It’s back to the classroom tomorrow, but it’s been a pleasant enough week, so here we go…
Wednesday morning I took command of Mrs. M’s vehicle (a/k/a “the good car”) and headed west (“the direction of change, the biggest direction of all.“) The skies were gray, and the occasional snowflake hit the windshield as I passed through Asheville. Moving through the Smokies, I passed a salt truck, and saw mountain-shaded patches of old snow along the way. A road crew was lopping branches from trees near the highway, and in the distance, other stands of trees were wrapped in Disney-grade glazes of snow. The flurries never quite got to a level where I needed to turn on the wipers, and once I got past Sevierville, they tapered off again.
I had lunch with the Mad Dog in Knoxville at a Krystal near his home. We chatted for about 45 minutes before he had to go pick up the Mad Pup at school, and I got back on my way, arriving in Nashville a bit over two hours later. I stayed at a budget motel — not the one from my last trip there, but one I’ve visited before — just off the Interstate, in the suburb where I spent much of my childhood and big chunks of my teenage summers. I sent pictures back to the Spawn and Mrs. M to prove that there were no visible bugs or dead junkies in the room, and as Mrs. M noted, we’ve stayed in worse places over the years.
I was a little amused to discover that the night I arrived, the hotel’s manager was headed to a concert. Specifically, she was going to the Volunteer Jam festival, a fest that I remember all the way back to my childhood, when I was 8 or nine (the festival began in 1974.) The series ran until 1996, and further concerts have occurred sporadically over the years. Wednesday night’s show was billed as a tribute to founder Charlie Daniels, and included a variety of country and Southern Rock performers, including whatever version of Lynyrd Skynyrd is on the road these days. While I’m not a big fan of the Southern Rock genre (probably because I grew up with it), I’m sure it was a good time — when I spoke to the manager the next morning, she certainly seemed to have had a lot of fun. Good.
I took a pass on the concert (not least because I hadn’t known about it to begin with), and instead drove a couple of miles to my aunt’s home. We caught up on the various goings-on in Middle Tennessee and Mondoville until the day’s drive caught up with me, and I used the Taco Bell gift card I got for Christmas to pay for the night’s supper.
On Thursday and Friday, I got to the cemetery about 9 each morning. Thursday was a raw day by local standards, cold and windy with the occasional snowflake. I had indulged my absent-minded professor’s prerogative by leaving my coat in Mondoville, but I had carried the heavy sweatshirt that I bought at Bouchercon in Toronto last October, and it more than sufficed.
One of the things I do on these visits is place flowers at the graves of the three generations of my family who are buried there (my grandparents, my parents, and my cousin Jeff). Since I normally only get to Nashville once or twice a year, the flowers from my previous visit are almost always gone when I get there for the first time on a new visit. In fact, while my grandparents’ and Jeff’s markers had empty urns, a small arrangement of white flowers was at my parents’. I don’t know who left them there (or even if it was someone’s deliberate choice, rather than someone just putting a windblown bouquet in a vacant vase), but I appreciate it.
After a couple of hours, I drove back to the old neighborhood and met my long-time friend (and occasional commenter) Michael Dearing for lunch. Or perhaps brunch, since we ate at the local IHOP and we each had omelets. We talked about music and family and books, just as we’ve done now for 46 years or so — we met when I was in first grade. As a professional musician, Mike lives a few hours out of phase with the civilians, and so he typically has to take care of daily errands and such in the late afternoon, so he headed out and I went back to my aunt’s. From there, she and my uncle and I made it to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner before I went back to my base of operations for the night.
Friday was warmer, so I didn’t need the sweatshirt, but I wound up putting it on anyway. You see, I was walking around the family plot when I saw an unusual hand tool on a nearby marker. It looked like an Allen wrench with a pituitary issue, with a wooden handle, a six-inch stainless steel shaft, and a right-angle bend culminating in a flathead screwdriver tip. I think it’s likely used to affix name/date plates to the markers, and a worker had left it behind. I didn’t want to leave it there to wreak havoc on a mower or anything like that, so I decided to take it to the office of the funeral home at the center of the cemetery.
But as I was walking to the car to drive to the office (it’s a big cemetery), it occurred to me that the T-shirt I was wearing (pictured below), while a favorite of mine, might not be entirely appropriate in the lobby of the funeral home. So, the sweatshirt. More properly attired, I went in and gave the tool to the funeral director who greeted me. “Thanks for going out of your way to bring this,” he said.
“Well, I wouldn’t want someone getting hurt,” I said. And besides, who wouldn’t want the family neighborhood looking nice?
For lunch, I got together with Mike Dearing again, and we were joined by third musketeer Carl Groves, who was nice enough to spring for a meal for his impoverished muso and academic friends. The food and conversation were good, and we could likely have gone on well into the night. Alas, that wasn’t to be the case, but it was nice while it lasted.
L-R: Mike, Carl, and Mondo
I made a run to Hobby Lobby for some flowers, and then watched a little of the Kentucky-Georgia basketball game with my uncle before we went to the local Cracker Barrel for dinner.
Yesterday it was time to return to Mondoville, so I went to the cemetery once more, leaving lavender (My Mom’s favorite color and one of her favorite flowers) with my parents and grandparents, and red roses with Jeff. I didn’t take the white ones from my folks’ urn — I figured there was room for both. From there, it was the breakfast bar at the Shoney’s in Mt. Juliet, TN. There aren’t as many Shoney’s as there once were, and they’re a little thin on the ground in Mondoville (the nearest being on the far side of Real City), but I’ve always been a fan of their breakfast bar, so I couldn’t pass it up, and it was the best one I’d had since the last one.
The drive home was uneventful, save for a Krispy Kreme pickup for the Spawn and me (Mrs. M is made of sterner stuff), and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, the whole trip was peaceful. And while spending a couple of hours a day at a cemetery for a few days may not seem like the best spring break option to a lot of people, it felt right to me.
I’ve agreed to a couple of writing projects for the coming months, and will find out about another writing opportunity in the next week or two. I’ll keep you posted as more details emerge, and I’d like to remind you that I’ll be doing another reading in Durham, NC, on 3 May. I’d love to see you there!
I think it’s about time for dinner, so I’ll post a bit of music and call it a day. Not to be confused with the legendary Monks, Montreal’s Munks (formerly called Exit 4, and later contributing members to Freedom North  and Graham County ) put out a few singles in the mid-60s, including this fine one. This is from 1966 (of course), and it’s a nice bit of garage snarl.
See you soon!