Monday, October 31, 2016

Dreamy days of 1994

After an old high school sweetie invited me to dinner tomorrow night, I spent about 30 minutes today searching for this photo.

Homecoming 1994. I was 17. I asked for a wrist corsage. I got a pin-on. I loved my dress. I had a huge crush on my date.

Michael smoked cigarettes, bagged groceries and drove a green truck. He was a nice guy with a good sense of humor who made me smile. He was a year older than me and didn't go to my school. I thought he was dreamy.

I don't remember how we met, but I remember volunteering to go to the Brookshire's for anything my mother needed just to see if he was working and flirt. I would have been so mad if you told me back then that I was chasing him.

At some point, phone numbers were exchanged, and plans were made.

I took him to a bonfire out in the country where we had our first kiss. It was cold outside and he was warm. The embers on the edge of the fire in my friend's front yard melted the rubber soles of my boots. We held hands in the back of his friend's Oldsmobile Ninety Eight.

Mom liked him. She let me take the BMW when he and I went on a double date, the boys taking swigs from a flask in the back seat. I can't remember if I let him drive. The other couple didn't go out again.

Michael is the only guy I dated that my brother advised to be good to me or else. I have no idea what my brother would have done to defend my honor. I was touched by the gesture all the same.

Just as hazy as my memory is about how we met, I cannot remember how we parted. Surely it wasn't bitter. That's the beauty of time. I try to think back and just shrug. I should have kept a journal.

What I do know is that I laugh when I look back, and I always think fondly of him and that pin-on corsage. It really wasn't so bad.

I can't wait to hear what he remembers from 1994.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Who's In Charge Here?

I'm sort of obsessed with Memphis history these days, and after visiting one super cool cemetery here in town, I was on a mission to find more over the weekend.

What I found was definitely intriguing!

The Bettis family, second to settle in Memphis nearly 200 years ago, is buried in Midtown. Not a weird fact on the surface, until you realize where in Midtown they are buried: nestled between the Home Depot and the Piggly Wiggly-turned-Cash Saver Food Outlet. Not exactly the most peaceful setting!

I parked on Angelus Street, thinking I was way off base in finding this little cemetery. But there it was, tucked away behind the buildings, protected by a short red brick wall. You can even see the tallest tombstone peeking above the enclosure.

It's obviously not a large piece of land, hardly bigger than a little church cemetery. It's all that's left of what was once a pretty sizable farm that would have covered a huge chunk of Midtown Memphis from Poplar to Union and McNeil to Cooper. The tombstone for Tillman and Sally Bettis is believed to be the oldest tombstone in Shelby County.

Tillman Bettis (1788-1854)
Sally Bettis (1784-1826)

According to one local researcher there are at least eight people buried within the wall, and possibly more in the grassy field leading up to it. But they are not the only ones resting here. There were at least two homeless camps set up inside the wall, one on top of what appeared to be a memorial slab on the ground. I felt very intrusive.

Drury Lyon Bettis (1814-1854)
So who's in charge here? Turns out Home Depot now owns and maintains the land. That said, homeless people flop here, there's poop all over the ground (watch your step), shopping carts are shoved in each corner, and tombstones are smashed and strewn. It really is a shame.

After leaving Midtown I went to find the Winchester Cemetery, reportedly the oldest in the city. The original location at Poplar and Third Street was moved a few miles up the road to this spot off North Parkway and Danny Thomas:

There are no grave markers, as most of the bodies were moved to Elmwood Cemetery. Most, but not all. Apparently the remains of Marcus Winchester, the very first mayor of Memphis, can be found somewhere under the city's Office of Fleet Management (formerly a horse barn) next door to Winchester Park.

Why so disrespectful? I couldn't find a clear answer. There is speculation that Winchester's marriage in 1823 to a woman who was reportedly 1/16th African American led to his unceremonious eternal resting place. Who's in charge here? In this case, who knows.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Go Vote

Orange cones guided early voters through the doors of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, one of a handful of polling places around town. I took my place in line behind a tall gentleman who read news articles on his phone the whole time.

There we were. A long line of Memphians ready to do our civic duty.  Young, not as young, sick, pregnant, handicapped, first-time voters, old-time voters, Desert Storm veterans, mothers who thanked the veterans, all races and genders. We stood side by side, shuffling our way up the line that snaked through Bellevue's west entrance and into a room equipped with about a dozen voting booths.

The line moved slowly, but no one complained. I think we all knew how important it was to exercise our rights today.

At first, we all avoided eye contact, feeling no need for idle chit chat. But as we drew closer to the polls, that seemed to change. The silence was broken at last by a phone that played the Andy Griffith Show whistle and we all laughed. Talk immediately turned to Mayberry, the 1960s, and voting during a time that was also volatile for our country.

A few more minutes, a few more paces.

Finally, we were ushered into the voting room, signed in, given electronic voting cards and told to pick any booth. It took me about 50 minutes to get that far, and two minutes to cast my ballot.

I exchanged my e-card for an "I Voted" sticker in the shape of Tennessee and it was done. My vote was officially one of thousands cast ahead of the November 8 general election.

2000. The first presidential election I voted in (though not the first one I was old enough to vote in) was George W. Bush vs. Al Gore. It was truly the first time I looked within myself and asked, "Which of these candidates has values that most closely align with my own?" Since then, I've asked myself that same question during each and every election, along with a host of other criteria that have evolved as I've gotten older.

I'm always proud to cast votes for my state and local officials, but many would argue, and I agree, that there's just something about electing a president that resonates a lot louder. It's the kind of pride that makes patriots weepy. The kind of pride that makes us all excited about democracy and dreamy for spacious skies and amber waves of grain. Even with all the mud-slinging, I want to believe that simple, almost child-like view of the world remains at the heart of every candidate.

Smithsonian National Museum of American History
During a trip to the National Museum of American History a few years ago, I snapped a photo of a "wall of presidents" and tried to include each leader in my lifetime. I got them all beginning with Gerald Ford all the way to Barack Obama. No matter how I feel about any of the candidates begging for my attention today, I am eager to see who will be added to the wall, whether Hillary Clinton will break that glass ceiling, whether Donald Trump will make America great again, or whether Libertarian Gary Johnson will make a little history of his own.

June 2014

Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Michelle Obama's inauguration Choos
Smithsonian National Museum of American History


Monday, October 24, 2016

Big River Crossing

I love it when something new comes to Memphis and I don't have to ask, "Wait, was that here when I lived here ten years ago?" I ask that question when I either don't remember whether it existed (because ten years), or I didn't take advantage of said cool thing back in the day.

The stuff that's truly new, not just new to me, is the best!

Like the Big River Crossing, which opened opened this weekend with fireworks and hundreds of eager walkers, cyclists, even a few roller skaters. The new pedestrian bridge sort of rides side-saddle along the Harahan Bridge. The first thing that struck me was the blending of old and new, the clean metal against the 100-year-old railroad truss. Throw in a cloudless blue sky and I was ready to take my first pass at the bridge!

The span is less than one mile across, but still the longest pedestrian bridge over the Mississippi River. It starts right off of Channel 3 Drive, just south of South Bluffs and stretches to the Arkansas side of the river parallel to two sets of train tracks. A couple of trains rumbled past while my friends and I strolled along taking pictures. I felt like I was in the way a lot because I couldn't stop looking up, down and all around, everywhere but the direction I was walking! It was just that blissful feeling of sunshine, cool breeze, amazing view and positive vibes coming from everyone on the bridge.

The view really is the best part of this experience. The bridge truly has a million dollar view of the city from the south, from the Hernando-Desoto Bridge, to the Bass Pro Pyramid, to the downtown skyline, all the way to Tom Lee Park.

Right now, there's a fantastic breeze up above the water and I imagine until the weather gets too cold, the Big River Crossing is going to be pretty busy! That said, everyone on the bridge Sunday was accommodating to walkers, bikers, and picture-takers alike. All in good spirits!


Saturday, October 22, 2016

RiverArts Fest

This weather though! Couldn't order up a better day for RiverArts Fest 2016 on historic South Main Street in Memphis. Mid-70s, not a cloud in the sky, low humidity, and enough tickets to buy lemonade. The life-size balloons were a big hit, and there was a guy with a typewriter who, for $10, would craft a poem just for you.

I love art. I love art festivals. I love when I wander into a booth and the pieces really speak to me. Paintings, photography, metal works, sculpture, mixed media, I'm pretty much a fan of it all. Today, I saw so many things I wanted to bring home that I was wishing for more wall space and practically reworking my entire setup in my head. That's how good it all was.

I didn't go overboard, but snagged a couple of things I felt were pretty unique. The first purchase came in the booth for artist Lester Jones. Jones is a sculptor and has some pretty incredible pieces, but it was a few small items that caught my eye. The little guitars came in a few different shades and didn't vary in size much. My eye was immediately drawn to the green glitter, and I knew this one was coming home with me.

I love this little guy for being so charming and moderately gritty. Not only does the guitar shine in my favorite color, it represents several things to me: my own personal love (and lack of talent) for music, and being back in Memphis, the birthplace of rock and roll.

Next stop, the booth of B. Eugene Bauer, a photographer with an eye for both urban and rural American, and as he states on his website, he's trying to bridge the gap between the two with his art. It was interesting to hear Bauer talk about the photos he had taken as my friends and I flipped through the box of standing prints. The most fascinating were the photos of elixirs and remedies from the 1800s, each seemingly more absurd in this day and age than the last.

This one is mine. Of all the bottles, I am most amused by the tonic for freckles. I didn't like my freckles when I was little, but as I got older, I loved them. I felt like they were unique, something not everyone had. And I loved how they would get darker in the summer and fade in the winter.

So now I need to get this one framed and figure out where to put it. Feels like bathroom art to me... Good thing I have two of those.

The festival continues Sunday from 10am-5pm. Don't miss it!


That's so Memphis: Elvis keeping an eye on the outdoor seating
Exposed tile floor where a building once stood
Earnestine & Hazel's
Look familiar?
Dawn getting silly with the succulents at 387 


Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Haunted Church

I don't believe in vampires. I don't believe werewolves. I don't believe in zombies, mummies, trolls, Big Foot, Nessie or other assorted monsters.

Ghosts? I suppose it's possible. I have no first-hand experience with the supernatural... Except that time I went to a haunted church that I didn't know was haunted until I Googled it while parked in front of it.

I took the back roads home from Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge Saturday for the scenery and the nice long drive. I spotted a few markers from the Tennessee Historical Commission along the way, so I stopped here and there. This one I almost drove right past. I hit the brakes, turned around and followed the arrow to check out an old church, thinking it might be neat to photograph.

I paid so little attention to the actual sign that I missed how far up the road it was. I almost gave up and turned around, when I came around a curve and there it was.

I saw the sign first.

The entire Mason, TN church was fenced with a rusty "no trespassing" sign clanking against the gate. To complete the spooky scene-setter, it is nestled back off the road (which is sparsely traveled), hooded by oak trees. And I wasn't expecting tombstones.

It didn't immediately give me the willies, though I think subconsciously I was glad I couldn't get any closer. I snapped a few photos of the small cemetery on the right, and a few of the church head-on. I paused to watch what I thought was a hawk make a break for the trees, and that's when I noticed the front door was open. Not to be melodramatic, but I do not remember that door being open when I pulled up. I really think I would have noticed.

That's when I started getting the creeps.

I got back in the car and did a quick search to see exactly what the Internet had to say about this historic church. Turns out: nothing good as far as I'm concerned! Message boards are full of stories about the grounds, the graves of infants, and a statue of Mary that cries blood.

What? Whatever. I'm completely skeptical of urban legends.

But I can't deny that the longer I sat there, the more the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I definitely felt too exposed, yet too hidden, and my instincts (and overactive imagination) told me it was time to leave.

It took about 45 minutes to get home and the whole way I couldn't stop thinking about the doors. Further research turned up more stories about those very doors opening by themselves. This one from Your Ghost Stories was over the top but it accomplished the goal of every campfire ghost story: I was completely freaked out.

To be fair (and rational), my searches also uncovered those who chastise the thrill-seekers at "Old Trinity," drunks and teenagers who are blamed for vandalizing the property, desecrating the graves and causing extensive and expensive damage.

There is a Facebook page for Friends for the Preservation of Old Trinity. There are so many more photos there, but it does look like the page has not been updated in a while.

It is also worth noting that there is a full moon tonight.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

On Foot

First, let me say that walking home from the hair salon does feel weird. I don't live in a booming metropolis where women who "feel like they just stepped out of a salon" emerge onto a bustling city street to breezes in their tresses, cabs honking in approval and wolf whistles. I don't throw my head back over my shoulder with my gleaming smile and am never captured in the exact moment of unbridled, sun-kissed, womanly beauty.

I walk out of the salon in the Memphis heat to my car, where if I'm lucky, I will be able to touch the steering wheel without risking serious burns. I will crank up the air conditioning, thereby destroying my new style, and I will pull my hair off the back of my neck to dry the sweat.

That's the Meg life.

But Thursday I found myself without a car (in the shop) and living in that time of year in the Bluff City where the weather isn't too hot or too cold. So instead of calling an Uber to carry me the .7 miles from Gould's to my apartment, I walked.

I walked past the International Market, onto Cordova Road, past Harding Academy and straight to my front door. I even stopped to check my mail. And I did it all on a sidewalk in broad daylight, in plain view of dozens of drivers and their passengers.

I thought nothing of this walk except that I should do it more often. But when I told friends what I'd done they were shocked and immediately concerned.

"You should have called me!" "It was cloudy outside! What if it rained?" "Are there sidewalks?" (a very real issue here) "Please let me know the minute you get home!"

I am extremely grateful for such caring people in my life, but frankly, their level of concern had me looking at them like they had ten heads. I could not understand why they were so worried about such a short stroll. And after more thought (and research), I suppose I can see why.

Memphis is not exactly the most "walkable" city. Yes, it has come a long way to accommodate an outdoor lifestyle since I lived here nearly ten years ago, but Memphis is a city of pockets: downtown, South Main, Overton Square, Cooper Young, Binghampton (just to name a few). Personal experience has taught me that it is just not feasible to head off on foot from one to another. The path either takes you through areas that are not pedestrian-friendly from a personal safety standpoint (yes, I have paid $12 for a one-mile Uber ride from Overton to CY on a Saturday night), or they're just too far. And by too far, I mean farther than one to one-and-a-half miles. Of course even that is a relative thing. I told a visitor to Cleveland once that we were walking to lunch just a few blocks away.

"It's not even a mile," I said.
"Your definition of 'not too far' and mine are two completely different things," he responded.

So the question remains: why couldn't I walk .7 miles without a degree of worry from my loved ones that bordered on paranoid?

The short answer: safety.

All things considered, Memphis and an army of community associations have done amazing things in their respective pockets. The Shelby Farms Greenline is beautiful, the park's own renovations and upgrades are a marvel, and there are bike lanes winding across the area. But once I'm out on foot, it's probably in my best interest to stick to their "designated" walking areas.

I can walk plenty of places in my own suburb (hence my trek home from the salon), but even then I have to consider which route to take due to the lack of sidewalks. And it did not escape my attention that I was the only one walking in my whole neighborhood that day. People just don't seem to do that around here.

I did not feel unsafe at any point during my walk home, but judging by my friends' reactions, I might as well have wandered into the street to play in traffic.

I could brush them off as neurotic, but I know there is a degree of truth to their concern. As a single lady, I believe in letting someone know where I will be if I head off the beaten path. That's just good sense. But the fiercely independent side of me rejects the notion that I can't walk less than one mile without alerting the media.

I guess the theory is if the boogeyman doesn't get me, the bad drivers will.

When I tried to find information on Memphis area sidewalks, I came across this nugget from Livable Memphis: The 2016 Memphis Walkability Toolkit designed to make neighborhoods more pedestrian-friendly!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

How I got over myself and got into birding

For me, birding began with a few feeders at my house: a simple crook from Wild Birds Unlimited, a square red feeder with hummingbirds on it, and a cheap seed bell from the grocery store that it took the birds weeks to find. It was a set-up that cost less than $50, but ended up being priceless once the birds started coming.

I could see all the action from my sofa and I would try my best to snap photos of the ones I thought were the coolest.

Baltimore Oriole
I figured out that Baltimore Orioles would hang out in my area during the summer, so I got a special dish for them and filled it with grape jelly (trust me, they can't get enough of it) and waited. The first time I heard that unmistakable Oriole chirp, I was a goner. Those bright orange beauties are still my favorite.

Red-headed Woodpecker
I could attract some pretty neat and striking birdies to my house, but when I first started birding beyond my own back yard, I was kind of at a loss. Where do I go? How will I find them without a feeder to attract them? Will people think I'm weird? All legit questions many birders have... 

Here's how I sort of figured things out:

1.  First and foremost, get over any notion that people will think you're strange for being in public places with binoculars and a camera. These are your tools, if you choose, but not required. Besides, it's been my experience that once you show the naysayers the amazing pictures you captured, they'll think it's neat too, and they will be full of questions for you.

Prothonotary Warbler
2.  Read. Because birding is a hobby enjoyed by millions, there are countless books written about it. Once I started getting really into it, I bought a few at Half Priced Books and they have been invaluable. Backyard Bird Secrets for Every Season by Sally Roth was, in my opinion, the best. Over the course of a year I read up on each season and was able to fine-tune my feeders to get the most out of my hobby. I knew I was getting a lot better at birding when I was able to speak about it confidently.

Indigo Bunting
3.  Shop! Who doesn't love that, right?! At one point, I was visiting my local Wild Birds Unlimited store almost weekly. They knew me in there, knew what seed I needed and asked about what had turned up in my yard that season. They have a wealth of knowledge about migrations, setting up feeders, fending off squirrels and how to keep starlings from decimating your feeders. Want to know something? They can't wait for you to ask! And stores are nationwide!
Black-capped Chickadee
4.  Go somewhere new. The world is a big place and every region has different birds that either over-winter or call it home year-round. Getting out of the city was the best way for me to find birds that had eluded me when I lived in Ohio. In Tennessee, some of them are abundant all summer long! Not sure where to find the birds? Look for the nearest wildlife or nature preserve in your area. Chances are it will have trees, a body of water and some peace and quiet. Hey, that's all birds really want in life! Once you're there, I often say birding is like fishing: have a little patience and the birds will come to you.

Summer Tanager
5.  Find a flock! A quick internet search will likely find you one, if not several, groups of people in your area who are just as excited about Birdcast reports, seed clusters shaped like raccoons, and spotting a new bird for the first time.