Tag Archives: Tennessee

The Long and Winding DYI

Are we out of our minds? Why would a full-time, overworked attorney for DCS and his non-green-thumbed, non-handyman, several-chronic-illnessed wife take on the landscaping of their entire homesite?

A home currently encircled by deep clay ditches (“just call me moat”) dug by guess-who, awaiting the purchase and carting in (us again) of large shrubs and groundcovers.

With winter finally deciding to show up so everything we dig is wet and heavy and…oh, this is going to last from here to eternity, and there are times I lean on my shovel ready to rest for at least long.

Today’s project was moving gravel from its massive pile down to the in-process walkway. Shovel from pile to truck. Shovel from truck to cart. Shovel from cart to walk, which had first to be laboriously hacked out of hard clay, then tamped down and covered with landscape cloth.

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This is not fun.

Why are we doing it?

Well, no one else has volunteered.

But really, it’s no more insane than anything else we’ve done with our lives. Homeschooling in an era when no one did, for instance, in a town where no one did, and continuing on with it despite financial bare-survival and some in-house obstacles that would have felled Paul Bunyan.

Moving to undeveloped mountain cove land to raise said children, garden, goats and chickens, decades before online farmers’ markets and locavores were even dreamed of.

The children? They turned out great. So what back then sometimes felt like an insane commitment to homeschooling was maybe not such a bad idea after all.

Maybe in a year? two? I’ll be saying the same of the landscaping project.







Of Plaid and Polka Dots

Have you found yourself becoming one of your parents yet?

A professor of electrical engineering with a Phd from Harvard and a past that included work at Oak Ridge National Lab in its earlier hush-hush days, my very bright father became, as time went on, increasingly, well, eccentric. After a sabbatical abroad in the early 1970s, he let his engineer crew cut grow out to an unruly pepper-and-salt mop, kind of a cross between Einstein and Colonel Sanders. Which became a subject of much let’s call it dissension on the home front.


He also took to wearing my brother’s cast-off orange plaid shorts, one of my mother’s more unfortunate purchases. Throw in one of the elderly white t-shirts which may or may not have had holes hither and yon, since true child of the Depression, throwing anything away truly pained him. (Another way of saying he didn’t.)

Do you start to get the picture?

As a young teenager, I looked on this with horror. So you’ll get a better appreciation for my dismay at realizing that there are a lot of days I dress somewhat the same. James and I are in a never-ending process of digging out the clay and mud from what will be, if we live long enough, a patio. Work I do in a pair of sneakers so old they’re more hole than shoe. And one of the many t-shirts I inherited from my oldest son, some of which are in that gloriously soft state that only comes with age. Which may or may not have a hole or two here and there. And– a truly horrific pair of magenta plaid shorts I picked up at Goodwill years ago in a moment of true insanity.

I didn’t grow up in the Great Depression. Yet it also pains me to throw things away when there’s a possibility they might someday come in handy.

 (Did I mention that on muddier days, I add my new pair of boots from Tractor Supply? They’re black, with colorful polka dots like the  kind you’d find on birthday wrapping paper. Cute, but– with purple plaid?)

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So, there it is. Late middle age eccentricity repeating itself.




State of Literature or State of Mind?

I ran into this self-proclaimed “Literary United States: A Map of the Best Book for Every State”, published in the Brooklyn Magazine last week.

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My question is–well, no, I have a lot of questions, so we’ll just start with the first one that comes to mind: “Are you kidding!?!”

Or, as another fellow Tennesseean commented, “The best book for Tennessee is about a man who has sex with corpses in a cave?” (Thanks, Mark.)

I know this list isn’t supposed to represent each state in its entirety but portray some specific portion which will “make us understand a time and place in a more profound way than you thought possible.”  But I have to wonder, if the other books are as extreme as Child of God, do some of these books represent any state (geographic or state of being) at all?

Or  maybe this is just some frightening revelation of the opinion of some New Yorkers about the South? A land known, I guess, primarily for its deviant sexual practices (don’t forget all those old jokes about inbred families up in them thar hills), violent racism (yes, part of our heritage, but not ours alone, and not all we are), and hot buttered biscuits (I concede the omnipresence of these).

To the day she died, my mother still recounted how, when she attended Harvard in the ’50s on a Ford Foundation Grant for creative writing, she was teased mercilessly about the fact that she , a “hillbilly”, actually wore shoes (she was born in South Carolina and grew up in NC).

Nor had she ever quite gotten over the fact that she was treated “up there” as somewhat less-than-intelligent because she talked with an accent.

Hey, Northerners, that was over 50 years ago. And you’re still not seeing past the stereotypes? (Well, actually, I encountered quite a few while “up there” in the 70s and 80s).

Ah, these United States. Still not quite.

Oh, my questions could go on and on. North Carolina’s choice, for instance. Sure, Thomas Wolfe is a great writer and native son and obvious candidate here. But I would also suggest someone like mystery writer Margaret Maron, whose books set in the Piedmont capture contemporary Carolina culture, where rural and citified, black and white, thrive, despite minor tensions.

And how could any serious list have excluded Nebraska’s brilliant Willa Cather?

I am glad to see children’s books represented by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Maud Hart Lovelace, both of whose series still line my shelves and always will. Thank you for that, Brooklyn Magazine.

Not trying to incite a war between the states here. But–maybe try again?

What book(s) would you suggest to represent your state?