Girls Only: Nashville

Photo Nashville

It was actually JC’s* Idea. Since Mr. Wiz* and Big A* would be totally absorbed in the Formula One Races in Austin for the weekend, she thought it would be a great idea to introduce my sister, Maria, and me to the Nashville she had fallen in love with on her first visit.

The capital of Tennessee, Nashville, seems to be changing its tune. Still known as the Country Music Capital and as Dolly Parton’s stomping ground, there’s now an energetic hum to the city.

It was one of seven U.S. cities to be chosen to begin a Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Hub Network. Innovative companies are finding its environs a less expensive, friendlier alternative. Foodies flock there in search of the next great new restaurant. New luxury hotels are springing up while historic buildings and neighborhoods are being revitalized. The city’s new slick sophistication remains in harmony with its long-standing southern charm and welcomes you with open arms.

We can’t wait to put on our cowboy boots and see the town, but it’s too early to check in to our hotel. We leave our luggage at the front desk and decide to reconnoiter in the lobby and plan our day. As we are chatting, we notice a well-dressed woman walk toward two of our suitcases, grab their handles and start walking out the front door of the hotel.

JC and Maria sprang to action! They jumped up and ran after the woman, who halted immediately when she heard Maria yell “…Hold it right there! …” There is something about a New York accent that means business. As little girls growing up in a suburb of New York City, we were trained to always be attentive to what was going on around us and to take care of ourselves. On our 18th birthday, our dad gave each of us Mace spray in the size of a lipstick container to carry in our handbags; an emotional right of passage that gave my dad great comfort in knowing that messing with his daughters would result in stinging eyes and being splashed with blue dye.

Apparently, I was the only one that noticed the well-dressed woman’s name tag. So, as the third member of this Keystone Cops comedy, I began running behind them to make sure that they did not tackle the hotel’s manager.

While it took us two days to be able to make eye contact with the hotel staff, our convulsive laughter set the tone for a great time together. Surprised, yet undaunted to find out that neither Maria nor I had any sense of direction (what other sisterly secrets would be revealed?)  JC took over the navigating and we were off.

We enjoyed a free outdoor big band concert at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. We were startled by the sweet-faced youth of Johnny Cash while he was stationed in Europe during World War II in a special exhibit of private photos shared by his family at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Germantown, originally established by European immigrants, has the same vibe as New York’s Greenwich Village and we still cannot decide which entrée was our favorite at Henrietta Red: the braised lamb with pole beans and polenta, the scallops with pistachios, beets, Granny Smith apples, kale and couscous or the cauliflower steak smothered with hazelnut, scallions, shitake mushrooms and nicoise olives.

According to JC, there were two things not to be missed while in Nashville: a mansion tour and an evening at the Grand Ole Opry and she surprised us by planning both. How President Andrew Jackson progressed from a 14-year old orphan to a man of so many accomplishments made his mansion, Hermitage, even more impressive. Though built around the same time, its décor was so much more modern than the Victorian design of the Belle Meade plantation. Known for its horse breeding, racing and deer farm, the original 5400-acre estate became a tourist attraction. So much so that on occasional Sunday mornings, the lady of the house would sneak out and post a hand written closed sign on the front gates for some needed peace and quiet. Touring the homes, then having the time to walk the grounds made the docents’ stories come alive.

It was a Tuesday night and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house at the Grand Ole Opry. A new band, Lanco, was introduced and we wondered how they felt playing for the first time on that famous stage. We tapped our feet and sang along with Trisha Yearwood and Kelsea Ballerini and were surprised to see all 4 foot 6 inches of special guest, Brenda Lee “strut her stuff” around the stage.

One of Nashville’s biggest draws are the country music honky-tonks on Broadway. While many cities have an area where bars and restaurants line the streets and the musicians play loudly on a stage, open to their patrons inside and to the street, Nashville does it with a style all their own. It’s more fun than seedy and everyone from families to seniors to bachelorette parties and every age group in between share in the revelry.

We seemed to be drawn to Nudie’s Honky Tonk daily. Named after Nudie Cohn, a famous clothing designer (think Elvis’ gold lame suit), the historic building houses many of the costumes Nudie designed, rare music memorabilia and Nudie’s $400,000 Cadillac El Dorado hanging from the wall. But, it was the music and the great bands that transfixed us. We danced and sang at night and then found ourselves back during the day. By the way, each time we’d arrive, JC was quickly led to the dance floor by another admirer!

Only in Nashville can you be sitting on a park bench one minute and then see Kenny Rogers ride right by you in a golf cart the next. We agreed that was a great way to end our visit. We chalked up our newfound feeling of relaxation and our mother/daughter/sister bonding to all that dancing and to singing “Sweet Home Alabama” multiple times together at the top of our lungs. Those southerners really know how to have a good time.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

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A Mother’s Day Bouquet of Insights

Photo Mothers Day

Dear Mom,

I realized that you were smart when I was unsure of Santa Claus and you sat me down and asked me if I truly believed that the entire U.S. Postal Service had time to pretend (still has me thinking).

I realized you were savvy when you said you loved avocadoes at my 6th grade Home Economics Mexican Luncheon (back then, no one knew what they were).

I realized you were cosmopolitan when, in high school, you took me to New York City and knew your way around. We went to Greenwich Village and the Upper East Side and I remember deciding that day that I would be an “uptown girl” rather than a hippie.

I realized you were my mentor when, much to the dismay of my great aunts, you suggested that a career in business, rather than teaching, better suited my personality. That one suggestion changed my life.

I realized you were fashionable when I’d see you looking great each day, dressed up and make up on, even when you were going out to do errands. You always told me “…If you’ve got it, flaunt it…”

I realized that you were sophisticated when I noticed that you could initiate a conversation with anyone you were introduced to. You are aware of everything around you and have a sense of adventure, a love of travel and that spark, that spunk that makes people want to be around you.

I realized that you were my hero when I would see you direct our family with a wonderful sense of humor and grace through life’s ups and downs. Knowing all there is to know about each of us, you have a way of gently suggesting, rather than pushing or scolding.

I realized that you were a great mother when I became a mother myself and could see just what it took to help a child develop, learn and grow.

I realized that you were my best girlfriend when I knew that you were someone that I really loved spending time with.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Mother, Daughter & A Soul Bearing Secret

Photo Teddy

It was Christmas morning and JC* was ten years old. Back then, it wasn’t unusual for children to expect only one gift awaiting them under the tree (how that exploded into the shopping and gift giving frenzy of today is a topic for another post). The fact that she was living with her grandmother since her parent’s divorce did not seem to impact her celebration. She was an independent, resilient child and Nana was always fun to be with.

Nana finally awoke and the celebration began. The fast process of unwrapping only meant that JC had more time to play with her gift: a beautiful, white teddy bear. It was love at first sight and for the next couple of days she spent day and night with her new friend. JC thought she was the luckiest little girl in the world to have only white teddy bear in the world. In part, she was correct; teddy bears, which were first produced in the early 1900’s, were named in honor of Theodore Roosevelt and were usually brown.

It was a day later that Nana mentioned that JC’s aunt and cousin were unexpectedly coming to visit for the day. …’’I don’t have a gift for your cousin, Ruthie. She’s about your age, so let’s just give her your teddy bear and I promise we’ll get another one for you tomorrow…”.

Before she could react, the doorbell rang and a few minutes later, her teddy bear was in the arms of Ruthie, a bratty little girl that she remembered not liking the last time she had met her. Prompted by her mom, Ruthie mumbled a quick thank you, threw teddy on the couch and ran outside to play. JC’s lips quivered as teddy left the house that day, being dragged on the ground and then thrown into the trunk of the car.

Nana kept her word and the next day they were up and dressed early to go teddy bear shopping, downtown. She always made outings special and this time announced they would first stop at the bakery for a sweet bun. Fortified, they traveled from store to store, only to find no white teddy bears in stock. Finally, Nana decided they needed to settle on a brown teddy bear and made the purchase. JC tried, but could never play with that brown teddy. The crushing feeling of disappointment left her with a lump in her throat and a pain in the pit of her stomach that never really went away.

All these years later, these memories would come to the surface and take hold of her. She found herself sharing this story with family and friends, as if re-telling it over and over would somehow free her. Why was there a white and a brown teddy bear all of a sudden sitting on JC’s bed? They looked out of place against the sleek sophistication of the modern décor. It happened they were recent gifts, lovely gestures- the white one from her daughter-in-law and the brown one from a male friend, who like Nana settled for a brown teddy when no white ones were available.

A couple of weeks later, after enjoying dinner together, JC all of a sudden, teared up and confided in me that the adorable duo were wreaking havoc on her emotions. Each time she entered her bedroom, she would go back in time and re-live her parent’s divorce, bouncing back and forth from her grandmother to her aunt’s homes, the quiet strength that she wore like armor. She couldn’t just give them away, but realized they had to go…, but where?

The answer came to me immediately. When I dropped her off that night, I brought the teddy bears home with me. Now named Blanca and Castaña (the words white and brown in Spanish), they are delicately wrapped up and awaiting their introduction to JC’s great- grandchildren, along with the story about their spunky, resilient great-grandmother who was tough enough to endure all of life’s heartbreaks and smart enough to know when it was time to bear her soul and let go of the past.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

Like Mother Like Daughter: The Art of the Zeal

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New year’s eve, 2010: It was when she put his hat on to start her song that his jaw dropped. That was the night her old family friend professed his undying love for her and proposed marriage (she politely declined). That was the night that I knew *JC could still “knock ‘em dead.”

Nothing could squelch her spunk. When her parents divorced, the independent little girl would cheerfully bloom wherever she was planted; whether it was with her eccentric aunt or her doting grandmother. Her childhood stories always entertain: riding on the running board of her dad’s car, collecting eggs from the chickens, playing cowboys and Indians with the three dogs, trying every one of the 24 ice cream flavors at Thompkins.

The night she met the handsome Latin from Manhattan (my dad), they had both decided to go out alone for a change, bored with the same old places their friends would usually dance. They both headed to Roseland, a top club of the day. She had inherited her moxie from her mom, whose advice she would remember when heading home back to New Jersey late at night: always walk near the street, not the buildings.

Their dance lasted 53 years, unfortunately interrupted by his cancer. In between, she rode the ups and downs of all his dreams and schemes as if on a bucking bronco, holding on and never willing to let go. At 5 feet 6 inches tall, my dad made up for his stature by living life large, always cognizant of his humble beginnings. Four children later and with a construction company of his own, our lives were still filled with the spontaneity of their youth; food and music always seemed to evolve into a party.

She remembered everything he had told her. His business acumen had rubbed off on JC and she was much more savvy than she was given credit for. This would come in handy as she maneuvered through life without him.

I can’t remember when she wasn’t the yin to my yang. Even though we were both born under the sign of Cancer, our personalities differ. It’s a symbiotic bond: I keep her organized and on track and she helps me loosen up and go with the flow. She always sees the glass as half full. I do too, but… Is it the proper glass to serve in? Is it clean? Do we have enough for company?

JC has put up with a lot from me through the years, softening the hard edges of my Type A personality, as only a mother can do. I can honestly say that if it weren’t for her, I would not be the person I am today. My style (If you’ve got it, flaunt it), my sense of humor (when you are feeling down, sing “Who Put the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder”) and my medical knowledge (drink water backward to get rid of the hiccups) are all thanks to JC.

How does she do it? I still am learning from her every day. There is something about living with a curiosity for life, with a spirit that renders you ageless, with that “…Fiddle Dee Dee, I’ll think about it tomorrow…” attitude that Scarlet O’Hara had in “Gone with the Wind,” with a continual excitement over even the smallest aspects in life that are contagious.

Helping each other steer through any obstacles, “JC and Me” is a force to reckon with. We have been known to outwit an unsuspecting opponent in zany situations (a la “I Love Lucy”). What would Lucy have been without Ethel? What would I be without JC?

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.