history


12
Jan 22

Let’s read century-old newsprint

I woke up, because a bit of daylight was peering through the blackout curtains, 73 minutes later than I’d intended. My phone battery died overnight. No phone, no alarm. And despite making it out of the house — showered and shaved, in 15 minutes, and on time for my first appointment of the day — I could not shake that unsettled feeling. Despite that, it was a lovely day.

It got into the mid-40s here today. Positively chamber of commerce stuff.

I gave a tour this morning, reasserting once again that I would have never enjoyed being a tour guide. And yet. Then I did a little text work, then a little video work. That was the day, flying by as they do, except for the slow parts.

He said, after rethinking the parts of the day not worth writing about here.

Let’s look at some newspapers. This is what was was going on 100 years ago in the town where all of my family lives. Not my hometown, mind you. I’m not sure, anymore, if I have one of those. People talk about a hometown as the place where you were born, or where you grew up or where you live. I’m not in the one I’d prefer, and the rest hardly apply. And though I never lived in this part of north Alabama, all of my family is from around this area. And most of our ancestors were there when this paper was published a century ago.

Ain’t that something?

Read this over breakfast.

You wonder what led up to that over the previous year.

Earl Dean was convicted in April, and sentenced to life. He was paroled a decade later. Dean died in 1951. His sister, the wife of the well-known William McCarley, died at 81, in 1966. She never remarried. The McCarleys had five kids, the last born just after the murder. He passed away, aged 75, in 1996.

There’s still a Wofford Oil Company, but I believe it is a different concern. As for that gas station?

Long gone.

Also, why is the paper telling me about yesterday’s weather? Sure, it was cold and wet yesterday. We lived it.

Will build new church.

The First Methodist Church opened in a log house in 1822. Their third church got them to their current site, in 1827. Two versions later they had a brick building, which burned in 1920, so just before this newspaper. The new church went up on the same spot in 1924 and was renovated a few decades later. No one calls it the new church anymore.

I just wrote about the dam in this space recently. I told you the river and the dam and the TVA figured into everything. In the 1921 paper the writers were discussing its future. ‘Would the government keep the dam project up? And just look at how this dam thing has insulated us from the doldrums some other parts of the country are experiencing. We sure would like it if this continued.’ It’s easy to get the sense that they knew this was their path to prosperity and maybe a touch of that modernization that people talked about, the better parts of it, anyway. Also, there were sad tales like this.

He was one of 56 people who died during the dam’s construction. I know many of the family names on that plaque.

Finally, my grandfather smoked Camels, right up until the day the doctors told him another cigarette would kill him. So my grandmother made him quit. I can still picture, though, the coloring of the package, and the crinkling of the cellophane. No matter what this ad copy says, I can still imagine that god awful “cigaretty odor.”

After my grandfather stopped, my grandmother would go outside and sneak a Raleigh every now and then. That was her brand, and I never understood the distinction. They both smelled terrible to me. And there was a lot of that in their house.

My grandmother was a lovely hostess, though, the archetype grandmother. She always made sure to send me home with food or a plant or a toy, and a suitcase full of clean clothes.

The first thing we did when I got home was put all of those clean clothes go in the washer again. The smoke smells were baked in. It’s hard to imagine these days how ubiquitous that was, and not so long ago. How we were just … used to it. Sorta like cigarette ads in a newspaper.

We had lunch today at Chick-fil-A, which is to say we ordered it via the app and got the parking lot delivery and drove to a neighboring parking lot to enjoy our sandwiches. We parked in the lot of the now defunct K-Mart. It closed in 2016 and is presently being demolished to make way for apartments. The view from that parking lot is the Target parking lot just across the street. There were perhaps fewer cars there today than at any time during the pandemic. (Both locally, and across this state, we’re setting all sorts of pandemic records right now.)

This is our usual lunch date, once a week. While we’re there, I like to imagine we’re sitting over a broad, lazy creek. Today the mental image was enough to make me overlook this little message on the back of the cup.

And that’s true enough. So keep it up, won’t you please?


3
Jan 22

Remember, it is twenty … twenty-two now

I took last week off from writing here, and now I have to rebuild my audience. Four people must be convinced to return. It will take weeks to establish that sort of trust. But it was worth having a few days away from this particular never-closed tab in my browser.

I hope you took some time away from the routine, as well, even if it meant time away from this site. And I hope you never close this tab on your browser. Just click refresh once a day. You’ll usually be pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, let’s get caught up. How have you been since we were here together last? I hope you had a good Christmas, if you celebrate, and a lot of time with people you care about and doing things you wanted to do, no matter how you mark the 25th.

We woke up on the 24th in Connecticut, to a white Christmas Eve.

The in-laws drove us to the airport, where we said our goodbyes, and headed inside from the cold to a warmer airport. I left my belt at the TSA checkpoint. For a week I’ve been trying to understand how I just … left my belt in that gray tub.

Sorry belt. We had a good run. And, despite my abandoning you, I liked you a great deal. You were starting to show wear, though, and I would have only gotten four or five more years out of you anyway. And now I’ll have to buy another black belt. (Or use one of the other three I found in my bedroom since then.)

We flew into Nashville, which is good, because that was the immediate destination of the plane we boarded, and also the destination for which we’d purchased tickets, and furthermore, where my car was. Our friend Sally Ann picked us up at the airport. She was just as excited to see us as when we stayed with her a few days prior, or when we saw her earlier in the month. It makes me wonder when people feel like they’ve caught up with those they’ve had to carefully avoid for most of the last two years.

He said, just as it was becoming apparent we’re going back to avoiding our friends and loved ones.

But not before Christmas, because we avoided everyone last year and that stunk and this is measurably better. We have soaring Covid rates, but also vaccines! Thank you science, and Merry Christmas. And so there we were, on Christmas Eve, in Sally Ann and Spencer’s home, planning for the next leg of our holiday travels. We’d removed our masks and took our first at-home Covid tests.

We took those tests because, once the 15 minutes of suspense was over and we were negative, which is a positive, we turned the car to …

We spent the better part of the next week with my mother, taking new tests every day, enjoying her walls instead of our own.

We had Christmas, of course, which is a thing we haven’t had a lot of in the last few years for a lot of reasons. But my mom picked up a bunch of silly little gifts for everyone and people unwrapped them and we laughed and it was different and fun. All of which, we came to find out, was just a setup for my being the recipient of a gag gift, which was clever and sweet and they’ll laugh about it for years because it’s now a part of the family lore.

We spent the weekend played dominoes with my grandfather, who you can see here performing trigonometry in his head.

He’s probably also there considering which dessert he should try, wondering about someone from his church, recalling a passing memory from his work life and thinking up the next sneakily hilarious thing he’ll say. He’s a smart fella, and dominoes aren’t the challenge for him that they are for me, is what I’m saying.

He won’t admit it, but he enjoys whipping me at dominoes. He’s not the sort that you’d think of us competitive, he’d much rather laugh at the moment than put up a big fuss about a game he’s playing. In the whole of my life the extent of his good-natured ribbing is “Goody goody!” But just as much as he likes to sit and visit and, as much as he was proud to teach me how to play dominoes, he also enjoys putting 45 points on the table while I’m drawing extra tiles.

But we play a lot of dominoes when we visit, now. It’s always my mother and grandfather versus me and The Yankee. And we’re getting better at it, at least a little. Occasionally we win a round or two. I am also experimenting with domino strategy, and counting dots on my fingers.

I will forever count dots on my fingers, even though my gag gift was a little calculator to go with my own set of dominos.

We had unseasonably warm weather, and we went for a few runs under some dramatic skies.

The whole time we were there the forecasts pointed at some bad weather coming later in the week, and we all tried to talk ourselves out of that eerie feeling you get this time of year when the barometer and the temperature are out of whack.

I seldom get to use that banner, but we ran over Wilson Dam again, so I’m going to use it here.

Water, as I have noted in this space before, is the predominant geographical feature of the area where all of my family live. The Tennessee River forms near Knoxville, Tennessee and flows to the southwest, into Alabama, before looping back up, helping form the Alabama-Mississippi-Tennessee borders and then heading on up to Kentucky. It created a topography that has defined all of the people that have ever lived there. (When we drove in on Christmas Eve we passed the “Entering the Tennessee River watershed” sign just as Christmas in Dixie came on the radio, like it was scripted to happen, and I was grateful for the darkness because it was a bit emotional in a nonsensical way.)

The Yuchi tribe, the Alibamu and the Coushatta, of the Muscogee Creek Confederacy, lived on this imposing body of water. They called it the Singing River. Alabama became a territory in 1817, white people moved in and it became a state in 1819. Some of my ancestors were among the first white people in the area, some even before the Native Americans were forcibly displaced by the federal government. From what I can glean, they were hardscrabble dirt farmers. Agriculture and water transit defined the era, but shipping was difficult. The shallow, turbulent water at Muscle Shoals was the problem, unlike this little man-made canal at Patton Island.

Then the Great War came.

There was a worry that the Imperial German Navy would cut off shipments of nitrates from South America, so the federal government decided to build their own nitrate plants, driven by hydroelectric power. Muscle Shoals was understood to have the greatest hydroelectric potential east of the Rockies.

So in 1918 they started building a dam, which became it’s own city, employing thousands. They had a school, barbershops, a hospital and more than a hundred miles of sewage lines. But the war ended before the construction did.

This is a view of Wilson Dam, completed in 1924 and named after President Woodrow Wilson.

It is a narrow, two-lane dam, always a bit intimidating when I was a kid. Back then, it was one of the last little bits of road on our two-hour trip to my grandparents’ home. My mom would tell me about how she learned how to drive on that dam, in the snow.

Well, I haven’t done that, but I have driven over it, jogged over it, biked over it in 2017, fished beneath it as a kid, marveled at the power of the spillways and the respect they commanded from people on the water, watched the ships pass through the locks, and dined above it. I didn’t grow up here, but the dam is omnipresent in my story because of the river it sits on and my family which lives in its orbit.

Wilson Dam has considerably less road traffic now, because of the almost-20-year-old Singing River Bridge, my vantage point for the above picture, which is a bit over a mile downstream. You can see the pylons of that bridge, here. I used to do news stories on the air about that bridge because, in the time around it opening, it was the most important thing happening in the area.

In 1933 the dam was handed over to the newly formed Tennessee Valley Authority, which also touches everyone and everything in the region. The dam was put on the historic registry in 1966, and boasts the highest single lift lock east of the Rocky Mountains.

I’m told they used to give tours. Sure, you could walk on that little sidewalk on the narrow dam, but why do that when you can walk through the dam?

As I said, they started building the dam in 1918. In 2016 we ran across the dam and saw a rainbow that was almost a century in the making.

Since they completed the thing in 1924, I now have two years to think up a good line and camp out on the dam until I see another century-old rainbow.

A word about those banners. The Spillway was a newspaper clipping from The Florence Times, the pre-merger ancestor of the modern Times Daily. The Spillway was one of those little social happenings sections of the daily paper The Northwest Alabamian is an old masthead from the still publishing paper of the same name. It’s been a twice-weekly community paper since 1965, tracing it’s own heritage back to 1911. The current publisher has been there since 1983. (He’s also now the county sheriff, and has worn a badge for 30 years, and was the agency’s public relations officer for some time. Small town papers, man.)

We stayed in north Alabama for most of the week, and have since returned to this.

Four days in a row so far, and three months until the reprieve that April will bring.

Hopefully the cats will forgive us for leaving them by then. They were demanding and cuddly over the long weekend.

And, now, for the first time in 2022, back to work.


23
Dec 21

Enjoying our time at the Christmas cottage

It’s always such a treat to be able to open our winter home on the Gold Coast. Though we learned that one of the neighbors is considering moving away. That would really be a shame.

Even on a cloudy day like yesterday, the Saugatuck and the Sound never fail to inspire.

We went out for a four-mile run, but I pulled the rip cord just a bit early when I slammed my heel into the road. Remember, it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t my shoe’s fault, it was the asphalt.

I didn’t move quickly enough to catch the Canada geese, but I did get the heron from a distant, if only with my iPhone.

And of course, we ran by the old cemetery. You’ll love this marker.

1681- 1771

Families represented: Burns, Church, Gray, Hendricks, Shaw, in whose memory this tablet is dedicated by Compo Hill Chapter DAR and the Morris Park Association 1933.

In the American context of history the cemetery is getting up there in years — in the American context that plaque is aging nicely, too — one across the state is just a few decades older, and it is considered one of the oldest in New England. And if you start googling those names you begin to find the earliest English settlers in the region.

I believe there are just a handful of known graves in this cemetery, but I could be wrong. It sits beside a modern road, and in between is a walking path, and throughout you can enjoy some lovely birding and, just beyond, some decent fishing. Beyond that, you’re in a large city park that’s pretty quiet this time of year.

This evening, after she hanged her stockings by the chimney with care, I put the star on my in-laws’ Christmas tree.

It’s the little big things like that that make you understand you’re really a part of the family.

And how are your holiday festivities coming along? We’re opening a few presents this evening. And tomorrow I have to take on an entirely new role. It could be a hit! Or a miss!


29
Nov 21

I survived a Monday that should have been an e-mail

A nice, but chilly weekend. Perfectly delightful for late November. Any time around here that you can use the word “nice” around weather in late November, in any capacity, you count yourself lucky. And the skies were cooperating nicely.

Went for a run on Sunday afternoon. It was cold, but not too cold. It was hard, but not too hard. I was slow but not too slow. Somewhere in the third mile my back locked up in a serious way. And after three-quarters of a mile trying to run around it a lot of other things went, too. Something to work on for the future. But I got a nice shadow selfie.

But look at that surprising sky!

Also, I had a bike ride on Saturday. That’s three this week! It’s almost a streak. This one was in a simulacrum of northern France. I did not notice Mont-Saint-Michel, must have been trying to catch my breath, but you can see the lighthouse.

The abbey, which is a UNESCO site, is one of the most popular spots in that part of France. It dates back to the ninth century at least, and you would see it in this brownish-orangish section just to the top of the map.

But you’re going to want to see the real Mont-Saint-Michel. It’s gorgeous.

At some point this weekend I finished The Coming Fury, the first installment in Bruce Catton’s centennial trilogy of the American Civil War. Now I have to go buy and read volumes two and three.*

It’s a good historical tome, concerning itself with all of the major events in the year leading up to, and through, the First Battle of Bull Run. One part I might never forget is when someone writes to President-elect Lincoln and basically asks what should be done about the forts in Charleston if they wind up in South Carolina’s hands. Essentially, should we get them back? Leave them be?

Catton writes:

An interesting field for speculation opens just briefly here. What would have happened – how would the ever changing situation in respect to slavery, secession, and the preservation of the Union have been affected — if in December the South Carolina commissioners had won everything they asked for? Suppose that Buchanan had given them the forts and that Lincoln had announced publicly that as soon as he took office, the government would fight to regain what had been given away? What then?

At that point Catton has, over 193 pages, starting with the political conventions the prior spring, distilled this down to the decisions of Maj. Anderson in command of Fort Sumter and a South Carolina militia captain ordered to a paddle boat in the bay. Catton has put it before you that any of the decisions these two men made, for several days, meant war or peace at any moment — even as it was obvious the people wanted to play at war — and then asked you that rhetorical question.

This is December 1960.

James Buchanan is historically portrayed as ineffectual with Southern sympathies. Catton’s characterization feeds into that. Buchanan couldn’t make up his mind, he was a poor executive in desperate need, always, of his cabinet. Then late in the year his cabinet necessarily has its makeup changed and, suddenly, Buchanan resolves himself to be made of stern stuff.

As ever, there’s more to that guy than the one or two sentences you usually hear. Lincoln, meanwhile, was playing the cagey lawyer. He was insistent that he had to get in office and be credibly* seen as the president, before he’d do or say anything more than he’d already said.

It’s insight, but I spent hundreds of pages in this book thinking “You guys should be cabling each other constantly!”

Two more work days for me. Then it’s time for a long weekend vacation. But who’s counting?

*I have already started the bidding on e-bay.

**The credibility part was important because Lincoln was portrayed by many in the early going as a figurehead for William Seward, his secretary of state. Lincoln had to prove himself the president, even to Seward, and show that to the people, while juggling the border states, each according to their need, and starting a war. So the second book is probably going to be something.


20
Oct 21

Time — do not bend

Stepped outside at almost the right time this evening. This is looking west down Kirkwood, through IU’s photogenic Sample Gates. At their dedication in 1987 then-Vice President Kenneth Gros Louis said the gates an entrance to the campus, but “an entrance from the campus into the greater world, the world beyond the university, of which this institution is a part, hopefully as a major civilizing force, as the preserver and transmitter of the best that has been known and thought.”

He said, “(I)t is a coming in, never a going out – either coming into the campus, or from the campus, coming into the community. We can never leave either. We enter the community and centuries of knowledge guide us. We enter the campus and obligations, commitments, and relationships with all of society, impel us. We are always entering, always moving through these gates on a continuum.”

Isn’t that something? I think about that speech sometimes when I walk through there, entering the community and the centuries of knowledge. It’s sometimes a nice feeling, thinking of it as a continuum. And sometimes that whole manner of thinking can bring about any manner of feelings —

Hey! Check out those cool lights down Kirkwood!

Yes, they closed a few blocks of that road for pedestrians and street dining and the local merchants have liked it. Only a few parking spots were lost and it made for a generally much more relaxed attitude in a high traffic and incredibly high pedestrian area.

As the weather is turning colder, that will soon go away. Hopefully it’ll come back in … sigh … five or six months when things warm up again.

I made this gif today and I’m glad I thought to do it. I’m exceedingly proud of it. Also, Emma is great, too.

Here’s the news show they shot last night:

And this is the pop culture show, from whence I made a gif last night to put in this space. This is the show that interviewed the student government president, and you can see that here. He’s an impressive individual. And the whole show is pretty nice, too.

This is the second episode of the new show. I shared the debut here last week. This show is all freshman and sophomores. They’re finding their way and having some fun. I feel like that part shines through, too.

The daily duds: Pictures of clothes I put here to, hopefully, help avoid embarrassing scheme repeats.

New pocket square, old shirt, older tie.

But how about these mespoke cufflinks?

Nice compliment-to-contrast, if you ask me. Which you did not. But, then again, you are here and the question is implied.

I just googled that phrasing, compliment-to-contrast. Most of the uses are in a handful of different medical instances. There are two uses in an interior decorating context. The closest one to my use was in 2015, when a wedding photographer, talked about mist that creeped into a photo shoot.

So, clearly, I’ve coined a fashion term here.

That’s my style, and it is also today’s contribution to the continuum.