Tag Archives: Community

The Outskirts of Town

13 Nov

We have a community magazine called Wilson Living, and the folks over there asked me to write an article about anything I wanted. A lot of topics went through my mind, and I settled on writing about growing up on the outskirts of town. If you would be interested in reading it, then you can get to it by clinking this link.

Let me know what you think.

Saulsbury Baptist Church

5 Apr

My dad’s birthday is this week, and his wish was for the family to attend his childhood church. This past Sunday, we fulfilled that wish and went to services at Saulsbury Baptist Church.image-12

I have heard my dad tell stories about growing up in that congregation. He has talked about playing checkers with the pastor, Brother Albert Jewel. He has talked about joining the church when he was a small child and how his mom was worried that he was too young to make that decision. He has talked about the sanctuary being filled and people sitting in the alcoves on the side.

Thinking back on those stories, I realize that Saulsbury Baptist Church was more than a church. It was an important part of an isolated rural community. Every Sunday, people took winding roads from the surrounding hills and hollows to see each other and worship. Brother Jewel was more than a preacher. He was a central pillar of the community.

That community was Saulsbury, a place that cannot be found on a map. Sometimes, I think it was more of a state of mind. Watertown is the nearest town and has never been populated by more than a few hundred people. Some of the folks in Saulsbury had electricity. None of them had indoor plumbing. If there was a telephone, then it was on a party line. There were a few stores, but, mostly, there was the church.

I have my own memories of Saulsbury Baptist Church. When I was a kid, my parents would visit and drag my brother and I along. When I say drag, I mean it. Going to Saulsbury was not my favorite thing. Looking back, I should not have had that attitude.

We went on special occasions which usually meant going to a “dinner on the ground.” The members brought food for a huge picnic after the service. The women tried to outshine each other with their dishes. Desserts were the big competition, but it also happened with other foods. I have always loved deviled eggs, and there would always be several platters full. However, there is a thing about deviled eggs. They are either good or bad. There is not much in between. I learned at Saulsbury Baptist Church to scout out deviled eggs carefully.

I also have memories of the services. Like good Baptists, we sat in the back pews. People whose names I could never remember came by to talk to us. My grandmother sang in the choir. Somebody played the piano. Somebody played the organ. Brother Jewel always preached. He was there for fifty years.

I remember thinking that everyone was old. I am sure that they were not as old as I thought, but I always felt uncomfortable around old people. That is why going to Saulsbury was not my favorite thing.

On Sunday, the experience was different. We sat in our usual pews, but the other ones were empty. Only twenty people were in attendance, and we made up almost half of that number. The alcoves were closed. There were seats for a choir but no choir. There was a piano but no one to play it. There was an organ but no one to play it. There was a baptismal pool but no one to be baptized. There was a preacher, but it was not Brother Jewel. It was a man who does it part-time.

Saulsbury Baptist Church, which was an important part of an isolated rural community, is dying. It is sad, but it is true. Over the past few days, I have been thinking about the reasons.

My dad would never want to read this, but I think it started with his generation. Many of them left the hills and hollows to do something other than work on the farm. As his generation and the following generations moved on, Saulsbury Baptist Church never had a chance. The older generations were still there, but they would not be there forever.

Those were the generations that were making the desserts and deviled eggs of my memories. I thought everyone was old because they were the age of my grandparents and older. There were not that many people younger people around. There were few people the age of my parents and fewer people the age of me.

On top of that, the federal government built an interstate through the middle of Saulsbury. This meant that the community was splintered and no longer isolated. A splintered community with citizens who can get somewhere else quickly does not need a church at its center.

As we left Saulsbury Baptist Church, we passed a lot of houses. There may be more people living in that area now than there were when my dad was growing up. However, these people live in a different world. They are not isolated. They can get on the interstate and be at their jobs in a matter of minutes. They do not have to work on a farm in a hallow. They can breathe the country air and have access to anything they want.

They want to go to a church with activities for their kids. They want to go to a church with people who are an extended family. They want to go to a church that is a central part of the larger community.

Saulsbury Baptist Church used to be all of those things to the people who lived in the surrounding hills and hollows. Now, it is that little church around the bend that people pass on their way to somewhere else.

 

Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats

4 Mar

A few week ago, my wife and I visited the Country Music Hall of Fame, which we like to do when they have an interesting exhibit. This time, they had a couple of exhibits that I wanted to see. The first was about Sam Phillips and Sun Records. The second was about the friendship between Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash and the effect it had on the Nashville music scene.image-7

Nashville has always been known for Country music, but I have been more fascinated with the story of Nashville’s other music. For example, it has a deep Rhythm and Blues history and is where Jimi Hendrix got his start.

I have read about Dylan’s time in Nashville and was interested to see how the Country Music Hall of Fame would present it. They did better than I could have imagined and introduced me to facts that I did not know.

Obviously, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash were the focus, but that was only the beginning. It covered the artists who were inspired by Dylan’s work in the city and followed him here. It was awesome to see the display on Paul McCartney and his time living in my hometown of Lebanon.image-9

The story of Paul McCartney’s time in town has gone down in local lore, but there were a ton of artists that I never knew recorded here. On the way out, I bought an album of songs that were highlighted in the exhibit, and it provides an example of some of those artists.

Gordon Lightfoot

The Byrds

The Monkees

Leonard Cohen

Country Joe McDonald

Simon and Garfunkel

George Harrison

Ringo Starr

Joan Baez

Neil Young

Derek and the Dominos

Those people are well-known in the history of music. However, this exhibit also highlighted the session musicians who played the music to which those people sang. These are the unsung heroes of Nashville and have become known as the Nashville Cats.

Several people had their own displays, but Jerry Reed was my favorite. Those who only know him as Snowman in Smokey and the Bandit or the football coach in The Waterboy may not realize that he was one of the greatest guitarists to ever play in Nashville. He was the heir apparent to Chet Atkins and had a distinctive style that other players have tried to duplicate.image-8

As always, the Country Music Hall of Fame did a fantastic job with the exhibit. Each time I go to the museum, I learn something new. If you ever make it to Nashville, then you will need to visit the place. Just remember that Country music is not the only music that has come out of this city.

Lessons From Snowmageddon

22 Jan

We are currently experiencing our worst snowstorm in 13 years. I realize that it pales in comparison to the experiences of our northern neighbors, but it is a big deal for a place that is not prepared for the worst snowstorm in 13 years.image-5

During this time of being cooped up in the house, I have learned a few things. Here is a list.

Some people actually like this stuff.

Everything is closed. Schools. Businesses. Government offices. The list goes on and on. However, our local Chamber of Commerce decided to continue with their scheduled meeting. This freaked out my wife because she is on the Chamber board and was afraid she was going to miss something. They ended up getting her on a conference call because they were one short of a quorum. What did I learn from that? Half of the folks at our Chamber of Commerce are willing to put their lives on the line to support local businesses.

By the way, whenever I hear the words Chamber of Commerce, I think of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, a movie that stars Don Knotts. There is a guard at the Chamber of Commerce picnic. If you are not C. of C., then you do not get in. Atta boy, Luther.

If Leonardo DiCaprio wins an Oscar for trouncing through the snow and not saying anything in The Revenant, then I should win an Oscar for trouncing through the snow and not saying anything while taking out the trash.

It pays to have a gas fireplace, but it does not pay to stub your toe on said fireplace. I think I am going to have to stick my foot in the snow to numb it.

Friends stole the body of Gram Parsons from the airport and tried to cremate it in Joshua Tree National Park. I learned this from my wife, who is working on an article about Nudie. If you do not know about Nudie, then you need to look him up.

Hanging around the house all day leads one to eat a lot. I need to get on the treadmill, but I have to wait until my foot stops hurting.

There are different Rummy rules for different people.

If you think you have Man of Steel, then you had better make sure before the worst snowstorm in 13 years. That will be the time that you want to watch and discover that you do not have it.

Anyway, that is what I have learned during our worst snowstorm in 13 years. In a few hours, I will not be able to learn anything because I will have lost my mind from cabin fever.

 

 

 

Cumberland Nomenclature

6 Jan

I work at Cumberland University. A few blocks away sits a Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Around town, there are numerous businesses named Cumberland, including Cumberland Animal Hospital. Just north of town flows the Cumberland River. A geological formation called the Cumberland Plateau is east of here. Cumberland County is on top of the Cumberland Plateau. In Knoxville, the students at the University of Tennessee hang out on Cumberland Avenue. Lake Cumberland is a recreational area in Kentucky. Pioneers, including Daniel Boone, made their way through the Appalachian Mountains at the Cumberland Gap.

In other words, there is a lot of stuff in this area named Cumberland. It is a word that people in these parts use on a daily basis. However, I have a question that I have never heard anyone ask.

What is Cumberland?

It turns out that there used to be a county in northwest England known as Cumberland. It came into existence in the 12th Century and was abolished in 1974. Interestingly, Graham and Bell were the most common surnames of the area. The Bell name is of particular importance to me. Also, I wonder if Alexander Graham Bell had relations in Cumberland County.

Despite the great names, I would be surprised if all of the stuff in this area was named after a defunct county in England. There must be something else. Lo and behold, more search engining proves that to be the case.

In 1644, the title Duke of Cumberland was created and named after the county from the prior paragraph. Several men held this title, and things in America tended to be named in honor of titled folks. Therefore, it stands to reason that things began to be called Cumberland for that reason. However, that leads to another question. Which Duke of Cumberland has his name all over this area?

More search engining led me to Prince William Augustus, grandson of King George I; son of King George II; and uncle of King George III. He fought in the War of Austrian Succession and in the Seven Years’ War. The Cumberland River and the Cumberland Gap were named in his honor, and, one would assume, the rest of the Cumberland named places and things followed from those.

Prince William, Duke of Cumberland received many honors in his lifetime. However, one posthumous recognition stands out. In 2005, BBC History Magazine named him the worst Briton of the 18th Century. Presumably, this was for his role in the Battle of Culloden. It was after this battle that many of his contemporaries began calling him The Butcher.

Yep, the common use of Cumberland in these parts is derived from this guy.Duke

My thirst for knowledge has been quenched.

A Local Business Called Cracker Barrel

16 Dec

Yesterday, my wife and I had lunch at Cracker Barrel. Since that chain has over 600 stores in 42 states, thousands of people across the country did the same thing. However, it was a little different for us.

In 1969, Cracker was founded in our town of Lebanon, Tennessee. Dan Evins owned a Shell gas station at one of the interstate exits and hit upon the idea of selling to food attract customers. It was not just any food. It was good old southern food like grits, turnip greens and biscuits.Cracker Barrel

Obviously, the concept proved successful.

I write all of to explain that going to Cracker Barrel in Lebanon is more like going to a locally owned place than a nationwide chain. As soon as we walked in the door, we saw people that we know.

While waiting for a table, we saw my dad’s childhood friend and his wife. They mentioned that they sold one of their farms to one of our county officials, who happened to be standing behind them. That led to a great conversation that people who had gotten off the interstate probably did not understand.

After getting a table, we talked to the corporate pilot for Cracker Barrel, who is also a part-time preacher. In fact, he performed a wedding that turned into a blog post.

Before finishing our meal, the mother of a former girlfriend was seated next to us. She stopped for a few seconds before sitting down with some family from out-of-town.

The corporate headquarters of Cracker Barrel are located in town, and it employs a lot of local people. However, the leadership is no longer local. They all came in from somewhere else, and many of them live in another Nashville suburb. That does not matter. Cracker Barrel remains a Lebanon, Tennessee business.

Years ago, I was in Montana doing historical research. I was driving down the interstate and looking for something to eat. Up ahead, there was a sign for a Cracker Barrel. I pulled in at a strange eating time and was the only customer in the place. The manager came over to talk and asked where I was from. I said that I was from Lebanon, Tennessee and asked if he knew where that was.

He absolutely knew where it was because Cracker Barrel is one of our local businesses.

The Pelican Brief

16 Nov

You may know these lines.

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican,
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week
But I’m damned if I see how the helican!

It is a limerick of some fame. In fact, some consider it one of the best limericks of all time.

Through the years, I have heard several limericks, and some of them have stuck in my mind. There is the one about Nantucket. There is also one I heard in a movie about a young lady from Niger who rode on a tiger.

Bonus points for anyone who can tell me what movie featured that one.

Now, back to the pelican limerick. Most people think it was written by Ogden Nash. Apparently, Nash wrote a bunch of limericks, and, when people do not know who wrote something, they automatically think he did it. Look it up. The name of Ogden Nash is all over The Pelican.

However, here is the thing. Ogden Nash did not write this one. The Pelican was written by Dixon Merritt, who lived in Lebanon, Tennessee.Dixon Merritt

His name is prominent in our town’s history. There is a building at Cedars of Lebanon State Park that bears his name. He also taught at Cumberland University; edited The Lebanon Democrat and The Tennessean newspapers; served as Tennessee State Director of Public Safety; and was an amateur historian.

On top of all that, he was a poet, and most people did not know it.