Glass, Brick And Mortar

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How Santa’s helper packed up my memories…

A Knoxville landmark is being demolished brick by brick as the old Baptist Hospital comes down.  It has sat for decades on a little parcel of land just south of the Tennessee River and, after generations of patients were born, cared for and died there, the facility was sold and plans for a lucrative complex of residences and retail spaces were made and revealed to the public.  Progress, I guess.

It breaks my heart.

This little area of town desperately needs a full-service hospital and emergency department.  The extra minutes required to travel to UT Medical Center or Fort Sanders (both of which are fine facilities, just not as close-in as Baptist) can cost lives.  My main heartbreak, though, is personal.  I was born and raised in South Knoxville, and Baptist was the hospital I and my kinfolks always used when we needed a hospital. Reed and I were born there. Both of our Uncle Johns (Flanigan and Bryant) died there, just about 6 months apart.  Mom and Pop Cutshaw were patients there.  I was a patient there more than once, and a caregiver more times than I was a patient.  I spent the last days of Mama’s life with her there, and that’s where she left here for Heaven.  That building, and the land on which it sits…those places are hallowed ground for me.

A number of months ago, I called Reed up and told him I wanted to pull a caper, and hoped he would be a co-conspirator.  I wanted a piece of the hospital from the demolition site, a brick or piece of a tile or fixture…just some little piece of the place that has meant so much to me for so long.  Soon it will be nothing but a memory, and an unsightly but profitable modern complex will stand in its place.  I told him that, yes, it’s strange, but it’s important to me.  He was gracious and non-judgmental about my idea, saying that he has probably done things that could be viewed at least as strange as this.  Sweet Pea thought it was a fool’s errand and said he didn’t want to have to bail me out of jail or the loony bin if I got caught after hours on a demolition site stealing a piece of rubble.  Anyway, we talked about it, but talking was as far as we got.

Flash forward to last month sitting around the Thanksgiving table.  We didn’t talk about the hospital caper, at least not that I remember.  But we did get started talking about other things from our childhood.  One of the most vivid memories I have is drinking out of jelly jars.  When we weren’t eating homemade jelly, we ate Bama brand jellies and preserves, and whenever we used up a jar, Mama saved it.  Those Bama jars were the perfect size and shape for a glass of tea!  Over the years, they all got broken or discarded, and I remarked that I would love to have an old Bama jelly jar glass like we used when we were growing up, and that I had looked online but didn’t find the exact thing.

Reed and I got together and had lunch on Christmas Eve.  We didn’t know what the Massengill-Hickman branch of the family tree was doing or not doing that day (long story) but we got together on our own.  And even though we had not drawn each other’s names for gift giving, we had a little gift exchange.  I gave him a little Baptist Pound Cake and a goofball present, and he gave me a Bama jelly jar glass he had found!  I was tickled to death.  He also gave me a bag with presents for the Christmas night gathering with the bonus family because he wasn’t going to make it there.  And he casually mentioned that there was another little something in there that I could open on Christmas night because it would be entertaining.

The box was from Santa.  And it was heavy.  The card was both cryptic and sweet.

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Inside I found another jelly jar glass…and the heavy part.

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If I had opened it when it was just the two of us, I probably would have cried, which is probably why he had me open it later on.  I texted him and asked how he had pulled it off, and he said he knew a guy who had access to the site and some favors were exchanged, resulting in my Christmas brick.

I did cry privately, tears of happy gratitude for the thoughtfulness of a big brother who understands why something so crazy means so much to me.  The Spirit of Christmas shows up in the strangest ways sometimes.  Santa’s helper rescued my Christmas, packing up memories from my childhood.

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