I took a few days this past week and headed down to see my parents in Tennessee. After all the traveling I've been lucky enough to do, I still think it's one of the prettiest parts of the world.
That's not actually their porch. That's the porch of Mrs Luzell Oldham, about a half mile down the road from my parents' house. Mrs Oldham died a couple of years ago. I only met her once or twice, and her house stands empty still. Her husband, Kindred, had passed away a few years before, and they're buried together just a mile or so further down the road in the Pleasant Shade cemetery. They had 5 kids (one named Prentice. I love southern names) and were married a bit less than 70 years.
One of those kids still comes by and mows the lawn and keeps the place up, though it sits empty and the porch swing & rockers unused.
I always swung by the house as I walked and said hi to the memories that porch must hold.
Every morning I'd get up and go for a walk. You can walk a pretty long way without seeing anyone back in the hollows between the hills. (I hit a personal best on my Fitbit - more than 21,000 steps in a day). I'd startle mother deer and their spotted fawns. I saw a lot of rabbits. I nearly shat myself when I came with a couple of feet of stepping on a large-ish blacksnake. He didn't look too pleased either.
Sometimes I'd convince my mother to walk with me. She's about to turn 69, and is in physically pretty terrific shape. You know. For 69. After a mile or so, she'd start to get a little less enthusiastic, but then I'd show her another crushed can on the side of the road, and she'd hurry over and pick it up, and make me jam it down into the cargo pocket of my shorts. By the time we turned around and headed back to the house on one walk, I clattered and clinked with every step. But the road was a little cleaner, and she had a few pounds more metal to go to the recycling. She donates all the recycling money to some children's cause. And she takes great pleasure in both the giving, and in the swearing at the people crass enough to throw their empty cans onto the side of the road.
She's a lady of contrasts, my mother is.
I managed to round up all of the family that lives there for a great meal in Nashville. I told them to meet at noon, and we'd drive together into try out the new location of Husk. This was the restaurant we went to in Charleston that taught me how to eat a good pig's ear. I was excited that they had opened a new location in Nashville, which is within a reasonable distance of my parents' home. About 90 minutes. My sister-in-law and her kids joined, along with my parents. They thought I was crazy, but I explained that I've driven a lot further than that for a good meal.
Husk didn't disappoint. There were no pigs' ears on the menu for lunch, but I ordered enough ember-roasted bone marrow for the table. It came along with White Lily biscuits, a ramp remoulade and a sweet onion jam.
I added an entree of shrimp & grits and a couple of old fashioned cocktails made with a bourbon I hadn't tried before. Angel's Envy - which is aged in port barrels for a really smooth, sweet finish.
I texted my Bride photos of my food just to make her jealous. Because I am a good husband that way.
Lots of people make shrimp & grits. But most make it pretty poorly. This was finished with a light, fresh tomato broth and a poached egg, which gave the dish a great balance and flavor. It didn't feel heavy, but it was still sumptuous. Absolutely perfect way to spend the afternoon with family.
I had to text my Bride because I was down in Tennessee on my own. The kids were just finishing up summer camp, and they had all been out to California earlier in the season. And this trip was mostly to check in on the health of my parents, and sort out any of the long term conversations. The ones that are really quite necessary, but really aren't any fun to plan. Who's taking care of what if health declines for one or both. Where are the records and necessary documents that need to be dealt with. Is the stuff you want done written down, and who knows where to find it. I think we all feel a little better for having had the opportunity to have the conversations while they're unnecessary, to know that when those decisions are upon us, they're as clear as they they can be made.
But as much as anything, I just enjoyed the chance to hang out with my parents again for a few days. We mowed the lawn. We went to the county Ag show (more on that later). We ate good food. We laughed at good stories. We worried a bit about what's to come. We talked about who was still around and who had passed on. We reminisced a bit. We enjoyed each other's company.
And we took walks.