Tennessee Pitts

My mother-in-law was a strong and independent woman before women were supposed to be strong and independent.

Tennessee Pitts — isn’t “Tennessee” the best name ever? — passed away last week at age 95. She was born in 1918 — a year when folks used horses to get around, electricity was an out-of-reach luxury and World War I ended as an equally devastating flu pandemic began.

And American women couldn’t vote. Or, in many states, own property, keep the money they earned or divorce their husbands. And while American law and culture began to accept and acknowledge (shamefully, only white) women as Tennessee and the 20th-century grew older, a woman who wanted her own career faced plenty of challenges.

That was my mother-in-law, who lived a remarkable life of her own choosing in a time and place when most women couldn’t. Growing up in a large family on a middle Tennessee farm as her parents and their parents did before her, she married straight out of high school. But then the story gets interesting. When Tennessee Pittsshe discovered her young husband had been unfaithful, she made three decisions: To get a divorce, to get a job so she could support herself and to become a nurse. She did all three, taking classes in sheet metal to secure a “Rosie Riveter” job building fighter jets in Nashville and enrolling in the newly formed Cadet Nurses Corps. that the U.S. government organized to fill nursing shortages. As a registered nurse, she worked almost 30 years at the Veterans Administration hospital in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where she met Roscoe Pitts. They married in 1949 and eight years later, my husband was born. After her husband died in 1984, Tennessee moved from the family farm to a condo in town and indulged in her loves of traveling, reading and baking “treats” for friends and family. She loved her son and was fiercely proud of him. Self-sufficient and practical, she was not pleased when a stroke slowed her down in 2003. And although her doctor suggested in 2007 that we plan her funeral after a kidney infection, she — as usual — stuck to her own schedule.

I didn’t know her well. My husband and I dated in college but I only met her a few times then. And he and I reconnected  a couple of years before her stroke, although a friend of hers told me this weekend that Tennessee had said she liked me and thought my (then-teenage) daughters were sweet. By the time she had to live in a nursing home, she’d forgotten I was her daughter-in-law and saw me as a nice friend who stopped by to visit. But I’ll take it. High praise from a woman who pretty much faced down a wandering husband, World War II and the health-care industry — and won.

Newspapers ‘R’ Us

Husband JP and I are newspaper geeks. We met at a newspaper — Sidelines, the student newspaper at Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. We work for newspapers — he’s actually fortunate enough to get a regular paycheck from one. We talk and post and discuss and argue about newspapers (and also whose turn it is to clean out the cat boxes and which one of us forgot to buy beer). And we buy newspapers — you know, the old-fashioned kind made of paper — everywhere we go. When we travel, our hotel room is littered with newspapers. We take stacks into restaurants (although not the really good ones). We pile them in the back seat of the car and haul them home for additional perusal. In doing all this, we stumble across some fascinating things. Such as the fact that the May 27 edition of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press — the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend — weighed in at an incredible 2 pounds and, when folded, was 1 1/2 inches deep. This is, we calculated, about four times bigger than your average regular daily paper and seemed mainly due to an inordinately large amount of advertising inserts. Most papers, it seemed to us, had a lighter number of inserts for Memorial Day Sunday. Anyway, this is the sort of stuff that fascinates us. Just wait until you hear our discussion on Times Roman versus Times New Roman.

Eating in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

You know how you’ll go by the same restaurant every so often and it seems really intriguing and you think, “We really should eat there some day.”? After the twenty-third time or so that my husband and I were in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and walked by the Maple Street Grill, downtown on the square, we finally decided to go in  and, you know, eat. Turns out that Maple Street is a popular local gathering spot for lunch and dinner as well as drinks and tapas at night in the upstairs bar, Maple Street Uncorked. And no wonder. The interior space has that urban-cool feel of downtown renewal without being pretentious about it — it’s cozy, comfortable and Southern elegant all at the same time.  The lunch menu was enticing — a grilled portabella sandwich, pan-seared tuna, fish taco and turkey and apple sandwich all sounded yummy. (Not to mention the Fried Hershey Bar. Since I’ve been banned from deep-frying sugary objects at home since our leftover Valentine’s candy debacle, I have to take advantage of anytime I can snag a warm & melty fried delight.) Dinner featured steak, chicken and pasta entrees, while the Uncorked menu included tapas choices such as a hummus flight and a cheese board along with I-really-want-to-try-that drinks — Cucumber Rain, made of Rain Organic Cucumber Lime Vodka with sweet-and-sour mix and ginger ale, seemed especially to be calling my name. Extra points to Maple Street, too, for online ordering and a smart-phone app. We’ll be back.

Five Senses — Yum! (Sung to the Music from the Red Robin Ad)

Oh my goodness! Husband and I recently had a wonderful meal at Five Senses restaurant in Murfreesboro, Tennessee quick overnight trip, and after a late and satisfying lunch on the way at Miss Annie’s Rustic Park Restaurant and Beer Garden in St. Joseph, Tennessee, it was later in the evening before we started thinking about eating again. (Oh, who am I kidding? When we’re on the road, I always think about eating.) The ‘Boro has some great choices, and since we still mourn the loss of downtown pizza place “Tomato, Tomato,” we picked its upscale sibling Five Senses. Or, rather, JP picked it and I agreed. It was either Five Senses or Red Robin, and while I always enjoy working my way down a tower of fried onion rings,  we made the correct decision here. We went with small plates instead of entrees and so started with three appetizers: fried oysters, Readyville Mill grits and a crabcake, all flavorful and with lovely sauces and little salads.  Then Husband JP had a wedge salad, which he was delighted to see came in deconstructed form so he could play with his food, and I had a salad with fresh local lettuce. And then, dessert. Oh my oh my.  Usually creme brulee is my go-to, but JP talked me out of it with a suggestion to try something new. Thank you, dear sweetie, because this trio of sorbets — pomegranate, mango and pink grapefruit on crispy lace cookies “glued” to the plate with homemade whipped cream — was absolutely divine. Every bite was cool, creamy, tart or sweet. And, honestly, to tell the truth, as much as I adore creme brulee and would eat it every day except that it’s like 10,000 calories per bite, the best part is the contrast of the crunchy sugar top with the smooth richness underneath. When that’s gone, it’s still good but bordering possibly on sameness. However, every bite of this sorbet — every single bite  — was an adventure. As it always is when I go out with my husband.

Shopping

I really don’t know much about men’s clothes. My husband buys his own and pretty much dresses himself without any help from me — that’s what getting married for the first time at age 47 does to you. Oh, he will occasionally ask fashion questions, but they’re usually along the lines of “Do you think you can sew this button back on?” and “Do I have any more black socks?” So I’m clueless about men’s style. But I’m easily impressed, and this gorgeous display of lavender and blue dress shirts and ties at Dillard’s in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, grabbed my attention this past week. I just wanted to touch all that soft and rich-looking fabric and play around with putting this shirt with that tie or maybe using that one over there. And I got a tiny bit jealous that men can wear what essentially are silky scarves every day. On the other hand, we women usually look better in a dress, so there you go.

Yard Sales — and a Mystery!

Okay, all y’all antiques detectives. I need help! As much as I love a good bargain and the thrill of the hunt, I’m not one to get all googly-eyed over yard sales. Some people are. Some people get up on Saturday morning while it’s still dark and gather their yard-sale tools (measuring tape, hand wipes, bottled water, coffee) and then set off to discover treasures. I only do that in extreme circumstances — such as when the bed-and-breakfast in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where Dear Husband and I stayed after our wedding is cleaning out the linen closets and hosting a yard sale with profits benefiting the church next door where Dear Husband and I got married. Now, that is worth it. The folks who owned Byrn-Roberts Inn, a gorgeous 1903 house on Main Street just a block or so away from Murfreesboro’s downtown, had closed the inn several years ago and were simply living in the house as normal people. But apparently they decided they didn’t need dozens of water pitchers and hand towels after all and decided to declutter and help out Central Christian Church at the same time. My mom and Younger Daughter were all up for the adventure, and we planned so well that we got there even before the sale started. And we all scored. My mom, with her usual impeccable eye for gems among junk, made some great buys. And YD and I didn’t do so badly either. For less than $45, I bought a wicker towel rack, a metal wall mirror, a wine carrier I’m going to use for flowers or silverware, three adorable square glass flower vases, a restaurant-style ice bucket with tongs, a fun breads cookbook and some … I don’t know what you call them … cute things on metal stakes that you stick in your garden or landscaping — including an adorable metal ladybug for Capt. Adorable (he calls them “Grouchy B Bugs” from a favorite Eric Carle book). And then I also bought this stainless-steel Mystery Pitcher. It’s about 5 inches tall and 11 inches in diameter, with a brass-colored handle and hinge on the lid. I would guess it was for warm maple syrup or something else breakfast-in-a-quaint-Victorian-inn-like except for the holes in the lid near the spout area. I forgot to ask the inn’s owners what it was when I bought, so now I’m hoping y’all can help. Any ideas?

Travel

Embassy Suites, Murfreesboro, TennesseeEmbassy Suites, Murfreesboro, TennesseeThis is why people say they’d like to live in a hotel (any by “people,” I mean “me”) — soft lighting, lush furnishings, hushed voices and nary a speck of dust or piece of cat hair anywhere. Sigh. Dear Husband and I were at the Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, this past week for a couple nights and I just wanted to take it home with me. The whole thing. I mean, who doesn’t love a bathroom with perfectly stacked thick white towels and a countertop free of spilled makeup and yesterday’s coffee cups? There’s something so simple and elegant and inviting about a bathroom you didn’t clean yourself.