Last of a Long Goodbye

Mary Arthur Anderson would have turned 91 years old on August 31, had she not passed away this year on Easter Sunday.

She was the first of five siblings that include Bill, of which he is second-to-last born. His younger sister, Hazel, and he are the two surviving siblings.

Mary was a faithful wife of 50 years to her husband, Cecil, on whom she waited and cared for when his health declined toward the end of his life. After his death, her strong bond with her children and grandchildren grew stronger as they drew even closer to her, making sure she never had a need nor a moment of loneliness.

Mary came to know a gentleman friend who kept her company, under the ever-watchful eye of her family. She was, hands-down, Bill’s favorite cook, whose versions of fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, rhubarb pie and banana pudding were his favorites. Look up the word “pistol,” as used to describe a human and not a firearm, and you’ll see Mary.

I wish I had a dollar for every time she told me how glad she was Bill and I had found each other.

Bill with his father, brother and sisters at our wedding.

She and Bill adored each other, her from a maternal orientation. Her father died when Mary was a small child, and several years passed before her mother married Bill’s father. After their parents had a baby boy, then a boy who died as a toddler, Bill finally came along. He was a toddler still sleeping in a crib when Mary married Cecil. On her wedding night, she made her new husband take her to her parents’ house so that she could kiss baby Bill goodnight and tuck him in.

Celebrating Mary’s birthday with her grandson, three sons, brother and man friend.
Birthday kiss

Her birthday was celebrated almost every year up to the last three or four, when her memory began to fade.

When memory loss progressed to the point she could no longer recall how to cook her family-favorite classics, or much else, her three sons arranged for a home health aide to stay with her over the work week. Her sons shared rotating duty for sitting with her on weekends.

Along with memory, time stole some of her pistol quality, but her eyes never lost their twinkle.

They looked out on Douglas Lake from her house with that spectacular view.

Her three sons and their Uncle Bill and I spent a Saturday there a couple of weeks ago, at the estate sale of her belongings and home furnishings–minus everybody’s sentimental favorites and heirlooms.

As much as such family business is routine and happening every day, somewhere, it still felt really personal and a little strange.

Strangers pulling up, walking through a grandmother’s home, turning over rugs and sliding clothes hangers over rods, picking up knick knacks and stacking up dishes.

I don’t have to tell you how odd it feels to answer a buyer’s question about an object at the same time it conjures a memory you’re keeping to yourself.

Or to stand by as people walk through parts of Mary’s house few but she and her husband ever occupied.

The day was hot, the sun relentless and the stream of buyers steady. We were scheduled to shut down at 4 p.m., but people were still buying until at least 5 p.m. Lots of buyers also were interested in the house. Which isn’t for sale, yet, but I expect to sell quickly, based on the number of inquiries. Not to mention the incredible, lakeside location.

Family birthday party, 2014.

We made the 2.5-hour drive up from Chattanooga that morning, and we were returning that night. On our way home, first, a Taste of Dandridge. That’s the actual name of the restaurant picked out by Mary’s son, Mike, where we had dinner before heading off on our separate ways. With Mike and his wife, Velina, that would be home in Strawberry Plains. Mary’s eldest, Cecil Jr., and his wife, Pam, live in Farragut. Her son, Mark, and his wife, Linda, live in Dandridge, only a few miles from Mary’s house.

The restaurant was good, so was the food, and the company was even better. It was a perfect ending to the day. We shared stories about Mary that still make us laugh.

If she’d been there, she would have laughed loudest.

 

 

Silver Celebration

Twenty-five years of marriage isn’t just a milestone, it’s a cause for celebration. And on our 25th anniversary last month, we celebrated in the most perfect way possible–for us. Not a party. Not a cruise. Not expensive gifts or travel to an exotic location. You might say we went “ranching.”

Hemphill Bald

Over the last four or five years, we discovered a new favorite hiking trail–on the Cataloochee Divide, it’s called–in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We would follow Cataloochee Divide from the trailhead on the Blue Ridge Parkway on the North Carolina side of the park as it wound through the woods and past open meadows up to a point called Hemphill Bald. A barbed-wire fence marks the boundary with private property along the last mile or so of the trail. The fence keeps cattle off park property and, at the bald, a stile in the fence enables hikers to easily access the private property and rest in the stunning beauty of Hemphill Bald. I think only heaven could have a better vantage point for taking in that part of the Smoky Mountains.

There is one tree, broad and tall, that provides shade and the music of breezes dancing in its leaves. A few half-exposed boulders give hikers something to sit on while they take a lunch break. A massive stone slab on a stone base and surrounded by well-worn concrete benches form a rustic picnic table. It’s what I saw years ago–a peak-finder set into the top of that table–that led us to celebrate our 25th anniversary where we did.

Peak-finder in picnic table

In addition to pointing out the visible mountaintops on the horizon, it points out “Cataloochee Ranch” sitting in the valley you gaze upon from your perch.

I’d never heard of Cataloochee Ranch before reading the name on that placard, and I made a mental note to look it up. When I did, I learned that it’s a collection of private cabins of varying size, a “ranch house” with varying overnight accommodations and a collection of horses, hiking trails and other soothing pursuits all set on an 850-acre paradise at 5,500 feet elevation. I also learned that the room and cabin rates meant we would have to wait for a very special occasion.

I couldn’t imagine a more special occasion than waking up in that place on our 25th anniversary.

From Chattanooga, we had a scenic, roughly four-hour drive along back roads, including a long stretch on the banks of the Ocoee River. We passed through Murphy, North Carolina, stopped for lunch in Bryson City and reached Maggie Valley about 3 p.m. The last turn was onto a twisting, five-mile ascent of 1,000 feet by the time it put us at the driveway to Cataloochee Ranch.

We checked in, picked up the key to our cabin for two and were told dinner was at 7–but we could come as early 6 for a cocktail. Our cabin was rustic and adorable. We sat back in the solid wood rocking chairs on its porch, took in rhododendron blossoms everywhere you looked, the rope swing under a huge oak tree next to the ranch house and a tractor parked with a flatbed wagon attached–that I would bet has gone on a few hayrides.

Our cabin

 

 

 

 

 

Occupancy was low as we were there the week before Memorial Day, and we were the only guests that night for dinner. Plus, meals are an optional add-on, and not everyone who stays there chooses to have all meals there. The server also was the cook, so I was able to directly thank the person responsible for mashed potatoes on our very first meal. Before the potatoes, she brought a fresh-tossed salad with just-made dressing. There was also oven-roasted broccoli, fresh-baked yeast rolls, fried chicken and baked cod. Then came “pecan pie cobbler.” I recommend it. In talking with our server-cook, we mentioned that blackberry cobbler–our favorite–was more common but no more delicious.

Dining table in ranch house
Come sit a spell before dinner

Next morning, we were joined at breakfast by three interesting and friendly couples and Judy, a granddaughter of Tom Alexander, the man who established the ranch in 1933.

Judy’s aunt, a daughter of the founder, had been our dinner hostess the night before.

Judy is a serious horse woman, with weathered hands that have held on to their share of rope, reins and saddle horns.

Actual view through great room window

She was clearly in charge of the horse stables and barn, but she also was friendly, unassuming and engaging. She asked where we were from and how we’d heard of the ranch. When I told her about the peak-finder, she said her late mother would have been thoroughly pleased, as it was her idea, partly in hopes it would bring some hikers as travelers to the ranch. A couple of Judy’s stable hands came along shortly and joined us for breakfast, a variety of meats, breads, biscuits, gravy, jams, jellies and fruits.

We were fully carb-loaded for the hike up to the bald. Because they will come looking if you go missing, the ranch staff asks you to tell them your plans before you set out and to let them know when you’re back. Hemphill Bald is only about 2.5 miles UP from the ranch, so I couldn’t imagine getting lost, but it was a nice feeling that they wanted to ensure your safety.

The weather that morning had to have been God’s gift for our anniversary: sunshine, low humidity, a light breeze and the most comfortable of temperatures. No traffic to drive through, ringing phones, email to answer–just peace and quiet, interrupted at just the right times by birdsong or the swoosh of a breeze through the tall grass.

Heaven, as it appears on earth

Once at the bald, we were joined by a couple of people in the role that had always found me there previously–hikers who’d come through the park. When they found out we had come from the ranch, they asked how we knew about it and we pointed out the peak-finder in the picnic table.

Back at the ranch house for dinner that night, our breakfast companions joined us again. When the server-cook brought dessert–individual dishes of fresh-baked blackberry cobbler–she winked at us and the rest of the dinner table oohed and aahed. I gave her a hug when she came back to clear the dishes.

That night, same as the previous, we put on long sleeves to take in the cool breezes on our cabin porch and the starry sky overhead. We sat back in the rocking chairs and listened to a frog chorus coming from the fishing pond about 1,000 yards away. The cabin has no air conditioner, and we slept soundly under a comforter.

The next morning after check out, off to our next adventure, we had an unexpected encounter with some of the ranch’s beautiful horses. A group occupying the gravel drive made it necessary for Bill to stop the car. Their representative approached and spent a few minutes poking his head in the windows and–I am serious–licking the hood of the car.

As we headed for the road back down the mountain, that place is so perfect that I wouldn’t have been surprised to turn back and see a horn on that horse’s forehead. It had been just that kind of a unicorn-magical way to celebrate our 25th anniversary.

And the winner is…

In case you didn’t know — hello, Oscars! — it’s award season.

As the rich and famous celebrated their noteworthy accomplishments, I was reminded of an accomplishment just as noteworthy to a team neither rich nor famous but who won big for Outstanding Achievement in a Labor of Love. OK, that may not be a real award category, but it speaks to how those of us who work on Tennessee Alumnus feel about the magazine recently winning two top prizes in the 2018 Council for the Advancement and Support of Education District III Advancement Awards.

The Alumnus is published three times a year for graduates of all University of Tennessee campuses. Not just Knoxville. Not just Chattanooga. Not just Martin. Not just Memphis–each of those campuses has its own campus-centric alumni publications. The Alumnus’  challenge is to speak with relevance to all UT graduates, from the system-wide UT perspective. That’s not always easy, but we’ve committed to doing that by organizing the features in each issue around a central theme and seeking stories from each campus that speak to that theme.

CASEIn recognition of the redesign of the magazine’s appearance and our intentional focus on cohesive, compelling content in each of its 2017 issues, the magazine won the Grand Award–top prize–for improvement in a category that included submissions from the University of Florida, University of Alabama and Georgia State University.

That’s pretty good company. The Alumnus also won the Award of Excellence–highest honors–for overall quality in a category that included Auburn University, Virginia Tech, Troy University and UAB. Also very good company.

It takes a village to produce a magazine, and I get to work with exceptionally talented people on the Alumnus. In 2018, I officially became executive editor after serving as interim managing editor for a couple of years upon the departure of Elizabeth Davis, in whose care the magazine rested from 2012 to 2015. Once Jennifer Sicking joined our team and had time to get the magazine’s rhythms down, I was proud to have her assume the managing editor role officially this year. Like Elizabeth and me, Jennifer is a former journalist. I’m not saying that’s a requirement to do the job, but it does give you a highly compatible skill set.

These awards were the icing on a whole cake of incredible for the magazine in 2017. The Alumnus also marked its centennial last year–100 years of continuous publication since 1917. That long history is why I always think of any of us who oversee the magazine as only short-term caretakers. It preceded us and, hopefully, it will survive long past us and for another hundred years. The only other person I’ve known to serve as editor is Diane Ballard, who had the job from 1986 until her retirement in 2012, and just people three had served as editor before her.

Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 11.25.58 AMWe commemorated the Alumnus‘ 100th birthday with profiles–a third more content than usual–in each of 2017’s three issues of the most accomplished alumni of any UT campus over the last 100 years. We worked with the University’s own UT Press to compile those Centennial Alumni profiles into a hard cover book.

Tennessee Alumnus Centennial CelebrationThen, we finished off the festivities with a centennial celebration that saw more than 150 of our Centennial Alumni and University leaders past and present come together to mark the 100th anniversary milestone.

Growing up on a Middle Tennessee farm, that night was heady stuff for this gal. I never imagined I would one day stand in a room with elected officials, judges, former athletes, scientists, artists and entrepreneurs and get to share with them UT alumni status. Not to mention working on a magazine that serves as something of a “family album” for them and all of us.

Jennifer is maintaining the magazine with great care as it begins its second century in 2018, Elizabeth made the Alumnus even better than she found it, and Diane capably steered the publication for 27  years and patiently and kindly passed along her considerable institutional memory before retiring in 2013.

 

I’m grateful to the magazine’s art director and graphic designer, Laura Barroso–herself a (University of) Georgia bulldog–who is talented and exceptionally creative, and demonstrates that with every layout. And big props go to Adam Brimer, our former director of photography who has gone on to a new job in 2018, for ensuring photos and video that didn’t just present the same story in a different format. Adam was a real partner in our storytelling and he brought new facets through his photography and videography.

Finally, while the magazine’s website could be just a place to archive it electronically, our web designer Nick Simson makes sure it’s more than that. Nick brings both skill and great ideas that have made the magazine even better online.

Tennessee Alumnus Centennial Celebration
More of the whole, Hee-Haw gang…

According to statistica.com, magazine readership, generally, is growing even as time spent–from 18 minutes in 2010 down to 15 minutes by 2018–reading magazines is slipping somewhat. That’s why it’s important to deliver in a magazine something the reader wants to spend time with.

There’s another reason we want to make the magazine special.

If you subscribe to one or more magazines, you know how much you look forward to the latest issue arriving. You paid for the subscription because you chose the magazine.

No one has to choose to receive the Alumnus, so we have to make the reader choose to believe he or she must read the magazine.

Fortunately, we villagers working on Tennessee Alumnus share a commitment to making sure readers can’t put it down, at least not quickly.

Here’s to Grand Award recognition of that. Cheers!

Tennessee Alumnus Centennial Celebration
With Laura Barroso.