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.



Thanks for the Memories

Ever spent 24 consecutive years in the same house?

My husband and I just did–the house we moved into when we came home from our honeymoon. We sold it in June and moved to Chattanooga, which we are loving, by the way.

Moving forces you to purge. The prospect of hauling stuff to a new place makes you evaluate its necessity, and not everything–no matter how useful it once seemed–makes the cut. With 24 years’ worth of stuff accumulated in the basement, the attic, the garage and the closets, I knew we had a big purge coming.


Perhaps the single-best decision my husband made in prepping our house for sale was to rent a “dumpster” into which we could chuck the stuff that wasn’t going along to Chattanooga.

Considering the volume of stuff we tossed into the dumpster–parked in our driveway for a week, which our neighbors must have loved–we saved a lot of time and countless trips to Knox County trash dumps.

Some stuff was obvious dumpster material. Why did we have a hula hoop in the basement, for example? You got me.

Some stuff took a little longer to reach its inevitable dumpster status. IMG_0347

Such as the majorette uniform I wore as a 9-year-old in the local hometown Christmas parade and in a “halftime show” at a high school basketball game.



That little body suit has been all over the state with me, but I finally decided to hang up my sequins for good.

I can’t tell you where the baton ended up.

Time, itself, had made some stuff no longer useful.42094839861_74455b95d8_o

Do you still have a VCR? Neither do I. Fifty or 60 VHS tapes with recorded movies: To the dumpster you go.

And there was stuff I couldn’t believe had ever seemed like a good idea.

Twenty years ago, I wore my hair long. Really long. Below my waist long. Contrary to what people often think, one-length, waist-length hair is in many ways lower-maintenance for a woman than almost any other option. My hair was long because I found it easier to maintain–except when it came to bicycling, aerobics classes and some other fitness activities. If you spend hours on a bicycle–as I frequently have–long hair can turn into a massive hair ball if it’s not tightly restrained.

42094839921_489183d148_oWhich brings us to the Braidini. As seen on TV.

Magically–like Houdini, get it?–this contraption was supposed to help you braid your own hair. I could braid my hair into a ponytail. That’s easy. What I could never manage though, was the French braid, an advanced technique of braiding from the scalp downward. A hurricane couldn’t mess up hair in a tight French braid.

Even with the included demonstration video–on a VHS tape–I never figured out how to use the Braidini. But for whatever reason, I must have held out hope because I kept the thing. At least I didn’t fall for the whole Hairdini collection.

Deciding the fate of 24 years of accumulated detritus also led to some happy discoveries, recoveries of valued items with especially great sentimental value. Great memories.


Such as the section of my hometown newspaper that carried on its cover a feature on Bill and me and my 100-mile bicycle ride in honor of leukemia patient Alison McFerrin, the 11-year-old daughter of a former high school classmate of mine, to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in 2000.

I’m very happy to report that Alison had a successful stem cell transplant and went on to be valedictorian of her high school class, attended Auburn University on a full scholarship, earned a journalism degree and is now happily married–and I got to attend the wedding!

42049896882_afb49b9bf1_o.jpgThen there was the newspaper “rack card,” the name for the promotional signs on vending machines for printed papers. Remember those? Printed newspapers, I mean.

I saved the rack card because it referenced a weeklong series of stories I, as a Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter, along with my colleague News Sentinel photographer Margaret Bentlage, filed daily from Stockholm, Sweden for a week in August 1997. We were on assignment following up on the lone survivor–a toddler–of a horrendous shooting earlier that year.

And here’s the company newsletter noting that fact.


Here’s a photo of Margaret and me today:


Margaret and I got to do some very cool stuff as a team for the News Sentinel. I’d forgotten about this picture she took when we traveled with the Tennessee Air National Guard to cover its work on U.S. Defense Department outreach via rebuilding a hospital in Bulgaria. In the photo, I’m on the wing of the KC-135 Stratotanker we flew on with the Guard. The picture was made in Seville, Spain–a stopover on our flight to the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. What a fun assignment.


I was extra glad to find this photo with friends and News Sentinel co-workers after we’d run the Knoxville Expo 10K/5K together. “Together,” isn’t exactly accurate, since I was slow and Bill was slower and he only participated under duress.

And we ran the 5K.

And our colleagues ran the 10K.

L-R: John Stiles, Randy Kenner, Bill, Gina, John North, and in front: Kasie and Karie Phelps.

Sadly, John Stiles, passed away a few years ago following a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Randy Kenner now works for Knox County Courts. John North is an editor at WBIR-TV. The newspaper used to sponsor the Knoxville Track Club, so employees didn’t have to pay entry fees. Can you believe that persuaded me–and Bill–to run 5Ks? His twin granddaughters, just 7 years old at the time, ran the 1-mile “fun” run. Now grown up, they don’t think running is fun anymore.

The picture, along with the rest of the stuff–kept and discarded–brought back a lot of long-forgotten memories.

40194185170_7798eba2ae_oAnd despite how big and cavernous the dumpster seemed at first, when it was time for the rental company to come and haul it away a week later, it was heaping full.

Topped by old lawn furniture, at least a couple of pairs of crutches (why?), a rusted bicycle, a broken lamp, dusty boxes and–oh yeah, a hula hoop.

Twenty-four years in the same house makes for the accumulation of a lot of…well, junk.

But now it’s gone.

Including the Braidini.