i wrote this column below for The Lebanon Democrat as the year was about to roll over into 2010, eight years ago. Change has continued both in Lebanon, Tennessee, and the Southwest corner. The column seems as applicable to today, if not more so in both places.
i remember Lebanon as a small country town where from the time i was in the first grade, i could walk to pretty much anywhere i wanted to go, by myself or with a friend, when West Main was a two-lane road that became Nashville Pike somewhere around West End Heights. Big houses lined that street where strip malls, car dealerships, franchise stores, and fast food places now reign. When the Snow White Drive-In had a gravel parking lot, when folks i knew would go parking on Maple Hill Road and Billy Goat Hill. Where Castle Heights cadets would march to churches on Sunday morning in formation and in uniform. Where on that same Sunday afternoon, those same cadets would march on the parade field, which was really the football and track field with the glorious old trees lining the two-lane (barely) entry road to those magnificent buildings at the crest of the hill of which only about three or four are left and now are the city’s headquarters, a restaurant, and two that hold memories of those cadets gone.
The world was simpler then, perhaps because i was not an adult.
i remember San Diego when i could leave for my ships in the morning around seven and get to the Naval Station through the heart of downtown. There would be several cars out by then, but i could get to work, get organized, read the message board full of radio messages, and even have a bite to eat in the wardroom before quarters at 7:55 long before the freeways (if in “free” you don’t count frustration and the cost of the time it now takes) now requiring leaving around 5:30 when the traffic is still bumper to bumper but not nearly as bad as it will get in ten or fifteen minutes and where a twenty-minute commute turns into an hour. On the downtown waterfront, the Navy had a gym, a track, a swimming pool and at least four playing fields where now stands, climbing Babel-like to the sky, an uncountable number of high rises where millennials and more rich people than i can imagine buy million dollar condos and pay association fees double our mortgage and then those condo owners bitch about the train whistling in the middle of the night when it roars through downtown and by requirement blows it whistles at the road crossings right next to where the complainers bought the condos in the high rise with absolutely no clue trains do that sort of thing.
Politics has gone from divisive to insanity. There are enough regulations for me to wonder if i spit on the grass will i be ticketed. A 100,000 acre ranch near our home is now occupied by four or five massive developments and four huge malls with massive stores and high prices. So sometime in this next year, i want to head back home and have another dinner with the friends of my youth. Maybe, just maybe, we won’t talk about change, but about how we are doing, what we are planning, recalling wonderful moments from our past, and where all our children and grandchildren are…wait, that’s change also.
Oh hell, maybe that’s all right. After all, not all change is bad.
Times of Change
Tennessee in general and Lebanon in particular is not only a Christmas escape for me; it is a place to reflect on change. This year, the change, past, present, and future, seems more palpable.
Often, we refuse to accept change as inevitable. We spend post-Christmas creating New Year Resolutions, which we usually blow off in a week or so.
Just before Christmas, my wife and I shared a dinner at the Chop House with special folks. Change joined us for the evening.
Growing up, I spent almost as much time at the home of Henry Harding; his maternal grandparents, J. J. and Maude Arnold; and his parents, George and Virginia Harding, as I did at my own home. Henry remains my “best” friend. He and his wife Brenda joined us.
The couples troika was completed by Eddie and Brenda Callis. Eddie has been a close friend since we met in high school as sports competitors from Castle Heights and Lebanon High School. Brenda’s father, Jim Horn Hankins, recruited my father to work for at Hankins and Smith Motor Company in 1939, and they became partners in the late 1950’s. So Brenda and I have known each other pretty much all of our lives.
We spoke of families, children, grandchildren, and parents. We spoke of friends. We spoke of adventures growing up and shared stories of places we have been.
Essentially we talked about change.
We talked amidst change itself. My sister, Martha Duff, had played in this structure, now the Chop House, with her friend Kay Lucas, when it was the Castle Heights superintendent’s home, and Ralph Lucas served in that position.
Down the road, my mother played with the son of the original occupants of the Mitchell House, which Danny Evans so graciously renovated for Cracker Barrel’s headquarters. Further down on the original Castle Heights Avenue is the house my parents bought in 1942 when it was one of only two or three houses on the street and where they lived for sixty-one years.
On the dining area wall hung a picture of my brother, Joe, attired in a Heights jersey. A photo of me at the 1962 graduation dance hung in the opposite quarter. The placement was appropriate. Joe and I always seem to end up in opposite corners even in choice of homes: Joe in Vermont, me in the Southwest corner. We often reflect on how we have managed change differently.
At my age, change seems more important. I long for what use to be, overlooking the negative aspects of the past. The past seems more poignant. The need to share memories with my family, especially the new grandson, is strong.
Change is never what we expect it to be. The 1950’s predictions for the next century are comical looking at them from this end. Sometimes change is better than expected. Sometimes change is worse.
Growth, i.e. change, in Middle Tennessee is small compared to San Diego. A community of 100,000 has grown up about three miles south of our home since a large ranch estate was settled in 1995. The expansion of developments may soon extend to the Cleveland National Forest to the east.
The increase in population has produced traffic congestion. Water supply is more tenuous than ever. Utility rates have risen dramatically. Housing costs are astronomical. Politics has become more profitable and more divisive.
The plus side is convenience in shopping and dining. The developments are rife with parks, walking trails, nearby modern schools, and an increase in services.
When I see change in Lebanon, I winch with concern it may drive away many of the things in Lebanon I hold dear. However, it seems to me Lebanon has managed change pretty well since I left for the Navy in 1967. Good change without destruction of the past appears to have been the rule.
Dining with my life-long friends, it occurred to me they (and you folks who live here) have permanent connection to the past, which might explain the change management of the community. The sense of community is not strong in the Southwest corner. Change seems more precocious, more uncontrollable there.
Before this article is published, I will be back in the Southwest corner, attempting to manage change positively. If all goes well, I will return to Middle Tennessee several times in the next twelve months and find change continues to be positive here.
It’s a nice place to come home to. I hope that never changes.