There’s no dateline here because I’m back in Lebanon, not exactly for Christmas, because we are renewing a family tradition in this year of change.
My mother, Estelle Jewell, now a full-fledged member of the Elmcroft community, has agreed to take on another challenge to end a long year for all of us.
When you read this, we (barring bad weather, which was the one caveat she entered into our scheme), we will be awaiting Santa on top of Signal Mountain, our old Christmas haunt.
Many readers might recall I talked my bride into bringing our daughter to Tennessee for one Christmas in 1992. My sister, Martha Duff, invited us to join our parents for a Chattanooga Christmas with her husband Todd and her son Tommy. It was a tough sell. But after several days of huge fireplace, Christmas decorations overflowing, a midnight candle service of carols at their church, two huge Christmas meals, a partridge in a pear tree, and most importantly snow on Christmas morning, Maureen declared headed back to the Southwest corner, “We’re coming back every year.”
So we did. Tennessee has been Christmas for us for 21 years. For the last several, we moved the venue to Lebanon. This year we decided to make another go for Signal Mountain.
We arrived in Lebanon last Thursday, courtesy of a ride from the airport from Mike and Gloria Dixon. We had a wonderful book signing on Friday at Sammy B’s amidst family and friends, including some I haven’t seen for a while, including Freeman Coles, whose father Frank, was one of my father’s fishing buddies. They even took Freeman and I along for several nights of striped bass fishing at Center Hill. Freeman bought one of my books for his mother, Lou Douglas Kay, who, at 91, is yet another amazing nonagenarian.
Jim and Gina Stradley and their entire staff, especially Nykki were gracious hosts. Their food and drinks are great, and it was a fun first for me.
One must stop was at this newspaper’s offices. I had not met the new publisher. Jesse Lindsey made the meeting energizing for me. Jesse and I share a love of history of the place, the newspaper and the city. The hall outside Jesse’s office holds photographs of previous newspaper leaders. Dixon Merrit was a journalistic legend in Lebanon and a national figure in journalism and agriculture. He passed away six years before I was born. Consequently, I knew him better for penning the limerick “The Pelican.”
J. Bill Frame lived across Castle Heights Avenue from us. I was the ring bearer when his daughter, Laura Lee married Glenn Mingledorff. I mowed the Frames’ yard for about six years or so before my brother took over. I remember Mr. Frame as a kind and stately man, but he had the reputation of being a hard driving journalist and served as president of the Tennessee Press Association.
G. Frank Burns was a character, a brilliant journalist, and should be called the Historian of Lebanon and Wilson County. He was also a sports fan and an aficionado of Lebanon High School girls’ basketball.
I have no doubt Jesse and Jared Felkins will continue to add to the legacy of a wonderful local newspaper.
Because of the Signal Mountain Christmas, my time in Lebanon is more compressed than usual. There has been little time to visit friends or take my usual saunters around town to see what has changed and what hasn’t, remembering tidbits from Lebanon’s and my past. But what I discovered in the few jaunts I did make is Lebanon energizes me.
Back in the Southwest corner, there are times when the idea for this column doesn’t come until the late hours of the evening before deadline.
But on one ride from Deer Park to Elmcroft sitting just a bit southeast of where the third hole of the Castle Heights’ golf course with dirt greens used to be, across to the Woolen Mills, through the square, driving by half of the Cumberland Campus up Spring and south on Tarver, heading west on Leeville Pike and back to Castle Heights Avenue, I had enough thoughts to fill up at least ten columns.
Lebanon is a place of memories: good memories, good people. It’s the stuff of which my memories are made.
I wish all of you folks a wonderful Christmas.
Jim Jewell, a retired Navy commander lives in San Diego but was raised in Lebanon. His book, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems, is now available through Author House, Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. Jim’s email is email@example.com.