Chattanooga: Cemeteries, not Choo-Choo’s

I stand stunned.

The Tennessee River at sunset brings Chattanooga and its hills to unexpected life.

Another surprise awaits on that opposite spit of land.

It’s a peninsula called Moccasin Bend, home to America’s very first Americans.

Twelve. Thousand. Years. Ago.

Can you comprehend that number better than I cannot?

These natives planted maize and corn, fished the river, and hunted small animals. Later came the Cherokee then Spanish explorers. The latter bore disease that decimated the original settlers.

Nowadays, Moccasin Bend holds title as the nation’s first and only National Archaeological District, maintained by the National Park Service.

The site, called “our most unique offering” by park rangers, remains under excavation for both its ancient burial mounds and artifacts from antiquity. Arrowheads are only the tip of this iceberg.

Make that peninsula, and yes, pun intended.

Site excavation work continues today. Neighbors include private homes, a golf course, police firing range, water treatment plant, and the state’s largest mental hospital.

Only in America do homeowners, golf balls, live bullets, stinky water, and the mentally ill romp among ancient arrowheads and old cemeteries.

From here, though, turn east to see another burial ground. It’s what delivered DH and me to Choo‐Choo‐Ville.

At the Chattanooga National Cemetery, we buried DH’s college roommate. Mike joins 50‐thousand other soldiers, and some prisoners of war, buried here.

These graves represent only a fraction of America’s war dead across 150+ years of armed conflict.

Holy ground:  consider that the picture captures only one hill of a rolling 121‐acre site. Even non‐patriots gasp at this view.

This Union cemetery came to life in Confederate territory because, as the site superintendent explained to us, “34,000 bodies after a single fight — the Battle of Chattanooga in 1863 — means you find land where you can. And fast.”

As the Civil War raged, survivors buried soldiers wherever cemetery space could be located.

That’s how Anthony Osterdock landed in Chattanooga National Cemetery.

A native Frenchman who enlisted from Indiana, Osterdock died in Virginia’s Battle of Piedmont.

We say we’re well‐traveled and living globally?

Osterdock’s was one of a long row of graves that carried the same date of death. A pattern repeated across too many rows of this cemetery.

A few rows later, I spotted this one‐name tombstone.

Desperate for a break from the afternoon drumbeat of intense emotions, I whispered to myself: so, girl, who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?

I laughed then remembered where I stood. Hand clapped over my mouth, another voice whispered.

Mike would understand. 

A soft smile filled my lips.

Levity heals on hard days.

On The Road With Vincent

Every morning this week I have found myself in very familiar surroundings. I am back at the Glassell School of Art. Sitting in the auditorium listening to Dr. Anna Tahinci talk about art while she shares a PowerPoint presentation.

The subject this time is the current exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston called Vincent Van Gogh: His Life in Art. I have strolled through the exhibition twice so far, but I knew I wanted to get more in depth with the subject.

Vincent Van Gogh, the person and the artist, has fascinated me for years. I remember the song, Vincent (Starry, starry night) by Don McLean that was popular back in 1971 (Yes, I am old enough to remember this. I was in Junior High School which was just the right time to sit in my room, playing records, and feeling dramatically impassioned in a way only possible for an impressionable teenager.)

I am now learning about the journey that Vincent took through his life and how that was reflected in his art. He started out learning about lines and drawing. Then when he started painting many of his works were similarly monochrome.

Gradually, working with color theory, Vincent’s paintings became more and more colorful. He dabbed some red next to a green background that stands out and continues to communicate to the viewer to this day. He painted a great deal with yellow. He even painted yellow on yellow which is no small trick. In several pictures he showed us his pipe and tobacco, and his hat. He even showed us a letter from his brother Theo. It is as if these still life paintings are a variation of the self portraits he also left for us. We can see what he thought of as important and how he saw himself.

Quite paradoxically, the brighter and more vivid the colors became in his paintings; the more Vincent struggled. It was while he was living in the now famous yellow house that he decorated with bright yellows, blues and oranges. This was the spot where he also quarreled with friends and cut off part of his ear. Still he showed us everything he had inside him by painting a self portrait while his ear was still wrapped in bandages.

Realism, Impressionism, Neo‐Impressionism, Impasto, and Pointillism are just a few words used to describe Vincent’s work. He only spent the last 10 years of his life as a painter, yet he completed approximately 2100 artworks. He was most prolific during the last two years of his life. He had so much to share and to show us in such a small amount of time.

As Don McLean sang in 1971:

Now I understand, what you tried to say to me, and how you suffered for your sanity, and how you tried to set them free. They would not listen, they did not know how. Perhaps they’ll listen now.

Until next week.….

Oops! When Gadgets Crash Good Intentions

On the flight home from Nashville, I outlined today’s blog post.

It included somber details from a military funeral in Chattanooga followed by a pescaterian adventure with pulled pork, Moon Pies, and Tennessee kale.

A rowdy swing at the Grand Old Opry collapsed in comparison to the quiet intimacy of The Bluebird Café and a Sealy‐bred guitar player named Jamie Lin Wilson.

Touring a Southern plantation presupposed cotton fields and grim living conditions for African‐Americans. But, now it’s a museum honoring its differences: raising thoroughbred horses (as in Secretariat’s dad) and distilling Tennessee whiskey. Another frame of reference blown apart.

Seventy‐two hours in Tennessee ended with more life learnings. But you’ll have to wait to read them.

My iPhone—the brand new one that I bought a week ago today—crashed into blackest black yesterday. Ergo—no pictures to share.

Who in today’s on‐line world wants to read a blog sans images or sound? Our eyes and brains operate differently now, thanks to successful rewiring from small screens. Thank you, techies.

A black screen also means no texting or calling or news‐surfing. Forced LOMO offers opportunity, always a good reframing for antiquated habits.

The hardest learning centers on my encounters with the phone’s creator. Dealing with Apple feels like stumbling around blindfolded at three in the morning. From deep inside the Rocky Mountains.

Between recent RoadBroad excursions to New York City and Nashville, I’ve met Apple staff six times via telephone, online, and in‐person.

It began as my familiar iPhone 6s began to crap out in Manhattan. Constant battery pack offers its only survival. I called Apple from DH’s device.

During the twelve‐hour, H‐Town spend‐over, I bought the new unit. It’s a fancy Xr: “our latest and greatest! ” the millennial teen vowed.

Now, I’m awaiting Tuesday’s Genius Bar appointment. In the dark.

Meantime, I’m drafting a report for Mr. Tim Cook.

A writer always has a Story.

When The Road Becomes A Roller Coaster

First the good news!

I had two photographs juried into a gallery show sponsored by Women In The Visual and Literary Arts (WIVLA). Here are the details:

I initially joined WIVLA because I am a writer. However, every so often I dabble in the visual arts. Photography is one of my many creative loves and the topic of “Midsummer Light” intrigued me. I hope you can come by on Thursday, June 13th for the opening reception. If not, go downtown to have lunch at Treebeards (located in the Christ Church Cathedral) and stroll through the Cloister Gallery.

During the same time that I experienced the good fortune of having my pictures juried into a show, I did not have such good luck with my writing. I had one personal essay and one short story rejected for publication. Sigh. I was bummed. Of course anyone who is a writer knows that you have to get at least one hundred rejections when you are starting out. So far I have experienced about four rejections to one acceptance for publication. Again…sigh. Throw in the technical computer problems I experienced last week and life can be very frustrating for a creative type. The roller coaster goes up and the roller coaster goes down.

What do I do when rejected? Although my first reaction involves burying my head, eating green worms, etc., I don’t. I try to remember that JK Rowling received 12 rejections for her first Harry Potter book. Steven King received 30 rejection letters for Carrie. It happens to the best of us and is a part of the process.

Also I remember that I write because I love to write. I take pictures because I love seeing a slice of life and translating it through a camera lens. It’s great when art work is accepted and writing is published. However, I have to admit that I would do these things anyway.

It’s just really nice from time to time to receive some recognition for doing something I love.

So I keep going. This past weekend I attended Writefest here in Houston that was hosted by WriteSpace. Not only did I attend some interesting panel talks, but I also had the opportunity to pitch a book idea to some agents and editors. I made exactly two pitches and both resulted in me being asked to submit sample chapters. And the roller coaster takes off once again!

One of the panel discussions that I listened to revolved around the idea of being a “Southern Writer”. Is that what I am? I am from the South, I live in the South and much of my writing revolves around living either in Memphis, Tennessee or Houston, Texas. I had never defined myself as a “Southern Writer” before. Yet, I guess I am. Based on the discussion I heard I am still processing exactly what that means for me and my work.

I hope to see you on Thursday, June 13th, for Midsummer Light.

Otherwise, until next week.….

Writing Around Manhattan

Five full days in New York City offer a multitude.

Of people.

Of experiences.

Of observation.

Each and all, an overload of every sense. In other words, nirvana for a writer.

DH and I traveled to Manhattan to explore our passions at both Book Expo and the Audio Publishers Association Conference.

I’m the author in our tribe, writing both fiction and nonfiction. He’s pursuing audio narration, a perfect sequel to his radio news days.

Standing among the thousands at these conferences, we both remembered our past. Where we met and how we lived, several lifetimes ago.

But what we learned last week is that, because of our pasts, anything is possible in the future, even if we’re both overwhelmed.

Writing every day offered a balm, a centering point. My computer called me back to the page.

It sounded like a voice whispering me to capture what I’d learned, heard, seen, discovered in panel discussions, even casual conversations. During a round‐trip trek of the High Line, I pulled over to take dictation.

Yes, sometimes writing only involves dictation.

Later, breakfast at Cafe Lalo beckoned. This Upper West Side restaurant remains a must‐stop any time New York calls either DH or me.

Its brick walls and glass‐walled front offer a bohemian decor that enriches the creative food it so playfully delivers.

Go at night and you’ll recognize its interior from the movie, You’ve Got Mail, 20+ years ago. Nothing is heaven like Lalo chocolates and hot tea on a cold New York night.

By the way, that orange cup — for green tea, of course — was this year’s unexpected treat. I’d have bought one but they won’t sell their china.

Finally, a first‐time visit to Central Park’s Strawberry Fields demanded one last round of daily writing. But this became a prayer for peace.

It felt so vital following the cacophony of unexpected crowds a hillside away.

I fled the Imagine memorial, diminished. I imagined John Lennon would feel the same. 

Musicians performing despite signs forbidding it. Vendors selling bad reproductions and cheap art. People plopping down for pictures, one pair of butt cheeks slapping in after another.

Yes, it was that crude. I ran away to write it down, get the unpleasantness, the disappointment out of my head.

DH showed me his photo much later. I saw not me, but a writer at work. I imagined an unwitting Monet model, consumed not by the artist at work but by the art itself.

Maybe that’s what Mr. Lennon was after, too.

Bedtime with My Cousin Vinny, Version 2.0

NOTE: Ghost fingers posted a rough draft of this blog post last night. It’s been replaced with this final version. Enjoy! 

Vincent Van Gogh always seemed a nut case.

You don’t chop off an ear if you’re sane.

But I met the artist this week—via his letters, etchings, sketches, and paintings—and realized he’s my long‐lost cousin. What else do you call someone with whom you share three great loves: books, shoes, and colors?

My personal trifecta grants Mr. Van Gogh an irreverent nickname: Vinny.

Isn’t that the gift we give family members?

Coincidence that the moniker matches Joe Pesci’s 1992 movie, My Cousin Vinny.

All this discovery unfolded at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH) and its fantabulous exhibit titled Vincent Van Gogh: His Life in Art. This one‐city show runs through June 27th; attending is beyond worth‐your‐time. From Houston, the exhibit returns to its Amsterdam home.

Since childhood, I’ve visited countless museums and art galleries. All around the globe. This show was different.The day became profound. Art, when married with words, can do that.

My skin actually t‐r‐e‐m‐b‐l‐e‐d when I viewed Vinny’s work. A first.

Around me, I heard tears and sniffles. Another first.

The floor‐to‐nearly‐ceiling sketches stopped me in my shoes.

This image was drawn in the late 1800s. My mind struggled with its how‐to. As in: how do you create something this large—on your hands and knees? Where do you find, in 1888, paper this big? How do you store it?

Questions raced through my mind. Then I saw the clogs.

I gasped. Something about the yellow background and the plain pair of shoes screamed strength, confidence, and power.

How could that be?

Vinny’s strong brushstrokes—around, over, and through the tightly‐shaped shoes—transformed the leather into something more than a simple something you walk in.

Art critics disagree on Vinny’s intent with A Pair of Leather Clogs. They cite specific walks, spiritual wanderings, or life paths.

How much more RoadBroad can you get?

Perhaps Cousin Vinny was a RoadDude. He did live all over Europe.

In these clogs, I saw myself. These weren’t, after all, ordinary shoes. They were clogs, the only type of shoe I paint. See my February 18th post to refresh the hobby details.

No way am I suggesting that I reside in Mr. Van Gogh’s league. Instead, I believe there’s an artistic universality in painting shoes.

Call it magic juju. His painting offers a question, a reflecting point, ahead of any journey. The shoes beg you to ask, in advance: are you ready? 

But how often do we consciously ask? Do we save the preparation for the bigger roads only? How about in the middle of the journey—do we consider our observations? After we leave the road, do we look back to ask: what did I learn? 

Creation resides with the artist. Interpretation belongs to the observer. What freedom, for both!

Shoes, regardless of who paints — or walks in — them, offer preparation, experience, or wisdom. We choose our takeaway(s).

The exhibit ends with a delight‐filled interactive play area.

When I spied Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles, I had to get between the sheets.

Cousin Vinny called me. Or, maybe, I’m half‐crazy after all.

My First Year On The Road

What a year!

Has it been a year already?

Has it only been a year?

A year ago on May 23, 2018, I wrote and published my first blog as a RoadBroad! Actually it was my first blog post ever. Thanks to Melanie for having the wonderful idea to start a blog. I became an official RoadBroad and have been writing about my journey ever since. The first picture I ever included on a blog was a picture of one of my cats. I bought a new suitcase to make a road trip to Boulder, Colorado for one of Max Regan’s writing retreats and Hannah (the cat) was trying to figure out how to pack herself into the trip.

I still hold fond memories of meeting with other writers, having writing meetings at the Dushanbe Tea House and gazing at the Flatiron Mountains. I am including some of my favorite photos from that first road trip in this blog post. This was my first trip to Colorado and can’t wait to return.

May 2018 was also notable because that was when I retired from a 25 year career of being a Social Services Administrator for local government. I had been either working, going to school, being a part‐time adjunct faculty member, going to school some more, etc., since the age of 15. I completed all requirements to secure a pension and health care into my senior years. It was time for a change.

Now my entire life revolves around creativity. Either I am engaging in creative activities or I am appreciating the creative work of others. The Vincent Van Gogh exhibition is still going on at the Museum of Fine Arts. I have to go at least one more time before it ends.

Since May 2018 I have been a full‐time writer. Sometimes I submit a piece of writing and it gets accepted. Sometimes it doesn’t. I keep reminding myself that I am not personally being rejected. I merely wrote a story or essay that was not accepted for a particular journal. I continue to work on a book about Memphis, Tennessee in the 1960s and 1970s.

I am also a visual artist. I’m a photographer and I work with collage. In my spare time I take art classes at the Glassell and this summer I will add a class at the Art League of Houston to my list of visual studies.

There was one not so fun part to this past year; I discovered I had arthritis. Then I had physical therapy, bariatric gastric sleeve surgery, got to where I could walk a lot again and enjoyed many classes in water aerobics at the local YMCA.

I’ve read a lot of books and attended many lectures by other writers and authors. I love hearing other writers talk about how they write and what their creative process looks like. I heard Annie Lamott who was absolutely inspirational. Getting to hear Annie Lebovitz talk about her life as a photographer was fascinating.

My Dear Friend and I have walked many miles through the Museum of Fine Arts, The Museum of Natural Science, Bayou Bend, Rienzi and various other art galleries. We have attended performances at the Alley Theatre, Houston Ballet, Houston Symphony, etc. We have traveled to the beach over the winter holidays and Austin for a sister writer’s book launch.

As a RoadBroad, I have enjoyed my creative journey and love this new phase of my life. I am going to continue my journey as a RoadBroad and look forward to sharing everything I see and learn with you. Here’s to another RoadBroad Year!

Until next week.….

When the Road Offers Memories & Change

March’s road trip to Austin offered a two‐fer.

Celebrate author‐friend, Dorothy Van Soest, at her latest book reading.

Swing by the University of Texas campus and cruise around on grounds where I once stomped.

I stop mid‐plan.

When, precisely, did I attend UT‐Austin? When did I leave?

My mind races back to graduation, spring of 1979.

I dig out my college diploma. Discovery yields an oh‐my‐god. 

I graduated from college 40 years ago.

Today.

What are the odds?

And…40 years? How did that happen?

The new‐graduate photo at right offers a trio of chuckles: an Instamatic photo enlarged to pixilating — beyond the limits of this ancient technology; Farrah Fawcett wannabe‐hair; and pair of ghastly raccoon eyes.

More questions: what was I thinking? Why, UT‐Austin, was my tassel red and not orange?

DH marveled at my pre‐DW look, worn so proudly a decade before we married. He marveled, too, at the UT campus, amused at how little I recognized.

My sense of loss‐and‐big‐change began at the communications building, my life center for three years.

Dull brown now covered the building known as the Rusty Bucket. Framed in weathered steel, the building’s exterior had morphed during our college years into a distinctive orange‐brown hue. So, we renamed the building. It stuck. What do they call it now?

New also is the building across the street: a stand‐alone home for UT radio with twice as many stations as in my day.

I began my radio career here, at KUT. But our studios sat deep in the bowels of the Rusty Bucket, an afterthought.

My chest puffs up. In today’s era of social media dominance, it’s a new point of pride that my alma mater supports radio like this. Even the pedestrian street‐bridge reeks of extra resources, even special privilege.

If faster access results in better news and information, bring it on, kids!

Down the street, I spot The Co‐Op, where we bought our textbooks. Nowadays, turntables appear to headline the sales.

I laugh. Old becomes new? I ask DH“how quickly will the youngsters figure out we dumped records and record players—for a very practical reason?”

At the Co-Op’s door, the welcome sign brings a laugh. I reach for my phone. In that instant, I remember how picture‐taking has also changed.

Snap a photo and wait a week to hold it in your hand. Take fewer pictures because each print costs a dime, or more.

How much has changed, and how little.

All in only 40 (short) years.

The Road From Spring Into Summer

I don’t care what the calendar says. I know what I know.

This is the last week for Spring weather here in Houston. Except for a few monsoon floods, we’ve had a pretty good run. In between rain storms, there were many days where morning temperatures were in the upper 60’s with low humidity. I walked. I opened windows and enjoyed fresh air.

Yet, the weather forecasters are all telling us that by next week the temperatures will rise and it will definitely feel like summer.

So during these last few days of not only tolerable, but lovely weather, I decided to visit some of my favorite strolling spots. I wound up going back to the Rienzi with some of my writing friends. We received a brief tour inside the house from Ms. Ryan Hernandez. I have to admit this was my second tour of the house and it was just as fascinating, if not more so, than the first time.

After our indoor stroll, we were free to roam around the grounds. Some of us stayed inside to write and others of us went outside to be inspired by the nature that fills the lovely grounds.

Carroll and Harris Masterson lived in this house during the post World War II years through the 1960s and beyond into the 1990s. These two were major philanthropists helping the growing city of Houston develop both culturally and with a social conscience.

Carroll Masterson served on many boards for the fine arts including the Alley Theatre, Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera among others. She also supported charities that supported both the elderly and also women and children.

Learning about this family reminded me of the research I conducted a few years ago on local poor farms and pauper cemeteries. There were many charitable organizations that were supported by local society matrons. Now that I am retired from the rigors of Social Services and local government, I now spend a lot of time at the arts organizations that the Masterson family helped to create. No wonder I felt so comfortable walking around the Rienzi House and Gardens.

There is one last field trip this weekend when I will go to the Houston Symphony to hear Blue Beard’s Castle. Then I will retreat underground and inside with lots of air conditioning. I will even switch from walking outside to enjoying water aerobics at an indoor pool. Even when I do venture out to attend the Summer Chills play at the Alley Theatre, I can get there through a parking garage and a downtown tunnel.

Not to worry. I will continue some road trips and all blogging activities before re‐emerging into polite society sometime in the fall. This will be just in time for Halloween! Since my favorite holiday is just a mere 168 days away, the days will fly by quickly.

Until next week.….

Honoring Mother, the Original RoadBroad

From Austin to Abilene, Salisbury to San Francisco, she taught me how to be a RoadBroad.

Indulge me, please, as I pay tribute on this Mother’s Day to mine: Glenna Lea Couch Miller.

From a childhood spent in an orphanage to a widowhood making up for lost time, my mother lived adventure and attitude.

It began with her 1927 birth in a “teacherage”—that’s government‐provided housing for schoolteachers—in Vernon, Texas. Here, Allie Couch holds up her surprise, born as the “but‐doctor‐I know-I’m-in-menopause” baby

From Vernon, my mother moved into a Corsicana orphanage. There, her father served as superintendent for much of Glenna Lea’s childhood.

Imagine sharing all your birthday and holiday presents with 250 Depression‐era orphans. Glenna Lea became a dedicated bookworm for good reason. Books were easier to share than a bicycle.

Reading, no doubt, honed my mother’s writing skills. Upon discovering her 1938 report card, I shrieked.

Evidence echoed an earlier report card, highlighted in 2/25/2019 post. Delighted, I showed Mrs. Mathis’ remarks to DH and shouted a loud aha! At last, I know who gifted this gene!”  

The teacher’s prescience also identified a family’s later tease point. Cough, cough: yes, math challenges were gene‐shared, too.

Later, Austin and a new bookstore summoned my grandfather. Glenna Lea moved through school in the capital city, landing at the University of Texas as a theater major.

While attending college, my mother joined a women’s singing trio. She spent her weekends during World War II traveling across central Texas to perform for base‐bound soldiers.

Mears Studio hired her to model. In those pre‐ballpoint pen days, UT students received these 3.5 x 5 inch “ink blotters” to use while taking class notes. Also, the studio enlarged this pose and plastered it on the side of their downtown building.

As an award‐winning actress, Glenna Lea dreamed of a Broadway career. Marriage and children interceded. Post‐war expectations ruled women’s lives.

Four children and two decades later, Mexico and deep‐sea fishing beckoned.

I doubt Mother caught this thing. Instead, I imagine her reading as she humored my father’s love of all things fishy. If I had laser vision, I’d bet money on finding books in that bag. Yes, plural.

Fast forward 37 years. Glenna Lea asked to join a daughter’s European honeymoon—“but only for the first week.”

The tallest church spire in the United Kingdom lured us to Salisbury Cathedral, outside London. Mother stopped outside to read the outside plaques., Spot the tiny, huddled figure in the lower left here?

And so her pattern began. Every day for seven days, she read every word she could find in, on or about the place du jour. Across England, Bride and Groom gawked and listened as Mother/Mother‐in‐law read about Salisbury, Stonehenge. Bath. Westminster Abbey. St. Paul’s. Roman Wall. Others sites, too, all now forgotten, lost to middle age.

After my father died in 1994, Mother hit the road. Big trips, somewhere, every year. Santa Fe. Washington, DC. San Francisco. New York City (multiple times). Colorado. Across Texas.

She slowed down when I did, joining me in walks along the Cane Lane at the stroke rehabilitation center.

In this single shot, I see a lifetime of dedication, love, and the full meaning of today.

If my mother could read this post, she’d say—as she always did—“Sweet girl, it’s perfect. And it’s your story to tell.”

I would answer back, “Thank you for your generous spirit. And Happy Mother’s Day, GL.”