I took a day off from work today to be with family in Tennessee. My father – who earlier this year celebrated his 90 birthday – is transitioning from living in his home of the past 26 years to living in an independent living facility. (The home he is leaving is not to be confused with “The Old Home Place” aka 407 E. Main Street, where I spent my formative years from junior high through college.)
My two sisters and a brother who live nearby have handled most of the details of the move, and Daddy now spends much of his time with my sister Debbie and her husband Mark as he waits for his new apartment to become available.
However, before I was able to focus on family I had work to do along Music Row in Nashville, and I found myself at one of our Historic Hotels of America, the Union Station Hotel on Broadway.
I’ve told the story before, but it is so good it bears repeating again.
My parents were part of the post-war (WWII) marriage boom that begat the well-documented baby boom. Both were from the small town of Franklin, located about 20 miles from Nashville. My father had just graduated from Vanderbilt and he and my mom were married in the First Baptist Church in Franklin. Before beginning his life-long career with the Tennessee Valley Authority, my father and his new bride had a honeymoon to take.
Luckily, they had relatives (my father’s sister) in Chicago, so they came to Union Station – like so many honeymooners, soldiers, businessmen (in those days), and families before them – and boarded a train bound for Chicago. I’ve heard stories my entire life about the plays they saw in the city, visiting Wrigley Field to see the Cubs (that must have been how I got those baseball genes), and so much more. But the stories always begin with that train ride from Union Station.
Today at lunch (at Murfreesboro’s City Cafe, naturally), my father started talking about that train ride again, and he told me that he and mom left at midnight on “The Georgian.” When my father was last in Union Station he took a picture of the train schedule that still sits on the wall above the check-in desk. Sure enough, plain as day, you can see that the Georgian leaves Nashville at 11:59 p.m. on its way to Chicago.
Daddy’s house these days is a beehive of activity, and I joined in the task of going through family furniture, photos, books, and memorabilia earlier this morning with my father and sister.
Much of the house looked like this – pieces of furniture, piled high with things such as quilts to be sorted for family members, friends, or “the yard sale.” This particular bed is coming to our house, since it was a part of a suite from my great-uncle David Jefferson Wagner’s family. (Alert readers will have figured out that I was named for my father’s Uncle Dave, as well as for my mother’s father, Thomas Jefferson Roberts.)
Here is Uncle Dave in his earlier days (looking quite the dandy)…
…and then in a picture with my father as a young boy. Daddy told me that he was very close to Uncle Dave, who was like a surrogate grandfather.
When working through 90 years of life – as seen in the things my parents acquired and kept – I’m not very interested in adding lots of new possessions. I am interested in having a few family things of meaning to pass along to my children that will become part of our stories. So today I sat aside a set of glasses that my mother used when she was entertaining. I pulled out a selection of Teddy Wilson 78 rpm records because my father loved Teddy Wilson’s music (look it up if you don’t know about 78s and/or records). I picked up at least five Molly Ivins books, because she made us both laugh as she wrote about the absurdity of political life in Texas. Candice now has two crates of theological books to add to her collection. I found a small butter press that I sat aside…not because I plan to do anything with it, but just because I remember it as something my mother loved to have in her kitchen.
My sister and I laughed when she pulled out the book Conquering the Paper Pile Up from underneath a pile of papers. My father is known for his piles and piles of books, newspapers, and magazines. I also set aside the poster from the re-lighting of the marquee at the restored Franklin Theatre, where my father worked as a teenager.
And then there was this:
My parents use to camp with a group of friends from Cookeville, Tennessee. One of them – Don Williams – took this photo of my father and submitted it to an art show with the title of “Chiggers.” We laugh every time we see this photo, and Debbie told Daddy today that “We’re going to put this up at your funeral, so people will see the real Tom Brown.” He loved it and heartily agreed.
How can you not love a man who is so comfortable in his own skin (even when it is itching!).
Off to catch a plane home, but loved the day of family memories. Try to clean out your parents home before they leave you. If you’re lucky, you’ll have your own “Chiggers” moment.
More to come…