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.




Time flies.

On this date in 2018, Bill, I, three cats and all our worldly belongings headed for our new life in Chattanooga. Our stressful, action-packed, 28-day sprint through the worlds of home-buying and home-selling would come to a close by sunset. Not a minute too soon.

We began the day in 2018 with one last stop by the Knoxville house we’d lived in for 24 years. To collect the cats, who’d spent their last night in Knoxville there while we stayed with Bill’s niece and nephew in Farragut.

We had a 10 a.m. closing at a title company a short distance away. The cats had to wait inside the car. Inside the building, we held our breath–fingers crossed no last-minute snag would pop up. This title company, selected by our buyer, had already dropped a ball that caused the original closing date to have to be postponed a few days. The movers who had already collected our furniture graciously agreed to hold it for no extra charge.

Thankfully, everything proceeded as planned. Until the end. When the Knoxville title agent presented us with a check for the purchase price of our house. Only they were supposed to have wired that amount to the title company in Chattanooga, where it would be applied to the purchase of a house we would complete in another three hours.

Woopsie. We’re sorry, they said. They promised to get the wire transfer going right away. Never mind that Bill and I already had been told that a bank typically has to be asked to do such about 24 hours before it is requested to happen. We reminded the title agent that had to be squared away in time for closing on our Chattanooga house in another three hours.

Outside, before we headed out, we thanked and hugged our realtor, Marcia Bartlett. We couldn’t have had a realtor more capable or better suited to us. As glad as I was to have the sale of our house finished, at last, I was sorry to say goodbye to Marcia.

Peach doesn’t enjoy car rides-or anything else unfamiliar and not routine.

As soon as we unlocked our car doors, three confused cats began to cry periodically. My front seat had a little more room left than Bill’s, so I put the most high-maintenance of the cats, Peach, in my front passenger seat and aimed an AC vent into his crate. He settled down pretty quickly

About halfway to Chattanooga, and about an hour down the road, I began calling to follow up on the money wire. The title company in Chattanooga had no sign of it. The title company in Knoxville said the person who handles that for them was out to lunch. But they would make her aware as soon as she returned. No kidding.

Temporary cat pad.

The weather was already hot and forecast to stay that way. I knew we couldn’t park outside the title company in the middle of downtown Chattanooga without windows and doors locked shut. And I knew the heat build-up would be dangerous to the cats, so I came up with a plan. We would carry them, crated, into my on-campus apartment at UTC, and let them stay there in that cool, quiet place while we went to Closing No. 2 for the day. Don’t tell anybody. Pets aren’t allowed in those apartments.

I couldn’t handle any more money wire drama, so Bill started making the calls. Finally, with 45 minutes until our close, he was assured all was in order, at last.

 We headed to Chicken Salad Chick downtown, ate fast, then went to become official Hamilton County homeowners. Neither of us–nor any of our cats–had ever moved into a brand-new house, but that was what worked out for us and we were excited. Our builder was the seller, and their local honcho sent us away from closing with some useful swag–a picnic blanket, large tote and some very effective thermal coffee mugs.

We swung back by my campus apartment, picked up the cat brothers, re-loaded them into our cars, punched our home address into the GPS and headed north to Hixson. As long and stressful as the day had been for us, I think it was also pretty tough on my kitties. They were hanging in there, but really starting to fade. The only way I could keep Peach from squalling was to poke my fingers through the grate on his crate and scratch his chin or the top of his head. Soon as I stopped, he resumed yodeling.

When we unlocked our front door for the first time, at last, we were both excited and really relieved. What a day–but we made it. Furniture wouldn’t come until the next day, but that was alright.

We had debated whether to spend that night in my campus apartment–and sleep in an actual bed–or to stay put with the cats and sleep on the floor. Movers were showing up at 9 the next morning, and Hixson is about a half-hour from campus at that time of day. We opted to tough it out on the carpeted floor of an upstairs bedroom, since its windows had blinds and the master downstairs did not. At least we’d remembered to bring bed pillows and a throw. Even with carpet, though, I can tell you that a floor is pretty unforgiving.

So, with nothing on hand to eat or drink except the bottle of Pinot Grigio that Marcia had given us to celebrate the big move, and no TV, wi-fi or working phone line, we did the only thing there was to do. We googled the closest Papa John’s; punched its address into the GPS; picked up our large, thin-crust, veggies-and-pepperoni; drove back to the house; walked in; opened the wine; poured it into the clear plastic cups Marcia had also supplied; and we stood at the kitchen island and raised a glass to our new chapter.

One year ago, today.


Looking Back at 25

Bill and I met in 1993, when we both worked at the Knoxville News-Sentinel. He in circulation, me in the newsroom. About 18 months later, we were married. I don’t know if–in the swirl of finding and buying a house, planning a wedding and a honeymoon–lots of marrying people imagine a future when that marriage will be decades old, but I didn’t.

In our case, it seems 25 years later came a lot sooner than I could have imagined.

Just like all married couples, we got busy working our jobs, handling family matters and living our lives. The “busy” part–I think that’s the key to the years slipping up on you. On our anniversary this year, May 22, 2019, we counted 25 years gone by.

Bill taught me to appreciate baseball. I taught him to appreciate hiking. We both really love to travel, and we have thoroughly enjoyed doing a lot of that, often in pursuit of another of Major League Baseball’s 30 parks or another of the National Park Service’s 59 national parks.

While he plugged away at one employer throughout his life–the News Sentinel–until retiring in 2008, I pursued another opportunity in healthcare public relations, then another in higher ed communication, and the latest, where I am now at UT Chattanooga. Meantime, I also entered grad school and finished a master’s degree while working full time.

Karie (left), Kasie and I graduated in 2007. They from high school, me from UT.

That was one of the most-demanding goals I ever set, but I made it in 2007.

There have been births, weddings and funerals. Both of Bill’s parents, his brother and two of his three sisters have passed away since we’ve been married, and I have lost both of my beloved grandmothers.

Hiking with members of our beloved Knoxville church family.

We were part of an absolutely beloved church family for more than 20 years. Denominational policy changes led a majority of that group to form a new church that we were part of until we moved from Knoxville to Chattanooga in 2018.

Looky who made the Jumbotron for my UT System going-away party!

Oh yeah, and after living in the same house for the “first 24” years of our marriage, we sold it and bought one in the Chattanooga suburb of Hixson.

Bill’s had three major surgeries and I’ve had two. Otherwise, we’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed good health. To help people survive leukemia–after we came to know friends who lost a baby girl to leukemia at 18 months old–we both got heavily involved for several years as bicyclists and fundraisers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Training, fundraising and long-distance bicycling in honor of leukemia patients still stand in my mind as the best and most important things I’ll ever do.

All in all, we’ve been fortunate to walk through life and the milestones it brings together, happily and within a cherished circle of family and friends.

Forty-four states, 22 MLB ballparks, 21 national parks, 18 foreign countries, thousands of miles on bicycles and hundreds of miles in hiking boots–we packed a lot into our first 25 years. They haven’t all been perfect, but mostly, they’ve been really good.