I Want to Write This Morning!

I am sitting up in my bed doing a little dance because I am excited about writing this morning.  I don’t know why, exactly.  I never have trouble finding things to write about because this is a conversation, and if you know me you know that I can talk forever.  I will talk with anyone.  I have conversations in the grocery line, my doctor’s waiting room, across the street to neighbors.  I am very much like my mother in this instance.  When I was a kid I used to wonder why she would strike up conversations so easily.  Now I know that there’s something to connect me to every human being in the world and most of them want to be acknowledged and engaged. 

I can actually remember the point at which I began to feel comfortable talking to “just anyone”.  I was in junior high school, my father had retired from the military and we had moved to Chattanooga (Mama’s home).  We were attending a traditional Baptist church with older people who noticed the children and took an interest in our well-being and progress.  I found that I could answer their questions and then ask them about themselves without too much blushing or stammering, and soon I found myself seeking out certain ones to connect with regularly.  In retrospect, I realize that we were being trained in a number of ways.  The children were encouraged (sometimes forced, never bribed) to speak publicly by performing in plays and talent shows, reading aloud in Sunday School classes, and taking part in special church services that were well-rehearsed “Boys Day” and “Girls Day” celebrations.  By the time I finished high school, I had written presentations, spoken, played piano both for performance and accompaniment, sung in two choirs, planned lessons…First Baptist Church East Eighth Street had thoroughly groomed me. 

When I graduated from high school I had no appreciation for what Chattanooga had given me.  I left for college and planned to never look back.  Due to the foresight and persistance of a relatively small group of citizens, in the next eleven years the city pursued a progressive, inclusive course that helped to draw me back after I finished my medical training.  That progressive nature wasn’t an isolated or new feature here.  When my mother’s matenal grandmother, a white woman married to a black man, boarded buses with her three brown grandchildren in the 1920s, no one persecuted them.  In the 1960s when other southern cities were torn apart by battles over forced integration, Mayor Ralph Kelley took Chattanooga in hand:

  • “In a sweeping change in Chattanooga’s history, Mayor Kelley declared all city facilities “open to all.”  This action on September 24, 1963, opened all public buildings, parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, golf courses and community centers began Chattanooga’s desegregation.  As the south worked through desegregation, Mayor Kelley worked with representatives of all communities in Chattanooga to try to ease citizens’ concerns.” http://www.chattanooga.gov/Mayors_Office/9_1963-1969RalphHKelley.htm

Three years after the death of former Mayor Kelley, his widow, Barbara Kelley, an energetic woman with her own formidable history of public and private service to the city, is running for City Council.  Her webpage shows more of that ability to articulate current issues and willingness to attack them head-on, as well as a love for this community that I share completely.  (http://www.kelleyforcouncil.com/)

I must continue the theme of praising and encouraging Chattanooga because it comes naturally to me to discuss things that I love, and because I am fighting against some powerful self-righteousness and arrogance.  In 1985 I made the decision to return here, and shared that with my fellow residents at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  To my surprise, their comments were steeped in ignorance.  They wanted to know where I would work, if there was a hospital in Chattanooga.  They asked how I would survive in such a “backward” place.  The worst was they suggested that perhaps my excellent training would be “wasted” practicing internal medicine here, as if the perceived population of hicks and foundry workers didn’t deserve the finest medical care.  The fact is, this city was well on the way to becoming the half-million metro area with the beautiful riverfront, active arts community, vibrant downtown and diverse population that I so love now. 

Don’t get me wrong-I’m just as likely to fuss about people who’ve never set foot out of Chattanooga as people who malign it.  I am a proponent of learning about this world, ALL of this world, and feeling our responsibilities and connections as global citizens.  I loved my daddy’s Army career and the way it moved us every few years, sometimes on pretty short notice.  You know that the world is small and accessible when you live in Missouri today and Germany tomorrow, or when you realize that you were born in Germany (yes!) but are an American citizen, or when you look around your classroom and see kids of Japanese, Hawaiian, African, Swiss, and Native American heritage.  That was life as a military kid.

The one huge failing of that life was that I was very late learning continuity of relationships.  Every few years my family was uprooted, and my friendships all ended.  There was no internet and long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive,  so we’d write letters, frequently at first, but quickly diminishing to  a Christmas “hello” and update, and then we’d lose touch completely.  We quickly made new friends and adjusted to new places, filing the old ones away. 

Lorraine Palos, my best friend from medical school, was my first continuous, long-term friend.  We met late in our freshman year of med school, striking up a conversation on an escalator and knowing by the end of the ride that we would be friends.  At the end of school we separated to residencies two hours apart and kept talking and visiting.  At the end of residency, she stayed on the east coast and I moved back to Tennessee.  We married and kept visiting.  We planned common vacations, hiking in Gatlinburg the year that we both had baby girls in Snugglies.  Our daughters, thus introduced, remain friends.  Lorri taught me everything I know about continuity because she just kept planning for us to be together, even through treatment for a brain tumor that eventually took her away.  I still close my eyes and talk to her. 

It is Sunday, and I am not in church.  Not unusual.  I just realized that one throwback to my childhood is that I change churches every few years.  No guilty feelings here.  In a minute I’m going to pick up the light plum block I’m knitting for my daughter’s afghan, and I’m going to feel reverent and blessed with that beautiful cotton yarn sliding through my fingers. 



6 Responses

  1. That’s a nice story… I’ll keep reading 🙂

  2. Essie:
    It is Sunday aftrernoon and my son– was not at my desk– still sleeping– so I had to read your blog. What an exquisite joy and experience! How do you do so much? And how beautiful all of your knitting is! And how it made my heart long for Chattanooga! And how wonderful it was to hear your view and experience of Army life!

    I myself am in my third week of playing hookie from church. Last week was intentional, to spend four and a half hours alone in the park reading my Bible and studying a book that my daughter has sent me, drinking my morning cups of coffee, observing people walking themselves and their dogs along with the beautiful trees, sky, and grass.

    This morning was unplanned due to a crisis which was resolved beautifully in the AM making me too late for church.

    The first week was just to enjoy our new Fall weather outdoors and communicate extrensively with a few of the Homeless.

    Although I do carefully observe the biblical exhortation to not forsake the gatahering of one’s self together with believers, the Lord allows for other endeavors on Sunday morning. The test of our allegiance to Him is not in our church attendance, but in our communion with and obediednce to him, I feel.

    Dayna’s tags are great! Does she sell them?

  3. Love to listen to you talk. I say talk, because you write like you are talking.

  4. I feel the same way about Chattanooga too…even though I am such a newbie here…and by blogging, I have been able to continue friendships while we travel and make many new ones too…great post..

  5. Oh my goodness….you are so busy…how in the world do you do all the things you do!!! I love this special gift you are giving to all who read…write on Sistah! The traveling and the way you enjoyed the moves is great. I read about your dearest friend and I too had a beautiful friend like you described and breast cancer took her away and I don miss her so…I imagine that she is here with me sometimes and what would she say about this or that. We had to struggle to be friends…I would not let her go…until she gave in a loved me. I wanted to be like her when I grew up (I think now that I’m a grandmother maybe I’m grown?) Can’t wait for the next one.
    Toodle-loo Bye-bye

  6. Essie, I was playing with Google and tried to use Lorri’s name and ran into your blog. What a lovely memory you have and I appreciate that others saw my wonderful daughter Lorri in a nice light. thank you very much. Hope all is going well for you

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