This Old House

He removed a roasted turkey from the ice chest and set it on the kitchen countertop.

“Um, do we, um, have a knife?”

“Oh, a knife,” I answer. “Well–”

“When I took the butcher block table home with me, I took most of the utensils in its drawers.”

“Then I guess we don’t have a knife.”

“How am I going to carve the turkey? I guess I’ll have to get my hunting knife from the car.”

And so it went for Thanksgiving 2009. There was no can opener for the green beans when it came time to put the traditional casserole together. Yep, hunting knife again. There wasn’t even a table to sit at.

I spent Thanksgiving at the house of my childhood, that constant place, the place of stability and security and order, even at times when my life had none, the place my children knew as a home that would always be there; they’d moved around so much they never had a home like that. My parents bought this house at 807 Deering in April of 1949 before I was even born. It is the only “home” I have ever known. Now, my parents are gone. Dad in 2006, Mama last month.

We’ve done some cleaning and weeding out of things — clothes, shoes, dishes, cookware. The grandchildren have brought rental trucks and removed big furniture items  — a butcher block table, a freezer, table and chairs, recliners, bed, rocking chair, safe. Now, it’s the little stuff that’s left, and the whole family had planned to meet for Thanksgiving for one last celebratory meal together. Everyone backed out, except me, and a son and daughter-in-law and twin grandchildren came for a few hours.

First off, a realtor met me at the house. “It looks good…don’t need to do anything…it’s ready to show…I have a young couple in mind.” Took my breath away.

Then I spent alone-time going through every cabinet, every drawer, throwing away, saving. It surprised me what I saved. A tiny crystal vase filled with stubby red Maybelline eyebrow pencils, the kind we used way back in the day. She had this sitting on her dresser. I cried when I picked up a jar of Vicks Vaporub. Vicks Salve, she called it. How many times did she rub this on my chest when I was little? I cried again as I picked up her jar of Noxema. She always bought this for my sister and me when we were teenagers. She still used it, and I think my sister does, too. Her jar of Ponds cold cream. Her hairnet. Her tea bags — I threw them all away. Box after box of Lipton orange pekoe. They were hers and no one else has the right to use them.

I looked at the backyard where the sandbox used to be. And the slide and swingset. And merry-go-round. I sat Indian-chief style on the front porch where I used to play jacks, next to a big hydrangea bush. Now there’s an azalea and daylillies. I looked at a portion of the driveway that is in front of the living room window and remembered how I would pull in the driveway going 40 mph and brake at the last second as Dad watched from inside. He always shook his head.

Everything happened there. Every. Thing. I kept crying and asking myself, “How do I let it go?” I’m not one to let go easily. I want to hold on dearly to things that are special to me.

Then Thanksgiving morning, as the kitchen was alive and active again, a little seven-month-old boy who bears the family name, the name on the deed of the house — Hardy — came crawling into the kitchen and smiled up at me. And this is what life is made of. The old passing, the new taking over. And it is bittersweet.


My Dead Battery Story

I like to think I am self-sufficient…that I can handle whatever situation comes my way. I have cut limbs and hauled them to the street, cleaned out a goldfish pond, fixed a vacuum cleaner, wrestled with a lawn mower, trimmed bushes, changed light bulbs in the ceiling, hauled furniture up and down the stairs, painted exterior and interior, handled finances, and executed a hundred other tasks all by myself. But the one thing that takes me down is the car.

You’d think I could handle that. I had a father who taught me how to change a tire, who told me to change my oil, who told me that if I wanted something done right to do it myself. Did I learn? No. I have always been surrounded by men — father, boyfriends, husbands, sons. They always dealt with car emergencies, although I have made many a trip for service and dealt with the mechanics myself.

I have two cars, both Subarus, one an Outback and the other a Legacy. I’ve made it a point to drive both cars, to keep them in good running order. The Outback is newer. In recent months I have bought four new tires, new brakes, and had a few other things under the hood addressed, something about oil leaking in three places. The Legacy is my favorite; it fits me perfectly and has a sun roof and other amenities. But right now it needs an oil change and I haven’t had time to take it to Valvoline, so I haven’t been driving it much during the past month.

This afternoon I put the dog in the Legacy with plans to go get gasoline and drive it around the neighborhood to give it a good workout. I stick the key in the ignition, turn it, and sc-c-c-ratch. Then no sound. Nothing. The battery is dead. I have ignored it too long.

Okay, so, battery cables. I know I need those. I look in the Legacy trunk and don’t find any, surprised that my husband never put any in there. He was an engineer and a former Eagle Scout and big on making sure I had everything I needed … even if I didn’t know how to use it. There is stuff in there to change a tire with, though, but I’m sure I won’t know what to do with that when the time comes.

I call my son due to come home over the holiday. “Do you have any battery cables?”

“Um, no, I don’t have any.”

“I thought every man had battery cables.”

“They do.” He laughs.

I raise my eyebrows.

Then I go look in the Ouback. I remove the tray in the back and pull up a carpeted lid. Voila, there’s a huge built-in tray full of tools:  10 screw drivers — one about 15 inches long; wrenches; tire changer things — is it called a lug something?; a Cheater Pipe, whatever that is; tweezers; something that might be called a ratchet that is wrapped in one of my old kitchen dish towels; some brand new rope still in the package; a knife; a whisk broom; work gloves; and get this — a rain jacket. A rain jacket? In case someone might have to change a tire in the rain. I’ve been driving this car around with all that stuff buried in the back, and I didn’t even know it was there. The built-in tray has a handle, and I lift it up and see the spare tire well, and there are the battery cables. Okay, I’m good.

Now, using them. Uh uh. Not me.

I call my son again. “Do you know how to use battery cables?”

“I think so. It’s been a long time.”

I have a vision of this child at sixteen with his first flat tire — actually two flat tires at the same time. And he sits with a sheet of directions in the street in front of our house with nuts and bolts and tire parts all over the concrete around him and learns step by step how to change a tire. It’s also the same child who last year fills my oil too full and I have to take the car in for service. Hmmm.

Now, I’m remembering the man I met in the parking lot of First Tennessee Bank in Brentwood. He has a business of making house calls or office calls for cars. He’ll come fix a flat, charge or replace a battery, do minor repair work on site. I went over and talked to him, got his business card, told him I’m a single woman and might have to call him sometimes if I get in trouble with my car. Sam’s Mobile Auto Repair Team. 23 Years Experience. 615-613-8008.

I think I’m in trouble. I think I will call Sam.

Being self-sufficient doesn’t mean I know how to do everything. It may just mean I know when to call someone and whom to call.


An Open and Shut Case

I’m sitting at my desk getting ready to do some research on historic Route 66, when all of a sudden, a buzzing vibration noise comes from the garage beneath me. The door is opening. Yes, opening! I am upstairs typing, no one else is here, except the dog, and she doesn’t have a remote opener. I lift my hands from the keyboard and drop them in my lap. I close my eyes and shake my head, as the door rolls to a stop. This is the third time it has happened.

There is no reason for this.

The first time was on a Saturday night a few weeks ago. I was sitting in the family room and heard that familiar noise I used to hear every evening about dinner time as my husband arrived home from the office.  He died a year and a half ago. It frightened me, and I called the police. Later, I attributed it to Mama and wrote a story about how I always told Mama to come back after she died and ring my doorbell. The permanent opener for the garage door on the wall outside the back door is like a doorbell.

The second time it happened was last Saturday morning, only it was the other way around. It closed! I had a dog grooming appointment and was rushing to leave on time and took the dog outside through the garage to the island across the street — yes, across the street! — so she could attend to her business before we got in the car. All of a sudden, the door started closing. Yes, closing! I screamed and pulled and dragged the dog back across the street and tried to make it under the door before it touched the ground, like Indiana Jones, but no such luck. I didn’t even get a foot under it. So I’m slammed locked out of the house. Locked out! Seriously. No way in. Period. My first instinct was to cry, but time was of essence, and I didn’t have it for crying. My neighbor Ken had to come to my rescue with his ladder.

I sort of attributed that to Mama, too, because I had done something she wouldn’t have liked. Now, today? Did Mama push that button today? Yes, there’s something she wants me to do today, and I know exactly what it is, and I have no intentions of doing it, and she never was one to let it go.

So either Mama needs to find somewhere else to meddle, or I need to call the D&D garage door boys tomorrow! I think I should hang my hat on the latter solution.


Gathering and Signing

Today was the long-awaited book signing for Gathering: Writers of Williamson County. I have to admit I was very excited — more excited than I have been in a long time about anything. It just felt good and right to be in Barnes and Noble with writers and friends and readers and guests. Sixteen of our 31 authors participated. We didn’t break the store record, but it was a fantastic showing.

Gathering contains 42 stories — fiction and creative nonfiction — by new, noted, and famous authors. Gathering is a celebration of CWW‘s 10th anniversary. Gathering showcases the talent and voice of Williamson County.

Gathering on the Display Table

Gathering on the Display Table

Co-editors Kathy Rhodes and Currie Alexander Powers

Co-editors Kathy Rhodes and Currie Alexander Powers

Kathy Rhodes, Robbie Bryan of B&N, Currie Alexander Powers

Kathy Rhodes, Robbie Bryan of B&N, Currie Alexander Powers

Authors and Guests

Authors and Guests

Kathy Rhodes & Chance Chambers

Kathy Rhodes and Chance Chambers

Sally Lee, Tom Robinson, Suzanne Brunson -- networking

Sally Lee, Tom Robinson, Suzanne Brunson

Chance and Currie chatting with Robbie

Chance and Currie chatting with Robbie


Dancing with Leaves

The Japanese maple outside my living room window is beautiful now, as autumn takes what was once green and sets it afire. Red. Brilliant red when the sun shines on it. It reflects on the white carpet and makes the whole room pink. I could sit on the couch and look at it all day long. Do I dare wish that autumn would last all year?

I push my boundaries and go forth into a world of red and yellow — some color still hanging to frames, most on the ground, filling yards, blowing into streets, racing toward me, rolling, tumbling, coming at me all too fast. I take the lesser traveled route, up Hillsboro, through a neighborhood, to Manley Lane, through tunnels of red and yellow, where deer hop across, where I see nothing but a black road surrounded by yellow leaves and a yellow stripe down the middle, and I follow that stripe to Holly Tree Gap, to Murray Lane, to Granny White Pike. The hills are covered in color. The whole earth is pressed out in patchwork.

I stand outside in the wind and listen — leaves dry like parchment blow toward me and they sound like big raindrops hitting hard ground, like a rainstorm moving in, and I let the pattering overtake me.

I wish for a whole day to sit outside in the woods and look at it all and listen to it blow by me. I know this is the final show, before the earth “goes inside” to rest during its cold season.

I don’t want to go in.  I want to hold onto the sunlight and color and movement and dance with the leaves.


Jilliebean’s Boots

Jillie's Furry Boots

Some girls just seem to have it all! Looks, clothes, style. Jillian is already one of those girls at 7 months, with her jeans tucked into her trendy white furry boots. She looks like she knows it, too.


Mississippi Delta, River Country

“My country is the Mississippi Delta, the river country. It lies flat, like a badly drawn half oval, with Memphis at its northern and Vicksburg at its southern tip. Its western boundary is the Mississippi River, which coils and returns on itself in great loops and crescents, though from the map you would think it ran in a straight line north and south. Every few years it rises like a monster from its bed and pushes over its banks to vex and sweeten the land it has made. For our soil, very dark brown, creamy and sweet-smelling, without substrata of rock or shale, was built up slowly, century after century, but the sediment gathered by the river in its solemn task of cleansing the continent and depositied in annual layers of silt on what must once have been the vast depression between itself and the hills. This ancient depression, now filled in and level, is what we call the Delta. Some say it was the floor of the sea itself. Now it seems still to be a floor, being smooth from one end to the other, without rise or dip of hill, unless the mysterious scattered monuments of the mound-builders may be called hills. … ”

William Alexander Percy