I'm blogging backwards today....
The week before Christmas (December 18-20) George and I celebrated my birthday (46, &#@!%&) and our 29th wedding anniversary. Reaction? We LOVE Nashville! It is the perfect composite of our favorite things: music, history, music, architecture, music, community, music.
Our purpose in going was to attend the Grand 'Ol Opry at the historic Ryman Auditorium to hear Emmy Lou Harris, David Rawlings, Gillian Welch, and Ralph Stanley. Did we ever get a lot of bang for our buck! Many of the Opry gang were there, old and new. That stage is never still or bare. Half the fun is watching the individual performers talk and hug and enjoy each other as they wait in the wings. They seem like a closely knit family. The stage hands are consummate professionals, quick, deft, and focused. What a wonderfully entertaining design the weekly radio show is - especially live. Little Jimmy Dickens (who is very appropriately named) celebrated his 89th birthday that evening, he has been a member of the Opry for 62 years. The Opry is a unique venue. The people who grace the stage are very skilled in their crafts.
And the Ryman...you must read its history. Originally named Union Gospel Tabernacle (1891,) it was commissioned and designed as a church, by ship captain Thomas G. Ryman, after he had a conversion experience. It has been maintained and is appointed like any church of the time, and you can feel that spirit in the building today. The performers weren't shy in talking about their faith during the show. We felt a very kindred spirit with them. We weren't expecting pews. Sitting among the audience, like church faithful, you are intimately situated among your companions and fellow members of the audience. The whole experience draws everyone together. Our show was number forty thousand and something-or-other!
On Sunday we visited The Hermitage home of President and Mrs. Andrew Jackson, at their request of course. The dome seen here is their grave covering. It was very very cold that day as you can probably tell by the general gray color in the photographs. Surprisingly we were not the only pilgrims present.
Among the presidential homes that we have previously been guests in, the Jackson's seems the best preserved. Part of its success lies in the fact that it has always been privately maintained by a ladies auxiliary whose soul purpose is its preservation. They are very proud of their commission. They had life-like models of the pair dressed in dance attire. What a little dumpling she was, four feet and ten inches on a tall day...and about a size sixteen (today's sizes.) He was a svelte six foot one and lanky. His face characteristically long and thin. The president's bedroom is exactly as it was on the day that he drew his final breath, fourteen years after his beloved wife's passing. The wall paper, 180 years old and imported from Greece, looks new, as does the paper in the bedrooms. I was amazed! The interesting story behind the foyer paper, which is a mural, is that it was hand painted for Mrs. Jackson based upon a favorite part of Homer's Odyssey (why won't this software let me underline that?) It is wonderful to see, first hand, the importance of classical education upon the people of their time. Had they not been so intimately schooled in the Greek democracy what might our government have become? The weaving of the ages fascinates me.
To the Hermitage is credit for the best historical tribute to slaves that I have yet to see. I tried to imagine President Jackson's reaction were he to be teleported back in time and see his field slaves images (larger than his own) hanging in the entry way. I had mixed feelings about that myself. While no one is more happy than myself to see history properly accounted for, I am old fashioned enough to feel that the President of the United States should be upstaged by no one. I think this amazing exhibit would have been better suited to a room of its own, or perhaps a building especially designed for it. But it was beautiful, moving, and painfully honest about the reality of slave life.
My favorite thing? I stood on the porch where Davey Crockett and Sam Houston (who practically lived there) slept on hot summer nights when the house was too hot. I, like so many, tend to compartmentalize my historical figures. I fail to remember that they were each other's contemporaries and friends. Incidentally, did you know that Crockett was the single dissenting vote in Congress against the Native Removal Act which heralded the Trail of Tears? What a man.
Strange to think that Tennessee was ever the western most boundary of this amazing country. Imagine Daniel Boone, Davey Crockett, and others like them blazing trails with no GPS, synthetic fabrics, cell phones, MRE's, or the like. Just good 'ol leather, muzzle loaders, horses, dogs, hard tack, fat back, and a Bible.
We had, or I had, a little fun at the Hermitage in the little cabin pictured here. It was part of the original Hermitage home and later converted to a slave cabin (after the Jacksons hit some pay dirt.) The doorways are about 5 feet high and emblazoned with large bronze markers reading "WATCH YOUR HEAD." I was safely in when I heard the sound of a coconut being struck with a hammer and a list of expletives flying from my husband. Fortunately we were alone. A master's degree in pastoral theology can do little in moments like these. He said, into his hands, "Why didn't you warn me?! Why don't you ever watch out for me?!" All lies, but I couldn't answer, for I was doubled over in hysterical laughter for the next five minutes. The kind of laughter that causes one to be incontinent. At this point he refused to walk with me any farther. I had to visit the Belted Galloway cattle (cow who looks like Oreo cookie) alone.
In concession I have assured George that if he should ever walk into another door way causing a cerebral hemorrhage and irreversible brain damage - I will provide his every need and take care of him.
...twenty nine years will do this to people. I wonder what happens at thirty?