Category Archives: inspiration, humor, family

Not Just Goofball Funny


Thirty years and counting…

Yesterday was a special occasion as Sweet Pea and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.  I remarked on social media that when my parents had their 30th anniversary, they seemed like such…ADULTS.  And they did.

I have rarely felt like an adult during the course of our marriage, and I mean that in a positive way.  Jeff, my wonderful husband, has the best sense of humor of any human I’ve ever met, so that has made our time together way more fun than I think most people are blessed to enjoy.  I remember once, when Jeff and I had been going out for a few months, coming home from a date and sitting down with Mama in the living room for a glass of tea.  Jeff had spent a decent amount of time with my family by this point, and Mama said, “You seem to laugh a lot with him.”

She was right, of course.  But it took her saying it to make me realize how different being with him was from the other fellows I had dated.  I had only had a couple of “boyfriends” prior to Jeff, and those relationships were not marked by laughter as much as by angst, jealousy and my need to assert my freedom as they tried to assert their control over me.  This thing with Jeff…this was definitely different.  Laughing with him led to loving him, a kind of love I never imagined and still marvel over.

Even after 30 years of marriage and 4 years of dating/engagement prior to that, Jeff can still explode with some kind of off-the-wall remark that makes me laugh so hard I cry, or pee my pants, or both.  And since he is the funniest human I’ve ever met, it gives me a special kind of joy when I can make HIM laugh.  Has our life together always been a barrel of monkeys?  Of course not.  Have we dealt with issues, tragedies, losses, illnesses and all the other not-fun stuff life is made of?  Definitely.  Has our ability to laugh made the not-fun stuff a little more bearable?  YES.

I know I come with a lot of baggage and I am no picnic to live with.  I can be stubborn, overly emotional, petty and selfish.  Sweet Pea has his hands pretty full with me.

Here’s the thing.  A good sense of humor speaks to all the other qualities that make my husband special and wonderful.  I think–and this is just me, I realize—that someone who’s genuinely funny also possesses strength, intelligence, compassion, generosity and warmth.  I think those qualities are prerequisites for real wit, real funny-ness.  Not just goofball funny, but loving-smart-strong-warm-funny.  I give thanks for a partner who embodies such attributes.

And as we begin another year of life together, I pray that I can be for him a fraction of the wonderful things he is for me…smart, strong and warm. Loving and kind and generous.  And not just Goofball Funny.


June 21, 1986.


June 21, 2016.


Best Friends


Too many kinds to count…

This week many people observed National Best Friends Day.  I think it’s a nice idea to recognize the value of friendship and to appreciate the people who add such richness to our lives.  It got me thinking about the many “best friends” I have enjoyed over the years…and why I can’t really say that I have ONE best friend.

There were the earliest friendships I enjoyed with my brother and cousins, before school started and we met all those other kids in our age group.  Even though I am not as closely in touch with my cousins as I’d like to be, they are in my heart always, and I would give any of them anything I could offer if they were in need and I could help.  We share memories, blood and decades of love.

Then came the school friends, those people outside my family circle, the ones I met and learned how much we had in common.  Those moments of discovering that we liked or disliked the same foods, or shared a favorite song or hobby, were the youthful foundations upon which some of my longest-time friendships were built.  I am still in touch with some of my grade-and-high-school friends on social media, and seeing how their lives have progressed to this point is both fun and rewarding.

The church and college friends began my deepest connections, ties that bind us across years and miles to this day.  My college graduating class has a milestone reunion coming up this fall at homecoming, and I look forward to seeing many of my classmates there to reminisce about our times in the dorm and the music building.  My roommates especially helped me bridge the transition between living at home with my parents and making a new home with my husband.  I crave in my heart to see Janet and Dana, and soon.  It has been WAY too long since the three of us have been together.

These days I am still making college friends through my connections as the Chapter Mother for Alpha Gamma Chapter of Delta Omicron International Music Fraternity at Carson-Newman University.  Getting to know these young student musicians and to encourage them has been my joy for almost 10 years now, and I hope to continue in this capacity for many years to come.  My musician friends come in all ages, shapes and sizes, with specialties ranging from voice and instruments to conducting and composing.  These friendships help me to continue growing as a musician and as a human.

I’m grateful that almost every job I’ve held has yielded one or two lasting friendships as well, and since I’ve worked in predominantly male environments, I refer to some of these fellows as my “work husbands”.  At my first TV job, there was only one other woman in my department, a top-notch board operator named Linda.  We referred to ourselves as The Gyno Mafia!  I have a dream team of current and former coworkers I would surround myself with if I ever had the chance to build my own company.  The combination of professional excellence and wacky humor makes work a lot more fun, and shared goals (and grievances!)  give us much to share.

So many other “best friends” come to mind.  Mama and The Aunts who wait for me in Heaven.  My precious husband, who, after nearly 30 years of marriage, is still my favorite person to spend time with.  And our beloved, goofy dogs, Ernie The Wonder Beagle (in Heaven) and Our Boy Roy, who has been part of our family for almost 9 years now.

So, who is my “best friend”, really?  They all are!  And if I spent the rest of my life counting the reasons I love them, I would never finish.


Happy Leap Day


Why it’s special to me…

My whole life I was blessed to have not one, but TWO, Uncle Johns.  Uncle John Flanigan married my precious Aunt Ruby, about whom I have written numerous times.  Uncle John Bryant married my larger-than-life Aunt Martha, about whom I have also shared memories here.  Uncle John Bryant was unique in several ways, not the least of which was his birthday, February 29, 1928.  Just as Mama’s July 4 birthday and Aunt Martha’s May 5 “Cinco de Martha” birthday seemed to foreshadow their personalities and idiosyncrasies, so did Uncle John’s Leap Day birthday.  He was without a doubt one of the most fun people in our family.


The above picture was made in 1971, with him and Aunt Martha all dressed up fancy for either an Eastern Star event or, more likely, a Lion’s Club function.  He was a longtime member/officer/President of his club in Knoxville, an organization which devotes itself to helping people with impaired vision and blindness.  One of the ties in my ugly necktie collection has a lion embroidered on it, and I think it might have been his.  The above picture also shows him the way I always think of him, goofing off and cutting up.

He and Aunt Martha were a huge influence on me as I grew up, especially in my love for dogs.  They never had human children, choosing instead to be dog parents, and the first dogs I ever remember getting to know belonged to them.  Very early in their marriage they raised a Fox Terrier named Trixie, but the only dogs I remember are Chihuahuas.  Susie was the first I remember, followed by Buffy and then Ginger.  (Chihuahuas and other small breeds have long life spans, so Aunt Martha and Uncle John’s dogs were with them for a long time, with the exception of Tina, of whom I have no pictures and Aunt Martha always swore that the vet killed.)





His way of showing affection was teasing.  For much of my childhood before Granny died, he and Aunt Martha would come over almost every Friday night, Susie, or later Buffy, in tow, wrapped in a little red flannel blanket (which I now own and sometimes put in Roy’s dog bed).  He was a big barrel of a man, about 6 feet, 4 inches in height and carrying all his weight around his waist.  He’d come ambling into the house laughing and saying, “What are you up to, Rastus?”  (I’m not sure where the name Rastus came from.  The only thing similar I’ve ever heard is the name Erastus in the Bible.)  His odd sense of humor became more finely honed once he went to work for the funeral home.  Those fellows developed an unusual sense of humor in response, I think, to the sadness they saw so much of the time, as well as to the frequent overnight shifts they worked.

Around Christmas every year, Aunt Martha would get her promotional funeral home calendars, share some with the kinfolks, and then mark her copy every three days for the nights Uncle John would be staying over at the mortuary on call.  Often, when his overnight fell on a Friday, I’d go and spend the night with her and the dog.  Sometimes those Friday overnights were when Mama, Aunt Ruby, “Mamaw” Allred and I would pile into the car and head up there for a late-into-the-night quilting party.  He was a bit superstitious about Friday the 13th, and when his overnights were on that date, Aunt Martha sometimes would call him and, in her best scary voice, remind him, “It’s Friday…the 13th!!!!!”

Sadly, I lost both of my Uncle Johns within about 6 months of each other.  Uncle John Bryant was semi-retired, and had gone in to work at the funeral home one chilly day in January, 1992, when he had a massive cerebral hemorrhage and was taken to Baptist Hospital, lasting for another 8 days but never to awaken.  Not long before he went into the hospital I remember telling a friend at my job how cool it was that in 1992 Uncle John would get to have another “real” birthday.  He spent that one and all the ones since in Heaven.  I spent his next to last night with him in the hospital, and he began what I now understand was the active dying stage while I was with him.  All I knew then was that the nurse said I should call Aunt Martha and have her come as soon as she could, but he held on for many hours after that.  I was not present for his death and that bothered me for a long time.  Now I know it just wasn’t meant for me to be there, and that’s OK.  I’ll see him again someday.

He loved the Tennessee Vols and the Lion’s Club.  He loved going to the 1982 World’s Fair and seeing all the sights there.  He loved to joke about retiring and opening up a hot dog stand outside Neyland Stadium and becoming a millionaire.  He loved to joke, period.  He loved the succession of little dogs that were part of his and Aunt Martha’s family, and they both passed that love of dogs down to me.  He loved Aunt Martha and her kinfolks.  And he loved me.



The Year Of The Soul Date


My one resolution for 2016…

I am one of those fossils who still uses a paper calendar/planner in my attempts to keep track of my life.  Years ago I developed a primitive yet effective system of color-coding my calendar in order to see at a glance what events are coming up.  Pink is for family and friend birthdays and anniversaries, orange for appointments like haircuts, doctor visits and the like, yellow for musical events such as concerts with my chorus and chorale, as well as events my college students are presenting.  And I chose purple for vacations and time off…things that feed my soul.

This year I was a few days late in purchasing my calendar, and while filling in my dates and color coding them, I had to backtrack a few days to a dinner date I had with my friend Marc earlier in the week.  I don’t know why I never color coded things like this, impromptu or planned-in-advance get-togethers with friends and kinfolks, but I have decided to make a more deliberate effort this year to document these moments as well, in purple, because they feed my soul as much as vacations do.  I have decided that 2016 is going to be The Year Of The Soul Date.

My Soul Date with Marc consisted of dinner at a local Asian restaurant, and wonderful conversation.  The dinner we enjoyed was delicious and healthy…and then, dessert happened!  We thought we would be sharing a simple piece of chocolate cake…and then this behemoth slab of fudge-rich decadence as big as a human head appeared at our table.


We were unable to finish it, and neither of us dared take it home for fear of the damage it might do if we ate more!  This cake is big enough for several people to share…as a meal!

What was my point…?  Oh yeah, The Soul Date.  My hope/goal/resolution for this year is to have a weekly Soul Date.  I need time and space to connect with the people in my life who matter…as well as time to be alone and replenish my emotional and spiritual resources.  My lifelong friend Mary K went on a retreat at a convent this past week, and I am eager to find out what benefits that time will have for her.  I was a little envious of the quiet I knew she would experience there!

I think a Soul Date can happen anywhere…over dinner, in a bookstore, with friends or in solitude.  While my primary focus is to spend time with people who bring me joy, I also hope to do some solitary activities that will recharge my batteries.  Maybe a spa visit, or an afternoon in a park listening to my favorite music, or walking a labyrinth (I’ve never done that before but I’ve always been intrigued by the idea).  A lot of my friends are enjoying the new “adult coloring books”, either the paper kind or the online variety.  Jeff and I have not taken a weekend cabin trip in a long time, and we should make an escape sooner rather than later!

Here’s the thing.  I figure that if I take the time to recharge my emotional batteries and feed my soul, I will have more to offer to the world around me.  And my prayer for these Soul Dates is that, as I get my own soul fed, I am also able to feed the souls of the people with whom I share the time.


The First Friends


And the blessings of a large extended family…

Mama was the youngest of 9 children, and Dad was the youngest of 6.  With that many aunts and uncles, most of whom had some kids, I’ve got cousins in abundance, some on Dad’s side whom I’ve never even met.  And many of my cousins are clustered fairly close together in age, which means most of us are in or approaching our 50s.  It hardly seems possible that we’re adults, let alone eligible for senior discounts!

A bit of wisdom shows up on social media from time to time which states, “Cousins are the first friends we have”.  My history seems to agree with this statement.  Before going to school or to Sunday school, my cousins were part of my life.  And even though our lives have taken us far afield from one another, we are family.  We share history, DNA and many of the same memories.

Our lives are busy, though, and it’s difficult for us to get together.  Even the bunch of us who live in the same city don’t manage to see each other very often.  And frankly, I’m just in closer touch with some of them than with others.  Social media has been a real blessing,  enabling us to have at least a little glimpse into each other’s daily lives and activities.  I enjoy seeing what my cousins are doing, and what their children (my 2nd and 3rd cousins!) are up to.

About this time last year, I had the chance to spend a day with my Aunt Helen and my cousin Lisa, as well as sharing a meal with Lisa’s brother Mike and his daughter Haley.  During the course of our visit, Lisa shared an old photograph with me.  I think it is the only one in existence with this configuration of the cousins all together, and it’s a treasure I am thrilled to have.  The picture was made at Lisa’s 8th birthday party, and I can only imagine the effort it took to get all of us kids to be still long enough to snap it!

Today another member of our group celebrates a milestone birthday, entering the world of senior discounts and AARP mailers.  I don’t think of us that way though, at least, not most of the time.  I think of those long summer nights playing Fox & Hounds, birthday parties with homemade ice cream, Barbies and army men and that old Fisher-Price barn that moo’ed when you opened the door.

I think of how young we were.  How young we always will be, if only in memory.





Lost arts, letter scraps and putting pen to paper…

I read somewhere recently that many schools are no longer teaching cursive handwriting to their students, and I was flabbergasted that the world has come to this!  While the advent of computers and word processing has changed the landscape of written language, it seems to me that cursive handwriting is still a valuable skill to have in one’s communications arsenal, if for no other reason than developing a distinctive signature for legal documents.  For me, though, it goes far beyond the need for a signature.  I believe that cursive handwriting, whether it is especially beautiful or not, is needed for civility and a personal touch in communication.

I’ve been on a bit of a pilfering jag lately around the house, and as is usually the case, I haven’t always found the thing I originally went looking for, but I’ve found other things I had no idea were in my possession.  It’s like Christmas finding such wonderful surprises!  For at least a decade, Dad has been asking me if I had the recipe for Mama’s Sherry Cake, and I always told him I didn’t think so, but if I found it I’d let him know.  A couple of weeks ago in my search for something I didn’t find, I came across a treasure trove of old recipes, including Mama’s Sherry Cake.  I gave it a try and took the resulting cake to Dad and Carole’s for them to try and see if it was anything like Dad remembered.  It was a yummy taste of nostalgia, although Dad and I both seemed to remember a thicker coating of glaze on top, and we decided that Mama must have double-glazed the cake and didn’t write that part down.  I’ll try that next time I make it.  And there WILL be a next time.  It was delicious!


Seeing her handwriting on that slip of ruled paper, the kind she always kept around the house for letters and lists and recipes, brought me back to the days when I was young, she was healthy and life was simple.  Typewritten documents, as neat and easy to read as they are, lack personality and don’t provide that sense of nostalgia.  My fear is that writing things down is becoming a lost art, and that future generations literally won’t know how to write their names, because writing things by hand will have become obsolete.


I make it a point to write letters to people now and then, because I think it’s important to do so, especially to convey to them that I love them, that they are special and they matter to me.  I have boxes filled with notes, cards and letters from people in my life, past and present, people who took the time to write something down by hand and send it to me.  The recipes are another precious source of insight into the people I have loved, memories of food and caring shared among us.


Computer-processed documents have their place, of course.  I don’t dispute that.  But I will always believe in the importance of handwritten communication, letters, notes, recipes and the kind of one-on-one exchange that only happens when we put pen to paper.  So, be checking your mailbox.  There might just be a letter from me in there…  an honest-to-God, snail-mail, handwritten letter.  I might even include a recipe!


Sock It To Me


A Mustang, a honeymoon and a surprise

Saturday, June 21, 1986, Sweet Pea and I got married and started our crazy adventure of life together.  His car at the time was a 1977 (I think) brown Toyota Corolla station wagon which, while it got him from point A to point B, was not a fancy machine and, at the time, I think the air conditioning might not have been working.  For whatever reasons, we took Pop Cutshaw’s newer, more comfortable white Mustang on our honeymoon.

Our wedding ceremony began at 4 pm and it was about 6 pm by the time we left the church, so, as planned, we drove to Asheville that night and then made the rest of the trip to Myrtle Beach the next day.  I don’t really remember all that much about the drive, except how much fun it was to be taking our first trip together and the excitement of being newlyweds.  And I don’t remember whether/how much I slept while we were on the road.  (I’ve had a long history of not being much use on road trips because I have trouble staying awake.  Traveling with the dog helps keep me from sleeping an entire day’s drive away!)

And I don’t remember what sent me scrounging through the glove compartment of Pop Cutshaw’s car that Saturday evening as we headed toward Asheville and the first leg of our honeymoon.  Maybe we needed a map, or I was looking to stash some small object.  I don’t remember why I went in there.

But I remember what I found.

“Reckon why your Daddy has a sock stuck in here?”

“A sock?  I have no idea…”

It was tied at the opening and when I pulled it out, it was heavy and it jingled and jangled like a tambourine band.

“Oh my gosh!  It’s full of coins!”

I untied it to discover that it was filled with mostly quarters, LOTS of them.  And there was a scrap of paper.



“I thought you might need some change.  Have a happy holiday.  Love, Dad.”

I don’t know that most people would have described Pop Cutshaw as a particularly sentimental person…and his gesture might have been  motivated more by common sense than the “warm-fuzzies”.  He was probably thinking we’d need money to do laundry at the end of the week, drinks out of a vending machine or that Jeff might want to play some arcade games once we came up for air!  Dads tend to be practical people, after all.

All I know is that his thoughtfulness touched both of us to our cores.  Such a fun, sweet surprise!  Finding that coin-filled sock in those early hours of our marriage was the moment I fell in love with my new father-in-law.

Glass, Brick And Mortar


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.


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



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.



The Comfort/Sanity/Happiness Kit


Because we all need our marbles…

I enjoy giving goofball presents to people who appreciate my sense of humor and understand the spirit behind the gift.  Gag gifts between me and Reed at Christmas happen from time to time, although it is not an annual occurrence.  He started it when we were kids and he bought me a Chia Pet.  Over the ensuing years various crazy presents have passed between us, such as monkey dishes (I gave him a set the year after he presented me with a monkey lamp), bright pink slip-on sandals from him that decorated my office wall back when I had an office, and an extremely ugly “giggle jug” lamp that I gave him which had a goofy smiling face on one side and a frowny, but hilarious, face on the other.  My crowning goofball gift to him happened the Christmas I was able to obtain a beauty school head that a friend’s sister-in-law had worked with as she completed her training to be a hairstylist.  Score!  It was by far the goofiest gift I have ever given to Reed, or to anybody for that matter.  One Christmas, Reed overwhelmed me with 4 additions to my ugly necktie collection!  I actually wear my outrageous ties now and then, so this gift was priceless.

I have been working on an idea for a comfort/sanity/happiness kit to give to friends and family who need one or all of those things, especially in times of sadness or stress.  It would contain things like bubble wrap for stress relief (who doesn’t LOVE to pop bubble wrap?!  Again, when I had an office, I kept bubble wrap in it to work off my frustration);  A Slinky, for the soothing sound it makes as it passes from one hand to the other; and some jingle bells for those moments when a little music is needed.image

And definitely some marbles.  Who among us doesn’t occasionally feel like we have lost our marbles?  The gift of marbles assures the recipient that, no, you haven’t lost your marbles, because right here they are!




The comfort/sanity/happiness kit might contain other items like bubble bath or a scented candle, a mix CD of music tailored for the recipient (a few people still actually use CDs, I think!), a book the recipient might like, a special snapshot, a recipe, or a jar of bubble-stuff to blow bubbles at the world. It’s a lot better to spread bubbles than profanity (although, I’ve been known to spread both!).  The only limit to the kit is one’s imagination and the desires/tastes/needs of the person who will receive it.

What would be in YOUR comfort/sanity/happiness kit?

The contents of mine would vary day by day…but I would always want, and need…

My marbles.



The Mystic Chords Of Memory


Music, moments and bringing Mama along…

I have just returned from what can only be described as the adventure of a lifetime.  Knoxville Choral Society took a group of singers to New York City to premiere local composer John Purifoy’s “Chronicles of Blue and Gray” at Carnegie Hall!  We met up with several other choruses from around the United States to rehearse for a couple of days and gel ourselves into a unified chorus to perform this masterpiece, the first major work of its kind in choral literature in that it commemorates the Civil War period of American history.  Knoxville Choral Society commissioned this work in honor of our esteemed conductor and artistic director, Dr. Eric “Doc” Thorson.  Without him, and the desire of so many people to honor him, this work would not exist and our Carnegie Hall pilgrimage to premiere it for the New York audience likely would never have happened.  John Purifoy’s labor of love in crafting this poignant and moving work has touched many people and I pray that it will touch many more for generations to come.  It deserves to be heard my as many people, in as many places, as possible.

There are so many moments from the trip that I will always remember, the first being a “wow” moment in my ongoing weight loss journey.  For the first time ever, I flew in planes where the seat belts not only fit around me but had room to spare.  As large as I was, for as long as I was, this was a huge relief.


I made the acquaintance of a number of our singers I did not know before (and who are now Facebook friends as well, so we can continue getting to know one another better).  I am short, so I generally sit down front and don’t see a lot of the people behind me. That will change when we start back for the fall.  I will venture out of my section more and try to be more social.  And several people I knew casually became wonderful friends on this trip.  My friends Jenny and Jere graciously welcomed me on their pilgrimage to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, my one for-sure bucket list item. As we walked around that magnificent place, I was astonished at the beauty even amid all the scaffolding there right now for renovation.  And my friends stood by as I lit a candle and offered a prayer in that sacred space.  We stayed for mass as well, my first Roman Catholic mass ever.  And at St. Patrick’s to boot!  Even a sarcastic varmint like me can find holiness in a place like that, and since it was our first night there, it helped to set the tone for the rest of the trip for me.


I serve as Chapter Mother for Alpha Gamma Chapter of Delta Omicron International Music Fraternity at  Carson-Newman University, my alma mater and the chapter I was initiated into as a college student.  Two of my Delta Omicron students made the trip with us. Katie Brown and her mother came and sang, and it did my heart good to see a mother and daughter joining together for this experience, even as I missed my own precious Mama.  Katie Jo O’Neal came as well and I had the pleasure of sharing a hotel room with her.  She and I really had the chance to get to know each other, for which I will forever be grateful.  We are goofball kindred spirits, bonded together by music, faith and humor.  Seeing young musicians grow and stretch makes my heart swell with pride.


(Katie Jo, me and Katie Brown—I’m the filling in the middle of a Katie sandwich and it’s awesome!)

Katie Jo and I shared a room with Rebecca, a lovely woman who was a pleasure to get to know.  She and I shared some wonderful, meaningful talks in the evenings while Katie Jo was still out and about town.  We more “mature” ladies tended to return to the room earlier to settle in for the night!  Also, we need to take “selfie” lessons from Katie Jo, the undisputed master of the art form!


(Selfie fail with Rebecca)


(The Roomies)


Another mother-daughter team made the trip as well, my friend “Queen” Elizabeth Partridge and her sweet Mama, Susan.  Susan did not sing with us but she enjoyed the trip plenty, sightseeing, shopping and graciously sharing a couple of meals and a lovely carriage ride around Central Park.  It was so sweet to see their relationship, and it made me wonder what mine would be like with Mama if she were still here.  I’d like to think we would get along as well as Elizabeth and Susan do.  It was generous of Elizabeth to share her Mama with us.


(Elizabeth, Susan, Katie Jo and me)


(Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mother Susan)

Elizabeth has lost a significant amount of weight in the last year as well, and another bucket list thing I wanted to do was get all dolled up in our Bombshell dresses and have a night out for dessert.  (I know, it’s paradoxical.  Don’t judge me.)  A little treat now and then is not only OK, it’s necessary.  We were completely overdressed, but we went to Junior’s Cheesecakes for dessert and sashayed in like we owned the place.  Dessert was delicious and the company was delightful!  Afterward we walked around, shopping and taking in the sights, sounds and aromas of the Theatre DIstrict and Hell’s Kitchen.  We both enjoyed playing dress-up and, if I do say so myself, we cleaned up pretty well.  And another “wow” moment was that we walked around for about an hour and a half, and I was wearing heels! Before surgery and weight loss, that would have been unthinkable.


I shared a story with John, the composer, when the idea of a trip to Carnegie Hall was just being discussed, over a year ago.  Back when Mama was still with us, Knoxville Choral Society talked about a very slim chance of taking a trip there.  When I mentioned it to Mama, she was over the moon with excitement.  She said, “If you all take a group up there, you HAVE GOT to go!  Daddy and I will help you pay for the trip, whatever needs to happen, if you have a chance to go to Carnegie Hall, you’ve got to do it!”  That trip ended up never happening.  In the ensuing years Mama became ill and died, I let singing go for many years and that dream was all but forgotten.  

Flash forward 20-some years to now, when I finally made it to Carnegie Hall.  I told John and numerous other people I’d be bringing Mama with me the only way I could—her picture in my folder as I sang.  I carried her and others along as well: Sweet Pea and Our Boy Roy, Aunt Ruby, “Doc”, who for several reasons did not make the trip with us, and Dr. Teague, my college voice teacher.  But Mama was the one who held the Carnegie Hall dream in her heart.  We finally made it.  

On concert day, John and I spoke before we entered the hall and he reminded me of my story and asked to see Mama’s picture.  I was humbled that he remembered such a detail on what had to be one of the most monumental days of his life!  And I was proud to show him my folder and all the people I brought along.




Mama was with me.  She is always with me.  We are indeed surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses”, as John and I reminded each other before the concert.  Mothers and daughters, the ones together on Earth and the ones separated briefly between here and Heaven…musicians past, present and future…the bonds of faith…the melody of music and the harmony of humor…the mystic chords of memory.