Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Excursion to Bethany Hills

Saturday my current "church family" of Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) held an all-day retreat at Bethany Hills the Disciples of Christ church camp west of Nashville. Now this wasn't a "formal" retreat, as in a day of specified spiritual learning and development. It was rather quite informal and unstructured. Messages from the church about it stated for instance that "start time" was ten in the morning, but folk could arrive any time. Also, bring your own lunch. Dinner would be provided at six, and a closing worship at seven.

I got a ride there with Steve Walls, a tenor in the church choir, whose SUV was filled with youth in addition to us two adults. We chatted about the beautiful weather -- cool and low-humidity for an August day in Tennessee -- and the beautiful green tree-covered hills west of the city. When Steve turned his SUV into the lane leading down into the campground I was surprised. It was pretty much as I remembered it from my last visit, except for a large bell prominently placed between the entry lane and the main lodge. But the memory of Bethany Hills was FRESH, as tho' I'd been there just last summer, not some time in the late 1980s! Later I determined that the freshness was possibly due to having taken my teenage children in the late 1990s from Clarksville to an Independent church campground nearby.

It turned out that we in Steve's SUV were about the first to arrive -- setting aside that a few ECC(DC) members had spent Friday night in the camp. I think a total of close to fifty folks of all ages ultimately participated in the retreat at Bethany Hills. Most of the day was spent in relaxing, impromptu activities of the sort one might do at any camp out in the woods. Steve and I, for example, after lunch joined with about half a dozen folks in a nature hike up the hill past the pond. A couple of the hikers were quite knowledgeable about the flora we encountered. On our way back we encountered a beautiful butterfly. Prentice and I both took photos of this lovely creature. Dear reader, please take a look at Prentice's photo!

Also, I broke out my guitar that I'd carried to camp with me, and played a few songs on it (more for my own pleasure than to deliberately entertain anybody). Another item I broke out was my swim trunks, which hadn't seen use since I left San Antonio. Despite having not been to see the VA podiatrist for my follow-up to his having "liberated" my left big toenail, I chose to go ahead an immerse the said nail-less and recuperating toe in the pool water. After all, the water's sterile from all the chlorine used in it. Right?

The weather continued to be fresh and clear until late afternoon, when it began to cloud up. I didn't expect any rain, since it hadn't been in the forecasts for the weekend. But once we all went into the dining hall for supper, and everybody was seated and eating, the sky opened up. A quick warning was hollered to everybody in the hall, that if their vehicle windows were open to go roll them up. Steve was one of those who had to run thru the pouring rain to do so. When he returned he affirmed that the interior of his SUV hadn't gotten wet much at all.

And certainly his guitar hadn't been moistened! It was up in the great hall of the lodge, beside mine. You see, the two of us had been asked to bring our instruments to provide accompaniment for the closing worship. In fact, he and I had tuned up our guitars and practiced the two suggested songs when we first arrived in the morning.

The rain hadn't lasted long, but it had been a true "gully-washer" as they say in Texas. So the worship, which had been planned for the outdoor amphitheater on the bank of the camp pond, got moved into the great hall. There was a call for strong boys and men to move the tables therein and set up rows of chairs. Per standard Disciples of Christ practice for any worship, a communion table was set up for the Lord's Supper. The Supper is the central element of Disciples worship, indeed is in all worship services of the three denominations who came out of the Restoration Movement.

The layout of the Table for the Supper was so simply and yet focal, that I felt moved to take a photograph of it. I had carried my camera to the camp for the express purpose of taking pictures and already had several.

And so we gathered in that great hall, under that high ceiling with the Table of the Lord front and center, and worshiped our Creator and Savior. We sang two songs, as Steve and I strummed out guitars. The opening song was "Here I Am, Lord" and later we sang "Leaning on the everlasting Arms". Young John Hartley, the Pastor's youngest son, played his violin for an instrumental offering. Our ECC(DC) choir director, Julie Duemler, also sang a cappella just before communion. Both Associate Pastor Michael Lehman and Pastor Jay Hartley read scriptures and offered meditations (or mini-sermons if you will). And both were in a manner profound reflections on the Christian life in the context of the church camp we'd been blessed to enjoy this day.

And then it was time to depart in the darkness of dusk and return to the city and the "real world". But refreshed in spirit by the experiences of the day out in the country at Bethany Hills camp!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Three Nicknames, (re)visited

I've mentioned, back in my earliest postings, how Nashville has two other nicknames beside "Music City". Actually, thanks to my good buddy Bill Cody of WSM-AM 650 I now know of a fourth. It's "Rock City" and apparently derives from the prominence of limestone in this area.

Setting aside this fourth, last Sunday afternoon you might say that I experienced the three nicknames all in one ride on the bus! After worship I had gone as usual to the Kroger in Green Hills for Sunday dinner -- they have a terrific salad bar, and a good dining area inside the store. When I finished eating, I got on the bus to go downtown. And in effect I rode thru the three nicknames (or slogans).

First came "The Athens of the South". I had told in the earlier posting of how Nashville came to have this title or nickname, and how it continues to support it by such means as abundance of classical Greek architecture in many public buildings. I probably omitted that the classical architecture is found even in several of the city's churches (Gothic and Romanesque are comparatively rarer). On 21st Ave. South at Acklen Ave. stands Belmont United Methodist Church, in classical Greek splendor. I had been past this church numerous times, but today I pay conscious attention to those Ionic-order columns along its front and remember all the other churches that have these or Doric-order columns upholding a classical Greek gable. And just a few blocks further along 21st Ave. the bus passes thru Vanderbilt University. Vandy is of course just one -- albeit the most academically prestigious and famous -- of the many institutions of higher ed in this town. Indeed, I still remember the first time I looked at an inset map of Nashville in a Rand McNally atlas and being impressed with all the mortarboard symbols locating the various higher ed campuses! Thus yet another reason for the "Athens" nickname!

Just past 21st and Grand Ave. the bus bears to the right and away from the Vandy campus to head downtown. But at Grand I look to the right and see headquarters buildings of the United Methodist Church, including an older one of classical architecture that houses The Upper Room (the magazine offices AND the chapel). Several blocks further along the bus route we pass the buildings of the Baptist Sunday School Board, headquarters for the Southern Baptist Convention. All these denominational buildings are visual reminders of another nickname (or slogan), that of "The Buckle of the Bible Belt".

And even tho' the bus I'm on doesn't go along or across Music Row nor past Ryman Auditorium I end up getting a visual reminder of this third nickname of "Music City". You see, dear reader, when the bus turns to go along the block in which sits Music City Central, the MTA bus terminal, we pass a young man walking along slowly, holding and playing his guitar, with the case slung along his back. Such is a common sight in this city, where so many young (and some not so young) people come to try and make it big in music.

Let me remind you that the music isn't solely country music either. Indeed, when the historical truth is told, the nickname goes back before the Grand Ole Opry started broadcasting or Roy Acuff and Fred Rose founded the first music publishing company in town (to publish what was then called "hillbilly music"). I've found out that when the Fisk Jubilee Singers made their first European tour they sang so well for Queen Victoria that Her Majesty commented that, "you must be from the Music City!" And Nashville had orchestral groups long before the Opry began putting country music out on the airwaves.

Indeed, as rural folk began to stream into Nashville to SEE this radio show they loved so, and as the Opry spawned the country aspect of the music production efforts, native Nashvillians were less than welcoming. After all they wanted their city to live up to the educational and cultural implications of being "Athens of the South". Those "country bumpkins" with their hillbilly music detracted from this. Supposedly.

However, along came Sarah Ophelia Colley, an alumna of Ward Belmont, a most prestigious "finishing school" for young ladies of high society; she became famous as country comedienne and Opry cast member Minnie Pearl. After she married Henry Cannon, descendant of a Tennessee governor, they moved in next door to the Governor's Mansion. Thanks to her (and perhaps others?) a bridge began to be built between the "hillbillies" at the Ryman and the Row and the cultured high-society people out at Belle Meade Country Club.

And so my impression is that now most Nashvillians live comfortably with all three of the nicknames (or slogans) for their hometown. I know I've come to like 'em all equally well! (Granted, I'm not a native -- but I've lived in or near Nashville several years of my adult life.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fraternity Alumni & a Former Chancellor

Tuesday evening the Nashville Area Lambda Chi Alpha Alumni held our monthly get-together, at Bricktops, a pricey restaurant on West End a couple blocks past Centennial Park, and I was there. I'd truly regretted being unable to attend last month's meeting, which was a pool party -- I haven't donned my swim trunks and hit the water since before I left San Antonio. Well, I heard many positive reports about that missed pool party as we gathered in the bar area prior to our seating time of 6:45. I had tho't (as had other Brothers) that the time was 6:30, and I made sure to be particularly early and thus ended up being first to arrive at Bricktops.

When we were seated it was at several tables. I made a suggestion to Bro. Alex Davie, who sets these shindigs up, that we try having them in places with a party room, so we can have less distraction from the general crowd & more communications among ourselves. Anyhow, for the time being I sat with three Brothers I remembered from the June gathering., and then a chair was added to the open end of our booth for a late-arriving Brother. He was wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt and pink necktie, and was the only Brother thus sharply attired. So obviously he was just arriving from work, and when I inquired what his job was, Bro. Rob Bigelow informed us that he's a lawyer. All five of us had lively and entertaining conversation around the booth. Among other things we discovered that Bro. Bigelow was one of the earliest initiates for the Gamma-Delta Zeta (chapter) at Vandy when the national fraternity decided to reactivate the zeta back in the 1990s. And one of the older Brothers at the table was at his initiation as an alumnus! Later Bro. Rob served a couple years as alumni advisor for the VU chapter. I think I want to get to know this comparatively young alumnus Brother! (Especially if I end up in court some day, Heaven forbid!)

Earlier in the afternoon, on my way to the LCA gathering I went to the Vanderbilt Library to return a couple of books this (Masters-level) alumnus had checked out and to acquire a couple of books about El Cid (medieval Spanish warrior, leader and national hero), a historical person whom I greatly admire. On my way out of the library to continue the jaunt to the fraternity get-together, I espied one of the several Vanderbilt periodicals near the door; its cover featured Alexander Heard, the University's Chancellor while my wife Ellen was a student at Vandy. At first I considered that his being the cover story meant he was Speaker at the Ought Nine Commencement -- but quickly I realized that the photo's age spoke against such an assumption. (Not to mention the unique VU tradition that only the sitting Chancellor speaks at VU Commencements.)

And then I saw dates under his name. Two years connected by a hyphen. Former Chancellor Heard had passed away.

I never met the man, and I don't remember Ellen speaking much about him. But what little she'd said endorsed what I'd already read about him. My first printed source on the Chancellor remains my favorite book by James Michener -- which isn't a novel. Shortly after the May 1971 shooting and killing of students at Kent State in Ohio, Michener published a tome entitled "Kent State: What happened and why". In the book he analyzes the widespread campus unrest of the 1960s and into the '70s and how some campus CEOs mishandled the unrest, but a very few took care of it wisely. And in that handful of names he praises, is Vanderbilt's Alexander Heard!

What little additional information I acquired up to and during my own years on the campus as a grad student (Heard had retired by then) only enhanced my respect for this wise gentleman and academic leader. The article in this Vandy periodical I'd picked up added even more accolades. The library system at VU, which in my wife's student days had been called the Joint University Libraries (due to sharing among adjacent institutions that later either became part of VU or ceased to exist), had been renamed (by my VU grad-student days) the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries because the retired Chancellor and his wife contributed to the libraries' endowment.

University campuses, especially tree-shaded ones like Vandy, and libraries are locales of fond visitation for yours truly. So, dear reader, I reckon I shall always hold in high esteem the (now) late Chancellor Heard. May he rest in peace!

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Coffee Country & Cody" AND Charlie!

Such is the title yours truly would give to the weekday wake-up show on radio WSM-AM 650. The actual name is in quotations, but I insist on giving Bill Cody's side-kick Charlie Mattos his due. Without Charlie the show wouldn't be such joy for the listening ear! Without Charlie, who would Bill make amusing comments about or to? Who'd he carry on stimulating conversation with? And who''d run the show in Cody's absence, as he was just now for a ten day vacation up to last Wed.?

Well, during the truly "Coffee Country & Charlie" show's ten-day run, Charlie gave me tickets for the show's broadcast from the Ford Theater of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Friday 7 Aug. And I was there "with bells on", or any rate with a necktie on. The recently returned-from-vacation Bill wore the "Regis look" of monochromatic shirt and tie, both black.

Charlie had been announcing that guests would include Hall of Famer Ralph Emery, who among other things was WSM overnite deejay, then host of eponymous wake-up show on WSMV-TV 4, then host of "Nashville Now" on TNN, and 1970s-1980s country singer Razzy Bailey. I enjoyed these guests, especially Emery, whose Channel 4 wake-up show held me as fan during the late 1980s. But better still was Gary Bonnett. I hadn't heard of this young man before Friday, but he made quite a positive impression on me. (This is becoming a regular feature of C C & C; Bill & Charlie introduce somebody new to me as their interviewee and I proceed to get impressed.)

Gary Bonnett is a young man from a very small town in West Virginia, whom Bill had met during a major country music event way out West a few months ago. The young man came out wearing a charming smile and holding a guitar and accompanied by a young lady vocalist. During the show Gary sang three songs that he himself had written, and all of them were quite good! It also came out during his conversations with host Bill that Gary had taken seven years to get thru Marshall University in his home State, and not just because of the "distraction" of a budding career in songwriting and country singing. For in response to 9-11 Gary had joined the Air Force and served our nation in Afghanistan and Iraq (he gave me these details himself while we spoke one-on-one during a break). So I most certainly wish young Mr. Bonnett much success in his music career!

And then there was The "grudge match" of the "Money-in-a-Minute" game. Team Charlie had won the first match in June, Team Cody the second last month, which I had witnessed since these are played during the sessions in the Ford Theater. Each team consists of one of the deejays, along with an audience guest who's chosen just before the game. These folks just sit there while Bill or Charlie attempt to answer country music trivia questions posed to them by one of their WSM bosses. I was strong in supporting Team Charlie, but alas! the first round was a shut-out by Bill (and his silent partner). Team Charlie got a couple of points in the second round, but this wasn't nearly en'uf, as Team Cody won handily. And his accompanying guest received $500 cash on the spot.

The game is very much in fun (setting aside the seriousness of the winner receiving 500 greenbacks). The show itself is very fun, with Bill AND Charlie. Great to listen to every weekday morning and even better to be there in person when they do broadcasts from the Ford Theater ( or other "remote" sites).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Pickin' on the Plaza"

This evening will be the first Thursday in several weeks that there will be neither a Bluegrass at the Ryman concert nor a free-event "Pickin' on the Plaza" outside the (new) entrance. When Gaylord Corp. chose to renovate and enhance the Ryman Auditorium back into a viable performance venue in the 1990s, they commenced doing a summer series of concerts by renown artists of bluegrass music. What's significant about this is that bluegrass music was born on the stage of the Ryman, when Grand Ole Opry member Bill Monroe created it there after WW II.

Last Thursday was the finale of the Ought Nine series, with Dailey and Vincent. I had "met" these bluegrass artists thru Eddie Stubbs' "Intimate Evening" show on WSM-AM 650 early this year (see my posting of 12 February). Since I'd been so delighted with their music then and since I'd missed Darrin Vincent's sister Rhonda Vincent when SHE was the "Bluegrass at the Ryman" concert a month earlier, I really wanted to attend this finale.

But it wasn't to be. I just knew I didn't have the funds at hand to pay for a ticket, even as low-cost (under $30 after tax) as they are thanks to Spring Mtn. Farms underwriting the series. However, I did get some consolation, and that's where "Pickin' in the Plaza" enters this picture. You see, dear reader, this "Warm-up" outdoors for the show indoors is free, and so I decided I could take it in. I kind of was hoping that it really would be a warm-up for the performers of the main concert, but I seriously knew this was almost definitely not the case, that the pickin' in the little square in front of the new main entrance to the Ryman probably involved some local bluegrass artist.

And so it did. But what an artist! When I arrived I saw that a lovely young lady was the leader of the band, and was singing her heart out. When I inquired at the WSM table set up near the Ryman doors the staffer told me she was Donna Ulissee. I had heard her when she was a guest on "Coffee Country & Cody" back in the Spring (April, I think), and had really liked her. And here she was live & in person! And sounding even better than she had on the radio!

While I was enjoying Donna Ulissee and her band, the two guys whose names give the group name "Dailey and Vincent" came out from their tour bus, to head to the artist entrance of the Ryman. Both guys were nattily attired in blue suits and bright neckties. (When later I was listening to the "Bluegrass at the Ryman" show on WSM, the fact that I had gotten this glimpse of the two artists helped me visualize what was going on inside the historic building, at the concert I had wanted so badly to attend.)

To top all this off, one of the WSM staff whom I most esteem showed up. Eddie Stubbs is not only an Opry emcee and evening WSM show deejay but also the emcee for the Ryman summer bluegrass series. So I not only got Donna's autograph but also Eddie's! (I suppose if I'd been just a bit bold I could have gotten Dailey & Vincent's signatures, too.)

All this wasn't a huge consolation for not attending the concert, but it was most definitely some consolation. And a very enjoyable evening, which was concluded with listening to the concert on WSM! Thank you, "Air Castle of the South"!

Monday, August 3, 2009

One-Year anniversary back in TN

Well, dear reader, I've now been lodging here in Nashville, a.k.a. "The Athens of the South" a.k.a. "Music City" for a year (and a couple of days). And what a year it's been; it hasn't gone quite the way I anticipated. The family reconciliation that's the reason for my move from San Antonio back to Tennessee is going very slowly. More slowly than I anticipated, and I'll take the blame for that. Also some very ugly things have occurred to me here in Nashville. and my job history hasn't taken a turn for the better. Yet.

Oh, well, as one country song that's currently a hit puts it, "sounds like life to me". Or as another country hit puts it, "it happens."

And Nashville isn't what I expected either, when I returned a year ago.
Oh, I knew about a few of the changes in Music City, but a lot caught me by surprise. All the name changes for major landmarks and attractions. All the nude statuary, especially that monstrosity of a gang-bang colossus at the head of Music Row. Every time the MTA takes me past it I wish I had a stick of TNT to light after placing under it! (I'd be doing this city, its residents & visitors a true favor to blow the offensive-pornographic item up!)

Well, let's leave the negatives. . . . and go on to positive notes (pun intended).

The NFL Titans and the Vanderbilt Commodores both gave their hometown memorable football seasons in the Fall of Ought Eight. H ooray!

We've had abundant rainfall and cooler than usual temperatures this Summer. Having moved from San Antonio yours truly really, really appreciates this!

After a "false start" in a couple of part-time jobs I've settled into a very nice part-time-more-hours-more-pay job that gets me out & about in this beautiful and "greenest State in the land of the free!" I could be quite content working as a delivery driver for Bradley Drugstore 'til I keel over. . . but I still think the Lord has something else for me, specifically a prison chaplaincy.

After discovering that a former "church home" (the congregation where we held membership in 1985 to '91) was unavailable this time (due to no car and no MTA service evenings and weekends), I discovered an endearing new "church family" in Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples). I eagerly anticipate each jaunt across the Cumberland River to East Nashville for a church meeting!

One final comment: on my weekday morning trips by MTA bus out Charlotte Ave. to Bradley to begin work, we pass a Hertz Rent-a-Car at the corner of Charlotte and 31st Ave. Often there are one or more employees outside cleaning cars, with water hoses or vacuums, and these guys are dressed in trousers, dress shirts (always long-sleeved) and neckties. I appreciate and understand their desire to have the vehicles sparkling-clean for customers. And yours truly certainly likes to dress up and don a tie. But NOT for washing a car! Even I will slip into something casual or grubby for such work! Or at least I'd take off the tie and the dress shirt!