daddy on his grandmother’s lap, early 1936.

A month and half before his death, Daddy had been sitting at the dinner table of his facility. He seemed agitated and uncomfortable so I tried to soothe him by repeatedly touching his back. He said, “Stop doing that, Anna. You’re making me nervous.”

Perhaps since Daddy’s mother died when he was 4 months old, and his grandmother (who cared for him as young child) died when he was 5 years old, he was not accustomed to being touched. It was sad to think that Daddy had been a lonely wee child without a mother. I couldn’t go back in time and hold him when he was a baby, but in death I could sit beside him and telegraph with my touch that I loved him–and, thankfully, he would never be nervous, agitated, or in pain ever again.

I am also thankful that Daddy will not live through the next four turbulent years as an unprepared, temperamental, petulant, unstable, selfish, ever-Twittering man-child becomes our country’s President. Daddy had voted for the candidate of his choice, “the woman”, he called her, who he said was the smarter of the two candidates. After the election, I hoped Daddy would not find out that Trump was elected over Hillary Clinton–despite the nearly 3 million more votes placed for her. But one day he asked me what I thought of the election and I answered, “It’s very upsetting, Daddy.” He said nothing, but shook his head with a look of utter disgust.

Daddy at his last job before retirement, working at Stanley's Greenhouse.

Daddy at his last job before retirement, working at Stanley’s Greenhouse.

Daddy was big on justice and fairness and hated injustice of any kind. Knowing that the choice of the minority of the voters “won” the election incensed Daddy. As it does me. I had suffered two major losses within a month. However, my personal grief at Daddy’s death is my burden to bear, but having an undisciplined man with poor impulse control in charge of our nuclear arsenal, climate change decisions, military, and the future of health care access and Social Security is a loaded shotgun at the head of our country and the entire world.

How to go forward in these troubling times has troubled me as I see the incoming administration as the Titanic steaming toward the proverbial iceberg. The considered opinion of the early 19th century was that the huge Titanic, with the latest technology and luxury, was too big to sink. But she did, of course, killing the majority of people on board. Many of the dead were the people locked in third-class steerage as the first-class passengers loaded onto the too-few-to-save-everyone lifeboats. Since they did not believe the ship would go down and did not want to be uncomfortable in a cold lifeboat, some passengers refused to enter them so the first few lifeboats left the Titanic only partially full.

As for me, preparing for this unknown, uncharted future has become my quest. I read constantly, seek the latest information on how the politicial winds will blow, and talk to people whose opinions I respect. Should we sell the house before the heedless new President torpedoes our economy and destroys our financial nestegg? Should we batten down the hatches and hope we can outlast the storm–adding in a dash of resistance, standing strong when possible for the democratic values we hold dear?

Daddy (center left) at day care, around 1940.

Daddy (center left) at day care, around 1940.

Clearly we should give time and money to organizations that will make a difference for the people left in the wake as the rich get richer, the poor get still poorer, health insurance ever more precarious, and the middle class are left in the flotsam and jetsam to continue footing the bill. Will we need to try living in denial, burying ourselves in books, coming up for air only occasionally to excavate a bit more hope, and continue to fight for justice, equality, children’s rights and welfare, community building, education, and self expression. Many times I see through a glass darkly and cannot always make out the best path.

A few weeks ago as I was tidying the house to get ready for Christmas, I found a take-out bag with notes I had jotted down in December 2015 for my always elusive next blogpost. One of the quotes was a line from a hilarious-and-sad-all-at-once series called “Getting On”, which was on HBO from 2013-2015, and is available now for streaming. Watch it if you enjoy dark humor and incredible writing and acting.

The three gifted actresses who star in "Getting On": Laurie Metcalf as Dr. Jenna James, Niecy Nash as Nurse DiDi, and Alex Berstein as Nurse Dawn.

The three gifted actresses who star in “Getting On”: Laurie Metcalf as Dr. Jenna James, Niecy Nash as Nurse DiDi, and Alex Berstein as Nurse Dawn.

The show is set in a startlingly realistic geriatric-care unit freighted with all the real-life craziness you find in most work situations today: bureaucratic nonsense, petty jealousies, backstabbing politics, somewhat-functioning-but-mentally-ill co-workers, and crazy plotlines that read just like our lives.

The three women at the show’s center are gifted actresses Laurie Metcalf, of “Roseanne” fame, as self-centered Dr. Jenna James; Niecy Nash as the grounded and caring Nurse DiDi; and Alex Berstein as good-at-her-job, but private problems magnet, Head Nurse Dawn. They find a way to care for their patients and each other despite their own inadequacies and the circumstances in which they work. Their lives are messy, and they sometimes make disastrous mistakes, but they soldier on together.

Ready for kidney transplant surgery: Dr. Jenna James and Nurse Dawn of "Getting On".

Ready for kidney transplant surgery: Nurse Dawn and Dr. Jenna James of “Getting On”.

In the final few episodes that aired in December 2015, Nurse Dawn exaggerated her renal disorder to garner sympathy from her co-workers only to find that she really did need a kidney to survive. Despite her lies and selfish behavior, Dr. James decided to give her one of her own kidneys and save her life. In the last episode’s final scene, Jenna and Dawn are prepped in beds beside each other awaiting surgery when Dawn asks why her boss agreed to help her despite her dishonesty and selfish behavior. Jenna responds:

There is no justice, but there is mercy because that’s what we can give to each other.

— Mark Olsen & Will Scheffer, “Getting On”

There are a host of things we cannot control in this new year of chaotic uncertainties, but we can control the love, mercyand forgiveness that we offer each other. And we can learn from the experiences of people who came before us. History sadly repeats itself endlessly as humankind refuses to learn the simple lessons of accepting those who are different whether that difference is based on religion, skin color, sex or sexual orientation, country of birth, political affiliation, class, economic status, or cultural heritage.

On a host of "best of 2016" book lists: the novel "Mischling" by Affinity Konar.

On a host of “best of 2016” book lists: the novel “Mischling” by Affinity Konar.

In this vein, we can certainly learn from the Holocaust and how fear of the “other” can lead to unspeakable crimes. In her new novel Mischling, Affinity Konar tells the torturous journey of twin sisters who suffered grotesque experiments at the hands of the notorious, German concentration camp doctor, Josef Mengele. Konar’s novel was inspired by actual accounts of Jewish twins abused by Mengele at Auschwitz. The title Mischling comes from the derogatory term Germans used for people of mixed heritage. In the book, one of Konar’s twins, Pearl, finds peace with her past by forgiving her former oppressors.

[Forgiveness] did not remove my pain or blunt my nightmares. It was not a new beginning. It was not, in the slightest, an end. My forgiveness was a constant repetition, an acknowledgment of the fact that I still lived; it was proof that their experiments, their numbers, their samples, was all for naught–I remained, a tribute to their underestimations of what a girl can endure. In my forgiveness, their failure to obliterate me was made clear.

When we lose on a grand and terrifying scale, we can find a way to persevere and thrive. And when a demagogue ascends to power, we must learn from the lessons of the past–even if he and his enablers have not.

// Anna ~ 1/1/2017

Posted in Alzheimer's, Autobiographical, Dementia, Ideas, Intuition, Love, Op/Ed Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Remembering Darcas Montgomery’s Exuberant Son

[On December 2, 2016, my dear father Roy Rotha Allen passed away at the age of 81. His health and memory had declined for years–but his health failed more precipitously over the past 14 months. Although Daddy had been hospitalized lately, he had been making progress in a rehabilitation facility, so his death came as a shock to us nonetheless. This is the eulogy I wrote for him and delivered at his funeral on Monday, December 5, at Hillcrest United Methodist Church.]

When I was a girl, I memorized Psalm 100 during Vacation Bible School at Woodlawn Assembly of God Church near our home in South Knoxville. My parents were members of Hillcrest Methodist Church at that time, but we visited our neighbor Mrs. Morie’s church for Bible school as well as attending our own.

Psalm 100 [King James Version]

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.

Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

Daddy being irrepressibly himself at a 1996 wedding reception.

Daddy being irrepressibly himself at a 1996 wedding reception.

As a child I was so proud to have memorized this great psalm which exhalted singing, thanksgiving, mercy, and truth. As an adult, I believe the psalmist is also advising us to live passionately with great joy, community, humility, love, grace, kindness, and compassion.

“Make a joyful noise.” Those wonderful words I memorized spoke to me as a young girl, but I aso had an example of the Psalms’ concepts lived for me every day by my parents–and especially by Daddy’s playful exuberance.

Daddy was inordinately passionate about everything he loved–and everything he did not. He intensely loved his family (Mama and “his girls”: my sister Lisa and me), sports, music, and movies. He particularly loved the University of Tennessee Lady Vol basketball program, its players, and their legendary Coach Pat Summitt; UT football and basketball; South High School basketball; and the New York Yankees.

Daddy and his father in the backyard of my mother's home, around 1955.

Daddy and his father in the backyard of my mother’s home, around 1955.

He not only loved music, but would talk rapturously about the orchestra conductor of his youth Montavani, the pianist Floyd Cramer, country singer Skeeter Davis, and, of course, Frank Sinatra.

Daddy spent his teenage years in Knoxville’s downtown movie theaters and religiously went to the movies until his health declined in the last few years. He particularly loved the ‘60s movies “A Summer Place” and “Dr. Zhivago”, and the actors Audie Murphy, Jeff Chandler, as well as the Academy-Award-winning star of today Matthew McConaughey.

He conbined his love for travel with his passion for the Lady Vols as he and Mama traveled around the world with the Lady Vols’ exhibition games in Europe, Alaska, and Hawaii, as well as to many of the team’s national championship tournaments around the country.

Daddy at Mama's home in the early 1950s.

Daddy at his in-laws home, March 1957–around the time Mama got pregnant with me!

Daddy was passionate about New York City, biscuits and gravy, chocolate, his favorite brown shoes (that we have decided to bury him in), and wearing hats. He was a perfectionist that preferred the details of things to be just so.

My sister Lisa and I grew up singing along with one of Daddy’s favorite songs, Kitty Kallen’s 1954 hit recording of “Little Things Mean Alot”, written by Edith Lindeman (lyrics) and Carl Stutz.

Through the words of this song, Daddy helped us learn what was truly important in life–not being wealthy or powerful or having lots of “things”, but caring about people.

Blow me a kiss from across the room
Say I look nice when I’m not
Touch my hair as you pass my chair
Little things mean a lot

Give me your arm as we cross the street
Call me at six on the dot
A line a day when you’re far away
Little things mean a lot

Don’t have to buy me diamonds and pearls
Champagne, sables and such
I never cared much for diamonds and pearls
But honestly honey, they just cost money

Give me your hand when I’ve lost the way
Give me your shoulder to cry on
Whether the day is bright or gray give me your heart to rely on
Send me the warmth of a secret smile
To show me you haven’t forgot
That always and ever
Now and forever
Little things mean a lot.

Daddy (center left) at day care, around 1940.

Daddy (center in overalls) at day care, around 1940.

On the other hand, Daddy had strong feelings about the things he did not like as well. He detested cabbage–because he ate too much of it as a child–and he hated Pat Summitt’s antithesis and nemesis Geno Auriemma, along with the Lady Vols’ archrivals, the University of Connecticut women’s basketball program.

He hated turnips and was allergic to bananas. He could not abide injustice of any kind, being disagreed with, or loud noises since his eardrums had burst when he was child. Daddy’s eardrums were injured because his father refused to have his infected tonsils removed. As a result, my father’s eardrums, and his hearing were affected for the rest of his life.

Daddy grew up in great poverty and chaos since his dear mother Darcas Nickaline Montgomery Allen died just four months after he was born.

Daddy's mother Darcas (second from left) and her family in 1906.

Daddy’s mother Darcas (second from left) and her family in 1906.

In the early 1900s, Darcas’s family lived on their 40-acre farm in Carroll County, Virginia. However as many land-rich, cash-poor Virginians in the decades after the Civil War, Darcas’s father John had to sell the farm to pay his debts.

John and Cordelia Montgomery moved their family nearby, in Fries, Va., where a new cotton mill was being built. Their father got some work as a carpenter, while Darcas and her younger sister Eutaw worked as teenage cotton spinners. After Darcas’s father died a few years later, their widowed mother moved her surviving children to Kingsport, Tennessee, where Darcas and her sister worked in another cotton mill.

The Montgomery family had originally been Quakers, but their mother Cordelia heard a missionary who traveled through Virginia and they became Mormons. Their oldest daughter Darcas was a delicate young woman and her mother concluded early own that she should never marry due to her sensitive nature.

Daddy's parents Hodge and Darcas on their wedding day, 1934.

Daddy’s parents Hodge and Darcas on their wedding day, 1934.

As luck would have it however, somehow Darcas from Carroll County, Va., and Kingsport, Tenn., met (Roy) Hodge Allen from Knoxville, and they were married in 1934 when Darcas was 30 years old and Hodge was 31.

She got pregnant soon thereafter and gave birth to her only child, Roy Rotha Allen, in April 1935. Daddy was named Roy after his father and Rotha (pronounced Rothie by his Allen kinfolk) after an elder in the Mormon church.

Four months after she gave birth to Daddy, his mother was dead at the age of 31. According to her death certificate, Darcas died of pellagra psychosis. After finding Darcas’s death certificate online and doing some research, we learned that pellagra was an extreme nutritional deficiency that plagued large numbers of poor Southerners in the half century following the Civil War. Unfortunately for Daddy, his mother had an extremely destructive version of the disease that resulted in insanity as noted by the physician who signed her death certificate.

Daddy on his grandmother's lap, early 1936.

Daddy on his grandmother’s lap, early 1936.

Daddy’s father, Hodge, was an illiterate butcher who worked on the killing floor of East Tennessee Packing Company and lived with his mother and alcoholic uncle. After Darcas died, her mother Cordelia offered to raise her daughter’s baby, but Hodge refused, so Daddy remained in Knoxville. At first my father was raised by his paternal grandmother, but she passed away when he was 5 years old. At that point, Daddy’s care became even more haphazard, and grim. Not surprisingly Daddy’s memories of his childhood were mostly of want, neglect, alcoholism, and abuse.

However, Daddy’s life brightened considerably when he met quiet, adorable, auburn-haired Arzelia Henderlight in school. He was immediately drawn to her, and wooed Mama until she came around to his way of thinking: that they should be together.

Daddy and Mama on their wedding day, June 15, 1956. They will have been married 60 years on June 15, 2016.

Daddy and Mama on their wedding day, June 15, 1956. They were married for 60 years.

Sixty years ago, in 1956, my parents were married in Mama’s family’s church, Hillcrest Methodist. Just before Christmas the next year I was born, followed by my sister Lisa in the spring of 1959.

During his adult life, Daddy worked at many of Knoxville’s best-known local businesses. He was a bookkeeper at House-Hasson Hardware and White Lily Flour. He delivered bread for Kern’s Bakery and magazines for Anderson News. Then he started working at Stanley’s Greenhouse where Mama had worked since we were teenagers.

My sister Lisa and me in the snow outside our home, 1963

My sister Lisa and me in the snow outside our South Knoxville home, winter 1963.

In 1977 my sister Lisa married Rocky Stanley, Charles and Mary Kathryn Stanley’s youngest child, and after working at Lay Packing Co. and UT, Lisa joined the family business as well.

Daddy’s accomplishments in life, however, have nothing to do with what he did for a living; his influence was in the life he led. He loved strongly and without reservation. He was proud of his loved ones with all his being. His exuberance and encouragement held no bounds. He loved with a fully open heart and soul. He was passionate and proud and his smile opened up the gates of heaven for those who loved him. Even in his last year when his health was failing, he would smile and wink at me, and I knew with all my heart that Daddy loved me.

He inspired all his loved ones to their fullest. He accepted us as we were without asking us to make renovations or cut ourselves short around the edges. He lived a full life of love because he basked in the total love, care, and support that Mama gave him every day of his life.

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

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

And Daddy had his faith to sustain him. He loved gospel music, quartet music, and particular hymns and scriptures that spoke to him deeply.

Daddy was a lover—a person who loved. Daddy’s understanding of God was a big expansive universe of love and music and blessed assurance for a boy who grew up with very little that fed or spoke to his sensitive nature.

But Daddy sought and found the divine qualities of truly lasting value and he inspired us, his loved ones, with his example. Daddy found faith, hope, truth, justice, honesty, self-expression, creativity, dignity, and love. And the greatest of these is love.

Anna ~ 12/10/2016

Posted in Autobiographical, Childhood, Courage, Family, Home, Knoxville, Love, Music, Screen, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment