Monday, August 30, 2010


Just yesterday, it seems, a little tow-headed girl was crawling up our stairs, naked as the day she was born, without a care in the world. I sometimes still hear her saying, “,” and “one mo time,” and “jus’a little bit mo Granny!” The next day she was saying, “Let’s go on a ‘venture Papaw,” and we would rumble off down some dirt road toward a picnic on a rock.

Then there were a few days where she played a few games of basketball, some softball, and was even was a cheerleader for a day or two.

Suddenly, she was going to a couple of proms and then, in a very hot and sticky gym, she graduated high school. She sat there so beautiful, so innocent to what was to come, and all I saw as a that little tow-head girl grinning like a ‘possom back at me. I was so proud.

A moment or two after the ceremony, she was showing her Granny the things she bought to furnish her room at college!

I found myself, setting across from her, the last night in town, gingerly taking hot bites of pizza, and wondering where the last eighteen years had gone. She laughed nervously, thinking about leaving the next day, but somehow made us all feel better about the whole situation.

What a wonderful gift God has given to us. Never liked partying, smoking, drinking...just being with a good friend laughing and talking about boys, or with her Granny, quietly watching TV, while Granny rubbed her arms softly and tirelessly. Judy could sit for hours just rubbing Katie’s arms while they just enjoyed the time together. I pray she finds a very patient and loving guy to marry one day (in the very distant future), and that he too finds her as special as we have, and will spend quiet times just rubbing her arms while she talks, falls to sleep, and dreams.

So now she’s off trying out the “real world”, some 55.7 miles away. It’s only been four days, but man, the next 4 years are going to feel like an eternity!

Now I know a little about what it must have been like for my parents when I left for the Air Force, and then Vietnam. How did they ever stand it?

My mother’s faith and strength saw her through the ordeal twice, the second time when my brother left home. My brother was actually hospitalized at eight years old with a nervous stomach condition. He seemed to sense the danger I was in even at that age.

My mom told me just this week that she don’t think my dad had a healthy year from the day I left for ‘Nam. He seemed to always have something wrong with him over the next ten years until he died at age 57.

Anyway, back on subject, Katie left on Thursday and on Sunday her mom and dad, and Granny and Papaw just had to go see their baby! I know, we didn’t give her much time, but we really had a mission, and that was to take her a few things she needed.

Truth be told, Katie was already a little homesick and it was evident in how she clung to her mom the whole day. Granny also got in a little arm rubbing while we rode around checking out the Tech campus and the city of Cookeville.

We ate at Charley's and then found a little park, she had already discovered, and walked through the woods together and down by a lake, where geese were fighting for the dominant positions to eat the food be thrown at them.

Katie proudly showed us her room and everything that she had added, where she would sleep, study, and relax. The room was very nice, for a college dorm, and she, and her roommate, had done a great job in making it homey. The room is brightly lighted, air conditioned, and has a private bath with a separate “make up” area.

She doesn’t have to worry about food, she has a meal-card that lets her eat in the cafeteria, or in the pizza/grill that’s located right in the dorm building! There is a place to wash clothes right across the hall and meeting rooms for group study. The building is new, with modern warning security systems, all the proper telecommunications feeds, and elevators to boost her up and down as she wishes. What more could she ask for...well, she’s wanting to keep her doggie in the room!

We left Sunday afternoon, much more relaxed than before. I saw where she was living, and how wrapped in luxury and guarded she will be, so I’ll worry about her much less now. She’ll be fine, and I see she’s already made new Facebook friends!

I have to let her go and see if she will return to me one day. I just hope and pray it isn’t too far in the future, ‘cause I still need my Katie Bug.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Like most families, my mother’s family has only seen group gatherings over the past years at funerals. It’s always a treat, even under those circumstances, to see the whole family together. So why did we wait so long to have a reunion?

Except for my mom and Aunt Nell, the anchors of the family have all gone. Their children, the “first cousins” have always played well with each other and savored the little time they’ve spent with each other. We’ve all grown up and had families and missed out on each other’s lives and children. It’s now up to us to keep the family unity going and try and pass on family heritage and stories we lived and have heard. Hopefully, our kids will build enough of a relationship that they will want to continue meeting and telling the stories.

For years it was important for my mom and dad to “go home” and visit everyone they could in the two day trip. That was impossible since mom had 7 siblings, and dad had 8. All those aunts and uncles and cousins were best visited at the grandparents’ home. Those gatherings were filled with the laughter of numerous children chasing through the house and yard, and with the best “country” grub ever served!

For the Williams extended family, Grandmother Williams’ house was always the focal point.

Those weekend gatherings are etched in my memory, although most have merged into one or two events. There are a few black and white photos of us kids, here and there, that were immortalized by Brownie Hawkeye cameras.

When grandmother was gone the focal point, for my family at least, sort of went to my Aunt Melinea’s house, where my cousins Ann and Brenda often gathered, making it seem like “home” to me. Other family members would drop by some visits, but for the most part the rest of the aunts and uncles and cousins were seen less frequently. I lost touch with them, having gone off to war, getting married, and college, and even though they were marrying and having babies, they remained little 10-year old kids in my mind.

Later, and I’m not sure why, the focal point shifted to Uncle Tom’s. He loved to have fun and his lakeside home made a perfect place for family to gather. The most fun for me were the November University of Tennessee vs. Alabama football gatherings, complete with his hot chili and warm welcoming manner. Tom would slap his elephant with each touchdown (Roll Tide) and I would slap Smokey (Rocky Top)! Back and forth the dueling mascots would sing out until someone lost, and, in those days, it was usually him! Unfortunately, that has changed and...and I miss him so much.

Now, with Uncle Tom gone, there is no longer a focal point for Williams gathering. The gatherings from now on will probably be church social rooms, community centers, or, in the case of the most recent gathering, a senior center. The only problem with that is that these events will, at most, be annual events. An era has passed that could only be brought back by someone, like Uncle Tom, stepping up and making it a point to allow family to mess up their house more than once a year. Alas, it seems, me included, that we’re all just too busy these days.

One shining light for us though, seems to be email and Facebook. These modern, impersonal tools, are beginning to help us stay in touch. I suppose if there is anything redeeming in the modern technological age, these tools are it.

I’ve posted some family shots on Facebook, and sent numerous others via email, so the event was well documented. Other photos will dwindle in as pocket camera and cellphone shots are distributed.

My son Corey accompanied me on the 300+ mile trip to the 2010 Williams Reunion. As a small boy, he made a few friends with “second cousins”, but from about the age of 10 on he has had no contact. So, it was rewarding to him to go back to our “home” and see family. Maybe one day his girls will also come and make some new family ties.

I took Corey on the “Tri-cities” tour of Florence, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia, Alabama, which has to include TVA’s Wilson and Wheeler Dams, and the all important feast at Walton’s! Walton's Restaurant, in the big city of Elgin’s Crossroads (Hwy 101), has the best fried catfish and hush puppies I’ve ever tasted. Corey wasn’t quite sure that was true until he actually sat down and tasted it. After that, I think he was finished before I downed my first piece!

They also have, what is described as the best BBQ in the Shoals area, but I have yet to try it. The fish being so good, and I only get down there once or twice a year, always wins out!

On Friday afternoon, after checking into the Hampton in Florence, we drove the loop from Florence to Wilson and Wheeler Dams and on to Walton's. From atop the Renaissance Tower, at the Shoals Hotel, we looked out over the “Tri-cities” area and down at Wilson Dam. We had to pay for the photos from the Tower by buying an $8 drink, but the view from the revolving restaurant was spectacular! The skies were so blue last weekend and the company couldn’t be beat!

Corey reminisced about our camping and motel trips back in the days we deer hunted. Those memories must be as special to him as they are me.

We left Florence on Sunday morning and traveled the “old road” up through Lexington, where I was born. I showed him Great Grandfather Johnston’s old home place, and reminded him that I was born upstairs in Grandpa’s bed. The old place looked pretty good with the addition of modern siding. However, it will always be the old shot-gun southern home sitting on rock supports, surrounded by Alabama red dirt, with its lightning rods gleaming in the sun. My mind didn’t even register the satellite dish hanging off the side...I only noticed it after examining my photos when I got home!

We made the short trek down Williams Road, crossed into Tennessee, and stopped at the Second Creek Church where there are both Williams and Mashburn kinfolk buried. Corey was so moved that he had to find a big tree behind the meeting shed! He felt much better after that relieving moment! ‘Nuff said!

On up the road we stopped at the old Mashburn farm, where I spent boyhood summers working the farm with Pa Mashburn. I rang the doorbell, but Aunt Louise, who still lives there, was gone to church. So, we walked around the home place and took some photos of the old barn, where I spent rainy days as a boy, and the house. It was so strange how small the front porch seemed to me. In my memory, that porch was a large as an airport runway! Strange how everything was so much bigger back then...’course I was so much smaller then!

In the big city of Five Points, just two miles up the road, I photographed the old Mashburn store my uncle owned. It sits across the five-point intersection from the new Mashburn General Store where Aunt Louise still works. However, she was at church, like I said, and we missed her.

I told Corey stories of my summers working in the store and about the old men that sat around on drink crates whittling and swapping knives. Across the street, in front of the new store, were old men sitting around doing the same thing. Nothing seems to have changed in Five Points, Tennessee.

The old cotton gin is all gone and only two of the old warehouses remain. It’s sad that Corey missed those days. He would have loved to have ridden a wagon with Pa Mashburn up the dirt road to the gin to sell his cotton, or to play on the bales stacked in warehouses. He would have loved crawling through the tunnels in the bales of straw in the barn, or listening to the Grand Ole Opry on a battery powered radio, while sitting next to a flickering “coal oil” lamp.

He would have loved sinking into a “feather mattress”, up over his ears, under 3 quilts listening to the rain hitting the tin roof at Grandmother Williams’ house. He wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip to the outhouse in the dark, ‘cause I know I didn’t!

On the way home we passed through Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. It was Lawrenceburg where the old Mashburn family did their “trading”, and in the old days it was an all day, if not 2 day, wagon trip. I remember Ma Mashburn excitedly exclaiming once when we brought her back home in dad’s car, “Lordy be, we got back the same day we left!

Corey enjoyed that story, and the look around town. I showed him the statue of Davey Crockett in the town square. I remember a News Sentinel reporter once stated that there was no statue to David Crockett, so dad sent him a photo of this one in Lawrenceburg. The reporter corrected his story!

Yes, they are all gone...turned to vague memories. However, these memories, as trivial as they may be to others, need to be told and retold. They are a record of what we were and are, what we thought and think. They make up a history of the family...our roots. We must not let them slip away like we have allowed the memories of those that came before us to do.

What I wouldn’t give for a file full of jpeg photos of Williams, Johnston, Morrison, Hammonds, and Mashburn folk running around at family gatherings back through the 18, 19, and 20th centuries. They didn’t have what we have, so it can’t be - the memories lost brings a tear to my eye.

Families don’t just exist in their genes, they exist in memories. The stories must be told or we, or they, have not lived at all.

May God bless and keep the Williams family until we meet again.

To see photos of my "down home" visit, CLICK HERE!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


The thing I like about living outside of Knoxville, about 35 miles, is that we avoid the "big city" traffic and other similar congestions. We, however, live close enough to drive there in about 40 minutes to eat at fine restaurants, shop at larger department stores, and enjoy the occasional "night on the town"!

Last evening six of us, 3 dragons and 3 knights, had a nice grilled burger with locally brewed micro-beer at the Downtown Grille and Bar on Gay Street in Downtown Knoxville, TN.  It just so happened that the six of us were the six retirees of the bunch.  I've included Charlotte and Gary, even though they still work at training Labs, and failed to include Linda and Noel because they work part-time.

Terri and Steve still work, but we can't get Steve to attend concerts in Knoxville during anytime but Friday or Saturdays nights.  It's a "work night" for him Monday through Thursday, and Sunday's are reserved for preparing to return to work Monday morning.  To quote him, "It's a rule!"

Even though, Ron and I have proven many a concert, that you can attend the concert and be home by 11:30!  That wasn't too late for us, even when we worked!

So, last night was no exception.  We ate and drank, walked down the street to see Sheryl Crow, accompanied by Doyle Bramhall II on lead guitar, at the beautiful Tennessee Theater, and...were home by 11:30!  It would have been 11, but someone had the bright idea to stop for a McDonald's chocolate dipped ice cream cone!  Neena!

See 'Teve!

Sheryl seemed very pleased with the current concert tour, telling us this first week of the tour had been the best week of the tour thus far!

She was looking "mighty fine", in her black leather pants and 6" heels!  Her voice was in great shape and the added brass section made the music sound great!

To be honest though, Ron and I spent most of our time watching the left-handed licks Doyle was making.  Yeah, I know, we're old, but we are "music commonsewers"!  

Ron and I have been admirers of Bramhall since we first saw him play with Roger Waters on the "In The Flesh" DVD.  The dude is a slide-blues guitarist from Texas!  We couldn't figure out how he got together with Roger Waters!  Waters is a perfectionists, so Bramhall had to be flawless in order to play with him, especially on the old "Pink Floyd" tunes.

The only kink in the concert was that Doyle didn't get to play more slide!

The show as "sold out", an indication of the following Sheryl has.  However, besides Doyle, the Tennessee Theater is a terrific venue, with over a thousand seats, bars on three levels, and restrooms just outside the auditorium doors.  

I guess what I'm saying is, I love a night on the town like last night was!  It rocks my world!

I can't wait for our hometown Princess to also be a good drawing venue to at least mid-level groups.  I will be able to get my world rocked for many years yet to come.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


This past Saturday was the last "Crusin' In Harriman" for the summer. The event occurs every second Saturday beginning in April through the second Saturday in August each year. The City of Harriman makes no money on this event, but it does keep the spirit of the city alive by bringing folks together downtown!

While standing in front of the Princess Saturday, looking over the "Crusin'" event on Roane Street, (click to see my Flickr photos) I looked up and saw the yellow “caution tape” flapping in the breeze on the roof of the theater and a single open window over the marquee. It was a reminder of the new roof currently being placed on top, and the symbolism of the open window. Our Princess is about to emerge from her chrysalis!

Over the past two decades, the city has declined. It started with Wal-Mart and K-Mart moving into town, drawing customers from downtown, and the loss of jobs from the closing of the Kraft Mills, Mead Corporation, and the various hosiery companies like Burlington. Finally, in 2000 the Princess closed her doors, and began a slow moldy decay.

Downtown Harriman lost all but a handful of stores, and in the years following, other buildings began to follow in decay.

However, there is something new on the horizon that gives us, those who still care and remember, hope. That hope comes from a dream that started with Gary Baker and Muse Watson. The dream was that children of Roane and surrounding counties would have a place to learn about "the arts". The facility is to be called the “Princess Performing Arts, Education, and Conference Center", and is to be perpetually operated and funded through Roane State Community College.

This is the dream, and a long way around my point in making this post. That point is to restate the dream which begins with the restoration of the old Princess Theater (the building) and move toward a Princess Theatre (the art). There is no dream to show movies there again, unless, of course, some local resident creates their own movie, but to showcase live entertainment while providing a learning experience.

The dream is to provide a center where Roane State and high school students can come and learn "hands on" about careers in the arts. Planned is a local TV station (Channel 15), a live entertainment facility, utilizing the 900 seat auditorium of the Princess and the newly designed stage, and later a conferencing center will come online.

But, the point to remember is that students will run the total operation of the TV station, and have hands on experience when live entertainment is presented on the Princess stage. It may be a theatre production of the Roane State, or area high school, drama department, or a music concert presented by local groups. All the productions will be beamed live or taped from the TV station to multiple counties!

The best part, is that students will gain experience that will serve them in future careers in the arts, radio, TV, or the theatre.

From this, downtown Harriman will reap the benefits of foot traffic on the sidewalks once again. Apartments will constructed within the old classic buildings, and store fronts of antique, boutique, specialty food shops will open, bringing jobs and further restoration and spirit back to "our hometown"!

While the dream was all about "some day", it has moved into the "coming true" column with the windfall, which came at the expense of other’s dreams, to the Princess Foundation after the Tennessee Valley Authority awarded $1.7M to the city of Harriman, specifically for the restoration of the Princess.

People who lost their property and homes, after the devastating "coal ash spill" for the Kingston Fossil Fuel Pant near Kingston in 2008, were rightly upset over this grant, and the other education and restoration awards to Roane County. However, this blessing cannot be overlooked or refused. We must carry on with the dream regardless of what God, or fate, sends our way.

The only dreams left now are those of limitless possibilities for the community! Whatever we can imagine now has a stage waiting for us to produce it, show it, and enjoy it!

This is our collective dream. Beyond this it is still our HOMETOWN. Please, PLEASE, get involved and continuing dreaming. It is all up to us may be our last opportunity to make it just like we remember it.

Let me also give you a heads-up. Property values Downtown Harriman will be going up once people begin to see investment opportunities gained from having more foot traffic downtown. Pat Mynatt told me Saturday, while I was cooling off from the heat, that she started her “Red Door Antiquities” shop now in order to get ahead of the rush! I think that was a wise decision...don’t you!?