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.
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.