Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tennessee Dreaming

Sometimes I miss our home in Tennessee. When Flip and I were first together, we bought an old house with possibilities on an acre and a half of beautiful land near Nashville. The house had designated parkland on two sides which could not be built upon, and there were often deer in our backyard. The land rolled gently down to the road, and a creek ran through it.

We spent several years fixing it up ourselves. We learned to replace wood flooring and to re-fit door jambs. We ripped off artificial wood paneling that was in every room and turned out to be concealing large holes in the plaster and sheet-rock walls where there had once been air conditioners.

We tiled the bathrooms, updated all the plumbing and wiring, put in a new kitchen, and Flip got friendly with the snakes and spiders in the crawl space under the house replacing floor joists with cinder blocks. He would emerge from these excursions covered in spun glass insulation material.

The only thing we didn't do ourselves was roofing. It was legal to have only two roofs, one on top of the other, but our house had four. We had them all removed and replaced with a single new one.

It took a long time and a lot of money, but we were finally ready to paint the outside and put up shutters and window boxes. We landscaped the entire property.

We had purchased an old used tractor, which Flip painted green and yellow and called a John Doe. I found my true calling with that tractor. Cutting the lawn in perfect rows was marvelously zen. It took me six hours to mow all the grassed areas, while Flip did everything requiring strength and intelligence: weed-eating, hedge trimming, cultivating, pruning, and tractor maintenance. Every time I mowed the lawn, he had to make adjustments so it would work one more time.

Just before we sold the house, we bought a new Craftsman 28 HP tractor, and I was sure that life couldn't get any better. We each got to use it once before we gave it to the female couple who bought our house for much less than it was worth. I still miss my tractor.

Flip was eager to see Tennessee in the rear view mirror. He was tired of working at his day job with people who brought guns to work, and we both realized that we didn't belong in the South, despite its great natural beauty.

Nashville was a wonderland of music. Besides the ubiquitous country music, which we were not into, there were several jazz venues where we saw Joshua Redman, Brian Blade, Sam Yahel, Larry Carleton, and Wynton Marsalis, among others. We heard Leon Russell, the Moody Blues, Rush, James Taylor, and AJ Croce in concert, as well as numerous acts I've forgotten.

My favorite town character was an old man aptly named Buttons, as his clothing was covered in them. He performed authentic blues on a downtown street corner and was always up for a conversation between numbers. He had kind eyes and a good word for everyone who showed him respect, and was a great musician.

Flip's former music partner, Stephen, played at the famed Blue Bird Cafe, and Flip's new band performed on the Cumberland riverboat New Year's Eve, where I finally got to say the words that every girl longs to utter, "I'm with the band."

Our only near neighbor was a couple we'll call Jeff and Judy. (Most Southern men with only one first name are Jeffs.) This particular Jeff used to start each day by kicking his dog, which was tied to a tree, and revving up every engine on his property including the vehicles on blocks. He had piles of carburetors everywhere that probably resembled pyramids from outer space, and eventually built an immense and immensely ugly building behind his house to play mechanic in.

Meanwhile, Judy followed him around planting flowers, which tried to bloom among the vehicular litter.

I untied his dog one moonless night and took him to a shelter in another town.

The next day, Judy's son, Tommy, flagged me down and asked me to help him find his dog. To avoid blowing my own cover, I did, and we drove around calling the dog repeatedly, one of us with considerably more optimism than the other.

We ended up at a mall, where an appealing teen age girl carrying several shopping bags ran in front of my car without looking, and then flashed the universal cute teen age girl grin that means, "Oops. I'm sorry I scared you, but I am adorable." I grinned back while braking firmly.

Tommy leaned out the car window and yelled, "How do you feel about nooses?"

I was shocked but not speechless. (That rarely happens.) I told him I didn't feel that way and if he did, he was not welcome in my car.

I had seen the young girl, who was black, drive away safely, so I evicted Tommy and drove home alone. He and his brother shot their guns behind our house late into the night.

It's impossible to comprehend such hatred. The Civil War was recent and personal to so many people, who just assumed that we must share their prejudices because we shared their skin color.

It would be unfair to imply that all white Southerners hold these views. Many don't. But far too many still do, and we needed to be in a place where race was not a constant issue requiring us to take a stand over and over on something that should have been settled long ago.

Our other neighbors around the "holler" were the Peyton Place people. They lived in a huge house with several children. There had been two families that were best friends. They switched partners, and the women and children stayed in their own homes while the men played musical houses.

I thought there were kinkier things, like flying Confederate flags off the backs of pickup trucks.

Lorrie Morgan lived on our road and was known to be an evil bitch unfriendly. I learned to watch for her car after she sideswiped me into a ditch on my bicycle and nearly hit my dog more than once.

One year, I had a Christmas job at a local department store. She picked out a few things and cut to the front of a long line of customers waiting to be rung up, shoving her purchases at me.

I told her politely that she would have to wait her turn.

She yelled in my face, "Do you know who I am?"

I said that it really didn't matter, that I had to take care of everyone in order. She got abusive so I quietly commented that some of these people had helped her to become famous. She threatened to have me fired, threw her stuff at me and stomped out, leaving quite a cloud of booze breath, rage and bad perfume.

You can't buy class.

I made Christmas for a lot of people that year. I had no authority to change prices, but if someone complained that an item was too expensive, I asked, "What would you like to pay?" and rang it up at that price.

I didn't do it for myself, though, as that would have been stealing.

I was lucky I didn't get put in jail, but I think the store management assumed that I was too stupid to ring up sales correctly.

When I applied for a Christmas job the next year, I didn't even get an interview, or, of course, a job.

I know I got off easy.


Tanya Brown said...

These are a great set of yarns, full of color and pathos.

You have earned my eternal respect by your actions in rescuing the dog and in giving the neighbor's son the boot from your car after his racist hostility. Many people would have just said "oh, that's so sad" and not taken action.

I don't know why in the *&$# the Civil War still isn't over in certain states. That, and the attitudes that go with it, irritate the crap out of me. Of course, in the words of my family, I'm now one of "them there tree-huggin' California liberals".

flutter said...

I think I've had a totally different experience in the south, maybe it's the New Orleans influence but none of my family or the people in my sphere of experience in the south have ever held these attitudes...

heartinsanfrancisco said...


There are worse things to hug than trees.

Thank you for coming by my blog.


I hesitated to post this one because, as I said, not all southerners hold those views or tolerate them.

But a shocking number of them did, in our neighborhood, in the workplace, it was sometimes like they were testing us to see where we stood with friendship hanging in the balance.

There was also a lot to love about the south, like the manners and charm.

Every place is really a mixed bag, with good and bad aspects, and I think that we all try to find the place that most closely fits our natural disposition and where we find the most like-minded people.

It's always a compromise.

meno said...

Thank you for rescuing that dog.

I wonder how the female couple who bought your house fared.

I'll have to go google Lorrie Morgan, as i evidently DON'T know who she is, she's that famous.

My heart runneth over... said...

Wow! Wow! and Wow!

I don't know where to begin. I have known you were incredible since day one when I started reading your blog but WOW!

OK.. I'll stop gushing. You are someone to look up to in a world where I haven't found many if any.

From rescuing dogs, to standing up for what you believe in to playing Robin Hood!

Thank you!

thailandchani said...

I'll never hear a Lorrie Morgan song the same way again! Sheesh! What a witch!

Good post! I think change comes slowly in any society and the South was so entrenched for so many years that it came more slowly there. As you say, most southern people are actually quite charming and wonderful. It's the loudmouths and ignoramuses (ignorami? :) that give it a bad name.



heartinsanfrancisco said...


I didn't know either until I lived there. I'm not a country music fan. People said, "Lorrie! Morgan! lives! down! the! road!! and I said something like "Do what?"

I wondered how our buyers fared, too. They were unmistakable: one very butch woman, one less so, and they and all their friends had those really bad lesbian haircuts.

What's with that, anyway?


Oh, goodness. Thank you. Robin Hood was one of my childhood heroes.

I do have a little larceny in my soul when it's for a good cause.


We lived there in the 90's. It seemed like the changes we're referring to should have already occurred and the world advanced to a more rational way of relating to one another.

Sadly, it's always the rotten apple that spoils the barrel, as they say.

The CEO said...

Good on you for saving the dog.

And good on you for believing in equality, and standing up for it.

You made Nashville a little bit better place while you were there. Just my opinion.

Jocelyn said...

This is a lovely, slightly-melancholy love letter to a place and a time in your life.

Except not to that Tommy. He was just a sod.

Thanks for this snapshot of your past!

la cubana gringa said...

So how do you think SF compares? I love this city...but every place has its own -ism. Racism might have been stronger in Tennessee, but it rears it's ugly head more frequently here than I thought it would!

thethinker said...

Good for you, setting that dog free.

I've never witnessed the kind of racism that you've described here in Texas. That's not to say that it doesn't exist, but I'm just glad that I haven't had to hear it.

Dumdad said...

Fascinating and eye-opening blogpost. It's chilling that such racial hostility seems so ingrained.
That was brave of you to give the dog its freedom!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It's relatively easy to save dogs, harder to save humans from themselves.


I have many fond memories of Nashville, and the beginning of my life with Flip.

La Cubana,

I love San Francisco, too, and haven't seen as much overt racism here by any means.

And nobody ever says,"Y'ain't from around here, are ya?"


I'm glad you haven't as well.

Racism of one kind or another exists everywhere, sadly, and does no one credit. Everybody can and should do better.


It was a lot harder to hear the squealing under that tree every day. Those who abuse animals (and children) deserve to lose them.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Thanks. Gave a lot of insight to life in Tennessee. All the pictures were great but that last one, her eyes are haunting and full of pathos. We need more jail-risking liberal Santa's like you.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


That is a photo of Lucy Burns, a social reformer/Suffragette who was imprisoned for spreading her views.

Sienna said...

I just love you Hearts.


Lee said...

I'm feeling good about not knowing who Lorrie Morgan is, and I'm not going to Google her either. She sounds horrible.

You, on the other hand, are a treasure and I'm so glad you're out there sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

These posts just kill me. Your life, your experiences, your humor, your eternal good sense. I applaud you for loving tractors, throwing Tommy out of your car, for asking, "What would you like to pay?" Little things can be very big things.

I know you will shake your head at this, but you are very much the person I would like to be.

These posts would make a helluva book.

nmj said...

Hey San Fran, I agree with Good Thomas, and I've said it before, you should weave these threads into a bigger narrative, I really like your voice. And, yes, v. glad you rescued that poor dog from those awful rednecks. Did you really change the prices?! Fantastic.

furiousBall said...

I recorded in Arrington, TN for a month when I was younger and cooler. Nashvegas is a really cool town. Thanks for this post reminds me of the good and bad of Andrew Jackson's home state.

QT said...

I loved this post and can only imagine the tangle of emotions in leaving behind a place that you obviously loved but just could not tolerate for a variety of very good reasons.

I also loved that you took that dog away, poor thing. There is a special place in hell for people like that.

I am fortunate that I have just started a project like yours, but I am bound on both sides by dairy farms. I know that will eventually change, but for now, I get the bliss of having NO NEIGHBORS!

Mustafa Şenalp said...


seventh sister said...

I am afraid that as a society, we still have a ways to go and it is not just in the American south, although it is more obvious there at times and when a racially charged incident happens there, the media makes a big deal about it being in the south. It seems to be just as awful in most large cities. It is not always directed at black people. Sometimes it is aimed at Hispanics, Asians, or even women. One reason I like Austin is that you can pretty much get away from that attitude here, just as you can in San Francisco. It never quite seems to go away, though.

I was going to write about our expereince crossing Tennessee one time but I should probably use my own blog foro that.

jali said...

You're a great storyteller.

I could "see" the teen's "I'm sorry" expression and the change after the little idiot yelled out of your window.

I never heard of Lorrie Morgan, but I don't like her - based on her Christmas behavior.

You, I love!

Christina_the_wench said...

I knew who Lorrie Morgan was, sad to say. A has-been to say the least.

Why do people feel the need to fill their children's heads with hate and nonsense? If it had been me, I would have beat that kid's ass and taken him home to tell his racist parents what I had done and see if they had anything to say about it.

'Course, I am a wench.

Ian Lidster said...

What an amazing story, Heart. Is it going into book form? It should. I was enchanted and intrigued from start to finish. We have a small village near here called Cumberland in which many of your scenes are probably repeated on a regular basis, so such scenarios aren't confined to the South.
I am so glad, by the way, that Jeff lost his dog (thanks to you). That act will earn you points in heaven.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


Awww, I love you, too, fair dinkum.


No need to Google -- you have me.:)

County(w/o the "o") singer whose daddy was a star of the Grand Ole Opry so she got her start through nepotism, married Keith Whitley, a popular country star who drank himself to death (!)

I'm not a fan of the genre, and to me, her voice sounds generically nasal.


What's not to love about a good tractor?

I hadn't thought of making a book out of these posts. They're just ... posts.


I ran my own Christmas sale. After all, it's the season for giving.


I know where Arrington is. Do you still record? I think you're still pretty cool, anyway.

Jackson should be rotting in hell for sending the entire Cherokee Nation on the Trail of Tears.


Oh, lucky you! Yes, someday, those farms may be sold to developers, but it will probably be a long time.

It's a great pleasure to reclaim a house and make it far better than it ever was before.

Mustafa Senalp,

Thank you for visiting. I have never been to Turkey. Your blog has very nice music.


It certainly is not only the south that needs to change. When I was a kid in NY, there was a lot of bigotry toward Puerto Ricans. Miami had an area referred to as "Colored town" in the 60's, and the local bus station had 3 restrooms: Men, Women and Colored. (I took pictures of the signs and sent them to people as Christmas cards one year. )


She was a beautiful little girl. So much has to go wrong for a teenage boy to have such thoughts about a teenage girl.

And he spewed his poison from MY car.


Yes, you are a wench. A good one.

Since his parents trained him to carry on their hatred, there would have been no point in telling them. They probably would have rewarded him.


About those points in heaven, I need all the help I can get since I steal dogs on occasion.

There must be something about the name "Cumberland."

urban-urchin said...

you're a ballsy lady.

your house sounds like it was beautiful.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It was when we were finished working on it.

Still, I'd rather live in San Francisco now. In a Victorian!

CS said...

I've certainly run into my share of this sort of behavior in the South, and also many surprisingly enlightened people who would have every reason not to be based on their upbringing. I believe it's changing, just slowly. I love that you rode around pretneding to sercj=h for the rescued dog, and also that you booted the guy out of your car. It's not enough to ignore hate, you have to confront it directly.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Beliefs are not much good if you don't act on them.

I also met a few enlightened people, but far more "traditionalists" who believed "If it's good enough for my daddy, it's good enough for me."

It's one thing to honor your elders, but I'd like to think that the human race is improving itself, a generation at a time.

katrice said...

You are the best Christmas cashier on the planet still to this day. Whether they recognize it or not!

I'm glad I don't know who Lorrie Morgan is. Meanie.