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.

So Long, 2011 — Or, What Happened to All That Money We Had Laying Around?

Happy New Year! Even though the Tournament of Roses parade (and I guess a football game?)  isn’t on until tomorrow  so it really doesn’t feel like New Year’s morning, this is the first day of 2012. So far I’ve celebrated by (thinking about) a healthy breakfast and (thinking about) doing an exercise DVD, so I count that as a successful year so far.  And since we”d already enjoyed the big-city lights of Nashville, Tennessee, this weekend, husband JP and I stayed home for the New Year’s Eve countdown. We chased some screw-top bubbly wine we’d unaccounatably found in the back of the fridge with some yummy Christmas chocolates, threw glitter out on the front porch and alternated being horrified by the (literal) spectre of a propped-up spray-tanned Dick Clark and being sympathetic with the Mobile, Alabama, TV hosts trying to make the anti-climatic Moon Pie drop and the lackluster crowd seem somehow festive. It’s a tough job. Bye-bye, 2011. You brought us adventures, opportunities, a boy grandbaby and much love and joy. However, you also brought us a few tears, fears and heart-stopping moments. Overall, though, you were pretty balanced. Here’s to 2012 — and we’re eating as many black-eyed peas as we can today.

Chocolate and Coffee

I know, I know — I’m sorry! Y’all who passionately pointed out that if I’m going to talk about cool Nashville food and uber-cool Hillsboro Village then I can’t not mention Olive & Sinclair Chocolate and bongo Java’s newest eatery, Hot & Cold.  I have an excuse for not mentioning Hot & Cold: We didn’t go in, even though I’d read good things about it in Nashville Scene. On the day we were in Hillsboro Village, the weather was miserable and I was in a hospital funk after sitting for days with my dad in a nearby cardiac-care unit (he’s home now and doing incredibly wonderful) and all I wanted was a cup of good coffee and even though Hot & Cold supposedly had good ice cream AND good coffee I was cynically suspicious that this was true so we bypassed it for Fido, Hot & Cold’s older brother coffeehouse and a steady and reliable source of the good stuff. But I will not make this mistake again. Next time, we’re going in. But I have no excuse for not mentioning Olive & Sinclair Chocolate– made in small  bean-to-bar batches in Nashville. I simply forgot to talk about it because I was too busy savoring every smidgen of the Coffee and Sea Salt bars we bought.  I won’t make that mistake again, either — next time, I’ll get the Double Chocolate Nibs, too.



The Folded Swan

I’m pretty much a small-town Southern girl. More than three cars waiting at a stop light says “traffic jam” to me.  The biggest building I can see from my front porch is the three-story county courthouse on the square a couple of blocks away. Also: I’m lazy and do not like housework. If we even have clean towels in our bathrooms at home, I consider that quite an accomplishment. But at the same time, I love visiting Big Cities and staying in nice hotels. For a change of pace, you know. And for endless clean towels. So when those clean towels come origami-fied as a pair of swans, it’s lagniappe. I mean, is this something I should consider doing at home? And where did this idea come from? Did somebody sitting around a corporate hotel-chain table suddenly jump up and say, “Swans! We must have swans!”? Or is it a subversive effort from the housekeeping staff? Or maybe towel swans are The Latest Thing in hotels and I’ve missed it until now. At least it’s nice to have a cityscape balcony view to gaze at reflectively while you contemplate weighty swan-towel issues.

Eating is Good

After my dad had his cardiac arrest on Friday, he was considerate enough to be sent to a hospital near Nashville‘s West End. Which means that whenever my mom and brother and I get tired of hospital food, we’ve got some of Nashville’s finest merely steps away. Such as Rotier’s Restaurant, the 65-year-old eatery equally as famous for its meat-and-three plates as its cheeseburgers on french bread. And Michaelangelo’s Pizza, a popular spot with pizza that tastes garden fresh that’s only about 10 years old but looks and feels much older — in a good way.  But the hospital food court has some great options, too — the pulled pork barbecue on cornbread pancakes today was excellent. Sauce a little on the sweet side, but there you go. And, of course, the fact that we’re talking about food instead of … well … funerals makes everything taste all the better.

Weddings

I love weddings of couples who already have been there and done that and have no need to try to impress anybody. Such as the recent wedding of our friends Ted and Elayne, in Brentwood, Tennessee. It was simple and elegant and completely who they are, all at the same time. For the ceremony, family and friends gathered at Owen Chapel, on Franklin Road near Nashville — a 140-year-old brick church that was elegant and dignified all on its own without added frills. Everybody was joyful and relaxed, which is the only way to run a wedding, I think. Then we made our way over to their house — Elayne has lived there for years and Ted was moving in right after the wedding — for the outdoor reception, which was fantastic. We’d spent Wedding Eve in their kitchen, drinking wine and eating pizza and I was amazed at the couple’s calm — if I were having 65 people over to my house the next day I think I’d be bouncing off the walls. But Ted and Elayne are those kind of low-keyed folks who believe that everything will turn out OK, and they were right. It did. Even the threat of rain — which tends to make Nashvillians extra nervous these post-flood days — didn’t matter. We sat under a tent and talked and drank and dined on the fantastic reception menu that Ted had created: Bacon-wrapped shrimp, little sandwiches of Canadian bacon and fried green tomatoes, smoked salmon and bruschetta with excellent pesto were my favorites. And the cake! Oh, that cake!!! I’ve had some marvelous wedding cake at some great weddings, but I’m telling you this was the best. Ever. It was a rich and moist yellow buttercream and white-chocolate fondant and raspberry filling. It was gorgeous inside and out, and those flowers decorating it were rolled fondant. Beautiful! And dear husband and I had a part, too. We begged Ted to let us do something to help and feel useful, so our assignment on wedding day was to decorate their mailbox with balloons. Honestly, I was afraid that metallic lavender (OK, they actually are pink but the color theme was lavender so that’s what we’re calling it here) and white hearts might be a bit much, but Ted said it was “spectacular” and everybody said they looked good. Mainly, they said that when I asked them, but I’ll take it. So now I believe that Dear Husband and I could go into the mailbox-decorating business. Call us.

Nashville, Tennessee

This is what downtown Nashville, Tennessee — one of my favorite places ever — normally looks like, with the Cumberland River in its proper place. But you know from news reports and Youtube what it looked like after a weekend of record rainfall. Freakin’ unbelieveable. Cleanup is starting as floodwaters that killed at least 20 people and caused an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in Middle Tennessee gradually begin to recede. We are so grateful that friends and family there suffered only fixable problems: ruined carpets, soggy furniture, flooded-out cars and power outages. By all accounts, cleanup is going to be a major challenge. Keep up with the latest news and find ways to help by at http://www.tennessean.com/, site of Nashville’s daily newspaper, the Tennessean.

And while you’re clicking around the Interwebs, I’d love for you to read my newspaper column from this past week at http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20100430/ARTICLES/4305004. It’s about a friend and local businesswoman, Marigail Mathis, who died a couple of weeks ago from cancer complications. I say she was a friend, but actually I never went to her house or ate lunch with her or saw a movie or any of the things you normally do with friends. Yet, she made me feel as if I were a friend. She made everybody she met feel that way — she was warm and generous and supportive and encouraging, all within a three-minute conversation standing in the middle of her clothing store. Marigail was one of those special folks you just feel happy to know. She’s already missed.