Auld Lang Syne to the Good Times

In a few hours and with a flip of the calendar, it’ll be 2020.

Just like that, we’re already closing the door on the first 20 years of the 21st century.

And don’t look now, but here comes a leap year, an Olympics year and another election year. I won’t necessarily leap; I definitely won’t take the field of athletic competition; and the last time I ran for an election was as a freshman senator in college.

On this occasion to see one year out and a new year in, I’m stopping to remember all the good that came my way in 2019. Set aside the fact we’re also rolling over into a new decade, 12 months is long enough to recount.

Hank, Bill, Jerry, me, Woody, Hank and Don

First, in chronological order, Bill and I got to spend a long January weekend with some exceptionally good, and good-hearted, people. Also known as “the Porch Gang,” for the group’s virtual–if not often, actual–gathering to support, pray with and encourage one another. It’s like the five best uncles I could have: two Hanks, a Woody, a Don and a Jerry. Plus Bill. Plus me.

We got together at Hank’s family’s mountain cabin. We cooked, we ate, we talked, we laughed, we hiked and we shared prayer concerns and prayers of thanksgiving.

The time was precious.

Then came the annual “Ladies Night” for us women alumni of the Knoxville News Sentinel. Sadly, only one of us still works at the newspaper, but we share a bond as friends, not just former co-workers, that brings us together once a year for the sole purpose of catching up. This year marks 20 since I left the paper, and I look forward more every year to gathering with this feisty bunch.

Springtime in the Great Smoky Mountains brought a day among the wildflowers with the most fun pair of hiking wildflower experts I know. Living in Chattanooga keeps me from getting to hike with Tami and Jennifer as much as I’d like, so I jump at any chance.

Chase Bradley Lankford at 2 weeks old.
Yes! She did it!

Almost too many good things to count came in May, starting with this little guy’s entry into the world. Pleased to meet you, Chase Bradley Lankford.

At work, I officially staffed spring commencement for the first time in May. A perk of the job, in my opinion. I took this photo and, every time I look at it, I remember having this feeling myself, though I never took my shoes off when I graduated.

At the two-week period in late May and early June when our wedding anniversary comes in between our birthdays, Bill and I treated ourselves to a long weekend at Cataloochee Ranch. It’s a patch of paradise high on the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains. The treat was because May 22 wasn’t just any anniversary–it was our 25th.

That’s right. The Big Two Five. The Silver Showdown. Celebrating Cataloochee-style was just our speed: Scratch-made meals; a cabin for two under starry skies; wildflower-lined hiking trails; and Hemphill Bald.

25th anniversary sky at Cataloochee Ranch

If you ever have the chance to go there, run, don’t walk.


And while we were in the neighborhood, we also got to swing by and visit with some of our favorite people and hiking partners–who kept the celebration rolling.

Good times with good people at work

Speaking of anniversaries, I marked my first at UTC, too. It had been a good year and I get to work with good people, so what to do? Order a delicious custom cake baked by the exceptionally talented partner of one of my co-workers, of course.

As summer got going, Bill and I got adventurous–looking up and checking out the trails to be hiked in, around and beyond the Scenic City. We hiked Signal Mountain; Lookout Mountain; the Chickamauga Creek greenways; Cold Mountain, North Carolina; Fort Mountain, Georgia; Sewanee, Tennessee; and even the infamous Fiery Gizzard trail on Monteagle Mountain.

Here’s a secret people who haven’t hiked the Fiery Gizzard don’t know: It’s not as bad as its reputation. Keep that to yourself, though–there’s a legend to maintain.

But the Mac-Daddy adventure of our entire summer came on July 3. That’s when we buckled up life jackets, climbed into kayaks for the first time, paddled three miles down the Tennessee River to downtown Chattanooga and took in the fireworks show from the water. Bobbling in comfort under the rockets’ red glare. That remains the most fun thing we’ve yet done in Chattanooga, and it was a good time I’ll never forget.

You can check it out here:

We also enjoyed visits from old, dear friends. We loved getting to see them and eagerly await the next times.

Tucked beneath “Umbrella Rock”

Where my enthusiasm for hiking and my job met, I took on the opportunity to talk about hiking with Chattanooga’s public radio audience. WUTC-FM is the Chattanooga National Public Radio affiliate and on the UTC campus. Its oversight is part of the Communications and Marketing Division–of which I’m a part–and when asked to contribute regular hiking segments to the daily interview program Scenic Roots I got to work.

Spending a little more time with the radio station team gave me a greater exposure to some of their special projects and underwriting partners. Voila! I learned about an annual benefit for Point Park, part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Site. Bill and I went to the informal party on the mountaintop and got to know more about this local gem and other gem-appreciating people.

Plus, we got to go behind the locked gate to “Umbrella Rock” — unlocked on this one day each year — and check out the remarkable balancing boulder up close for ourselves.

View from Mount Cammerer, stunning in any color.

We looked forward to hosting Thanksgiving for the first time at our place in Chattanooga and stayed busy through fall working to finish some projects on the house and make it ready for company.

But we still made time to get back to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a hike up Mount Cammerer in all its fall glory.

Only summer didn’t know when to quit and temperatures were reaching 95 and 100 degrees even in the first week of October.

That put fall glory at least a couple of weeks late, but what are you gonna do? I had the time we had planned for the third week in October, and that’s when we went. Mount Cammerer was still glorious, even if not in a full fall foliage kind of way.

Next thing you know, Thanksgiving was here and we had a lot of fun feeding family and friends around our table.

And, since Thanksgiving came right at the end of November this year, Christmas got here just three weeks later.

We had a good one, better than we deserved and every bit appreciated.

On this last day of the year which also ends a decade, I’m remembering hearing of a New Year’s Eve tradition once when we spent that holiday with dear old friends who then lived in Columbia, Missouri.

The city’s organized festivities included an opportunity to write your burdens of the year ending onto pieces of paper and then toss them into a fire–symbolically casting off those burdens and starting the new year with a clean slate.

I’ve been intrigued by that notion ever since. I’ve wondered if its origins might be in this verse from the 55th Psalm, verse 22:

“Cast your burden on the Lord,
And He shall sustain you;
He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.”

I’m not always good at remembering to leave things to God or that what happens is according to His will, but in the year ahead I want to strengthen my prayer life toward being more in step with and seeking His will. Because whether there are pictures or video to prove it, every day of every year brings a blessing.





100 Years Ago Today


Allie Johnson was born 100 years ago today in a very rural part of Middle Tennessee. Her birthplace was near Center Hill Lake, only the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wouldn’t build Center Hill Dam and create that lake until 1948, 30 years after she was born in 1918.

15464990177_7e2b73b6ef_oWhile Allie was her name, she was always Granny to me. She married Layron Hudson and they had three children–one of whom is my mother, a middle child, just like me.

When Granny died in October 2014, just three months shy of turning 96, the honor of eulogizing her was mine. And in honor of today being the 100th anniversary of her birth, I will share with you here some of what I shared on the occasion of her death.

Granny was one of eight children in her family. She played basketball in high school, but that’s as far as her education went. She did what her peers did: married young and became a mother early. She had a toddler son, a baby girl and was expecting her third child when her husband was killed in a traffic crash near Nashville, where they lived at the time.

She moved back where she grew up, into a house on her father’s farm, had her last child–my aunt, and shortly thereafter began looking for work so she could repay her parents for her house and land. Which she did. With no husband and three small children, she became a working single mother before the term was invented.

Until her babies were a little older, Granny earned money cooking for workmen building Center Hill Dam. They ate well, I assure you.

Eventually, she found a factory job where her sister-in-law worked. Because she had no car and her brother and sister-in-law also lived next door, she rode to work with them every day, and she paid her brother a little something every week for her transportation.

She operated a steam press in the factory all day, then came home to cook and care for her children at night.

For all the tough breaks life gave her, my first and last memories of her–and all of those in-between–are of as sweet, gentle and kindly a grandmother as a Hallmark movie could portray.

Years later, she was able to retire from the factory and I got to spend good bits of time with her in the summer and on weekends. She always made me feel she was proud of me, including as the entertainment when she, her parents–my great-grandparents–and other family sat in a circle of lawn chairs to solve the world’s problems while watching cars go by on the Smithville Highway.

I was an early reader, and she loved to hand the day’s junk mail to me, a 6- or 7-year-old, and have me read aloud from Encyclopedia Brittanica or Burpee Seed mailers. If nothing impressive came in the mail, she’d ask me to sing for her and the grownups. Which I did. “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” was a crowd favorite.


Granny is the reason I love fried chicken, fried sweet potatoes and fried green tomatoes. There are none better than she cooked.

I was in high school when she stunned me with her insight into boys. She would ask about my romantic life and offer her advice. I appreciated her kindness but thought she couldn’t possibly know about how boys “are now,” so long since she had dated. Until once when I took her advice and saw that she was exactly right.

And when it came to very important, super-secret stuff, Granny was more than a confidant. She was a vault. I talked with her about things I couldn’t talk about with anyone else, and she never, ever mentioned a word to others.

She was just as discreet when it came to lending money.

The summer after I graduated high school and was to go to college in the fall, I took a job as a shipping clerk in the same factory where she once worked. I had to pay my way through college, and I believed I had to start with a college-level wardrobe upgrade. Friends and I would drive 75 miles to Nashville to shop, but the timing of my paycheck didn’t always coincide with our shopping trips. I asked Granny for an extra $100 here and there, promising to pay her back out of my next check. She cheerfully lent me the money, and I cheerfully repaid her. And only she and I knew of the transactions.

Granny re-married late in life, so late that the marriage was abbreviated by her second husband’s death in his 80s.

She could have a funny way with words. As in, she sometimes used words that sounded enough like the intended that you knew what she meant, but you had to smile to yourself. Like “ointments” when she was talking about ornaments. Or “chimley” for chimney. “Ball rings” for earrings. “The mainest thing.” And with her accent, she could get more syllables out of words “than Carter’s got liver pills.” My favorite was her expression for shock and awe: “They Great I Ay-um!”

Granny also was known for a lack of filter–not mean or even unpleasant, just for expressing what was on her mind in a guileless way. She once said to a friend of my mother’s who had lost some weight, “I’ll tell you what: You’re just not as big as you used to be.”

Three generations: me, Granny and my mother

I got my turn, too.

In the five or so last years of her life that were spent in a nursing home, she had increasing trouble recalling names and sometimes even recognizing faces.

Bill and I were visiting once, when he pressed her about who I was. She studied my face and said, “Why, that’s Gina!” I had only a moment to bask in the glow of being recognized when Granny patted my arm, looked me sweetly in the eyes and said, “You know, you’ve gotten just fleshy enough to be pretty.”


She wasn’t educated, famous or important to the world.

But when time came for her last ride down the Smithville Highway to her final resting place, the cemetery at Johnson Chapel Baptist Church–founded by her ancestors near Center Hill Lake–she was honored by people who didn’t know her. The old-school custom of stopping or pulling onto the shoulder of the road for a passing funeral procession is still observed in my hometown of Sparta. Following the hearse through town and down the highway, I smiled through tears at the sight of cars stopping for my sweet Granny, and I thought of how humbled she would have been by that paying of respect.

On Tuesday, I’ll remember her the way I do every year on January 1, about which one of her many superstitions caused her to say, “Whatever you do on New Year’s Day, you’ll do all year long.”

Toward a healthy, happy and prosperous new year, she never wanted to be sick, sad, angry or hungry on the first day of the year. I know it’s just superstition, but because of her, I always seek to have a good time and be with people I care about on New Year’s Day.

That’s what Granny would want me to do all year long.