Category Archives: Family

Place Card Treasure

OK, so I have been busy, busy, busy. Another day, another closet. Two weeks ago it was vases, last week it was soup bowls, then it was place mats and linen napkins.

So forgive me, but I am busy being a dutiful daughter, helping my mother clear out the big house on the Reservation in preparation for the move to her deluxe apartment in the sky.

And then we got to place cards.

‘Oh look,’ says mom.’We have to keep these! Your grandmother used them every Christmas for years. I love these! Just look at all the sequins!’ She spread them out on the dining room table.

‘But mom,’ I say. ‘These people are all dead.’

With the help of my doctor, I am trying to cultivate patience and serenity as character traits in 2012.

‘Not all of them, dear. They could still be useful. I think we should keep them.’

‘Uh Huh. How about we throw a luncheon out at Mount Olivet Cemetery?’ OK, so I’m not very good at patient and serene, yet. But I’m working on it.

‘Oh Harriet,’ she sighs. ‘You are so ruthless.’ And she hands them over for me to put in the trash. Then she pulls out the next box of place cards.

‘Huh. I forgot all about these. My parents bought them in Paris in the 1920s. I suppose we should throw them out as well.’

I open the box. ‘Hmmm… actually mom, I think I might like to have these for myself.’

And that’s how, in the time it took to open up the top drawer of a 19th century English sideboard, I became the envy of my considerable circle of gay friends here in Nashville:



© Copyright 2012, Southern Dysfunction



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Doll Collection

I believe I may have mentioned already that I am helping mother clear out the house that she and Big Daddy have been living in for over fifty years. Yes, it is quite a job, but every day, we find new treasures, and I am enjoying the process in between bouts of tearing my hair out and taking tranquilizers.

When we got to my old bedroom and opened the closet, mom explained that she had saved my doll collection, and that I should be the one who decided what to do about it. They were all in shoe boxes, so I put them in a bag in the car, and waited until I got home to open them up and get a trip down memory lane. I just used to love those dolls.

OK, so the first one I opened was this:

I just want to say something before we go further into this post. First of all I have no memory of this doll. I know that doesn’t sound good. He was probably buried in the doll box and I only played with like, the Scarlett O’Hara doll. There is really nothing else I can say, without making it worse. Except…

Then I had this idea. Earlier on the same day, mother had pulled out her collection of old political badges. I mean, at least they are Democrats, right?  So I did try to make it better:

After that, I decided to call Junior and Miss Pearl into the parlour to help me out, because before I knew what was happening, I had a major political incident on my hands. One by one, we pulled out the dolls and I applied the appropriate badges. Before long, we had a whole feminist liberationist Central America/Cesar Chavez thing going on:

Then it all got a bit silly. Junior offered to donate his Andy Warhol doll (after all, I am my mother’s daughter) to the tableau:

He then decided that these two looked kind of like a couple:

So there you go. Now I have what is perhaps the most politically incorrect mantlepiece on the planet. Or maybe the most politically correct? Who knows? At least I feel as though, in some strange way, I have empowered my dolls.

© Copyright 2012, Southern Dysfunction


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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Miss Pearl has been taking a Restorative Embalming class over at the School of Mortuary Science this semester and the students were all asked to choose a real person to base their project on. She chose her daddy, which I thought was kind of sweet.

Each week for the past couple of months, she has come over to the house and shown me pictures to illustrate her progress. First she made his ears:

I thought they looked pretty good. The next week, it was his nose. She admitted that this was more of a challenge, but I wasn’t especially concerned at this stage:

It was only in the weeks that followed that alarm bells started ringing. Especially seeing as how she assured me that her mom thought it was a pretty good likeness….

That’s when I started thinking back. All I really know about Miss Pearl is that she says her family comes from ‘California’. Big Daddy has always said that those people come from a different planet, but I thought it was just a euphemism. Then yesterday, she handed in her final project and my suspicions were confirmed:

Whoa! Ok, I figure I can cope with this situation. I mean, I have watched every series of Star Trek and am particularly fond of Deep Space Nine. Believe me, we have our own genuinely eccentric people in my family. And I am good with diversity. Junior has met them on a number of occasions and has never said a thing, but then again, he is very discreet.

So I am working on my alien salute. Nanu Nanu y’a’ll!

© Copyright 2011, Southern Dysfunction


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Long Hot Summer

It got up to 80 degrees yesterday, and the weatherwoman on TV described it as the ‘first springlike weather of the year’. Everyone was outdoors working in their gardens and enjoying the balmy temperature.

Except Junior.

If you have been following my blog, you will know that we have moved back here from London (that’s London, England, in Yroop). Junior was raised in the East End of that fair city, and has no trace of American about him except for his passport, so that the officials at the border are forced to narrow their eyes at his subversive appearance and let him through against their better judgement. It was very brave of him to agree to move back to Nashville to help me look after Mother and Big Daddy, and in my opinion he would have skedaddled back to London a long time ago if it weren’t for the considerable charms of his girlfriend, Miss Pearl.

Now normally, he would have been with her, but she had to go up to Kentucky to fetch a hearse,  and so I asked him to help me out with some gardening.  After an hour of hedge trimming in the front, he came out back where I was weeding.

‘I can’t take this heat, mum’. And then he went inside, took a cold shower and had to lie down for awhile.

Uh oh.

At least the hedge looks good...

© Copyright 2011, Southern Dysfunction

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The Reenactors

When I was growing up, it was considered impolite to discuss the Civil War. My grandmother gave me a talk about Yankees before I left for high school in Connecticut when I was thirteen, but that was about it. People tried to focus instead on earlier, less distasteful, periods of our history. Think Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.

I can remember making a reconstruction of Fort Nashboro, the original pioneer settlement established on the west bank of the Cumberland River in 1780, out of popsicle sticks, and I can remember learning all about Native Americans in elementary school. Within the family, we were careful to venerate the ancestors who came to Tennessee at the end of the eighteenth century. But our history curriculum left a big hole where the Civil War should be.

This situation has changed considerably in the decades that I lived abroad. Although my parents’ generation isn’t particularly comfortable with it, there is an increasing popular interest in the War, and reenactment has become a popular hobby for amateur historians.

I am going to be perfectly honest with you. I have always found this to be a bit bizarre, and I assumed that these people were just trying to find an excuse to wrap themselves in the Confederate flag. Until, that is, I met my new friend Gary Burke this weekend.

Gary, along with other reenactors, was out at Fort Negley as part of an ongoing series of events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the War. Besides being on the Board of the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society, he is a leading member of  the 13th United States Colored Troops Living History Association.

When Nashville was occupied by the Union Army in 1862, thousands of slaves fled to the city, where they were housed in contraband refugee camps and used as (largely unpaid) laborers during the construction of a series of fortifications, of which Fort Negley was the largest. At the same time, many, mostly free African American men volunteered to form regiments of the newly established United States Colored Troops division of the army.

The men of the 13th were among the several African American regiments who fought in the Battle of Nashville in December 1864. The battle destroyed the Confederate Army of Tennessee, led by General John Bell Hood, who at the time was staying in my great-great grandparents’ house and using it as his headquarters. Most of the 387 Union fatalities in the Battle were African American; 229 of them, including five color bearers, were men of the 13th, who died on the 16th of December attacking my ancestral home. I don’t know whether any of those men were runaway slaves from the plantation, but Gary explained that one of his fellow reenactors is indeed descended from men and women enslaved by my forebears.

So you can imagine that we had an interesting conversation.

‘Gary, I am imagining that reenactors tend to dress up as the characters that they sympathize with the most. Doesn’t this lead to, well, some tense situations?’

‘Yes. President Lincoln, for example, really has to watch his back. He gets people all the time who won’t shake his hand because their great-great-great-grandaddy was killed fighting for the Confederacy.’

‘I am guessing that this can be kind of an uncomfortable hobby.’

‘Uh-huh. A lot of my friends think I’m crazy. I was a little nervous about it at first, but then I started to see bumper stickers on Confederate reenactors’ cars that said things like, “Not Hate but Heritage”, and I began to realise that people are just trying to find ways to preserve their family stories. The majority of people are fine about it.’

Gary invited me to attend the Civil War Roundtable that meets regularly out at the Visitors Center, and then introduced me to one of his friends.

Welcome to the New South, it’s not anything like what you thought it would be.

© Copyright 2011, Southern Dysfunction


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The Reservation

My long suffering Mother has had to go away for a week to look after her poor sisters, Darlene and Ida, who are unfortunate because they have to live in California. Although at 84 she is the oldest by several years, having lived in the South she is in much better shape to travel. This is because she is a Steel Magnolia and knows how to put up with anything, but mainly with Big Daddy, with whom she has put up for more than fifty years. This means that I have had to move back onto the Reservation while she is gone because he can no longer be left on his own.

I had better explain, because people who are not from the South generally hold prejudiced notions about how we handle relations between our ethnic communities down here.

Plantation house on the site of the Reservation

The Reservation was established before the first world war as a safe haven for Nashville’s White Affluent Peoples (WAPs). Sensitively sited on land comprising a former plantation, the Reservation is still going from strength to strength a century later. Confinement on the Reservation allows the WAPs to preserve their traditional culture and way of life, which has changed remarkably little since Our Recent Unpleasantness. Indeed, although I want to stress that while living on the Reservation is strictly voluntary, there are many WAPs in Nashville who rarely leave its borders.

I grew up out here on the Reservation but like a large number of our young people of WAP descent, I was given the opportunity to move away for my college education. Significantly, although I am an example of a WAP who has been pretty much absorbed into modern American culture, there are many WAPs of my generation who have either made the decision to return to the Reservation to raise their families in the traditional environment of their ancestors, or who have never left the Reservation at all.

According to the most recent official data, there are 3,518 people living on the Reservation, of whom 97.1% or 3,297 are WAPs. My understanding is that 1.2% or 42 are African American, of whom 41 are here in disguise as domestic workers but who are actually anthropologists who live in garage apartments provided with money from the federal government, and are here to observe the WAPs in their native environment as part of a long-term academic study (the remaining 1 African American is, I believe, a professional football player, but he might have moved away). Improbably, .2% or 7 residents list themselves as Native American. Subsequent analysis of the data, however, has revealed that this was because there were 7 residents who thought that ‘Native American’ meant that your ancestors arrived on the Mayflower.


Nashville's Federal WAP Administration Headquarters (FWAPA, or in WAP dialect, 'the Club')

I am not going to try to deny that there are some social problems and controversies on the Reservation. In common with similar tribal areas in other parts of North America, alcoholism has tragically affected many local families, although this is being dealt with primarily through local churches and the dedicated team of local FWAPA employees.

Nashville has largely welcomed President Obama’s rumored decision that the Reservation will become the United State’s 59th National Park in 2014. This news is expected to help regenerate the local economy, providing many much-needed jobs in an area that has long been blighted by unemployment. This should help the significant minority of WAPs living on the Reservation who have never experienced paid work. But of equal importance, by boosting tourism to the area, it will encourage a broader public understanding of the customs and way of life of this largely neglected community.


Traditional WAP monogrammed hand towels, ca.1956

© Copyright 2011, Southern Dysfunction


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Turkey Shoot: Next Generation

What really impressed me about the NWTF Convention was that it wasn’t about guys shooting animals. It was about families shooting animals. Hunting is a way of life down here in the South, once you get out of the city. Mother told me last summer that an elementary teacher of her acquaintance in the Appalachians says that she has kids who bring bear meat to school in their lunchboxes. Yes!

For us city folk used to buying meat in plastic-wrapped containers, this is a difficult concept to grasp, because except for the odd vacation at Yellowstone, we have lost our connection with the land. Since its founding in 1973, the NWTF has been instrumental in ensuring that the wild turkey population of the United States has risen from 1.3 million to more than 7 million birds. Can you tell that I am beginning to get excited about guns? I also secretly think that I would look kind of cute with one of those Sarah Palin hairdos.

Anyway, the theme at this year’s NWTF Convention was ‘Our Youth. Our Legacy.’ I don’t think that there is any YouTube footage up yet of the youth division Turkey Calling Championships, but this will give you an idea of the kind of thing I am talking about.

Meanwhile, back at the show, Junior was a bit taken aback by the babies. ‘Mum,’ he pointed out. ‘You would think that in families with a lot of guns hanging around, it would be a bad idea to dress infants in camouflage. Surely it would be safer to put them in something with high visibility?’ I could see his point, but they still looked pretty cute to me.


My Teddy's name is Earl!

I especially like the pink lace trim on her camo romper.

Be afraid. Reincarnation is a fact.

Miss Harriet: ‘Aren’t you a cutie? Smile for the camera!’

Baby: ‘Oh thank God you’re here. My name is Senator Edward Kennedy. There’s been some sort of terrible mistake.’

© Copyright 2011, Southern Dysfunction


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