Sweet Tea, Fireflies and 90 Good Years

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Our time in the South was but two very action-packed weeks, but it was enough to instill a heightened feeling of excitement in making Nashville our permanent base once we return from Semester at Sea.

It’s the things that I grew up that are so alarmingly familiar to me but that are so foreign to SVV: the Piggly Wiggly up on “the Mountain,” the fact that you can drive on the Interstate in rush hour without sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, $3 beers and boxes of cereal, fireflies. (I know, right?! City boy.)

Our first day back, we did what any upstanding Southerner does for fun on the weekend and we headed to Wal-Mart. “Don’t worry, we won’t see anybody we know,” I assured him. Famous last words—we didn’t even make it to the produce aisle at the front of the store before three different people had called out my name to say hi; one even recognized SVV without me by his side. I’ve been gone a decade, and yet it often feels like I never left. There are the same restaurants, the same storefronts, the same locals. Time passes, people get older, and yet things still stay the same in many respects.

We had 14 days back home, but for some reason, no length of time ever seems sufficient. Whether you have three, five or 21 days in Albuquerque, Paris or Timbuktu, you always think “well, there will be time to do so-and-so later.” But then later comes, and you wonder how the hour glass seems to have sped up on you, and you’re left wanting more balmy evenings on the back deck, more chances to pad around in bare feet, more afternoons by the pool doing nothing but thumbing through sticky copies of trashy magazines.

If ever I met a genie in a bottle, I’d but ask for one wish: the gift of time. No matter the parameters, it never seems enough, and sometimes all I want is for it to come to a grinding halt so I can freeze this moment, here and now.


William Samuel Housholder was born the youngest of seven—which included (in chronological order) Helen, Drexel, Donald, Dwight, Charles and Quentin—in Century, Florida. The majority of his early years were spent in Knoxville, Tennessee.

His blood ran orange—still does—as seems to be the case with so many born with a dose of Volunteer pride. He was a smarty-pants: He started college at the University of Tennessee just a week after his 16th birthday after skipping a few grades when he was younger, and borrowed $15 from his own grandfather to do so (he never paid back that loan either, he’s quick to tell you). He was an NCAA tennis player and captain of the UT team, president of his fraternity and inducted into just about every honors society that existed.

But if you ask Granddaddy, he’d tell you his greatest achievement was pinning down my grandmother, Doris.

“I met her on February 27, 1939, when we were both 17. This was the only time my brother Quentin set me up with a blind date. Quentin said that I should meet Doris. I had planned to attend the UT/UK Conference Championship Basketball game (UT won), but instead we sat in a car on the new Alcoa Highway bridge and listened to the game.”

They were married in 1942. Two weeks later, he received his orders for the Army. Two weeks after that, he reported to Fort Wheeler in Georgia for an officer training program. In 1944, he was shipped off to Europe on a Swedish liner that landed in Liverpool. His experience in the Army is a detailed one, one best left for another day to properly do it justice, but he was both in the battle at Normandy and marched under Patton for a stint.

After he came back to my grandmother, they had their first child Bernie later that year and then my mom came along a few years later. Granddaddy passed his CPA, and the family eventually relocated to Middle Tennessee in 1955, where he started his own firm that continues to thrive throughout the region with four branches and clients all over the Southeast.

He retired in 1988, and he and my grandmother spent many of the subsequent years traveling around the world, primarily by cruise (they went on a total of 18!).

They had five grandkids and spoiled each one of us rotten. We all spent most holidays and many summers together on vacation. It was a great family environment to be raised in.

I grew up in the same town, just a seven-minute car ride away, and spent many a night and weekend at their house as a child. They both moved in with my parents while I was living in Europe in early 2006, and then my grandmother (Dede) died on July 17, 2008. As one can imagine, after 69 years together, it was almost the end of my granddad, too, but over time, his spirit has begun to bounce back.

Today, he turns 90, and you wouldn’t know he was a day over 75. His mind is the one thing that seems to have ceased aging: He can still tell you who won the SEC or NCAA football championship in any given year, and when he and his 94-year-old brother Charlie get together, they discuss who failed to pay their Sigma Nu fraternity dues…from 1940.


It’s hard to truly understand a person without first understanding the people who make that person who he or she is. These are the people responsible for my turnout:

Actually, this is probably a better illustration:

Yes, I think that’s far more accurate—as is the nonchalant finger up the nose in the photo below.

My extended family—my aunt, my uncle, my three cousins and their respective families (including the two cutest munchkins on the planet in my obviously unbiased opinion)—were obliging enough to accommodate SVV’s and my schedule and travel from Memphis, Birmingham and Nashville to my parents’ house for a weekend two weeks before Granddaddy’s birthday so we could all be together one last time for awhile to celebrate a very celebrated man’s life.

We weren’t the only ones who saw it as an excuse for a party either. In fact, more than 200 people showed up at my parents’ house on a Sunday morning (not exactly prime party hours) to pay their respects and raise a mimosa to Granddaddy.

He’s quite the party animal as far as 90 year olds go.

Mom outdid herself as usual and had an array of catering, jugs full of sweet tea and enough cupcakes to feed one large army all on hand.

And, as is only appropriate, the whole place was bedecked in orange and white.

The most impressive part of the entire shindig was the wide range of people who came out: everyone from my granddad’s Rotary pals and his weekly lunch dates at “the old folks’ home” (their words, not mine) to cousins I hadn’t seen in more than 20 years and the mayor.

If that’s not testament to how great it is growing up in a small town—or perhaps more accurately, how great it is growing up with such an inspiring grandfather—I don’t know what is.

  • August 28, 2011

    I love to hear family stories like yours. Small town real people. Happy Birthday to Grandpa! A true inspiration.

  • August 28, 2011

    What a great tribute to your grandfather! He sounds like an amazing man!

    • August 29, 2011

      He lives, sleeps and breathes all things UT–that alone should say it all 😉

      (Side note: SO sad to hear the news about Pat! There are a couple other UT alum on board, so we are all in mourning =/)

  • August 28, 2011

    Aww, your family looks amazing. My grandparents lived in another state, but some of my best memories from childhood are from when they came to visit. They’re also getting close to 90 now and I’m so blessed they’re still around and as wonderful as ever! 🙂

    • August 29, 2011

      I know people who are our age and still have FOUR grandparents (and a great-grandparent!)–I so envy those people. I hope we have a 100th celebration in a decade to look forward to.

  • August 28, 2011

    Love this! Brings back a rush of memories from my own upbringing in a small southern town with a huge and awesomely crazy extended family. Happy birthday to your sweet Grandfather, and thanks for sharing such a lovely tribute to family and the crazy passage of time. It made me smile this Sunday afternoon. 🙂

  • August 28, 2011

    A few things:

    1) Please tell me that your grandma and grandpa coordinated their outfits on purpose. Because if they did, it’s too cute for words.

    2) I love that you got your family to take a jumping picture.

    3) That is not a nonchalant finger up her nose. That is a fully intentional, purposefully driven finger up the nose.

    4) I love how close you are to your family. It’s wonderful.

  • August 28, 2011

    As someone who shares a similar special relationship to her family, I totally understand how amazing these occasions are. It’s tough to have you gone, but I understand that joyous feeling of being home, with your people.

    Also, um, your mom is totally amazing. Holy cow!

  • August 28, 2011

    Aww, this is such a fantstic, sweet, wonderful post. Love it!


  • August 28, 2011

    I’m so touched by this post. Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful memories with us.

    • August 29, 2011

      Thank you so much!

  • August 29, 2011

    This was such a sweet post. I loved the photos of your Grandpa when he was younger and the black and white shots with your very glamorous grandma! 90 years young and happy birthday to Granddaddy and here’s to many more!
    PS- I can absolutely see why you decided to move back home, your family are fantastic!

  • August 29, 2011

    Dang you, you made me cry on a monday morning. Lovely, lovely post.

  • August 29, 2011

    What a wonderful, lovely, sweet tribute to your family, and happy birthday to your Grandfather.

    On the subject of 90 year olds, we took a 92 year old cattle rancher for a helicopter ride while in Colorado. He and his family were just lovely people. It was such a joy to see their happiness.

  • August 29, 2011

    What a great celebration and time away… I love when people have love and respect for those who have gone before us in so many ways! Congrats to him!

  • August 29, 2011

    Wow 90 years! Congrats, it looked like a wonderful affair (nice spread). Thanks so much for sharing your family pics, I love looking at other people’s old photos!

  • August 29, 2011

    Happy 90th Grandpa!!! What an awesome celebration and what a gorgeous family you have!

  • August 30, 2011

    Happy 90th to him!

    I’ll have the hubs raise a glass of sweet tea in his honor 😉

  • August 30, 2011

    Great to see the old photos. Congrats on #90!

  • August 30, 2011

    Thank you for sharing the story of your grandparents with us… I am so sorry to hear about your grandmother, but 69 years together is such an inspiration to someone like me who has lately been questioning whether “forever” really exists. I’m so glad your grandfather is getting his spirit back, and I just want to let you know that you have a beautiful family – although I’m sure you already know that. 🙂


  • August 30, 2011
    Tom Risner

    I’ve gotten to know Bill over the last year while our small group meets at your mom’s. I love talking to him. I went to the University of North Alabama, which was Florence State University, which was as Bill reminds me Florence State Teachers College. He does not even give me grief for being an Alabama fan. He is a great person! We loved the Birthday bash and I know he had a great time as we did seeing him.

  • September 1, 2011

    A fan of the Big Orange!! I don’t know him, but I like him already…

  • September 6, 2011

    This is really lovely — and so true, there is never enough time. I can feel your love for your home state through your words — so happy for you you’ll be back there in not-too-long, and for good! I still feel this way about California/Sonoma County: even though I live close by, there’s never really enough time, the locals are still there despite the inevitable changes, and no matter where I go it will always mean home to me.

  • September 6, 2011

    This is an awesome tribute. And you’re so right, there’s never enough time.

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